It always looks easy on YouTube or Instagram. An experienced artist demonstrates painting a leaf or a flower or a fruit. It seems effortless, as she builds up the painting from a pale outline, to an object with substance and depth.
The key word, of course, is ‘experienced’. I’m not, but I know that there are things that I can do better now than I could a year ago. And that the more one does something, the better one can become at it.
I am determined to become better at watercolours. It’ll take time.
I can do time. Although I can be impetuous, impatient and impulsive at times, if I really want something, I can be willing to take my time to achieve it. Sometimes the more time and effort one puts in, the more satisfying the achievement becomes.
Well, that’s a bit deep. All I want to do in this case is get a bit better at watercolours.
Here’s the start point. Lavender, in watercolour, flat and one-dimensional …
And in gouache, with a bit more depth and expression (ignore the stem and leaves, which are rubbish) …
So, my objective is to be able to achieve in watercolour something of the depth and substance I manage to achieve in gouache. (Although, to be honest, as anybody reading this blog will already know, I love painting with gouache. I’ll address the expressive nature of gouache in another post in due course.)
Another impulse purchase! But I was intrigued. I get the sense that until very recently watercolours came in two basic formats: the tube and the pan, the latter being a little box with a hard lump of stuff that, when wet, becomes paint. There is a new emphasis now on portability. And technology has played a part in this by being able to concentrate pigment into a number of different formats.
I was on Instagram recently and one of the people I follow, @minortismay, the inspiration, by the way, for the miniature floral wreaths, was demonstrating her art using what looked like a little booklet of flat colour shapes. The colours seemed to be pretty vibrant and easy to use. There was a link to the booklet in her post and an offer of a 15% discount to boot.
I followed the link to a company called Viviva, didn’t think about it much and bought one of the booklets. That was about a week or so ago, and the booklet arrived today, delivered to my office by our very friendly postal worker. It’s smaller than I thought it would be and it was made in, and delivered from India.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not good with watercolours. Although I’d love to be able to get some sense out of them, I can’t seem to. It’s probably impatience on my part and an aversion to the discipline of practice. So, I’m constantly trying to find something that will shortcut that process and this little booklet is the latest something.
Here’s the booklet. The little discoloured blobs on some of the pages are where I’ve used it.
This is what I did this evening. Although it’s not great, I enjoyed using the booklet. The pigment is quite intense and the colours are vivid, although I had terrible trouble mixing the greens for some reason.
They are supposed to be sweet pea and lilac. I hope you guessed.
Then it did this with gouache on a pistachio shell to bring today’s artistic endeavours to a close.
Regular readers will know that I have shed blood for my art, mainly by jabbing knives and gouges into my hand and fingers. Well, yesterday I suffered another art-related injury when I fell down my stairs at home. I was walking downstairs, carrying a beaker in which I had just rinsed out some brushes and looking up, over my shoulder, at my jellyfish, hanging above the attic stairs, to see whether it was moving in the draught. I missed my step and, in a shower of pink water, fell backwards and landed heavily, with my back taking the brunt of the edge of a step. Ouch. Nothing broken I think, just a bruise and irritating pain.
I have a friend called June: an ex-colleague from a previous job. It’s her birthday soon. I’ll send her a card and I thought I might decorate the envelope with some flowers and leaves.
Like this …
Gouache is very water sensitive in that it can be reactivated easily with water. In a rainy country, that could well be a problem for my envelope. So I applied some of that spray varnish I’ve been using on my painted pebbles. I knew that it would affect the colour values but, actually, I had found on the pebbles that it enhanced the depth effect of the shading. Here it is, sprayed …
It’s a bit sticky but hopefully less so tomorrow. I don’t need to post it until Thursday.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson. It’s one thing to make something because one has been inspired by something or someone. It’s very much a different thing to make something on demand, because someone has requested it. In the former, there’s not much pressure. It flows. There’s an emotional attachment to the thing being created. In the latter, one feels one has got to get it right. I’m not complaining. Just making an observation. But I don’t think I’ll be taking any more commissions, if that’s the right term. A bit too stressful.
