Delighted that this painting of mine has selected for the “Colours” exhibition by the Aberdeen Artist’s Society at Milton Art Gallery in Crathes from 30 September until 29 October 2023.
I’ve had my first go at an idea involving foxgloves, blind embossing and watercolour. Blind embossing is a printmaking technique where you “print” with the aim to create indentations in the paper rather than printing an image using ink. (The appeal isn’t simply that there’s no ink to clean up!)
My thoughts behind using blind embossing are about how white space can be a crucial part of the composition of a watercolour or ink painting, about having something in that area that doesn’t reveal itself unless you look closely, which will add to the overall painting whilst not detracting from the sense of white space.
The results are hard to photograph because it’s about the play of light across the surface. I still need to figure out a good setup for doing it, but the photos below will give you a sense of it.
I started with a bit of cardboard from a catfood box, drawing a foxglove on it to give me a reminder of the overall design I had in mine before cutting out shapes for individual flowers. Studio Cat Freyja had fun helping me with this; she does love to shred cardboard.
I arranged the pieces on a sheet of paper on my new-to-me Gunning printing press that I bought from a printmaker in Banff who was upgrading their press. With a printing bed of 50x100cm it gives me the chance to work considerably larger than the little A3 press I bought I with the proceeds from the first art workshop I taught on Skye.
I didn’t stick down the cardboard shapes, so was hoping a studio cat wouldn’t come to investigate!
In order for the paper to bend around the cardboard and not tear, you dampen it beforehand. Failing to find something that was big enough, I repurposed this unused kitten litter tray which was just wide enough for an A3 sheet.
After blotting the damp sheet on a towel to remove excess surface water, I placed it over the cardboard pieces and ran it through the press. It took a few tries to get the pressure (“tightness”) of the press set so it embossed nicely.
The stripes in the embossing come from the cardboard. The pieces without are where the cardboard was the other way up. A happy accident as I hadn’t realised the cardboard would produce texture within the shapes.
By the fourth sheet the cardboard was quite flattened and I decided it wouldn’t produce much of an effect on a fifth sheet of paper. Part of me likes this limited number; another part wants to try next time with something that won’t flatten as fast, if at all, such as lino or perhaps mount board.
I clipped the embossed sheets to a board on my easel, then spent several days pondering them. Where would I paint, how many foxgloves, would I overpaint any of the embossing knowing from my previous experiments with pebbles and embossing that this tends to make it disappear? Would I start with the sheet that was embossed the best (the first sheet) or worse (the last sheet), knowing that I might well mess it up but also that sometimes the first attempt is more successful as I’m not trying so hard.
In the end I went the second sheet I’d embossed as there was slightly less pressure (no pun intended) not to ruin it. I tried to put aside my doubts and overthinking, and just jump with watercolour in a pipette (magenta, purple, green) without any preliminary drawing. I let the watercolour dry overnight before drawing onto it with coloured pencils.
Overall I am pleased with this. The foxgloves are a bit upright and stylised, and the scale of the embossed foxglove is bigger than the painted, but I like the feel of it and how the embossed element echoes the painted but you only see it if you look closely.
As for the other three sheets, well one is still unused, one I played on to see what would happen if I let the watercolour spread into the embossed area (there’s also some Inktense pencil in this, see bottom right in the photo below). This in turn led me to play with the third sheet to see what would happn if I applied watercolour onto the embossing when the sheet was damp (wet-into-wet) and let it spread. I was wondering how much it’d accumulate in the lines/edges.
PS: I’ll be sharing a “behind the scenes” photo from my studio related to this with my Patreon supporters. If you’d like to see it, and more, sign up now using this link (there’s a special seven-day free trial at the moment).
I’ve had my first go at painting the flower the in-house art critic and I have dubbed “The Alien” for its tentacles that stretch out and flowers that stare at you. At the end of the tantacles are spheres, like closed parts of a carnivorous plant. It’s some sort of Japanese anenome (I haven’t delved into the plant identification app to find out exactly what) that’s a beautiful Potter’s pink (PR233). When lit by the sun from behind parts are quite silvery.
Potter’s pink dates back to English watercolor painting of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is also used in ceramics. It’s an earthy, muted pink, not a bright Barbie pink. It granulates magnificently but is also a reticent pigment so is easily to over-dilute with water and be insipid. Don’t be put off it: Artist Liz Steel calls it her secret weapon. For me it was love at first encounter.
