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.

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! 🙂

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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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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!

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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! 🙂

If you can’t travel to nature, let nature come to you

“If you can’t travel to nature, let nature come to you.”

Chloe paints in the spare room of her home in the small and unremarkable town of Hamrun, just a stone’s throw from Malta’s most gentlemanly of cities, Valletta. She has a special corner of this room prepared, with just enough furniture and nicknacks to keep her occupied when she goes up there ‘for a think’.

The ‘studio’ is large, well-lit and with a balcony providing just enough of a glimpse of the world beyond to still feel safe. The artist’s desk is piled high with pots of brushes – some in far better condition than others – and another pot contains an assortment of animal figurines. For selling, one day. But not today.

The room is dominated by bookcases, mostly dedicated to the graphomania of her partner, but just a few choice titles of her own with a stuffed Thylacine for company. Beyond the shelves, the walls are lined with canvases of completed ‘travels’.

At the desk, there’s just enough space between the desk and more stacked canvases for the easel, and the paints themselves sit haphazard upon the floor, within easy reach of the dog and the artist who usually paints balanced on the balls of her feet instead of sitting or standing.

When Chloe starts on a project, she always begins with a pencil, using whatever scrap of paper she can find to begin her initial sketches. A roll of tracing paper is within easy reach when it comes time to transfer to canvas. A tricky maneuver of managing curling paper, canvas and lamplight, but oddly satisfying. A few scribbles on the sketch – what colours, how to paint it, ‘things to remember’…

She shifts to painting, usually in silence. She keeps track of her process to make sure she isn’t going too fast, or too slow. Paint is a delicate master of time.

A woman of habit, who doesn’t admit to the habit, is usually found painting in the few hours before dusk. The space is small, cramped, but functional. There’s plenty of room to step back for a new perspective.

The studio, for all of its disorder upon first inspection, is the space of an owner that loves the neat and tidy, but that seeks her inspiration from having anything sentimental within full view. The artist is not superstitious or indeed religious, but feels an intrinsic value in making connections with nature, the sky and other immaterial items. “Art isn’t about what’s real, it’s about what you have if you have nothing”

The artist's life #art #artist #artwork #painting #paint #creative #inspiration

A post shared by Chloe Waterfield Art (@chloewaterfieldart) on

As a result, the artist is a woman of surprising humour, a rich knowledge of the intricacies of nature, and a self-confessed addict of all things David Attenborough. Though knowledgeable of these subjects and self-assured in their value, she finds it difficult to talk about art – not because she has few ideas, but that she feels certain ideas must be ‘felt’ and not discussed. To discuss them is to encourage bias. Often times she will stumble through answers, giving a short and often more defensive reply than is intended. “Art should be able to speak for itself when hung.”

The dedication to her art might suggest a personality that is serious and conservative. And in many ways, she is. But Chloe is also a self-confessed child at heart, won over by the smallest of life’s details and dedicated to nature. But she’s no vegan, and no saint. To avoid the sins of the masses is to avoid the issue, not solve it.

Are the hours during the painting process pleasurable?

For the first few hours, and the last few, yes.

Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?

I don’t have a fixed schedule. I don’t make time for art: it makes time for me. I don’t believe in ‘waiting for the muse’ but I don’t fight with my brushes either. When it comes, I’ll be lost for a day. In the meantime, there’s plenty of research, watching, reading, wondering, hoping to be done.

Can you dismiss from your mind whatever project you’re on when you’re away from the easel?

Not so easily. I become obsessed with the idea, if only for a short while. I’ll start to see it in the objects around me, the programs I’m watching, books I’m reading. I’ll wake up thinking about changes.

Do you work on paintings in stages, or can you work on it one month and come back to it in six. What happens when the work is finished?

Occasionally, I’ll work on two at a time, but usually it’s a single painting, a single fixation for the week, month or month it takes me. My painting has slowed down, and what would have taken a week now takes six. When the work is finished, I usually love it more than when I started, even if the result is far from the original idea.

Is emotional stability necessary to paint well? It’s often said that you have to be mad to be an artist.

Having an artistic hand is necessary to paint well, but a madman can have better ideas.

Who would you say are your artistic forebears—those you have learned the most from?

Franz Marc – for helping me find a ‘spirituality’ and a colour to nature that I didn’t see before. For helping me depict the stillness of moving.

Frida Kahlo – all it takes is some dogged determination, good brushes, and possibly a broken womb and a mono-brow. Well I’ve got three out of four, how will that do?

Claude Monet – for showing me what the misty dawn feels like.

David Attenborough – for making me believe that I’ve seen all of the wonders of nature, only to be in total shock and overwhelming amazement in the next scene.

Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?

Definitely, but they’re probably more obvious to you than to me.

Could you say how much thought-out effort went into the evolvement of your distinctive style?

I’d say that my style works like the evolutionary tree. You can’t see the changes as they happen, but every so often you’ll find a fossil remarkably different from the last.
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! 🙂

Painting Rarities

Unless you’ve lived in a hole for the last 48 hours, you’ll know that the United States hosted a magnificent and rare spectacle yesterday; the first total eclipse in the region in 99 years.

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The International Space Station whizzing past the sun, just before the Moon takes a bite out of it. Joel Kowsky | NASA | Getty Images

As the earth went eerily still, eerily cold and so rapidly dark, the moon made its debut – obscuring the sun like a giant 8 ball blocking a cosmic snooker pocket. Glasses off, but only for a fleeting moment. The moon gave the sun its diamond ring  – then, glasses back on, and all of a sudden the light returned, like the sheets being pulled from your morning slumber.

