Cards to help home hounds

I have finally completed my paintings of the sponsor hounds at Greyhound Trust Hall Green and was very excited to receive my first copies of the cards, both as single cards and as packs of 5 cards, with one of each hound.

These cards are available exclusively from Greyhound Trust Hall Green, from the kennels and soon to be available via their website. All profits will go to helping greyhounds to find their forever homes.

A change is as good as a rest!

As you may have noticed,  I paint a lot of greyhounds! So, I thought it might be interesting to challenge myself to paint a cat for a change.  This was based on a friend’s photo of her cat – not being a ‘cat’ person, i don’t have many photos of them.

This picture raised two main challenges – firstly, the cat is black, always a difficult colour in watercolours, and secondly, its very fluffy! The soft fur required a different approach to the sleekness of a greyhound.

I started with an underwash that was the colour i wanted as the final tone of the palest fur, avoiding the collar, bell and eyes.

After this had dried, I began to darken around the palest areas, so I used negative painting to highlight the palest sections, and lifing out some colour to soften the edges.

I repeated this step until I had reached the levels of contrast I wanted.  I was pleased with the overall effect, although I am not sure I did by model justice!  This painting is now available as a greetings card in the Farmyard section of my Love from the Artist page – click here to take a look.

Painting Jim

This gorgeous boy was my 4th greyhound.  It was love at first sight and I was quite nervous about painting him as a result. I used earth colours so the granulation would add texture as I began to build up the light and dark areas.

I worked in layers to deepen the colours and began to work on his eyes.  He was very fluffy for a greyhound  and i softened the edges as I wanted to give this impression.

I completed the eyes last and of course they make the painting come alive.

Ten thousand things

I came across the term ‘ten thousand things’ recently…and promptly wondered why I had not encountered it before.   The ancient Chinese used this phrase to refer to the unfathomable multitude of beings in existence.

The idea of ten thousand things representing a number beyond belief also occurs outside China.  In Buddhism it is used to refer to the uncountable number of ways in which life force or Buddha-nature exists.   The ancient Greeks had a word for it, myrioi, and this has come to us in English as ‘myriad’, which literally means ten thousand.

In ‘The Zen of Seeing’, Frederick Franck refers to the ten thousand things as being worth seeing and drawing; “It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call “The Ten Thousand Things” around me.  Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world”

And so, when we take the time to look, whether it is with pencil, paintbrush or camera in hand, there is so much around us that we realise we just pass by on a daily basis.  How much do you really see?  Make time to look – you will find it’s worth the effort!

From light to dark

When painting my friend’s greyhound Shadow, I wanted to incorporate his name into the design.  To do this I decided to paint him as paler than the background on the left and darker than it on the right, so he seemed to disappear into the shadow.

I started with a background wash, which I textured with cling film, and painted his nose to get an idea of the darks.

From here I started working on face, making his right-hand ear darker to stand out from the background.  I then darkened around his jaw on the left, so it was darker than his face.

The initial planning was very important here, especially as in watercolours you work from light to dark.  That’s what makes it fun!

Developing your own style

In the early days of owning a camera, the emphasis is on getting to understand how it works and what it can achieve for you.  The next stage for me was to try out all the techniques; I would see a picture in a magazine and think “I want to try that!” and so I would spend a few weeks practising the specific technique required.

After all this thrashing around, getting to grips with the gear and essentially learning through copying, you reach the point where you think “But what is my style?” What is it that makes it ‘my’ picture, not a replica of someone else’s?

I have found the exact same process happened with my painting.  Getting to grips with washes, brushes, paint and water.  Following step-by-step tutorials in a book.  What is harder, is to ‘see’ the painting in the scene.  To translate reality into paint.  I am not interested in photorealistic images; I have a camera for that.  I want to interpret, to loosen, to find what speaks to me.  The holy grail of a style that is mine.

However, with both media (and any other, of course) it is finding your own style that makes the end product recognisably you.  It must carry something of your personality with it, your energy and your outlook on life.  Style is separate from skill with brush or lens.  It’s not what or how, but something more elusive that makes it uniquely you.

In both cases, I like to look at published artists’ work to try and identify an approach that appeals to me.  These images are of course ‘pre-digested’.  That is, they represent the artists’ interpretation of the scene.  It is this step that makes your style; how you interpret a scene and translate what you see into your personal two-dimensional image in the finished piece.

