Archives For Watercolours

fergus

March 30, 2016 — Leave a comment

Fergus

 

This is Fergus. He’s 12 years old and has had a distinctly unpleasant life as a racing dog and then (we think) as a stud dog in the greyhound industry. He’s a bit beaten up and rough around the edges these days. He’s a bit unsteady on his legs and he can’t see very well and his flatulence would clear an aircraft hangar. But he is a sweet boy in need of my loving care in his twilight years, and is always happy to see me. Glad to have you in my life Ferg!
This painting was created so that I could play with masking techniques. It was a lot of fun to be able to slop the background colour around with abandon, but I did learn to be somewhat careful with the masking fluid, which is a similar colour to the paper, and makes it difficult to see and little holes in the latex. You likely cannot see them in the photo, but there are a couple of little green spots on the Furry One 🙂 He’s not mouldy… that’s just me learning to be more thorough and not rush to the fun part 🙂

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This month’s Canberra Urban Sketcher’s meet up was at the local airport, starting at the new Vibe hotel. The airport precinct has a lot of brilliant things to sketch  – anything from sculptures to people to buildings and funky new hotels. My challenge to day was to attempt to capture the movement in the water features up on the departures drop off area. They are hypnotising to watch…I have no idea how they work. It looks as through a tornado of water is swirling up through the middle of the glass tube and letting water shimmer down the outside. I had fun attempting to capture the reflected colours from the sky and plants and surrounding buildings, though i couldn’t quite get the shimmy of the water down the outside.

20160207 - airport water feature
Looking at this photo now I can see that i was so fixated on the feature itself that I completely missed the reflection in the surrounding support. :S

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It has been a particularly wet, rainy week, so to fill some of the time I watched some art lessons on Craftsy in a bid to improve my urban sketching and watercolour work in general. I have wanted to improve my streetscapes for a long time because they tend to be the heart and soul of travel sketching. I want to travel more and capture the places I visit, and I want to capture my adventures in a way that is at least a little bit recognisable to me!

So on Sunday, I was looking for suitable reference photos in my stash, and I came across my holiday snaps from a trip to France a few years ago. At the time I took a heap of photos to use as references to draw from for my travel journal each evening (we moved far too quickly at the time to sit and draw or paint in situ, so I constructed my journal pages in the evenings and finished a large portion of them at home at the end of the trip), but also in the hope that I would get to draw them in a more detailed way at some stage. So…fast forward five years, and I want to draw … and I discover that I had captured some good references and some woefully unhelpful ones. Apparently this is a skill you learn over time too. What will work as a composition and what will not. What will translate to a sketch, and what will not. What lighting will produce dramatic effects.

After much fussing about I chose a photo of a street scene from inside the Mont Saint Michel village and set about doing a “quick and loose” watercolour streetscape using the techniques I had learned during the week. I sketched up a rough pencil outline with the big shapes and then went in and added detail with pen before hitting it with watercolour. This is the result. I consider it displeasing given that it looks like it is being viewed in a carnival magic mirror. :S

French street scene

What I don’t like about this piece….

  • The perspective on the left handside of the drawing is off. I lost my vertical lines at some point along the progression of buildings and it is looking a little like a fish eye lense attacked it.
  • The colours are muddy. I think I need to figure out how to exaggerate lights and darks in a bland photo to get more contrast (perhaps explore tube paint rather than pans to get juicy colours for depth too?) and experiment with using colours other than what i perceive as a direct match with the scene – ie trying to capture the essence of the scene and playing with reflected colour.

But for all the things I feel are wrong with it, I know that it’s an improvement on previous attempts.

Here’s a street scene from my “France” travel sketchbook back in 2011. It’s from a different place (a village south-west of Paris called Chartres), but it’s easy to see that I have learned some things since then about perspective and learning to be looser and lighter with my pen strokes and quicker with on the spot type sketching in order to capture a scene. I didn’t even bother finishing this one… I gave up in despair.

French street scene 2
Incremental progress is a funny thing.

We don’t see it unless we keep our “failures” to look back on. I learned that lesson when I started powerlifting as a way to get healthy. A friend who had been at it a long time encouraged me to take a “before” photo so that I would be able to look back and see progress, which as it turned out was a fabulous thing, because I didn’t feel like my body had changed but comparing photos, I could see a clear progression and improvement. I could not see improvement by looking in the mirror because the changes were so small each day, but cumulatively over months they were substantial. I am discovering the same with my art. Comparing these two pictures I can see that I have made some improvements over time, but see that there’s more improvement to be made too when I compare it to the work of artists I admire.