Here’s my second go at the mum thing for my pal …
This was the first …
I think the top one is better but I’m open to differing opinions. I’ll probably send him both and let him choose.
I’ve been using tiny brushes (6/0) but I realised the other day that I really needed a tinier brush to get the level of detail that I wanted. Not having the patience (not sure whether this is a gift or a curse) to order and wait for one, I grabbed a cheap brush I bought recently in Sostrene Grene, and took a scissors to it. Well, it’s not the real thing but it works. The only draw-back is that water can collect in the thick bit near the shaft of the brush and drip down. So I need to remember to dry the brush every time I clean it and to only dip the very tip of it in the paint.
My earlier floral wreaths were in watercolour but I’ve now gone back to gouache. Gouache suits me. It’s forgiving. I find it easier to mix to get the colours I want, especially lighter and darker shades of a particular colour (see especially the purple flowers below). It dries quickly and you can adjust things that aren’t quite right. I like its vibrancy, and painting in the small scale that I’m using, the customary blocky-ness of gouache isn’t so apparent.
Here’s this evening’s creation!
This is small. The pebble is about the size of a lens on a pair of spectacles. I use a spray varnish which darkens the stone, gives the whole thing a bit (but not too much) of a sheen, and brings out the colours of the flowers quite well. I’m pleased with this one.
The mum one I did yesterday, I’m having second thoughts about. Having now done something on a darker stone and seen that it can look bright and vibrant, I think my friend’s mum deserves better. So I’ll do a better one, maybe tomorrow.
It’s the June bank Holiday and I really needed this extra day. The last couple of weeks have been difficult and I’m a bit wrecked, to be honest. Also, because it’s been busy and because I haven’t been sleeping all that well, I haven’t been that productive creatively, although I have done something creative each day. In some cases, though, that might just have been a doodle or a bit of strumming on the guitar.
Yesterday, Christine and I cycled to Bloom in the Phoenix Park. It’s not quite an annual pilgrimage, but we go frequently enough and it’s a nice day out. It was sunny and the place was rammed. There was a definite bee theme with many of the show gardens sporting wild and other bee-friendly flowers. There were bee boxes and bug hotels all over the place. And even a few actual bees.
Alison Byrne, our glass workshop leader, had a stall there with Ali, who makes jewellery and other accessories out of plastic and other materials, and who was at the terrarium workshop a few weeks ago.
There was some attractive metal work on display too, and a blacksmithing demonstration in the craft village. Fire and hammers. Nice.
And, of course, some attractive plants and gardens.
Several posts ago, I showed a picture of some sticks I had collected on a recent trip to the seaside. In my mind when I was collecting them was a kind of hanging mobile. So, on Saturday, I finally got that done. It was a simple construction, involving drilling holes in the sticks and stringing them together with some jute twine, using figure of eight knots to space them out.
The photo isn’t great. But, believe me, it looks quite good at night with the attic stairs light casting a shadow on the wall and giving the mobile extra depth.
Today, I finished that jellyfish that I started ages ago. I used the airbrush and some recently purchased inks to colour it, attached some fronds and hung it up. Again, the photo doesn’t do it justice. It is quite dark but the ink I used in the airbrush has a shimmer effect which is pretty good. And of course, the jellyfish moves a little in the draft which I’m pleased about.
A little while ago, an old college friend asked me to make something for his mum. At first I said no, because I really don’t want to be in the position of having to make stuff on demand. Having done a few floral wreaths recently, however, I had an idea that I might do one on a pebble and maybe that could satisfy the request. So, I did this today.
There were some awkwardly placed flaws in the pebble, but it was the only light-coloured one I had. He wanted ‘mum,’ on it and I agonised a bit over how to present it. Anyway, it’s done now and I think It’s OK. We’ll see if he likes it.
I suppose in the back of my mind, I felt the need to go back to something familiar, something I was comfortable with, in order to regain some of the confidence I feel I lost with those insipid butterflies. I didn’t really lose confidence. But I did feel that I needed to do something I could be happy with in order not to lose confidence. I don’t know whether that makes sense but every so often I remember the last period of my life when I was drawing and painting and how suddenly I felt that I couldn’t do it any more. That was definitely a confidence issue.
