Five Inspiring Documentaries for Artists

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.

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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.

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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.

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I highly recommend reading Douglas Adams’ book, too.

Modern Masters with Alistair Sooke

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…

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, France

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.

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What do you watch when you’re looking for inspiration? Are you more of a film buff? Let me know in the comments!
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A Journey with a Kakapo

This week, I thought I’d delve into some detail about the painting that took up my easel for the last five months; for me, a marathon of a painting. I’m always fascinated to learn how other artists work, what inspires them, the materials and techniques that they use, so I thought I’d share some of mine.

Starting with the initial watercolour sketch:

Kakapo Watercolour Painting

A lot of you have heard about that kakapo; its unique evolution, its quirky behaviour, mating habits, and of course, the threats currently facing it. There are few paintings of kakapo, and the majority of them are fairly traditional. I wanted to capture a different side to this remarkable bird that is something between an owl and a parrot, both in habit and appearance. Colour was going to be the primary motivation for these piece, using rich, bold hues and blocks of colour to set the scene, much as I did in my previous ‘Solutrean’ paintings.

Oh, and it had to be big.

(I apologise as some photos were taken in natural light so there’s some glare from the wet paint etc)

Kakapo Painting

 

When it comes to transferring a drawing from paper onto canvas, there are several methods I use; whether it’s tracing onto the canvas from an inked drawing, or creating a scaled-up sketch using the grid method. This time, I was feeling confident. No pencil in sight, I grabbed a watery acrylic mix and sketched the basic outline of the bird, some feather details and a few wisps of background.

Kakapo Painting

The underpainting; a thin mix of cadmium yellow light oil paint, and a touch of orange, I knew would be crucial to holding it all together later on.

Kakapo Painting

Next I started from the outside, in, getting in the darks of the background which will help bring the bird forward, and give the feeling that he is trudging through the dark undergrowth. I love that burnt orange. I experimented with a few hints of feathers too.

Kakapo Painting
After a month, I’ve darkened up the darks and increased the tones, but haven’t made much progress on the kakapo himself. It was important to have a solid framework behind it, before I started fussing over the bird too much.

Kakapo Painting

There comes a point in a painting which I call the hurdle; the critical point where perhaps you might have got lost from your initial sketch, and perhaps started throwing paint down in an over-eager anticipation of the finished piece. The photo above is where I reached this critical point. I wasn’t happy with the green; even though it is a fair representation of the light kakapo green, but it somehow, didn’t fit. Lots of standing, staring, taking photographs, and generally, taking a step back from the painting helped me through this tricky transition stage.

Kakapo Painting

You learn a lot about painting whilst you’re painting, and I’ve learned that mistakes can be a good thing. As you can see from the previous photo to this one, the kakapo has transformed. The white line running through the birds centre was originally a dark brown branch, but it was too dead centre, and taking up too much of a focus. But I wasn’t concerned at this stage. I started thinking of the kakapo more in terms of shapes, and bringing it back in harmony with the background.

Kakapo Painting

Almost three months since I started, here is the latest in progress shot. As you can see, that heavy branch in the middle has gone and the kakapo has started to gain some feathering in the tail. Now to work on the branch at his feet, refine the body, and bring in some darks back into the background.

You can have the best plan in the world, but sometimes, paintings just evolve all by themselves. I made sketches, notes, colour maps and had a clear idea in my head, but it turned out a little different. However, I am thrilled with the transformation. The kakapo has a special place in my heart, and now, so does its painting.

Five months in the making and featuring New Zealand’s endangered kakapo, this is much more than just a painting to me. This is what I strive for, why I paint for what I love, and why you should love the natural world too.

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this piece and Kakapo Prints will be donated to the Kakapo Recovery.

Forest and Bird, Finished Oils on Canvas, 90 x 60cm and up for sale. Enquiries to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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 Baby Boom for the Booming Parrot – The Kakapo

I always love reading about conservation success stories, they fill me with hope and the drive to continue painting, researching, and just generally getting involved in nature.

I find the kakapo’s heartwarming story particularly moving, partly because of my love of New Zealand and it’s stunning wildlife, partly because it shows just what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. A story of conservation and human dedication at its finest.

The kakapo might be world famous, but its current population would just about be enough to fill every seat in New Zealand’s parliament.

There are many reasons to admire the kakapo and want to save it, not only because it is one of the few, tough, island survivors from New Zealand’s era of great flightless birds, but because it is a prime example of evolution ‘gone wrong’. A squat, fat parrot that lives on the ground, sleeps during the day, can’t fly (but seems to have forgotten that it can’t) and makes a highly unusual low-frequency boom; very unlike our typical view of a chirpy, delicate parrot flitting around the trees in the sunshine.

Kakapo Watercolour Painting
The Parrot that Goes Boom, Watercolours

The kakapo is unfortunately under threat due to its changing habitat. Since humans arrived, many flightless birds, marsupials and other species fell victim to humanity’s vices including their tasty appeal and easy capture for the cats and dogs that found their way onto the islands. The kakapo is no exception, now restricted to a few predator-free islands and living in a state of permanent intrusion, in the sense that humans are constantly monitoring their movements, their health, mating habits, breeding successes etc. But in this case, human interference is actually their salvation. And, thankfully, this year, the population of booming parrots are having a little baby boom.

If there’s hope for the world’s rarest parrot, there’s hope for every species.

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160715-baby-boom-for-worlds-rarest-parrot

Read. Watch. Learn. Get to know about these little stories; get involved.

You too can join the Conservation Conversation. Click here to find out more.