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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This week I have been reading a somewhat elderly book on watercolour painting, by Ron Ranson. I was interested to see a chapter entitled ‘Using Photography Properly’ and skipped ahead to take a look. At the time of writing, it appears that painting from a photograph was considered something of a no-no by the purists. However, apparently even famous artists such as Degas used photographs, so it can’t be all bad.
Ranson suggests that painting from a photograph encourages us to leave in all the details…which might be better lost in the spirit of creative licence. I can entirely agree with that, as someone who is aiming for greater simplicity in both painting and photography. When using a camera, I tend to opt for a shallow depth of field to isolate my subject. The same can work in a painting, with a fuzzy, ‘out-of-focus’ background allowing the main feature to stand out strongly. This happens naturally in the landscape, where haze causes distant features to be fuzzier, paler and cooler in colour.
This same effect can look a little odd if used in other ways. I remember looking at a beautiful oil-painted portrait and eventually figuring out that it looked weird because it had been painted with such shallow depth of field that the eyes were in focus and the nose was not. Whilst this is currently a popular technique for portrait photography, it looked strange as a picture as the depth of field in this instance was a facet of the camera’s functioning rather than how the eye would see.
Whilst Ranson feels that painting has made him a better photographer, I am hoping that photography will make me a better painter…eventually! Certainly painting from a photograph simplifies the issue of composition as the scene is already neatly framed. There are no worries about the changing light and shadows and the flower will not wilt or drop petals between sittings. A quick switch to monochrome and the tones are displayed if I need help, although with my preference for black and white my ability to read tones has improved immensely. And most usefully, I can paint the same subject several times and try out different approaches in each.. Definitely a match made in heaven.
A recent challenge pushed me into painting trees. This is a subject I find particularly challenging and therefore tend to avoid. I discovered that if I just paint a tree, I paint what I think a tree looks like…which is actually completely different to what a tree actually looks like. If I walk round looking at trees, considering them as a possible subject to paint, I realise I am dismissing them for not being suitable. It seems I have in my head an idea of how a tree should look, influenced by years of not seeing trees and a good dose of my preference of the neat and tidy to go with it. And this, of course, is why the trees I was painting looked wrong!
So, I took myself and a camera off of for a walk, specifically to look at and photograph trees. This is what I learned:
- None of the trees near where I live look like the imaginary tree in my head
- Branches come off in all directions, from all sides of the trunk, and they are not tidy!
- Trunks are lumpy and bumpy and not straight
- Although the pattern of division into branches may roughly follow the Fibonacci sequence, it is by no means that precise
- Every tree is different and they are all weird
- The little twigs and branches all follow a set growth pattern – right out to the tips, you can see this repeated – but it varies between tree species
I now understand why my trees looked odd…my attempts to create a randomness in the painting of trees still reflected my subconscious impression of a tree and not the reality of that particular tree. More study is required!
Sometimes everything just seems to come together and add the results are far more interesting than the individual parts.
This happened to me recently, when several of my interests combined in an unusual way.
I have long been in the habit of baking my own cakes. This week I decided to try a new recipe that asked for water and oil. I duly added these to a mixing bowl, which happened to be made of glass. I was immediately struck by the beautiful patterns made by the oil floating on the water’s surface. Now, oil and water as a technique for creating beautiful semi-abstract images is not new. Usually the artist places some colourful item under the dish. Maybe a bowl of smarties, flowers, or even patterned wrapping paper.
But then I suddenly thought, what if I put a scrap of watercolour painting under my mixing bowl? I have amassed plenty of pieces which include some pretty bits but the overall painting is uninspiring. All part of the learning process! in a flash, I was scuttling off to find a camera. My mobile phone in fact, as I had an eye on the time and the need to bake my cake.
This week’s picture is one of the results of my sudden flash of inspiration. Beauty finds us in the most unexpected moments and lightens up the day. I hope you like it!