I started by wetting areas where I wanted to place the flowers. I didn’t do any preliminary sketches or drawings or planning beyond thinking I wanted there to be a good amount of negative space (’empty’ white) and the flowers to be towards the right. Why the latter I’m not sure, but it could be so you’ve got to travel across the painting a bit before you encounter them, assuming you’re looking from left to right in line with reading in the West. I have a bottle of Potter’s pink in my collection of homemade fluid watercolours, so it was easy to drop in colour before the paper had dried.
I know it doesn’t look like much at this stage, just some random shapes of colour, but it was what I was after. Next I reached for my bottle of Undersea Green, a Daniel Smith watercolour that’s separates into green to brown as it dries. Using the pipette, I drew in stems and leaves.
I wanted a bit of strong dark, so got out my watercolour set and mixed up some perylene green. I touched the corner of my flat brush into the still-wet Undersea Green, letting it spread as it desired. I dropped some gamboge yellow into where I thought the centre of the flowers would be, then some lemon yellow to create a bit of variation, and put it aside to dry.
I did another painting following the same recipe, then one where I started with Payne’s grey ink. I drew out the whole composition using the ink’s pipette, left it dry for a little in the sun, then lifted off the excess ink with some paper towel.
I sprayed water onto the areas of the flowers, then dropped in some Potter’s pink and encouraged it to spread with my finger (saves having to wash a brush). You can see some of the acrylic ink did spread, as I thought it would; if it’s newly touch-dry it usually will.
I added Undersea Green as in the previous versions, then yellows, and left it to dry.
These are the three paintings drying in the sunshine. Fortunately the studio cats weren’t about to walk over them.
Once they were mostly dry, I retreated to the coolness of indoors to add some coloured pencil for another layer of mark making, to sharpen some edges, hopefully making the overall result more engaging (but there’s always the risk of overworking it).
These are where the paintings ended up. I can’t pick a favourite; I like things about all of them.
Well that’s the studio cats, in-house art critic, and myself moved from Skye to the rolling wheat fields of Aberdeenshire near Turriff. To a village established in the 18th century with a name that is one letter off a favourite (printed) book typeface that has been used since the 17th century. It’s about nine miles from the sea at Gardentown, where I have painted several times in the past, which has rocks, white sand, red cliffs, big waves, quirky buildings, and a harbour.
When I get it all set up, my new studio will have space for painting with friends and doing workshops. Right now most of my stuff is still in storage, but my fingers couldn’t resist having a go at painting the flowers that unexpectedly arrived in the post, sent by a friend in Australia. (Thanks again, you-know-who-you-are, and to all my other fab friends who sent cards, books, messages, for very much helping with this big change.)
I pulled out the crate of art supplies I’ve got and set up on the floor in the sun in what is theoretically the dining room part of the kitchen but will be the afternoon-sun section of my studio. Studio cats Little Em, Freyja, and Misty participated. We all had fun.
A quaint cottage rented by a friend, a wild garden, sunshine, paper and paint. My idea of a perfect day. (Especially as I managed to silence the little voice muttering about my perspective drawing skills.)
I’ve had another round of painting that tall sunflower (see The Sunflower). This time I painted indoors using my previous drawings, memory, and photos as reference rather than being outdoors with the flower itself, because I needed a gentle day, not one squirrelling on the ground to paint.
First attempt was with the tallest piece of paper I have with me, a piece I’d previously concertina-ed. I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, which isn’t a surprise, but used a stick to apply it rather than the dropper, which produced a scratchy line. Then used watercolour and acrylic paint.
I had a go at reworking one of Sunday’s paintings. I don’t feel like I entirely resolved it, but like it better than it was.
I then tore a sheet of A2 watercolour paper in half, taped the edges, and got rid of the white by mixing up all the leftover paint and adding water so it became a lightish background colour. As I intended to use the same colours again in the sunflowers I was going to paint on these sheets, I knew the background colour would sit harmoniously.
I like parts of all the paintings. If I were to choose only one, I think it’d be the concertina one with its brighter colours.
Arriving at a friend’s house in the Borders (southern east Scotland) I was distracted by a sunflower. A rather tall sunflower.
So out came some A2 watercolour, ink, and acrylic paint. I think tomorrow I might tape two sheets together to do its height justice.
Sitting in friends’ garden in southern Scotland, I kept coming back to the purples in one border, particularly the alliums, which are one of my favourites. These were about twice the size of the ones in my garden.
So I moved a table a little closer and got out some paper and my watercolours.
A blank sheet of paper hold such possibilities and dreams, with the potential to go right or awry from the start, for things to flow or require persistence.
I started with mixing colours that I thought would give me “allium purples”. The darker swirly marks in the photo above are where I indented the paper with the brush handle while the paint was still wet; the paint accumulates in the dents and thus is darker.
