All posts by KatherineJ

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.

Yoga and mindfulness at Woodbrooke

One of the highlights of my summer is teaching at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.  This year the course is slightly earlier, running Wednesday, 15 August 2018 – Friday, 17 August 2018.  Our title this time is “Sense and Perception: Bringing Together Yoga, Mindfulness & Photography.”

The yoga sessions will be gentle and suitable for beginners, with an emphasis on mindful practice rather than physical ability. Mats and blankets will be provided, but you will need to bring a digital camera you are comfortable using – your phone camera will be perfect.

The course costs £170.00 non-residential or £245.00 residential and places can be booked online with Woodbrooke by following this link.

I hope to see you in August!

Thich Nhat Hanh

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognise: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Creativity as cure for boredom?

A friend recently told me that their job would soon be changing from full-time to part-time.  Being a freelancer who always has an extensive ‘to do’ list, on which the fun things are endlessly being crowded up by work activities that spill over into what could have been leisure time, my immediate thought was Yes, please! That would be great! All that extra time to do the fun things I that I never get round to!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if work was confined to just 4 days a week (or less?!), with 3 days for ‘me’ time!  However, it turned out that rather than looking forward to the change, this friend was actually worried about getting bored; what would they do with the extra time?

This set me wondering about nature of boredom, and its relationship to creativity.  I can honestly say I am too busy to be bored.  As fast as I tick something off that list, more things are added to the bottom.  The more essential, mundane tasks gravitate to the top whilst less urgent ideas tend to sink to the bottom.  What is most definitely not lacking, though, is things to add to the list.

I think that once you open yourself up to the idea that you have time to do stuff, ideas of what you might do start popping up.  A friend who was due to retire expressed similar concerns; what would she do with herself all day every day without work?  Now, a couple of years later her social schedule is so busy she is rarely at home.

Sometimes we need a little mental space away from the demands of everyday life in order to come up with ideas.  When I was working in an extremely pressured environment I felt that my creativity was stifled.  I could do the essentials, but please don’t ask me to think!

As a freelancer, I recognise that I sometimes get myself into this situation and then it’s time to take a step back, to come up with a plan that will allow me to feel on top of things again so the suppressed creativity can rise to the surface again.  In the meantime, I will keep adding things to my list…


This website is all about my passion for watercolours and photography.

I am now creating greetings cards from my watercolour paintings.  They are available as single cards, or in themed packs of 5.  Please check them out at on my page at Love from the Artist, by clicking here.

You may also like to visit my Facebook page Katherine Woodman Simply Images. To get in touch, please send me a message via that page.

Photographing unexpected beauty

During my summer workshop at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, I set the participants the task of photographing unexpected beauty.  I asked them to create images that demonstrated the unexpected beauty that we can see around us when we take the time to actually see.

Any time we study something attentively, our wonder can be inspired, regardless of the apparent banality of the subject.  As Frederick Franck found, “When I start drawing an ordinary thing I realise how extraordinary it is, what a sheer miracle: the branching of a tree, the structure of a dandelion’s seed puff.”

He also suggested that in learning to see more clearly, we begin to see a much bigger picture than we might have expected: “While drawing grasses I learn nothing ‘about’ grass, but wake up to the wonder that there is grass at all.”

This year I decided to complete this task alongside the course participants.  I often head straight for the glory of Woodbrooke’s gardens, so instead I decided to explore the house.  My first little gem was this piece of glass in a rather narrow door alongside the lift.  I loved the way the floral design reminded us of the lush greenery outside.

This next image was an example of one of those times when you turn around and realise that the real interest is behind you.  I went up the stairs a little, to see if there might be an interesting vantage point.  It turned out there was not, but when I came down I was struck by the beautiful curve of the bannister from above, only seen on the way down this staircase.

My third image was actually a real ‘Aha!’ moment, taken after I had packed my camera away.  Again I turned round, looked across the room…and couldn’t resist these paintbrushes!

Love the one you’re with

I came across an article a while back which struck a chord with me. It was by Eddie Ephraums, on the use of phone cameras. He suggested that using the camera on a mobile phone can lead to a more relaxed approach to photography. His idea was that ‘image making becomes freer and I take pictures that feel closer to how I see.

Ironically, not trying to be a photographer seems to make me a better one.’  Using a smart phone camera allows me to snap a moment whenever I see it, rather than only when I have made a point of going out to take photographs with my DSLR.

I am also more inclined to share these photos, as I can upload them directly to the internet and am less concerned about theft of my copyright as the image is not of a high enough quality for would-be users to do a great deal with.

My newly developed dependence on this approach was brought home to me recently when I arrived at the venue of a yoga class I was about to teach and was suddenly stuck by the alignment of some elderly railings alongside the car park.

I reached for my phone before realising it was at home on the charger. I have been back several times since but the railings have not struck me in the same way again and I have not again been tempted to photograph them.

Another way in which I have found that using my mobile’s camera encourages me to photograph the world as I see it is that the tiny sensor and short focal length mean it creates a huge depth of field in an image.

This is much closer to the way the human eye sees the world than the shallower depth of field I am frequently tempted to select on my DSLR. I love images with only a small part in focus but if I am honest this is not the reality that I see but rather an image I have created as a result of the shortcomings of my camera’s ‘eye’.