Monday, 23 March 2015

Painting St Ives

I was recently asked to paint St Ives, and as this is one of the most picturesque places in the UK, and also one of my favourite towns in Cornwall to visit, I was pleased to accept.

I first started by drawing the town on plain white paper, and then, after making a cuppa I came back and realised that I didnt like it.  I'd even started to add washes of colour but knew right away in that moment that it just wasnt going to pan out.

Someimes, taking a breather, stepping away for a while and then coming back can allow you to see your work with a fresh persective and things you didnt notice before, often become glaringly visible.

I painted a wash of Paynes Grey over the original drawing.  Yes, it's very dark but it works oh so well as a base colour!

Don't be frightened to scrap what you have started.  If it doesn't feel right, and you know you are heading in the wrong direction, you are certainly setting yourself up for a long hard slog, fraught with trouble and that gnawing feeling of 'its not looking how I want it to' if you continue.

Its a brave thing to paint over a drawing that has taken you a good half hour to rough out, but I urge you to follow your intuition.  Start again, paint over it, throw it away.  Sometimes, you just know that its the right thing to do.

I was very glad I followed my gut, because as I started to add colour to the dark background, the town magically started to come to life.

I use many different layers of acrylic colour to create a painting.  You need to be aiming for a bright picture, that shimmers with colour and light, yet retains depth.  It can be a slow process but worth it for the end result.

I simplified some of the buildings, but worked closely with several photographs and images I found online to make sure that Id been able to paint in the essence of the town.  I wanted to capture that feeling I get when I see St Ives for the first time.  It always takes my breath away, the cottages and houses that cluster around the edge of the harbour, fishing boats lolling on the pale sand, and the translucence of the water - so many shades of aquamarine, jade and turquoise, through to cobalt, denim and navy blue away on the horizon.  I thoroughly enjoy working with these colours and blending them together.  If you really study the sea, you will see just how many hues of one colour there actually is, and it's changing all the time as the sun and cloud move across it.  This is one reason why I find photographs so helpful to work from, a static image in this case can be very useful to refer to.

I am always aware of the seabirds too, the sky is always animated with the soaring shapes and screeching cries of gulls so it was imperative that I painted these in to lend atmosphere to the overall scene.

Here then is the finished painting, I hope you like it!  You can see as the painting progressed, more and more detail was added such as tiny windows to the cottages, a man walking his dog along the sands, and white waves breaking on the shore.  I have allowed certain parts of the painting to remain darker than others - you will notice that there is a little shadow in the sky, and this is the paynes grey that is shining through creating an appearance of cloud on the horizon. 

This image is away to a publisher now, which I'm very excited about!  Never a dull moment, I am now beginning another piece of work which I will share with you all very soon.

You are very welcome to follow my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, where I share work in progress pictures and news of other things that I'm up to.  You will find all the relevant links in the sidebar here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Peek into my world with Instagram

I really love using Instagram as a way of capturing those fleeting or special moments.  I sometimes use it to photograph a work in progress, some relaxing crochet project, family time, or a surprising discovery like these rainbow roses that were in my local supermarket just recently.

You are very welcome to follow my Instagram account if you'd like regular peeks into my world, and you can find it right here.

Why not share a link to your Instagram in the comments below? It's one of my favourite online hangouts, and I would look forward to discovering some fabulous new IG's to follow!

Friday, 13 March 2015

How I find inspiration for my work

This week I am working on a painting of St Ives in Cornwall.  I started out drawing onto the bright white of the watercolour paper, and actually began to add colour.  Then, I went to make a cup of tea and I came back and realised I didn't like it, so I painted over everything I had done with Paynes Grey and then drew it out again.  Much happier with this, working onto that dark background and seeing the coloured layers shimmer and bring the town to life.

I was thinking, that you might be interested to know how I am inspired, what influences my work, from colours to themes...

I love painting the sea, as those of you who have followed this blog or visited my website will know, its one of my favourite subjects and one I like to return to over and over again.  I think if our souls have colours, I think mine must be turquoise or aquamarine - I am calmed, soothed and enraptured by all the various hues and I can sit watching the ocean for hours.  I like the energy of the sea, I like its moods.  I like how one day it can be a still, gentle body of water, shimmering jade green in the sun, and then the next a furious tempered beast, frothy and churning, dark and fearsome.

Most of my paintings seem to invoke the first description, I think this is because I just really like to work with those beautiful blues and greens so much.

I've been lucky to have a couple of visits to the coast recently.  Me and my family took off to Northumberland for a couple of days during the last school holidays.  I am always in awe of this place; miles of beach, untamed wilderness, unspoilt landscapes....there are islands and lighthouses and many seabirds who call out from the rocky shores...those calls tug on your heart somehow and make you feel wistful and euphoric all at once.  I love to immerse myself in this landscape, to soak up the textures and colours, the weather and the energy of the place.

These are a few pictures which I wanted to share with you, little glimpses of things caught my attention.

Strewn seaweed and battered leather shoes...a pale winter sun mirrored on a silver daughter heading through the seagrasses in the dunes for the beach, she loves the beach as much as I do.