People laughed, they gasped, they screamed, and they cried. What is it about this unique and extraordinarily precise phenomena that moves us in such a way? Is it the shock to our circadian rhythm, is it our fear that the sun may not peep out the other side? I witnessed a partial eclipse in the UK in 1999, and was glued to live streams yesterday. From the other side of the world, I was hooked.

A Great Eclipse Painter

A secondary source to my eclipse inspiration came from the works of a painter I’ll admit I stumbled across by chance (thank you, News Feed!). If you haven’t heard of Howard Russell Butler, and you love art and eclipses, you’re missing out.

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Howard Russell Butler, “Solar Eclipse” (1925), oil on canvas 

It’s not simply that he painted beautifully serene and emotive paintings of eclipses and other cosmic scenes, as well as landscapes. His works are beautiful in themselves, but what I find most remarkable as how he managed to plan out and sketch his eclipse paintings in 110 seconds. Once he caught his eclipse, he scribbled furiously, coming up with exceedingly complex values and mathematical symbols for the different hues of the light, the corona and the beads. All this, whilst the picture in front of him vanished.

Find out more about his amazing works

From art to photography to fashion, weirdly ridiculous and indeed mind-numbing flat-Earth theories, eclipses have inspired us for centuries. As an artist, I see great potential in this subject, and plan to take full advantage of its publicity 🙂

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Rare, Watercolours

I had started painting the stunning California Condor some time ago, and then, inspired to paint an eclipse, I found that the two would fit together perfectly.

Just like a total eclipse, the California Condor is a rarity, too, as one of the world’s most endangered birds, an enduring Native American symbol, brought back from near extinction by an expensive and dedicated conservation and breeding project. This magnificent bird is surviving, but by no means thriving.

I’m definitely going to work on another eclipse piece, but I’m waiting for the Muse to strike first! I have a few ideas…

Appreciate the rare things. Love them.

Why Paintings Fail

A painting is like an investment. Sometimes, your investment pays off, landing you wealth, happiness and a tidy sum for the future, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Whether its down to a bad decision, an unstable market, or perhaps just bad luck, you can’t always predict whether your investment is a ‘sure thing’.

It’s exactly the same with painting. Now, I may know nothing about investments, but I know a fair bit about painting. And what I’ve come to realise is, no matter how much you paint over it, how much you fight with it, sometimes a painting will fail, and you won’t immediately know why. Given the time, energy and money that you’ve put into a painting, from sketching away furiously to scribbling down notes, mixing and discarding colours and sweating at your easel, to finding that the fruits of your labour have failed can be a damn hard feeling to swallow. If a painting is going badly for me, you’ll know about it. Even the dog will know about it.

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My faithful assistant Luna, keeping guard

I have discarded numerous paintings over the years, probably more in the last two years than the previous six combined. Not because I’m becoming a worse painter (far from it, I hope) but because I’m becoming more selective about the paintings that I carry to full term. Many others transform into experiments, giving me the freedom to try out a new style, a new mix or brushstroke when I cannot get a clear idea in watercolour, or as a sketch.

You can learn a lot from paintings that fail; from why that colour mix didn’t work, or why that composition looks so….wrong. It’s all research, warming you up for the next one.

I thought I’d talk about this in more detail, by sharing with you a few of my recent failures, and why I think they went wrong.

(Also, if you’re anything like me, you won’t have kept much of a photo record of the failures!)

Lack of Coherency

Deer

I love the idea behind this one; the intention was to create a big, rich, forested scene with the deer merging into his background, in a similar vein to my Palaeolithic Inspired paintings. The composition is dominant, it works, but I didn’t define the planes and the lines clearly enough before I started, so what should have been a coherent abstract/cubist canvas became a busy, cluttered mess.

No Planning

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I had the vision of painting Malta’s national bird, the Merill, or Blue Rock Thrush, in a paint-by-numbers style – letting each colour sit beside each other with a subtle shift in value to create a flat yet rich painting. Yet I didn’t know what I would do after that. I used to love paint by numbers, but when you have to choose the values and draw all the little shapes, it’s not so easy! At this early stage, I have to admit I loved this painting. Then, I got stuck – I didn’t know how to get my rocks to look like rocks, and I feared that the feathers would lose their effect the more I painted. I think I painted over him now, but I’m not sure. I will try him again one day soon.

Painting Under Pressure

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Never, ever go and paint live without a plan. Granted, the passers by were thrilled watching me paint as I threw colours here, and there, and here again during a Notte Bianca event in Malta’s capital city of Valletta. But I didn’t know where I was going; it was dark, uncomfortable, I was painting out of my comfort zone, trying not to spill paint on a 16th Century floor. If you’re going to paint live at an event, or for charity, or go plein air, make a sketch beforehand, start putting some colours down a few days before. Get the basics in, and know where you’re going before you arrive.

Thanks in no small part to these three pieces, painted between 2015 to just a couple of months ago, I’ve learned to plan my paintings better. In fact, I would say that I paint less now, as I spend a good month or so gathering resources, backtracking on ideas, scribbling notes, snippets for blogs, taking photographs and producing concepts and colour sketches. Planning takes away some of the trepidation of diving in head first, even though often the temptation to just plunge in and start painting is overwhelming. Don’t do it!

So there you have it, three reasons why I think many painting, including my own, fail. What are your thoughts on paintings that you feel didn’t turn out like you expected, or those that ended up being the underlayer to an entirely new piece?