Here are some of the things that I am telling myself as I work to slowly improve my art this year. Michelle… listen carefully……

  • Learn and practise the rules and master the basics before you try to eyeball something  or bend the rules. Watching lessons by artists that have been at it for a lot longer than you have and attempting to emulate their shorthand is not helpful.
  • Give yourself permission to fail, but make sure you learn the lessons to be learned and move on mindfully. Realistically, failure is not something we can avoid in creating art, or in life for that matter. Take the time to examine things critically and work to improve. Always.
  • Try not to start a new venture on a project that is too complex… you are setting yourself up for unnecessary failure. Start small and simple and work your way up to the more complex tasks. I think I chose a scene that was perhaps a little too tricky for my skill level at this point.
  • Keep reminders of past flops so you can see how far you’ve come, and don’t be afraid to share them. Other people are learning too, they may be able to take a leap forward by analysing how you messed up. Or there may be someone with more skill or more acute perception that can help you improve by pointing out where to tune your technique. You will likely end up with sketchbooks and loose sheets piled up with scenes that make me cringe…but you will at least have something to compare to, and see how far I’ve come over the years.
  • Be consistent in your practice if you truly want to improve. The only way to get better at representing what you see in the world on the pages of your sketchbook is to do it regularly. Every day would be ideal, but not practical at this point, but a couple of times a week will still yield results, albeit a little slower. Sure life gets in the way at times, but if you want something, you need to make time. End of story.

I tend to talk to myself quite a lot, especially when I’m trying to learn something. I don’t always get intelligent responses, but there you go 🙂

What are you telling yourself this year?

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This month’s meeting of the Canberra Urban Sketchers was supposed to be held at the Botanic Gardens, but with a weather forecast that featured 90% chance of lots of wet stuff, the venue changed to the National Library. At least there we would find shelter if the heavens did decide to open.

As I venture out to do more urban sketching I find myself changing and refining the kit that I take out with me, depending on what I think I’ll be sketching, and what blogs and tutorial videos I’ve been watching for ideas of techniques and tips to try. This time I crammed two sketchbooks (one landscape and one portrait) and a piece of corrugated plastic board in the bag with my usual bits and pieces. I also chose to go with paintbrushes and water container over my usual water brushes this time for the sake of control and not winding up with too many huge puddles of water, as I am wont to do lately with the water brushes.

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My experiment this time round was with the corrugated plastic board acting as a hand-held easel of sorts to clip my paint, water and sketchbook to, so that I could hold all of that with my left hand and be free to draw or paint with my right. The size of the board was constrained by what would fit in my little Rickshaw bag since I wanted to keep my kit self-contained and somewhat compact. It worked for the most part, though I think I would have preferred something a little larger…I’ll play with that next time. Here’s what it looked like; my left hand held the board under the cover of the sketchbook and the paper towels for wiping off my brushes was held in the fingers of the left hand under the board.

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My goals for today were to have a go at improving my perspective for sketching buildings and to attempt a landscape that didn’t end up looking like a mud puddle as they have been of late. The rain hadn’t arrived when we started out, so I grabbed a prime position on the forecourt of the Library and set about putting into practice what I had been learning in this Craftsy course that I watched last week. I measured and checked angles as best I could while the stormy clouds rolled and boiled above me. I felt the first drops of rain as I put the last details in. Overall I’m happy with the result.

20151101 - national library

I made it up to the verandah of the Library just as the spots of rain started to come a little faster. Unfortunately I couldn’t see a scene I wanted to paint from back there, so I ventured out a little way to get a view of what lay over the lake from me, and as it turns out I could see Mount Ainslie under the stormy clouds. I snapped out a couple of quick value sketches in pencil before I settled on a portrait composition that had lots of the purply clouds at the top and a little of the same reflected in the almost still lake below. I stood in the rain and captured the basics of the sketch before retreating to what i thought was a safe dry spot to add the watercolour…as you can see in the sky below I failed to take into account the wind factor and wound up with some unexpected “special effects” in my sky 🙂 I’m pleased I managed some decent contrast in this one…was a quickie that took about 20 minutes or so.

