This Christmas, I have challenged myself not to tackle doing any animals at all and have returned my hand to more traditional, botanical art-forms. Actually, it was in response to someone asking me, if I ever did botanical works.
Long ago, when I first started out painting - like many artists, one is destined to tackle plant forms only because one often finds the painting - less strenuous when one is trying to master a new medium.
For me, it is an opportunity to revisit 'control of the medium' - in this case, watercolour. If you have read my last post, you will realise I also wanted to tackle new techniques that I have not had an opportunity to do so. Christmas time not only provides time to relax, but allows one time to extend one's abilities. So in this piece, I have tested salting my baubles, to get a shimmery effect. It's not quite as I had experimented, but you will have to agree, the natural flow of pigment pooling to one area on the bauble, works well in this watercolour piece.
Over the last week, I have endeavoured to crank up my efforts of watercolour and focus on a 'Christmasy' theme. And although not a huge collection of works surfaced, I have learnt that it is not the amount of work one puts out, but indeed the quality of work that evolves.
I have learnt a great deal, stretching myself toward other areas of watercolour technique that I would not have explored had I not chosen to pursue a different theme of enquiry. Playing around with all sorts of paper again, using what was intended for a variety of uses (of which watercolour painting was not suggested), enabled me to test my ability to produce works, even though the conditions were not perfect. This meant, I was compelled to resolve whatever issue that arose.
Some of those issues were: soggy paper, pilling, weak colours, inability to layer paint and glaze, transparency of the final product, mounting issues and the list goes on. However, valuable lessons can be learned and discovery of which types of surfaces one prefers to paint on, can also be discovered. And believe it or not, I have now come to the conclusion - after all these years, I don't really like painting on the standard 300 gsm watercolour paper, presently available .
My reasons for this, I love having the freedom of creating a free, easy and very fluid style of sketch up with graphite or ink.
I hate my tools catching on the grain of the paper because of the coarse-textured surface. Ah, I know what you are thinking. How about trying smooth surfaces like hot press Arches, Fabriano or Waterford? Well there you have it - smooth surfaces are available to work on, but both the pencil and ink nib do not easily glide easily across the surface; there is still a great deal of tension involved. They're nothing like sketch paper.
So, I compromised. I sacrificed the ability to apply huge layers of watercolour, for the ability to bring back life to my drawings. I went back to the basic 80~100 gsm copy paper. Yes, copy paper. I grew up using much the same thing. Having three other siblings in our family, meant we weren't always blessed with spare cash to buy up all sorts of paper, whenever I needed it. So, I got used to testing out a picture on copy paper or whatever paper Dad had lying around in the paper recycle basket. Using this sort of paper, I really needed to lay-down watercolour quickly, because if I didn't the paper would get all soggy and the surface would be a mess.
Anyhow, this week I got so frustrated I actually went though my entire drawer of art paper, just to see if I had any old paper - so I could 'find my hand, again'. If you're an artist you will understand what I mean. You'll also be asking, who keeps paper for that length of time. Me. Over my years, I have learnt to savour each sheet of paper, because it was always hard to come by, when I was a kid. Plus, I'm a bit of a tree-huger and I could never waste a tree's precious gifts, knowing they take so long to grow.
Back to my point, surprisingly I found in the back of my drawer, a sketchpad of 'Bockingford' paper. Can I remember from where it came or when - Nope. Yet, this lovely paper has delighted me all week and I am now on a major search for this exact paper. I expect it won't be as yellow as mine and will have improved over the years, but I hope not. I'm keen to see what I can find.
I'm also keen to know, what watercolour paper you use? Any pet hates?
I spent a weekend recently framing up a few of my favourite paintings that I have created over the past few years - yes, partially because I can’t bear to part with them and also because they have been hugely important in my road to progress and self discovery.
Milestones rarely surface to treasure - they are often fleeting moments in history that are for all purposes intangible thereafter. When one is lucky enough to savor ones progress, take the opportunity.
It will help one to remember the struggles; how far and from where one has come; it can be a marker to regather ones energies, to relay the stepping stones to something even greater.
Everyone sets aside a collection of tools they prefer to use for watercolour. I am no different, although I do believe making time to experiment with new mediums and tools that you haven't yet given the time of day, is really necessary. In the creation of art works, one is often inclined to stick with things that work, but without taking a look at what is really out there, your true talent can't be recognised, because you are scared to push the boundaries. It is sort of like scaling a hill. Of course you can go around it, but if you run up it, you become so much stronger and your technique improves.
