These photos were taken Oban, Iona, Dundee and Glasgow during the trip my Ma and I made last week.
Whilst hunting out the one bottle of fluid watercolour I’ve got in preparation for a 1:1 workshop on expressive watercolour, I came across a few empty bottles of acrylic ink and had a lightbulb moment. Why not wash them out and make my own watercolour ink with some favourite colours?
The unknown of course was how much to squeeze out of a tube, and if I’d been sensible rather than impatient I would have started with less and then added more testing it as I’d mixed it up. Maybe next time.
If you’ve noticed that the bottle of Aquafine watercolour ink is ultramarine and are thinking that it’s a colour I openly dislike and wondering why I would have chosen it, the answer is that I was given it as a sample last year at Patchings Art Festival. I wasn’t about to get fussy about the colour of the gift horse!
This is the spread from my sketchbook where I was trying out my three DIY watercolour inks. Definitely a member of the messy sketchbook club.
The sienna is too strong, and needs further diluting. The Lunar Black spreads out a lot on wet paper. The haematite genuine holds a tighter edge on wet paper, and on dry dries to a variegated line. Overall I anticipate much happiness working with these colours and the ink-bottle droppers as the drawing tool,. Taking what I’ve been doing with acrylic ink but using watercolours that granulate and have multiple layers of colour., and remembering that it’ll lift up unlike acrylics.
“When you paint, don’t just pay attention to the subject before you but expand your awareness to include the thoughts that drive your brush.”
Michael Chelsey Johnson
One of the myriad reasons I love painting is that it’s mind filling: it has the ability to occupy every part of my mind, stimulating and stilling simultaneously. It’s the combination of tactile and mental, the comfort of familiar and the discomfort of a fresh challenge against myself.
Happiness is … three new rigger brushes, each with different hairs, plus one that’s like a rigger with the belly of a round brush. Don’t imagine the brush handles will stay as pristine as this for very long, but what I do know is that the brushes will keep their points for a good while. The riggers they’re replacing have been worn down a bit through use, and will now permanently live in my “workshop brushes” box rather than going in and out each time. The fourth one is a treat*.
According to Rosemary & Co’s website, the extended point was created for watercolourist Sandra Strohschein to “act a rigger but with a reservoir ‘belly’ to enable the retention of a good volume of liquid thus allowing painting for a long time without the need to ‘re-load’ the brush.” I went for the smallest one, because I want fine lines and because the bigger ones cost a fair bit.
After playing a bit with the three different rigger brushes (the spirals to the right in the photo above), seeing what differences there were between the hairs (stiffest is Ivory, softest Everygreen, the Shiraz hairs keep together best), I then played with my new potbelly brush. It certainly makes beautifully fine lines, and if the paint is fluid and loaded in the belly the line does go on and on and on beautifully.
But I’ll need to be using a different watercolour palette with this brush, as trying to load it from my half-pans is not exactly kind to the brush.
Painting below was done with this new brush and a small flat one (lying on the table).
Pulling the brush through still-wet paint … just the kind of mark I’m after for the sense of winter trees with bare branches. There’s a short video of my doing it here.
* A big thank you to you-know-who-you-are for you-know-what that brought me these.
“You don’t gain confidence by winning. You gain confidence by losing. You gain insecurity by winning, cause then you have a streak that you don’t want to screw up.
… When people post their sketches online, they’re not posting the fifty pages of stuff that just looks like nothing.”
— Chris Oatley, 4 Keys To A Long and Healthy Illustration Career
It’s a Catch 22: we need self-confidence to pick ourselves up after failing (whatever form this takes), yet doing so does help our self-confidence. The fallacy is believing that winning (whatever form this takes) removes all doubts. Some doubts don’t change, others get replaced with new ones you didn’t previously know existed.
Aim to get better at embracing the uncertainty, and recognising that what you see of an artist’s work is but the tip of the iceberg. Learn to fail better.
Sunday morning, studio cat Ghost and I are sitting in the chair listening to Beethoven’s ninth and the birdsong, reading a ‘new’ book that arrived from a secondhand bookshop in the States.
I like these older books because they tend to have more in them, more thoughts and less how-to broken down to the nth. While the photos may be black and white, they’re full of gems that require “reading with a pencil”. Like this:
Painting yesterday at Staffin beach at low tide, I found myself enjoying the large boulders dotted around. When I later showed the in-house art critic my photos, he said my paintings looked postcard size. That’s when I realised that not only had I supersized the average rock I was painting, but that the pebbles I was using to hold down wet paintings were also bigger than normal. Do wonder what I might have painted if I’d had a bigger brush with me!
“If your work is original and if it draws deeply both from your imagination and from the world around you, your work will continue to have relevance. Take your inspiration first from your own experience. If you want to get fired up by the art of others, look at artists of the past or from other cultures, not your close contemporaries.”
— James Gurney
Experience need not be far-flung. How long didn’t Monet paint his pond?
“The thing about thoughtful critique is that it makes you want to engage it and continue the conversation”
— How Millennials Grew Up and Burned Out
One of the hardest things for me when asked “what do you think of my painting” is not to hesitate too long before replying because this delay is invariably taken as a sign that I think it’s terrible rather than I’m thinking. Saying “let me gather my thoughts” to gain a few more seconds doesn’t reassure either.
We all want people to like our paintings, to be intrigued by them at least. Be patient and let someone have time to look.
While you’re waiting, think of a different question to ask. Be a bit more specific than “do you like it?” or “what do you think?”. Perhaps about something new you tried, the colour choices, how it fits with your other paintings. Start the conversation.
An interesting mix of paintings in response to April’s project, and thank you to everyone who’s shared theirs. I was a bit worried I’d put you off by setting a still life, and I do empathise with those of you who’re ambivalent about still life paintings. I often am too, but started loving them more when I met the still lifes of Giorgio Morandi, the way he plays with pattern and shape amongst the objects (such as this painting) his mastery of hatching (see example) creating form. Now still-life painting is a way to completely change pace when I need it. Enjoy the photos!
- Instructions for May’s Painting Project
- My tube paintings can be seen on my new Small Paintings page