Art Diaries: A Trip To Rome

So, that’s one of my most challenging paintings completed. Surprisingly enough, I loved every minute of it. Even the bits I hated, where things seemed like they were going wrong. But the vision was clear, and that was motivation enough to stick it through till the end. Overall, I’m very happy with the results. I can see a few minor adjustments I may or may not make (once a painting has been signed off, I very rarely touch it again).

I realised a couple of important things along this particular painting journey. It was a perfect mix of reference photo (photos we took during our trip to Rome a couple of years ago) and imagination, and it just seemed to fit so perfectly.

I realised too that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate my trip to Rome as much as I could have done, or should have done. It was a trip taken with a heavy heart, for many reasons. This painting was my tribute to a wonderful trip, that could have been so much more wonderful. As a Rome-sceptic before I left, I now carry Rome in my heart, and I won’t be satisfied until I return.

Who knows? Maybe the starlings will be there next time too.

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How One Painting Helped Me Grow As An Artist

I never really paid too much attention to my growth as an artist. I was more interested in individual paintings, or ideas, but if there’s one thing my most recent painting has taught me, it’s to embrace the whole experience of growth and development.

When you’re constantly trying to make each new painting the best one yet, you might in fact be missing out on the bigger picture.

If you search too hard for ideas, they will forever elude you. Epiphanies and muses are for lazy artists, but sometimes you’ll find that a painting really does just wander into your head, almost fully formed, and when this happened to me, I was compelled to grab it. As soon as the idea was there, I sat down to begin creating it.

And it wasn’t the painting process that helped me grow this time. It was the process of formulating and creating a project. From planning to choosing colours to figuring out what I wanted to say and why: this latest painting became more than just a painting. It became as experience. Just as with a good bottle of wine you want to savour it, or have that last delicious bite a little slower. That’s what this painting became.

Another hurdle I overcame with this piece was not getting trapped. Usually, there will be a point in every painting, probably after the blocking in stage and somewhere before the details, where I get trapped. I get stuck on a colour, or a texture, or an area that just doesn’t look right. But now I’ve realised that it won’t look right, but I can make it better.

Several times during this painting I made a few quite big corrections, as you can see below.

I re-painted the sky to give it a little more vibrancy and to get rid of the distracting horizontal lines.

I realised that I’d got some angles and spacing wrong, so again, I picked up my brush and started sketching over in paint where I needed to fix. And then I fixed it. I didn’t get frustrated, I didn’t lose my confidence, I just got on with it, and got over the awkward, teenage stage of the painting.

Overcoming doubt is the biggest lesson of learned from this painting. Whether it was an external self-confidence I had before I started painting, or a boost because of the painting, I’m not sure. But I’ve learned to overcome the doubt and love the process of working, re-working and getting things just right.

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The Artist’s Holiday Survival Guide

As much as we might wish, not all holidays we venture on can be the idyllic, tourist-free, art safari holidays we dream of in our heads. Fortunately, it’s really not that difficult to indulge in a little bit of what you love, no matter where you are, or how many sombreros might have followed you out of the airport.

Here are my top tips for being a travelling artist, and at the end of this blog I’ll be adding a list of the supplies I carry with me.

Tell your other half

Maybe not applicable if you’re single, or if your confident enough to holiday alone, but if you want to have some time to sketch, paint or just think, you’d better let your other half know beforehand. In fact, if you’re travelling with a group, best you speak up early before you get dragged to every museum, cafe and metro stop within 50 miles and have not time to even take a toilet break.

Go to museums, galleries, etc

So, I’m not saying don’t go to any museums, in fact, they’re a must. Whether it’s a glorious art gallery like the Reina Sofia or Prado in Madrid, or just a local little gallery, or a museum of whatever takes your fancy. Make time for inspiration.

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Take notes

Scraps of paper, notebooks and a decent pen and pencil. Don’t get caught unawares trying to scribble the next Odyssey onto a soggy bar napkin with your eyeliner.

Wake up early

Sunrise is usually beautiful abroad, not just because sunrise is gorgeous anyway but because most tourists are still asleep (except my husband). Get out at the crack of dawn and have your half hour of tranquility before the world wakes up and you can’t move for socks and sandals.

Discover unique places

When I visited Rome a couple of years ago, of course I enjoyed the Colosseum (queues) and the Vatican (queues) and the Forum (not so many queues), but the place we really enjoyed was an old part of town across the river called the Trastevere, full of vintage shops, an old market, tiny bookshops and leather goods stores. This place was busy, yet quiet at the same time, and was fairly free from the usual rabble. A good place to discover some unique souvenirs and to really get into the local scene. One of my other favourite places has to be the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, Spain. For all its crowds, one feels at home with the locals, eating while standing, enjoying the architecture and planning the next escape.

