Saturday, 27 April 2013

Grape Hyacinths

As I am about to begin 4 weeks of nearly full time work of invigilation at the local university, I thought I would quickly finish the grape hyacinths that I had originally intended to paint at Thursday group before I was seduced by the red tulips.

I decided to do a slightly smaller painting, to be finished within an hour or so in the evening, so I drew out the desired size on the paper, and then added the initial wash.

I left plenty of white in the middle so that some of the flowers would have a bit of brightness. but I wanted there to be hints of other flowers in the background.

I then painted in the initial wash for the flowers, trying to get the shape about right and some of the lighter tones.


I also began to add a few leaves to the painting. I then spent time darkening some parts of the flowers, added lots more colour to the bottom background and created lots of new leaves by scraping back with a palette knife. A good bit of green, gold and white spatter and that is where I left it. A small quick little study which I enjoyed doing in such a limited time

Muscari....Grape Hyacinths
Fabriano Artistico Extra White 300g Not
30cm x 20cm

As a bit of an aside and nothing to do with painting flowers, the subject at AVA this week was transport. Not really enjoying the prospect of painting or attempting to paint a realistic view of some form of transport, I opted for something a bit different, based very loosely on a photo in one of the local papers. I am not sure it really works, but I do like the muted colours ( except the blue and yellow in the botton RH corner!) if nothing else!


Friday, 19 April 2013

Red Tulips

No need to worry about being in my comfort zone this week at art group as the subject was 'Spring Flowers'
I originally planned to do a small painting of some Grape Hyacinths and did the wash and drawing, but was then too tempted by a large bunch of red tulips which found their way into my trolley at the local supermarket!. I will get around to finishing the Muscari   so will share it with you later. The tulips were quite tightly closed but as it was only Tuesday, I put them in the semi dark for a day to prevent them opening fully before AVA on the Thursday. A bit of a mistake really, as they were still quite closed when I started the drawing on Wednesday afternoon. I had to manipulate some of the heads to get them to look more open.

The leaves of the tulips look a bit bedraggled as this photo was taken after the event and the poor tulips had been in and out of water and my art bag all day. Somehow, the outer leaves got considerably abused!

I started with a drawing this time rather than the background wash. I thought about the best way to start for quite a while, as I have tried red/green background washes before , and where they meet, the resultant colour can be quite ugly. I decided, therefore, that if I did the drawing first I could put a red/orange wash over the specific flower heads area, and then paint in the background later. I knew that painting a red tulip over green wash would not work well, but it is quite possible to paint a green background over a red wash.

I started painting the image from the centre outwards, hoping to put the greatest detail into the flowers and leaves in the middle and loosen slightly towards the edges. I also spent some time testing the various reds and oranges in my palette, as I wanted to use the least number of pigments to keep the colours fresh. In the end I chose Quinachridone Coral and Transluscent orange which I sometimes mixed in the palette and sometimes on the paper. Where I wanted darker values, I just used a more intense mix of the same colours.

When I had painted the central flowers, I concentrated on painting the leaves. I knew there would be quite a lot of work needed in this area, as lots of overlapping leaves bending and flowing through the painting would require some quite subtle variations in shade and tone to produce the 3D effect. I also wanted to create as far as possible the idea that these tulips had been pushed tightly into the vase,creating a very tight bunch. I used lots of Green Apatite Genuine and Sap Green with some yellow, blue or gold added when required.I veined the leaves with either darker paint or the reverse end of a paint brush dragged through the damp paint.

I then completed all the tulip heads, keeping the three on the right as loose as I could.

To address the background I decided against using green and created a wash of Quinachridone Rust and Indian Yellow which I applied in various strengths across the painting, with the darkest values on the LH side. I also used this mixture with a little Indigo to paint the pot.

Finally, I used a hogs hair brush which I have trimmed to half its length , and clean water to gently wash out the highlights on the leaves and flower petals. I also added some darks at the base of some of the leaves to increase the 'squashed together' look.

I think the final painting is as much about the quality of the leaves as about the flowers. Tulip leaves are so sinuous and the coil around the flowers stems and twist and turn in lovely ways. It was very satisfying to spend time trying to do them justice. I am really pleased with the painting and it looks lovely in its white frame. I think, for me, this is about as good as it gets!

'Red Tulips'
Watercolour on Fabriano Artistico Extra White
Rough 300g
45cm x 35cm

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Roof tops

Back again to the Thursday Group exercises. In his comment about the 'Clematis' Peter' who is a fellow member of this group, suggested that he enjoyed seeing me push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Last week's subject certainly did that. One of the problems is that even with my camera in my pocket, I rarely take photos of buildings. I am always too busy looking into peoples front gardens! Thus, any subject like this, I have to rely on alternative source material, and that is never a perfect answer.