Signs that I liked, and I took pictures because something about them caught my eye, and made me smile.

While we were in Northumberland, we apparently missed the light show of the century! We were all so weary we went off to bed, and missed the Northern Lights which performed for seven hours or so.  To say I was devastated to have missed them is an understatement, I have always longed to see them.  Some things, it would seem, are not meant to be...

I awoke early that following morning and witnessed the most enchanting sunrise.  The sky was the hue of a ripe apricot melting into lavender, and hundreds of crows winged their way across this beautiful backdrop for over half an hour.  It was quite mesmerising, watching the dark silhouettes of the birds dance across the sky as the sun began to rise over the sea.

I always have a small camera in my bag that I take everywhere with me, to capture moments such as these.  It is not unusual for a single element in a picture to be the catalyst for a new piece of work.  I also clip images from magazines and onto my Pinterest boards for future inspiration and I write things down; I make notes of colours or memories, or descriptions of a place.  I also find Instagram a useful tool for recording snap shots of life that inspire.  There is something very instant and yet fleeting about this method of taking images and I've found it to be a great resource for capturing visuals that I might not otherwise have taken a picture of.

If you are a practising artist or just like making art for fun, I would urge you to start keeping a notebook of words, and to have a little camera (or indeed your smart phone) about you just in case you see something.  It's not always about the perfect landscape shot you're after either, I like to take close ups of colour and texture that I find interesting.  I will use images like this to influence my work:

(boat hull, paint and wood grain, Blakeney Point, Norfolk)

It's important to take notice of what lights you up, what grabs your attention.  Once we become aware of colours and textures, shapes and words in our environment, the more we tend to notice them and the effect they have on our senses.  Next time you are out and about, really take the time to absorb your surroundings, does the flash of colour from a Florists display make you stop and turn?  Does the faded lettering on an old sign grab your attention?  You'll start to discover beauty in the ordinary, and pleasure in the simple things.  Allow your artist self to explore and be inspired.

Monday, 9 March 2015

How I Painted 'The Potting Shed' - A little art lesson for you

It has been an odd start to the year for me.  In many ways I have struggled to build a momentum as one by one, coughs, colds and flu bugs descended to render me without energy or inspiration.
Days and weeks have drifted past, where small things were accomplished, but many things were not.  I had a fear that these winter viruses were going to be an ever present feature in my life, and that feeling tired and run down were now the norm.  However, as I am a student of the Glass Half Full school of living, I decided that enough was enough; runny nose or not, it was time to pull myself up by my bootstraps, invest in my health and take a good hard look at getting back into the swing of things.  One cannot simply let it all go, especially when you are a creative soul.  It only leads to disaster, as well as terrible moods.

So, I started a painting.  I worked from my memories of my Grandad's greenhouse, my Mum's garden, our shed full of bits and bobs, favourite china bowls and things from around my home, and my own furtive attempts at growing things.  For the first time in a long time, I decided to start the painting with a dark wash using paynes grey acrylic, and I painted this onto Hahnemuhle 'Cornwall' paper (my most favourite for acrylic and watercolour alike).  I like painting on a dark background, it means lots and lots of layers of subtle washes to build the picture up, and they almost disappear into the one below until there is a shimmering wealth of colour to be had.  It takes time, but it is splendidly therapeutic and relaxing.  It is easy to forget to have lunch, and to pick up the child from school, so immersed am I in the pleasure of mixing all these colours, and creating a cornucopia of Spring beauty in what was to be titled 'The Potting Shed.

Here you see a glimpse of the very dark beginnings of the painting.  And then, I drew on it with a watercolour crayon.  It doesn't matter much what colour you use as the water on your paintbrush will melt the lines away.  Once the drawing is complete, it is time to start adding colour.  Sometimes it is watery, to the point of being a watercolour consistency, and others it is thicker, worked into the darkness with a sturdy dryish brush.

And now, we can see the details emerging - little plant pot labels, ditsy flowers on the china bowls, a mid afternoon snack for the gardener of tea and a fine cherry bakewell!  I also decided to add more elements to the piece as I went along, ones that were not originally drawn in.  This way of painting is very free flowing in a way, I am not rigid about sticking to my first drawing, and as I work my eye sees a space that needs a teacup with a few narcissi in it, or a cat asleep on the rug.

Do you see how the picture has moved from being very dark, to light and bright?  Don't be afraid to add different colours to a space, that you may initially think 'oh dear me no!' - for example, when painting in the glass of the windows, I used yellow, green and turquoise amongst the layers.  It will make your colours shimmer somehow, most magical!

If you like, you could have a go at some of these techniques yourself.  It doesn't matter if you dont have the same paper as I used, any good watercolour paper will do.  If you're new to acrylic and wanting to have a try for the first time, you can often get some decent sets online for a good price.  It's a very wonderful medium, and one that I constantly come back to.  Have a play around with the layers, try adding more water to your paint, or a little less - see what it feels and looks like.

Most of all, have fun.  Art works best when you are enjoying it, and just being yourself.

J xxx

PS - fine art prints, a limited edition run (50) of The Potting Shed will be available from my website this week.

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