20151101 - mount ainslie under stormy skies

The board worked equally well standing up and sitting down.

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Not really what I was going for with the clouds, but the little raindrop blooms are kind of pretty anyway. 🙂 And as a side note…when I went to scan the pics I discovered that I had stared my new Windsor and Newton landscape book bak to front and upside down…Numpty!

IMG_1578

 

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I discovered, quite by accident, a few weeks ago that there is a group of sketchers that get together regularly in Canberra (one of them saw my Goulburn post and contacted me) and today I decided to stop being such a hermit and join them. Time for me to meet some new people!

Quite aside from my normal social anxiety, I hadn’t picked up a pencil or paint brush since the end of June and so I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. I figured I had best practice a little and started preparing yesterday by sketching of some blossoms in my back yard just to get the feel of it again. I had forgotten how relaxing it can be (smacks self in the head).

Here’s what I ended up with today…Nothing quite like going from flowers to artillery! I have drawn the War Memorial building itself a couple of times in the past and wanted to try my hand at something a little more detailed, and since the weather wasn’t too unpleasant outside, I settled myself down next to a 9.2-inch howitzer from World War I. I started out by mapping the proportions of the gun in pencil before going in with my rollerball ink pen and then the Pentel brush pen for the darkest shadows, and then finally with the watercolours.  All up it took probably an hour and a half or so from setup to dry paint.

20150906 - WWI Howitzer

The group met back at the cafe after a couple of hours of dispersed sketching (we all went and found our own “things” that we wanted to capture) to compare sketches and enjoy a coffee. I found it fabulous how we were each in the same geographical location, but came back with such a wonderful and diverse set of sketches.

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I’ll definitely be meeting up again next month at Floriade! If nothing else it will push me to be a little more regular with my sketching and perhaps prime the pump for some more ‘proper’ art pieces for the shop. Here’s the warm up piece I did yesterday…  

20150905 - spring always comes

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out of practice!

June 8, 2015 — 2 Comments

The past couple of months have been more than a little hectic one way or the other due to the fact that I bought a house, moved in and furnished it… and I haven’t posted the last commission that I did for my sister-in-law who runs an organic farm in Victoria with my brother. These little piggies wound up being salami … or some of them did anyway. I completed this one and mailed it off a couple of weeks before I moved and the next day packed up my desk.

Pigs' butts

At the same time as my house move, our office had a big move as well…to the other side of the city. My commute has gone from being less than 10 minutes to being about half an hour. Whilst still not onerous, it’s different and I’m adjusting. My sketchbook has been languishing in my handbag for months as I’ve taken short lunch breaks to get work done in anticipation of moving offices or to buy me time to leave the office early to do house stuff. So my normal midday sketch breaks of late have been crunched. 🙁

Here are a couple of pages that were scribbled and splotched in haste:

20150504 - across the square

These were some lovely roses I was given for mothers day. Sweet subtle fragrance and big luscious blooms that lasted for ages. I would loved to have been able to sit and draw longer to try and capture some more depth in the blooms.

20150510 - pink and white

I was determined to draw “something” one day the other week, so I sketched the counter at the cafe while I waited for my lunch to come…took me 5-10 minutes and it shows … I am feeling so out of practice!

20150527 - central cafe

Life seems to be settling down now, for the most part, and I found myself dreaming about painting the other night, so perhaps it’s time to sit myself down at my new setup and get painting…..either that or I am losing my mind….dreams about pigment running into wet puddles on the page has to be some kind of sign… or not 🙂 Perhaps I’ll just opt to wonder….

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There are few things more satisfying than getting to the end of a sketchbook… and whilst it took me almost a year to get through this one I am ashamed to say…. the last half of the book went quicker than the first half, so I think my mojo has returned. I have loved working in the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks… the paper is wonderfully heavy and creamy and takes the watercolours wonderfully. So I have decided to stay with them, though I have opted for the ivory paper over the bright white for a bit of a change.
20150301 - out with the old and in with the new

A habit I shamelessly copied from Liz Steel is to start each new sketchbook with a colour chart .. in past books I’ve done a straight colour swatch to remind me what I was carrying in my travel palette. This time I opted for a colour mixing chart so that I would have a handy reference of what colours I could mix with the pans I carry… particularly important since I changed the palette up a little this time round. I felt like I needed to reacquaint myself with the colours.

