There’s something impermanent about memory. Just as a flower is born, memory is born. You can’t always see the exact moment it happens: nature moves too slowly, too undetectable for that, like when you blink, did you really miss anything at all?
Just as the flower grows and blossoms against the warm embrace of the sun, so memory is created. It is both born, created and resigned to the past in an instant. The flower will never again look the same as it did a second ago.
Change the light, change the angle of perspective, even the perception of the viewer, and the flower changes. But it is still the same flower. As the arrow of time must dictate, the flower will grow and it will peak, then, its petals will softly brown, its leaves will become too heavy with the weight of time, and eventually, they will fall.
The flower’s beauty is in its impermanence, its dynamism, and its response to the changing environment. Take a look at memories before the sun rises, in a room only half-lit by consciousness and rationality, and take a look again as the last orange glow fades from view. The same memory, seen a million different ways.
As the flower changes, so too does memory change. What appeared so strong and so vivid starts to blur at the edges. The order of events falls into disorder – but not chaos – but the essence of the flower endures.
The flower lives on.
Note: The flower included with this painting is a surviving stem from my wedding day.
If I had to choose to only ever paint in one medium again, I’d find myself torn between my two loves, oils and watercolours. It’s a pretty 50/50 split in the works that I do, and both mediums have their advantages and disadvantages. Both are notoriously tricky to master, as well.
I think for me, oil paints will always be my first love. No other medium quite gives me the same vibrance and language of colour that I’ve learned from oils. Oils tend to be fairly forgiving of mistakes, too. But what’s wonderful about watercolours is their diversity. A few household items have enabled me, like many watercolourists, to create a far wider array of textures, styles and moods than what could be done with brushes. I’d like to share some of my favourites, along with a few thoughts, in this blog post.
Creating an interesting texture over a large area can be tricky using watercolours. Building layer upon layer might result in a bit of a muddy, uniform colour that could be a bit boring. Salt is a super easy way to instantly jazz up a background, and can create an interesting texture that can resemble anything from stormy sky to coral or water. When you take your pinch of salt to the paint makes a difference: very wet paint will give you more dramatic, feathery shapes. Let your paint dry a little, and the salt has less moisture to pick up, resulting in more defined, smaller marks.
2. Running Washes
It’s all about gravity. Wet your paper thoroughly, create some paint strokes, and then tip your paper in whichever direction you want to create a soft and dynamic wash. Here I tipped my paper up and down so that the paint ran in both directions, and strengthened some colour areas before repeating. The addition of the sketchy lines enhances the feel of this piece.
3. Soft Blends
The key to this technique is good quality paper that’s not too smooth (it will show up all and any imperfections) and not too rough, and wetting your paper thoroughly without leaving pools. I love creating soft backgrounds and seeing what different colour combinations will do.
4. Pooling Paint & A Spray Bottle
A technique I’ve so far used only once or twice for my Cosmic Nature paintings. This technique involves wetting specific shapes, and then grabbing a fair dollop of rich watercolour, dropping it onto the water and letting them blend. I love using this method for creating cosmic backgrounds, and allows a certain element of control, whilst generally it seems to provide much brighter, bolder colour.
I enhanced the painting below with using a spray bottle, gently spraying in certain directions to ‘push’ the paint beyond its original wet outline. The only issue I see here is that there was a bit too much water so I got more of a pool than a spreading spray that I wanted. But for next time!
So there you have it, some of my favourite watercolour moments. There are several new techniques I’m keen to try involving some new household mediums and hopefully some new themes too, so stay tuned
What are your favourite mediums and techniques?
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The long sought-after art studio. A reality for many full and part-time artists, and for others, it’s more a makeshift place in a room of the house that your partner let you ‘take over’ (yes, that’s me). We often have the impression that art studios are massive, well-lit, expensive places, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The space that you paint in is crucial for producing paintings comfortably and privately, if you prefer. And while your space might not be perfect, there are some things you can do to improve it.
My studio/spare room is not the finest example for natural light. If it’s a lovely sunny day (Malta = around 300 sunny days per year) then I can paint in a warm sunny glow, but still the light is far from perfect for photographing works. If your studio’s great for painting, but not for photographing, simply move the paintings elsewhere. I have a stunning roof that’s just perfect for the job – unless it’s windy!
Unless you plan on working on some epic-sized canvases, then space isn’t really a huge issue. If you’re like me and have one too many paintings in your studio, get creative. There are numerous DIY art racks you can build, or simply get hanging and turn your studio into your own private gallery. You could host an open studio in no time.
Not a pre-requisite, but no doubt your once-pristine studio has now fallen into a bit of disarray. The carpet you swore you wouldn’t get paint on, the old ‘paint water’ and ‘not paint water’ debate?
Do you have a set time of day during which you find you paint better. Perhaps the kids are at school, you’re done from your day job, or you just find that your creativity works better from 11pm onwards. Whatever time painting suits you, go for it. If you don’t feel in the mood, don’t force it. Potter around the studio, get it tidied and organised, and fumble through some old works if you find yourself with half an hour of studio time.
If you’re anything like me, you need animals in your studio. From stuffed ones to the ones in the paintings, my favourite studio animals is Luna, pictured below. Downside: dog hairs stick to oil paint, and once the paint is dry, you’ve had it. Try to keep hairy pets away from wet canvases, at all costs!
Whether you’ve knocked it together from bits of old furniture, you’ve gone the whole ho with professional lighting and easels, or you’re just painting out of the back of a Model-A Ford (great idea, Georgia). Neat or messy, you’ve got to make your space your own. Add your unique personality to it with your favourite music, little keepsakes and sources of inspiration.
We all have different opinions on art, and for the same reason we all have different opinions on what makes a studio work. I’ve included some of my own thoughts above and what works for me, but I’d love to hear all about your studios in the comments.