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Go to green spaces

I’m quite a lazy traveller. I enjoy nothing more than sitting in a cafeteria at the edge of a square with a drink and a slice of cake watching the world go by. This is even better if you can do it in a green area, a park, a little garden, perhaps even just by a fountain so you can enjoy the sound of rushing water. Don’t forget your sketchbook and camera though.

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Take the right tools

There’s nothing worse than finally setting down to work on a sketch, drawing or painting abroad to realise you don’t have the right colour, you’ve forgotten an eraser or you simply don’t have everything you need. While Google Maps might help you locate the nearest art supply shop, you might not find your familiar brands and products, and by the time you’ve bought them, it’s time to move on and your moment of creativity might be lost. Don’t underestimate being prepared.

Pack well

Following up from the point above, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for your trip, baggage wise. It’s usually wise to travel light, and don’t forget what can and can’t go in your hand luggage! Below you’ll find my list of supplies that accompany me on my travels.

Travelling Art Supplies List

  • Sketching pencils – don’t make the mistake of carrying just one.
  • Writing pen – for those amazing, wonderful ideas or simply to take some notes or keep a journal
  • Books that inspire – whether it’s an artist’s bio, a good novel or a book of art marketing, whatever works for you
  • Watercolour paints – I carry a travel-sized set of pan watercolours, as carrying half a dozen tubes takes up a lot more space and can get messy
  • Selection of paintbrushes – again, I recommend carrying more than you think you’ll need
  • Kitchen roll or tissue paper – for wiping, blotting, cleaning brushes
  • Art pad – my preference is a sketchbook type pad or watercolour paper, no bigger than A4 size
  • Plastic water bottle – to carry paint water
  • Another water bottle – for the thirsty artist
  • A diary or journal – you can either write a full-on diary of your travels, or just take notes whenever inspiration hits
  • A camera – I personally have a Canon PowerShot which takes stunning daytime shots and is small and portable without the need for a massive camera bag or expensive travel insurance
  • A stylish or artsy tote bag – to carry all your supplies in

 

 

What’s on your travelling list? Let me know in the comments.

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Art Diaries: Abstract Isn’t Enough

So, when I sat down to paint a couple of days ago, I knew I wasn’t going to have a plan for it. I’ve been touching on abstraction a lot recently, perhaps because I’m looking for a new direction, or perhaps because I’m just a bit stuck. And when I go down the path of abstract art, it always inevitably leads me to Georgia O’Keeffe. I find her intimate flower paintings and her fluid forms to be hypnotic: I love the choice of colour that she uses, the way a shape can transform from one thing into another. Her work is deeply feminine, yet if you know anything about the artist herself, she wasn’t your typical 1950s housewife, and she certainly didn’t live for a man. I guess I enjoy that contradiction, as I see a little of that in myself. A strong, reasonably determined woman, yet one that is still deeply rooted by her emotions and her feminine identity.

So I had a scroll through some of Georgia’s paintings, then turned to looking at the macro details of some flowers: any flowers, the species aren’t important. I barely know a thing about plants and flowers, but does it mean I don’t love them dearly?

I set to work, I guess not so subconsciously I was thinking about my health. I’ve tried to paint it a la Georgia O’Keeffe before, keeping to a few simple lines and forms, and focusing on what colour can say. This time I wanted the colours to be more subdued. I thought about green, then changed my mind. A flowering stalk became the neck of the womb, and a flower, an ovary. Why is it that flowers and reproductive organs look so similar? Both fragile, I suppose.

Watercolour Art

But what I realised was that I was painting. Just painting. I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t really doing anything to deliberate. I’d place a wash of colour here, then there, placing my brush where it felt right and trying to create softness.

While painting is deeply therapeutic, it’s not the same as art. My little dauby watercolours of pelvises, abstract forms and upturned flowers might not be bad paintings, but somehow, they don’t quite feel like me. How is it that the Kakapo says more about me than my own corrupted uterus? Which do I understand better? That answer I think is clear.

I think the answer is also clear, that I’m not truly painting what I want to. I’m painting what I think I want, or perhaps, what I think I should want.

Abstract isn’t enough for me.

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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?
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Wandering Universe

The hue and the wing beat
Bound by the laws of Physics.

The eye and the nebula
Too wonderful to be accidental?

The paradigm shifts upon takeoff
The paradigm shifts upon implosion.

What a journey it must be when your feet
Barely touch the ground
To kiss the wind of the sea and the sound

of the stars.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

What’s Your Perfect Art Studio?

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.

Light

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!

Cosmic Painting
Photographing on the roof – non-windy day

Space

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.

 

Mess

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?

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Time

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.

Animals

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!

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This painting was dry at the time, no fear!

Personality

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.

Your Studio

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.
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the left to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