20150302 - start of the colour mixing chart

I ruled it all up and made sure it was tiny and precise since I managed to cram 22 pans into the tin this time… took me ages. And then I started to mix…

Tiny blobs of paint dotted on my mixing plate… meticulously counting and ensuring I was mixing the right colours… or so I thought…

20150302 - chart - pretty sure I've killed it

The problem was that when I started mixing the paint for the colour chart, it was after work… and I was tired. Actually I lie… the problems started before that. I’m still too tired to figure it out properly, but I think I numbered the axes of the chart incorrectly… I was getting little of no swatches that involved mixing the dark end of the spectrum…and to make matters worse, by the time I was mixing colours  6 and 7, I realised that I had doubled up and done the same set of mixes twice. So I gave up. My sketchbook has a completely useless colour mixing chart to start it off. I am really hoping that this is not a sign of things to come for the rest of the sketchbook!!! ARGH!

I think the thing that annoys me most is that I’ve done four or five of these over the years and have not had a problem. Lesson learned… don’t do anything you have to use your brain for after a long day at work and a weights session.

Anyway, to end on a high note (sort of) … here’s the colour chart I did of the current travel palette that i will cut out and tuck into the kit. I had some spare reds and purples hanging around, so I decided to slot them in to see what I can do with them. I’m still not a huge fan of the Prussian Blue, and I think I need another green too … something to investigate and experiment with I think.

20150301 - swatches for new setyp

And just for good measure here’s the scanned front page. The botanical letter is something I wanted to have a go at after seeing the tutorial over on The Postman’s Knock. Though this was a lot of fun to do, I think perhaps I’d like to experiment with some Aussie bush wildflowers next time.
20150302 - front page new book

 

The chart still looks kind of cool.. but is utterly useless. 🙂 Not that I am particularly perturbed… it is annoying, but at the end of the day I was engrossed in doing something wonderful for a couple of hours. Well worth it.

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A couple of weeks before Christmas I had a weekend to myself so I packed up the car and drove out to a small town nearby that I knew to have a lot of old buildings that would make good sketch subjects. My intention was to do a series of saleable artworks, so I had prepared a bunch of boards with watercolour paper taped securely, gathered up my pencils and pens and brushes…but what I hadn’t prepared for was a change in the weather.

When I left home the sun was shining and the day was shaping up to be fabulous… not too hot for sitting outdoors and drawing pictures, which is a not unimportant consideration in Summer here. I was excited about my first purpose-planned painting en plein air expedition. Nature had other ideas though. By the time I got to Braidwood, clouds had gathered and the odd spot of rain started to fall. Undeterred, I grabbed my camera and wandered the streets taking reference shots just in case the rain decided to stay, smiling at strangers and dodging small children running to get to the local lolly shop.

The rain decided to stay, but instead of going home I drove around until I found a building I could park near and draw without being parked in by the tourists that were coming and going and parking in odd spots with large caravans. I did the base pencil and then ink sketch for this one sitting in the car as the rain began in earnest.

The Albion Coach House - Braidwood

The Albion Coach House – SOLD

 

A little later the rain stopped and I seized the opportunity to get out and draw another fantastic old building.. I got all of the pencil under-drawing done and most of the ink drawing complete before the rain came back with a rush…if you look closely there’s a couple go inky rain splotches in this one 🙂 Just as well I took photos before the rain set in, because I used them to finish the drawings at home.

Braidwood Literary Institute

The Literary Institute – original for sale in my Etsy shop (link on the right)

 

I loved my day out sketching even if the weather did not want to cooperate, I’ve discovered that getting out and drawing in situ is a lot of fun and refills my creative energy stores… I’ll definitely be doing that again!

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Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest.
– Henry Van Dyke 

Buvelot St

 

A dear friend of mine is about to lose her family home due to a government mess up.

There is something deeply sad about losing your home. So many memories. So much love. So much time spent with loved ones and friends. And yet while the building will be soon gone, the memories of beautiful experiences and relationships will remain. The connection to loved ones will always live on.

We created this portrait to help her remember her home and to provide a visual reminder of the beautiful things that were shared within its walls.

Hugs my friend, I trust you will find a new place for your heart to rest soon.

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