Why I Love Watercolours

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.

  1. Salt

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.

Watercolour painting with salt
In this example the paint is slightly wetter than damp, and the salt crystals are still absorbing the paint. Wait till perfectly dry then gently rub the salt free with a soft tissue.

 

Watercolour painting salt
The effect when dry and the salt removed. There are areas of paper that had more water, so the marks vary from very fluffy to quite sharp.

 

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.

Watercolour washes painting

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.

Paradise Bird Watercolour
Works equally well for details, such as feathers.

Paradise Birds Watercolour

 

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!

Cat Abstract Watercolour

 

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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Finding Harmony in Art Through Nature

The process of formulating a painting is fraut with difficulties.

What may seem to be a very simple relationship between colour, subject and form to an outsider, is often a complex web of decisions that you made, un-made, and didn’t make at all.

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Songs in Miniature, Oils on Board

The above painting is at first glance a fairly straightforward piece, in composition and chromatically. There are only really two tones here, and the piece holds itself together thanks to this quiet harmony.

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A beautiful location, painting in a 16th Century Palace…and I love the shot of this painting, but somehow, the harmony just wasn’t there. (I will paint this piece again one day!)

Nature works in harmony with itself; even though it doesn’t always seem to be the case. Raging savanna fires restore the balance of populations and fertilize the grass, the weak die so that the strong can survive. There is a delicate, complex web that unites all species, all habitats and all natural phenomena.

The harmony of nature is the theme I approach in painting. And New Zealand’s sparky, fat parrot the Kakapo is a perfect example of this. This unfortunate flightless parrot had evolved in perfect harmony with its natural forest habitat that was free of ground based, furry predators. But times change, and we, like the Kakapo, have to evolve with them or find a new harmony.

The purpose of this blog is for me to lay down some ideas for my next painting; figuring out what harmonies I need to figure out before I put paintbrush to canvas. It’s important for a painting to appear unified and effortless, whilst at the same time evoking a sense of a deeper meaning behind it (and I’m not talking the meaning behind a black square, either, I’m talking something real). How do I transform a subject, a topic that moves me, into a canvas that moves others?

Kakapo Watercolour Painting
Watercolour study for the upcoming Big painting!

Instead of looking at the finished painting as the goal, look at the whole process. An evolution in itself.

A Comparison – Lascaux and Guernica

In the quiet village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of France, stands one of the world’s finest examples of cave art, and in my opinion, one of the greatest artistic achievements ever. This complex network, like all prehistoric art, represents a great evolutionary leap into modern intelligence, known as ‘The Transition’. Lascaux was discovered by accident in 1940, and contains some simply mind-blowing paintings, both in skill and proportion. One only has to see the scale of the bulls in the Hall of the Bulls (one is more than 5 metres long) to be mesmerised.

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The variety of animal species, including aurochs (ancient bulls), horses, lions, ibex, bison, are painted in a seemingly uncontrolled method; with species sharing space, that would probably have given each other a wide birth in Nature. Also, some of the animals are super-imposed, painted between and across one another, some floating in odd positions, upside-side, bent around to fit with the subtle curvature of a fragment of rock. No backgrounds are ever present in cave art, the source of the rock provides it, and flora is never depicted, unless perhaps in unintelligible lines and dots. These aspects bear a certain similarity to Cubist art; the haphazard but clever layout of the composition, the intersection and angles of some of the animals, all seem to pluck them out of their realistic context, instead forcing them into an abstraction, a spectrum of un-reality. Even the reducing of some of the painted animals to a few carved or painted lines bears a similarity to later Cubism.

The Hall of Bulls and “Guernica”

The Hall of Bulls, the grandest, largest and one of the most heavily painted areas of Lascaux, sweeps across the ceiling, like the great arc of the sun from East to West, seeming to converge in the centre of the ceiling, over the entrances to the narrower, more hostile sections of the cave. Here, horses and bulls seem to run across the sky right above your head, leading us to question, how on earth was this painted, when our ancestors had no ladders, or the use of ropes and pulleys to create a painting platform? Indeed they were brave to enter in the chasms of the underworld, and for the seemingly cumbersome task of painting such majestic murals.

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In the same way that Lascaux is always mentioned at the forefront of prehistoric artistic masterpieces, so must one always mention and ponder on “Guernica” when discussing Picasso and the birth or modern art. Both create a significant impact whilst looking at them, even though their subject matter is very different. Let us first mention “Guernica”.

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“Guernica” was created by Picasso for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, at the time when Guernica, a small basque town in Northern Spain was horrendously bombed by German and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War. The town was in ruins, completely destroyed, and Picasso felt in necessary to bring the attention of this war to the world. This huge, seven-metre-long mural is monochrome, consisting of only black, white and greys. It is shocking in its grim portrayal of the war, and though its style is cubist, and almost crudely cartoon, its impact is not decreased. In fact, the exaggerated faces of the screaming Basque people, the animated dead baby dangling from its mother’s arm, the raging horse dominating the mural and the fallen horse beneath it create a scene of almost pitiful hatred. Though controversial, “Guernica” achieved what Picasso wanted; awareness for the suffering during the Civil War. Today this painting hangs in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, as a standing testament to those who died.