It might be mid winter, but in Malta, we’re pretty lucky with our long hours or sunlight, mild winters and relatively steady climate. What this island is unfortunately not very good for is stargazing, as there’s far too much light pollution – apart from in a few hard-to-get-to places – to see anything more than Polaris and the moon.
So perhaps it’s strange that I decided to paint the night sky. I’ll admit, sadly none of my paintings are painted from subjects I’ve been able to see or paint myself, but there’s a wealth of source material to use.
The challenge with painting the night sky, particularly in watercolours, is getting the right amount of depth and contrast, not easy! But after 2 years of painting the subject, I’ve come up with a few tips for painting a successful night sky scene.
Observe the sky as much as you can during the day particularly if, like me, you have nothing to look at during the night. Watch shifting clouds, changing light, how the sky transforms from powder blue to that deep, deep enveloping blue.
Take plenty of photos (again, in my case, I’m restricted to daylight/sunset/sunrise) as you’ll be surprised just how many colours there are that you don’t immediately see. Again, these observations will be useful for later night scenes.
Don’t use black paint. The only time I use black paint for a cosmic painting or a night sky is when I prepare a black acrylic base, upon which I’ll then paint my oils. Black looks to flat, and too dull. By all means, mix a touch of black into your deepest blues and create a ‘vignette’ edge to the piece, which will help create a greater sense of depth as well as draw the eye in.
Use many cool and deep tones, and warm colours. There are so many different moods you can create!
Use salt, for some really interesting ‘cloudy’ textures!
Unfortunately, the next time I’m feeling inspired, I won’t be able to look at more than a few little twinkling white dots from my roof, however, if I stop to think about it, those tiny twinkling balls are endlessly complex, fascinating, and inspiring all by themselves.
We call ourselves animal lovers, but, we have to admit, there are far fewer of us that love cockroaches than furry, four legged bundles and beats. And seeing as today is #PenguinAwarenessDay, I thought I’d talk a bit about one of my personal favourite species, and why they do (and do not) appear in my art often.
January is an important time for penguins, as it’s mid summer in Antarctica the cute little Emperor penguin chicks are now fat, gangly, moulting teenagers. While they enjoy some much needed sun, their trip to the sea to fatten up is now much shorter. Summer won’t last long, and soon it’s time to start all over again!
I had the pleasure of encountering penguins a number of times, however, never in the wild: the closest I got were puffin sightings in Anglesey, Wales. But the few times I saw them in bird parks and zoos, I was amazed by their comical waddle, their curiousity, and how odd they feel – a mixture between a hard rubber tyre and soft leather, would be the best way to describe it.
My love of penguins extends to some watercolours and a few accessories, too!
Few animals are as resilient as penguins. From chinstrap penguins being mercilessly hurled onto the rocks, being pummeled by the full force of the Southern Ocean as they fight to get to their chicks, to the desperate struggle of female emperors to adopt chicks if their own have perished. Perhaps no other animal sees less sunlight per year, too. And living under temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius, I believe that penguins deserve their credit. They are just one of the many species that are going to be effected by ice sheet melt, plastic-riddled oceans and global warming.
For the love of penguins, send them a thank you card!
Inspiration. Sometimes, it comes to us in bucket loads, while other times it can seem as elusive as rainfall in Malta’s winter. But there are plenty of ways to kick start your brainstorming, by getting out in nature, reading a good book, or perhaps learning a new skill. When I’m not feeling particularly energetic, but I’m looking for a fix of inspiration, I’ll often turn to my favourite documentaries. Below, I’ve mentioned five of my favourites that I feel every artist should watch.
First Life, by David Attenborough
I could have listed all of Attenborough’s documentaries here, but there’s something extra special about this one. Nothing is more inspiring to me than trying to understand just how vast time is, and how the processes of evolution work together with the changing environment. From fractal proto-animals like Charnia (below) to the stunning Trilobites, you’ll surely get inspired by unique, abstract forms and the stunning scenery.
Other Attenborough top picks: Life in the Freezer, Frozen Planet, Planet Earth II, Life Story, The Hunt, The Life of Plants.
Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox
This series, along with the Wonders of the Universe and Stephen Hawking’s Genius kicked off my love affair with the Cosmos and started my Cosmic Nature paintings. Never has complicated physics, destruction, beauty and chaos been described so eloquently and with such beauty. What’s great about these episodes is that they explain theories and ideas so clearly that you feel a little smug just for watching and understanding them. The visuals are simply stunning, too.
Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry & Mark Cawardine
This charming collection chronicles English writer/comedian/actor/activist Stephen Fry’s journey across the world with wildlife photographer and friend Mark Cawardine to visit some of the rarest creatures on the planet, following in the footsteps of Douglas Adams’ book and series made 20 years previously. From the sad failure to find the Baji river dolphin (a subject I also painted) to the touching tale of the Kakapo (oh, another one I painted) this documentary is full of joy, hope and adventure.
Well, there should be an art documentary on my list, and this is one of those that gave me a new appreciation of Picasso. This particular four-part series chronicles the life and works of Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse (the end of this is extremely moving), Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and features a good balance of storytelling, embellishing and historical accuracy. Though I wouldn’t call Andy Warhol a master, but perhaps that’s for another blog…
The Story of God with Morgan Freeman
Whilst I’m not a religious person, this documentary is beautifully narrated and discusses many issues that are important to humanity as a whole, and to us as individuals, whether we’re spiritual or not. From understanding creation to the meaning of life, death, the Apocalypse and more, this is a fascinating insight into world religions, beliefs and culture.
What do you watch when you’re looking for inspiration? Are you more of a film buff? Let me know in the comments!