I don’t want to overstate this but exercising my creativity in the ways that I do it now is really very important to me especially just at this precise moment in time.
This morning, I reached for my gouache and my little paint brushes and a teabag and it felt good. This evening, I extended myself a little more and it felt even better.
Here’s today’s stuff altogether …
And one by one …
OK for an early morning effort. I like the berries but the leaves are too small and I shouldn’t have started the berries in the centre of the bag.
Better. Bigger leaves and the berries are placed off-centre. Quite pleased with this. Difficult with gouache to get the impression of shine on the leaves though.
I had thought about doing this since my floral wreath experiments at the weekend. I do like this. Some of the stems are a bit thick and wonky and it’s very off-centre which, in this case, is not a good thing. Some water dripped off my brush onto it at a late stage so it needed a little repair but I don’t think it shows.
This was very much a long-shot. I’ve been looking at lots of pics of jellyfish on Pinterest and they really can be magnificent creatures. There’s not much sense of motion from this one but it’s not a total disaster. When I was painting it, things improved when I used a smaller brush. I sometimes don’t notice what I’m using until something goes awry.
I love elections. I didn’t pay that much attention to the local and European Parliament elections held last week until polling day. I was simply too busy. But, after work, I wandered down to the polling station and cast my votes. Exercising my right to vote does give me a bit of a thrill. It’s easy to be cynical about politics and I do my best not to be. I do believe that a society collectively can exercise some power and casting a vote is one way of doing that. Think marriage equality and abortion.
My number one European Parliament vote went to Clare Daly of Independents4Change. I used to be a solid Labour Party voter but Labour lost its way a few years ago. In 2016, it unaccountably forgot a pretty basic lesson about what happens to the smaller party in a coalition Government if it doesn’t at least make an attempt to distance itself from the policies of the larger party. Labour allowed itself to be seduced into supporting Fine Gael’s continuing austerity policies well beyond the time when it was sensible to do so. It’s never recovered. Arguably, it was never sensible to do so, but that’s another point altogether.
Anyway, the real point of all this is that Clare Daly has an awesome tattoo …
I needed to be distracted this morning so I kept myself busy (and went to the gym!).
Started with this. Watercolour this time.
Then, as Christmas is just around the corner, I did this. The left hand holly leaf is better that the right hand one. One of the berries is square. In my defence, I was working with a tiny brush and the holly is VERY small. VERY VERY small.
Then after the gym, I finished this.
I’ll hang it tomorrow if I can get some hooks. It’s been designed to hang on a wall opposite the attic. staircase. The idea is to decorate the hanging with butterflies in due course. So I worked on some templates for them this evening (while making gravy for our dinner).
I spend much of my working life suggesting to young people that they slow down. Poetry, prose and drama all benefit from careful pacing. You speed up, you lose the opportunity to interpret and to really communicate with one’s audience. I remember suggesting to a friend that there is nothing in the arts that doesn’t benefit from being done slower. Not always true but, more often than not, it is.
I rushed this …
… and it broke. I’ve glued it but I don’t think the glue will withstand what I need to do to finish it.
I referred to macrame wall hangings in the last post and so I took the opportunity provided by having to wait for the glue on my question mark to dry, to start work on what I have in mind. It’s simple but it should look interesting. It’s also the biggest thing I’ve ever attempted.
I’m using jute rope I bought in Lidl a while ago. It was dirt cheap. And the bamboo pole I’m tying the jute to is from the bamboo plants we used to have in our back garden.
It took a while to unravel the bundles of jute, cut them in half and attach them to the pole. Then I was in a quandary. How would I secure the pole in such a way that I could use both hands to tie the knots? I was looking around and then I saw that the back door of the garage had a gap between door and frame and it became the hanging place. This also meant that I’d be doing the macrame outdoors. And, you know, there are few pleasures greater than tying knots on the open air with birds tweeting and a slight breeze playing around one’s ears.