Needs must, however, and I started with a lovely photo taken of the roof tops of Manchester.

I suppose that I was mainly attracted by the colours. I love the orange and blue combination  and thought that there were some interesting shapes. I did not stop to consider that with my limited experience of painting buildings, I should opt for something a lot less complex!!

Because of the complex nature of the subject and the necessity of getting the buildings upright and with the perspective reasonably accurate, I resorted to a very careful drawing. (this is never a problem when painting flowers!)

I omitted the buildings in the very top distance of the photo as I wanted to include a bit of sky, and left out some detail where I thought it would not help to keep the painting a bit loose...always my intention although it does not always work...and I omitted the finer details of the stone carvings and the brickwork.

As usual, I added a simple wash over lots of the paper, but am sorry not to have a photo of this as I totally forgot to use the camera which I had, this time, remembered to put in my bag. 
I used Transluscent Gold and Cobalt Blue for the wash, painting it loosely where these colours appeared most strongly in the source photo. I also consciously washed in vertical areas to emphasis the height of the buildings.

It was then just a case of mixing earth colours...Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Quinachridone Rust etc to paint the various parts of the buildings. Where I needed a bit more detail, I used a non-permanent Sepia fine liner, which I immediately washed over with clean water to blur the edges. This also had the added bonus of creating those 'dirty' areas on stonework where it has weathered, as the sepia mixed with the blue gives a lovely greenish tinge. I used a similar technique with the window areas and the blue edges of the roofs.
When the painting was finished, I again used the fine liner to lightly pick out small areas of the brick and stone work, again washing over it whilst still damp to soften the edges as much as possible, but still leaving a hint of the detail.

As a final touch I darkened slightly some of the shadow areas and it seemed finished.
Not as loose as I had hoped, but still a lovely combination of colours and I am quite pleased with the result.
As usual, it was painted on Fabriano Artistico Extra White, 300g Rough and the final painting measures approx.30cm x 40cm.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Time is slipping away towards the Annual Exhibition in Wells Cathedral. Although I will not be on my own this year, I still need lots of paintings. There is only 4 months left and as I work almost full time during May, it seemed time to take stock.
Making a reasonably accurate list of what is ready mounted and framed, I was really surprised to see that I had neither Clematis nor White Anemone Japonicas. As these are the two most prolific flowers in my garden, and I am always painting them,  I am not sure how this has come about. It seemed as good a time as any to rectify this.

I started with the usual wash, with pinks and purples in the centre and green/blues around the outer edges. I tried to leave a fair amount of white, but the paint does tend to spread everywhere, so there was very little white, but at least some very pale passages. I then drew out the composition with three flower heads and 3 buds. At this stage I ignored the leaves as they could be added later. Then in my usual way, I started to paint the darks in the centre behind the flowers.

Almost immediately, I stopped as I realised that if I continued like this, the painting might end up a lot less delicate than I intended. I really liked the colours in the wash, and did not want them all to disappear into a dark background, I watered over the greens and gently blotted them away to half their strength, so that I could leave the pale green, or add lilac to them at the end.

At this stage, therefore I proceeded straight to the flowers, trying where possible to allow parts of some of the petals to blend into the background in places where the background colour allowed this to happen.

I used lots of Ultramarine Violet and Quinachridone Magenta for the petals, together with White Acrylic Gouache for the highlights and a mixture of Ultramarine Violet and Moonglow for the shadows. In the photo below you can see how much lighter the central greens have become. I also painted in the buds, and used the wrong end of a fine paintbrush to make marks in the paper into which the paint ran to give the markings on them.
I painted the third Clematis a slightly darker colour, where it was hidden under the second one and again used  Violet and Moonglow for the shadows.

I was eager to see how everything was progressing, so I removed the masking fluid from the stamens on the LH flower and painted them in using gouache and the shadow mixture. This was a mistake, as I later found that I needed to darken the background at the heart of the flowers and watercolour does not sit easily on top of gouache and it was the devils own job to paint between the lines. I need to aquire more patience!

I finished painting the flowers and buds and added a few leaves where necessary. When it came to tackling the background, I wanted the painting to remain as delicate as possible, so I added a little lilac to the central original darks and made up a plale greenish grey wash which I could gradually fade out to the lovely colours in the original wash. I darkened all the corners except the RH top, and then all that remained was finish the remaining two centres,  adjust some of the highlights with more gouache and give the painting a light splatter to loosen it up a little.