When I first got back into watercolour, I was inclined to tentatively use my old palette and fine brush, as I did as a kid. I would plod away, working in far too much detail and the quality of painting suffered, as it would always look over worked. So, I literally had to put my old faithful brush and paint palette in a box, so I could learn to use new watercolour mediums such as gouache and watercolour pencils. Yes, I do realise these mediums have been around for quite some years, however if you are a creature of habit because you're scared to make a mistake with your watercolour, you will often stick to what you know.
So, on my last trip to Seoul, I took nothing but my wallet and visited Kyobo underground Bookstore, which has more than just books. It is full of great art supplies and is a creators' paradise for both the creation of art and author works - that is, if you really love snooping through pen, ink and writing sets, too. I have to say, I was very much spoilt for choice as the local ink, watercolour paper as well as the watercolour pencils are of exceptional quality. Shinhan art products and tools have been around for years and I am very much partial to using them. They flow easily across 300 gsm paper and produce that wonderful natural, trademark wash.
So although my task was to use only Derwent pencils to lay down my sketches, I did cheat a bit, using the Pro Artist watercolour paint to complete my tests. Either way, the Derwent pencils are smooth to use, but tend to leave a gritty finish on the paper if you are not careful. They definitely need a good deal of experimenting to master but are great, if you like to be in control of where you place your lines. So, if you love your colour pencils and enjoy the overlay process, watercolour pencils will allow you that freedom.
When it comes to pen an ink, my initial tools are a good Unipin fine liner or micron Pigma, to whizz about the page. However, I do use dip pens into Winsor and Newton Ink for continuity of natural tones across the page. Black is quite harsh and doesn't always deliver a natural feel. However, I do like to use the black micron to quickly sketch my overall scene as it makes me focus in on the subject and I tend not to worry about making mistakes. I don't get stuck on the details and my hand naturally places the marks across the paper.
I have to say, everyone loves to know they are on the right track; that what they are doing, is the way of the universe and it will eventually work out for the best. One plans the days and nights; struggles through the challenges - at times not really confident that one will be able to resolve the myriad of complex problems that hijack one's mind. Doubt can be a never-ending thought process, if you don't have your neurons sorted out - in much the same priority as you organise your plan for success.
My mind is forever going at one hundred to one - it never seems to sleep. At times, I severely doubt myself - not because I don't feel I have enough of the right stuff to make it a success; I doubt myself because it is so far removed from the box of normality, in the way other people think. I worry about what they will think of me - when I'm doing what I'm doing; worry that I'm not enough, in the big scheme of things. For those who have known me - my whole lifetime, you have come to terms with my abstractness - have learnt to expect, the unexpected. For those more new to the game of friendship, then I'm just a bit of a curved ball.
So how does one progress, if one is forever doubting one's abilities to succeed because of what other people think? Hmmmm - with difficulty. And, I know I am not alone here. I am pretty sure there are other abstract individuals on the planet, who think as I do. I don't reckon I am a rare Tasmanian Devil on the planet.
For me, learning to switch off to the myriad of often harsh comments that artistic individuals receive - is a skill that I'm still learning - given that I'm highly sensitive creature like many artists.
This school holidays, I have revisited the basics of art. It has been considerable time since I have touched on the subject of trees and am so far finding the visit both fun and educational. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in one day and finding sufficient time to revisit all subject matters, takes considerable concentrated effort, after not having touched a pencil in weeks. Some days I feel as though I'm back at square one and I really have to focus on my weaknesses - seeing and drawing things as they are and not letting my mind wander where it wants to.
Given the weather has been wonderful of late, I have strolled through Queens Park and picked a lovely, leafless tree to commence my drawing practice. I am always keen to get drawing the details, so I really have to restrict myself and make sure I put down only the essential information first.
Okay, so I got a bit carried away with the first tree. However, I might just make this one, the centre of attraction and leave the remaining trees to sit very much in the background of my nature piece. Generally, I like to work one area first to get my brain into the zone. It also allows me time to think about how I might want to treat the picture and what elements would complement my subject.
However, in this learning curve, I am trying to teach my hand to achieve an overall impression of what the final drawing might look like, so that I can achieve more in one sitting. When I am out on location drawing, time seems to pass so quickly and before I realise it, half my day has gone and I have not laid down my entire drawing. I lose essential lighting and often lose the mood of the picture, given the clouds or other weather conditions that help build the character of my drawings. So today about get the overall scape down in a shorter amount of time.
I can't say that I am finished or entirely happy with the treatment of trees. However, returning to the basics of creation always helps me define what I am trying to achieve with my drawing. A couple more weeks of this and I will be ready to plot my next major piece.
Enjoy the drawing board!