The comparisons between Lascaux’s Hall of the Bulls begin here. Both murals are chaotic, with the figures, whether of animals or people, are all pushed together, almost colliding into one another closet to the centre of the painting. The positions of Lascaux’s bulls and horses, with small, barely visible stags between them, suggests an air of excitement, or fear – perhaps this scene was replicating a hunt, or a stampede, or the animals during bad weather – and its is in this same fashion in “Guernica” that certain figures are concealed and distorted by another. There is a strange mix, of animals and figures, that would not usually have shared the same space. Also, scale and proportion is altered; the fallen person in the left of “Guernica” is the same size as the wounded horse. Limbs are too large, eyes are misplaced. The stags in The Hall are tiny in comparison to the horses they run beside, when in fact, the two species are of fairly similar size. The horses and bulls trip over one another, all heading towards the centre of the ceiling Perspective is practically unapparent; it is only evident in Lascaux due to the shape of the cave walls, and background too, is minimal.

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These common traits give the murals further impact. Where perspective and background fall away, the mind is freed by their restrictions, able to draw up fresh conclusions that would have otherwise been limited. Is “Guernica” a scene inside a building or a house, is it in the ruins of the town itself? Are Lascaux’s bulls running at each other, or are they actually running in the cave? There are numerous possibilities.

Both creations leave us feeling mystified, amazed and insignificant. They are both depicting scenes that we can never truly touch, and never truly understand. They leave us questioning our own destiny; where we have been and where we are heading as a species. Perhaps Lascaux symbolises the fight for evolution between the species, and “Guernica” reminds us harshly of our own.

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As our ancestors re-emerged from the cave and began to create words, language, civilisations, obviously their production of art and their need for it changed. Art became something much more decorative, with body adornments such as jewellery, pendants and figurines being carved. Art became more portable, and pottery flourished. As art movements develop today, rapidly changing from one to the next and colliding in the middle, to create something entirely new, the same is true in Pre-history. Stone-carving took a back seat and metalworking was developed, and the Bronze Age brought about greater skill and diversity of art. Just like today, art was taken over to the artisans, instead of being mass-produced by the civilisation as a whole. The ‘Primitive’ art created by our hominid fathers gave way to the Symbolism of Ancient Egypt and the architecture of the Nile Valley. The richly detailed art of the Americas was the first Romanticism, and in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aborigines of Australia gave us the first glimpse of Surrealism.

As artistic movements reappear, as suddenly as though the sun sets, perhaps Pre-historic art will re-emerge, in thousands of years to come. Its importance in our transition from ape to man should not be underestimated. Without the ochre horses of our ancestors, we would not have any of the masterpieces we see today, in our museums, in our homes, and in our hearts.

My Own Little Art History

A brilliant piece of advice I came across recently is that you need to learn about your own art history, not just that of the Great Masters and contemporary artists, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

I often work within specific themes or phases, but most recently these have been troubling me somewhat, and I’m trying to take a few steps back before I find the next big theme or style, but I can feel it stirring! So, now is as good a time as ever to talk about where my art came from.

It was in 2008 – 2009 when I first painted on canvas, and whilst early attempts were nothing to write home about it terms of technique, I love them for their rawness, their touches of surrealism and their honesty. I was painting what I felt like, with pretty much a disregard for rules.

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Synesthesia, 2008

This painting, Synesthesia, explores the difficult and complex ties between our senses, and I believe was inspired by either a poem I wrote, or a conversation I had with a friend. Just as senses become blurred and intertwined, so is the specific memory of this piece. In execution it’s fairly poor, but I’d love to explore this theme again taking on what I’ve gathered over the last 8 years.

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Dogs are Palaeolithic, 2010
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The Spectrum, 2010

Moving on then, and it’s easy to see from experiments in surrealism where my next source of inspiration came from. Around this time I was fascinated by Palaeolithic cave art, and understanding where art and techniques came from as well as the significance of nature and animals in art. The piece above shows greater confidence with colour, handling of the paint and composition. In fact this was my first piece to sell at an exhibition.

I even started using natural materials such as shells, sand, stones and feathers on my paintings (though unfortunately not much photo evidence survives).

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I’d say it took me four years to get properly into my stride; then there was this:

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The Solutrean Expression, 2012

This piece put in to practice the influence that the cave painters and Franz Marc had somehow blended together in my brain. A combination of bold colour and line with simple structural elements to create a sense of the animal, the subject of the piece. Inspired by Lascaux’s Panel of the Chinese Horse and Red Cow, this is where art truly began its astonishing journey, and I guess in a way where mine started too.