According to Ron Ranson, the key is to look beyond the mannerisms and techniques to the principles underlying the work.  Style evolves slowly from something deeper within.  Here, of course, is the link to contemplative rather than reactionary work.  By seeking that closer connection with the subject matter, we can hope to interpret it in a meaningful way that comes from an intuitive outpouring of creativity once the thinking mind is quietened.

Painting spring flowers

I planted some honesty seeds in my garden last year, hoping for some of the pretty ‘silver penny’ seed heads to paint.  I hadn’t really thought about the flowers that would preceed the seed pods and was pleased to see the clusters of delicate white flowers brightening up the spring.

It was when I saw the deep red of these tulips that I knew I just had to paint them, and the honesty flowers would provide the perfect counterfoil in the background.  I started with some greens, for the background and the honesty flowers in shadow.

Next I started on the deep red tulips.  It took several layers to get the strength of colour I wanted.

The advantage of working in this way is that you can move back and forth between the main flowers and the background, leaving each bit to dry in turn.

 

Looking and seeing

A meditative approach to photography helps us to make the shift from looking to seeing.  It helps us to cultivate the habit of seeing more clearly, becoming more awake to each moment. I love this quote by Frederick Franck, which seems to sum this up perfectly:

“We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes…Our looking is perfected every day, but we see less and less.”

The same can be said of photography, if we allow it to happen.  We can ‘do’ photography, dashing round snapping this and that without much thought or presence, or we can ‘be’ photography, and let the images come to us.

So what do we mean by ‘seeing’? Freeman Patterson has the answer this time:

“Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions.  It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being.  It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Sometimes it can be hard to really see.  Perhaps we are busy with other things, other thoughts.  This preoccupation means that life rushes by in a blur and we cannot see beyond the essential.  Maybe there is just too much to take in, to make visual sense of it, so we block much of it out.  Perhaps it’s all just so amazing we become immune to its charms and no longer notice it.

Strong reactions, whether like or dislike, can prevent us from seeing clearly, as the emotional response clouds our ability to respond objectively.  Sometimes it is the mundane things that allow us to explore their potential more fully.

To me, the biggest barrier to seeing clearly can be the deep set habit to label things and immediately assign them a value, good bad or indifferent.  We relegate them to the appropriate pile without even bothering to give a second glance.  Monet spoke wisely when he said “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we’re looking at.”

Why not take time to look more closely at something mundane this week?  It might surprise you.

Breaking the rules of watercolour

Much is said of the rules of watercolour.  You must paint light to dark, it must be transparent, you mustn’t use white…or, heavens forbid, black, you must sketch first, you need a limited palette, the list goes on.  The rules of watercolour seem to cause such an outpouring of emotion by those who feel confined by their existence, that there is now quite a rebellion at hand, to break down the rules of watercolour and find a new way.  Quite often this new way leads to an exploration of mixed media, which is of course a whole new topic in itself!

Having immersed myself in watercolours relatively recently, I have met this flood of changing perspectives head on.  I have always been book lover and my natural reaction on learning something new is to buy a book on the subject.

After some initial attempts at throwing caution of the rules to the wind, I sought solace in some older books aimed at beginners.  Here I learned the dreaded rules that are at the foundation of many heated arguments on the subject.  I actually found it quite reassuring and by following these rules I made considerable improvements.  This came because I began to understand how the paper, pigment and water worked together to create the painting.

It makes me wonder how many of these rules are actually quite sage advice, that helps beginners to understand the medium and learn to work with it. Once we have this understanding we can begin to explore further and try new things.  That underpinning knowledge will help us to be successful in our attempts and to understand what may have gone wrong in our failures.

If I cannot draw a flower accurately I am unlikely to be able to create a convincing abstract interpretation. And if I don’t understand my pigment choices I am more likely to create the dreaded ‘mud’. By questioning and assessing for myself, I can learn the rules that work for me and the ones I want to deliberately break. I begin to know what restricts me and what supports my development.

Both yoga and Buddhism teach us to question and find our own answers.  As is so often the case, a mindful approach to the matter at hand leads to greater progress in our journey.

Watercolour painting and photography inspired by nature