'Lilac Clematis'
Watercolour on Fabriano Artistico Extra White
300gm rough
Approx.  40cm x 30cm

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Post script to Bluebell Wood

Peter's comment about the fact that he liked the photo taken before the trees were darkened and the shadows added, got me thinking about the paper quality and an old painting friend of mine.
We had already discovered that the hard surface of the paper prevented the paint from being too much absorbed below the surface, and how easy it was to lift the paint when necessary. (See Blue Blossom, 28th March)
Now Brenda, this painting friend, was often dissatisfied with her watercolour efforts and she regularly put the whole painting under the tap to remove as much surface paint as possible, just leaving a very pale underpainting, which she proceeded to repaint.

Now this post is not about producing a lovely painting from sludge, as I have never done this before, so it is an experiment about seeing what is possible with this sort of paper, when the results are less than satisfactory! So lets see if Brenda's way would work for me.

Now, if you looked at the previous post you will recall that the finished painting looked like this....

Something dreadfully wrong with the shadows and I had created a very dull area in the middle.

I put a few inches of water in the bath, and then held the painting under the tap, using a soft brush to take off as much of the surface paint as possible. I then laid the painting in the bath and using a hogs hair brush I gently scubbed at any stubborn areas of  shadow coloured paint.

When I was satisfied that I could not scrub any more without taking off the surface of the paper, I laid the painting on the work bench and left it to dry completely. It did curl slightly at the edges, but when dry seemed none the worse for its bath.
Now my painting looked like this.....

All the lightness and delicacy had been restored and the trees were much less dominant in the painting. An added bonus was the lovely texture in the tree trunks created by the surface of the paper.

I decided that it was possible that the surface of the paper had been compromised a little, so I repainted it almost entirely by splattering, so as not to disturb the surface more than necessary. I used a variety of brushes to vary the texture, and went from dark to light, letting it dry between the various colours.

I do not claim in any way that this painting is now perfect, but I just wanted to share the possibilities with you, should you wish to have a go at getting back an overworked painting, but do beware that all papers do not stand up  this sort of treatment!

'Cornwall' paper by Hahnemuhle
450g rough

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bluebell Wood

This weeks subject at Avon Valley Artists group was 'Shadows'
Not the easiest of subjects to interpret, and we had quite an interesting conversation before we began about the difference between shadows and reflections. 
I chose to attempt to paint a sunlit bluebell wood with shadows of the trees cutting across the flowers. I used a piece of 'Cornwall' paper, hoping that the texture of the paper would help to convey the texture of the flowers. I did this initial wash the night before, adding a little salt to increase the interest. Before going to bed, I removed the salt and was quite disappointed in the resulting wash, seen below.

8.00am the following morning found me in the studio with a sheet of Fabriano Artistico Extra White Rough paper, trying to get a better starting wash, before leaving for AVA at 9.15pm. I turned the paper portrait style to see if it would give me a better start.

I took both washes with me, and after a bit of friendly consultation decide to stick with the original landscape format. I did think the second sheet was more exciting, but thought the first one was 'safer'. What a coward!

Anyway, having decided, the first thing I did was to add the outline of the trees, using a pale mixture of Burnt Umber, Anthraquinachridone Blue Blue and Quinachridone Rust. I used a straw to blow twiglet shapes across the sky.

The next step was to build up the banks of bluebells using dots of colour, occasionally giving them a light spray to give some merging whilst leaving others as dots.For this I used Ultramarine Violet, Quinachridone purple, Cobalt |Blue and Quinachridone Magenta. I added some green areas between the banks of flowers and finished this stage off with some white acrylic gouache.

At this stage I was quite pleased with the progress.I darkened the tree trunks and the greens on the horizon and it was looking good.

As the subject was 'Shadows' I now needed to brush in the shadows created by the trees across the meadow. I kept the wash quite pale as I was really unsure about how this was going to work. I am disappointed with this final outcome as the  shadows are too pale, but am not sure how to rectify the matter without sending the whole thing to a sludge. I will leave well alone and accept that  there are not too many shadows cast in the painting!

On looking at the final painting once back in the studio, I was also unhappy by the way two of the tree trunks made a funny arch in the top middle of the painting. As I was using 'Cornwall' paper, I had no difficulty in washing out the offending branches on the right of the 'arch' and lightly touching up the space with a little sky colour.

I am not convinced that I chose the right piece of paper to begin with, but I do now have another wash ready to have a second go at a future date. I will let you know how it turns out if  and when I re-visit a 'Bluebell Wood' !