For the foliage I used some of the greens that dry as a varied colour from Daniel Smith — Undersea Green and Serpentine Green — and again scratchd into the still-wet paint, this time to create a sense of the stems. Overall it wasn’t working for me, so I introduced some pen and then coloured pencil.
The photo below is where I stopped.
I decided to have another attempt, aiming for the sense of delicateness of alliums and the space within them. I thought splattering paint might do this, so tore a stencil in a piece of watercolour paper, hoping the rough edges would give an organic or softer edge.
I tried to avoid inadvertent pattern repositioning the stencil and not worrying about paint that flicked off the sides.
I then torn a strip to use for the edge of the stem, running the brush in a series of short sideways strokes off it.
I also flicked a little of the green within the purples, as you do see it in the flowers.
I am very happy with this second attempt, with the colour variation, the feeling of openess and movement, and even the unintended bits of purples (middle towards the bottom) don’t bother me (being watercolour I could probably remove it). It’s an approach I will try again at some point.
Some 20-odd days since I popped them into my beloved yellow jug, the bunch of roses in my studio has now dried out and is looking decidedly Miss Havisham-ish. I’ve been using them as the starting point for some small 15x15cm paintings, with varying degrees of completion.
There are two paintings I consider finished, and like (and have added to my #ArtistSupportPledge paintings here):
The turning point with these two was when I put down my brushes and starting working on with oil pastel. The slight texture of the paper means that if I don’t press too hard with the oil pastel it gives a broken line (rather than a continuous), allowing some of the colour beneath to show through.
Whether the result looks like roses or peonies or something else is up to whoever is looking at the painting.
The responses were varied, but consolidated what I’d thought which was to brighten the greens on the one of the left and add some darks to the one on the right. Once I’ve done that, I will then will decide if anything else is needed.
There are three more, which I left to dry last night looking like this (apologies, the photo isn’t the sharpest):
These three all have watery acrylic on top of oil pastel, and I anticipate doing at least one more layer on each with light or dark, possibly both.
These seven paintings may seem connected only by subject, but it’s a case of “one thing led to another, and to another”. The roses I bought when I went to the supermarket because I felt like a splash of colour. They’ve sat on the corner of my studio table, watching and waiting, until, inevitably, I painted them and then put a photo of two together on social media. This led to a comment from a friend about wanting to see a version with ink line work (thanks for the prompt Tina!) which led to me painting the roses again, this time starting with acrylic ink (Payne’s grey) and adding it again after some colour, finishing the paintings with oil pastel. The oil pastel led me to wanting to see what resulted if I started with oil pastel and then added watery acrylic paint and/or acrylic ink, which led to the last three paintings.
This photo shows all the paintings together, the top two are where they were after one round with them (initial magenta and ink, which was sprayed with water while still wet and lifted with paper towel), the middle row is where they were before I added oil pastel, and the lower row are as they’ve been for some days now (I still haven’t done the tweaks).
In terms of process, I’m following an idea to see what happens, letting the materials dictate the route and allowing myself to give in to an impulse. I try not to worry about whether something will work or not, though inevitably there are moments when I hesitate. Working on several pieces at once allows me to then put that one aside until I am either sure about what I want to do, know I don’t want to do any more (yet or ever), or am able to roll with whatever results. Usually I don’t share the ones that don’t work out, or all the ones that are about halfway there (the ones I think of as “just add sheep”). I rarely tear something up on the day it was created but go through the pile every once in a while and sort out duds when I’m more dispassionate.
My thanks to all my readers and friends for your encouragement and enthusiasm in these strange times of lockdown and the cancellation of so many things I was looking forward to through winter, with particular mention to my Patreon supporters and subscribers who enable me to keep my blog and videos advert free and the studio cats fed. Also to everyone who’s bought one of my little #SupportArtistPledge paintings, taking me nearly half way to my goal.
A new grid template with two windows and slightly smaller than my one for this month’s project, led me to drawing a grid of 12 which I filled whilst looking through the studio window at the little dawn daisies.
After the pencil came watercolour, varying the greens I was using as I moved down.
Next some white acrylic, using a flat brush and a rigger.
Then yellow for the centres, first lemon but that felt too insipid so and had another round with cadium yellow medium.
I mixed blue in with the yellow for green, then a touch of orange into this for a second round with a more muted/muddy green.
Three photos of my palette, showing the small quantity of paint I had out.
This photo shows you the progess from drawing to finished:
I’ve added this painting to my webshop here, as one of my #ArtistSupoortPledge paintings.