This was a painting style that stuck.

Then became softer, more brushy and using colour to evoke mood…and this was all in the same year!

Then the works became even more textured, but with more colour control.

In 2014, I turned to painting people, and decided to highlight some of the endangered peoples and cultures all over the world, and once again the painting style changed drastically, becoming freer, and adapting to the different needs of the subject.

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Spiritual Cosmos, 2014

In 2015, things became a little weirder. A series of events, preoccupations and responsibilities took  over for a while, and I think that reflects in my art. There were less concrete themes and styles, less experimenting and perhaps a little bit more fantastic indulging.

 

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Axolotl

As for 2016, for now I’m going to leave this chapter in my little art history unpublished. It’s  too early to tell…

To find out more about commissioning a painting or to enquire about specific paintings for sale send me a message through my Facebook Page or take a look through at my website: cjwaterfieldart.com

 

Reading too much into Malevich

I’m still coming to terms with abstract art and how it seems to dominate the art world. I have feelings of contempt for artists like Malevich and Rothko, perhaps because I am slightly envious if the ridiculous sums of money these paintings sell for (put them all together and you could probably pay of the Third World debt instead of lining an oligarch’s pockets. But I think its more personal than that. It’s as though they are mocking the beauty of the world around them, as though they are too good for it.

Do artists turn to abstraction to connect, or disconnect from reality? Is art about reality, or illusion. And how do we possibly know when we have found the answer.

Countless artists have given seemingly random brushstrokes purpose, personifying Prussian blue and writing endless essays, manifestos and isms. Art critics play their part too; as if abstraction evokes some deeper spirituality than Monet or Vermeer could achieve. They’re just too ‘nice’.

Give me O’Keeffe, give me Marc or Picasso or Kandinsky. I might even contemplate Mondrian. But has to mean something. I have to feel it. It has to be genuine.

Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many different angles you look at it, what time of day it is, or even who’s looking. Black Square is just that.

kazimir_malevich_black_square_1929

 

To find out more about commissioning a painting or to enquire about specific paintings for sale send me a message through my Facebook Page or take a look through at my website: cjwaterfieldart.com

The Art of Looking

I’m used to seeking inspiration for my art from grand, sweeping landscapes and details scenes, but with a new series of works in the pipeline, I’m going to change the way I look at things, focusing on the details and analysing anatomy and the senses with a new purpose.

Because when we stop to think about it, what is  it that really makes a species unique? Not its base anatomy surely; most vertebrates are made up of a head, body, limbs, an obvious front end and back end. Most have eyes and other sensory organs, most have a mouth. But the way that each species has evolved  has provided a pretty stunning collection of differences, ones that are often overlooked. Perhaps we overlook the elephant’s incredible sound-detector feet because we are distracted by the iconic trunk and ivory pricetags.

 

elephantPhoto by Matt Nelson

These new paintings will focus on the small and seemingly insignificant, almost abstract qualities, but each with its own unique story to tell.

My Style and What it Means to Me

Recently, I’ve varied in style quite a bit; I’ve painted some pretty abstracted works, a couple of portraits and peoples of varying ethnicities and generally limited the amount of animals featuring in my paintings.

So why is it one always feels so drawn back to that one particular style? Their one unique little niche in the art world that just keeps hanging around.

For me, it is my ‘Solutrean’ style paintings, named for the first painting created in that style: The Solutrean Expression. What started off as modern interpretation of the Lascaux cave‘s Panel of the Red Cow and Chinese Horse has developed into a bold and I hope original style that is able to express so many of my desires: conservation, protection and admiration of the natural world.

Chloe Waterfield Art Oil Paintings Malts
The Solutrean Expression – the signature piece.

This style, I feel, best incorporates the true values of nature; those unique aspects of those unique creatures, their movements, their unusual anatomy, or simply those unfortunate ones who are no longer on this planet.

Thylacine Oil Painting Tasmanian Tiger Chloe Waterfield Art

Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) – The poor Tazzy Tiger, wrongly accused of killing sheep throughout New Zealand, and all too soon exterminated. The last Thylacine died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. (This painting is for sale. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com)

The ‘Solutrean’ style can offer total colour freedom or can work for a limited palette, and so everytime the results are surprising, and the majority of the times a pleasant surprise. A rich blend of colour to me evokes vast emotions, both negative and positive in one fell swoop, and once you get to know each one’s unique story, this emotion is only heightened.

Symbiosis Oil Paintings Malta Chloe Waterfield Art
Symbiosis – The intricate relationship between one of Africa’s largest and most dangerous mammals, the Buffalo, and the humble oxpecker, dedicated to cleaning the ticks and parasites off these majestic beasts.  (This painting is for sale. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com)

Now tell me about your own style of art and what it means to you!