Art Diaries: Chilean Wildlife

Today I decided to do some quick and loose sketches of Chilean wildlife from my trip. Sketching in watercolour is great fun: it loosens up the wrists and allows you to create a quick impression of what it is your painting.

There were several amazing wildlife spots that we stumbled upon. Of course, if you know anything about South America, you’ll know its biodiversity is…well, diverse. And Chile is no exception. As you travel from North to South, the climate and even the season changes, so it’s no wonder there’s such variety. Who knew you could have guanacos, parrots and penguins all in one country?

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Imperial, watercolours

The first sketch is from Punta Arenas (mentioned in my previous post). Upon arrival in this truly charming place, we had a re-fueling breakfast, having got perhaps only one hours’ sleep in 24, then decided to wander around the very chilly town. Punta Arenas surprisingly turned out to be the best place for souvenirs, and we came across a wonderful shop (I forgot the name) and found some really unique Southern items, not your usual kitsch souvenirs at all.

After that, it was time to watch England get mowed down by Croatia. I really thought, with the slimmest of hope, that football really was coming home. But no, instead the only thing coming home was me in 12 days time. It’s amazing that even on the wrong side of the world and the wrong hemisphere, you can still be calmed by the same creature comforts of a good meal and a beer.

Anyway, back to the sketch. We headed to the coast, and there it was! The gargantuan Pacific Ocean stretched out ahead of us in all its blue-grey glory. The beach looked as thought the weather had not been kind to it, but today the sea was calm. Off in the distance on a jetty, I got my first glimpse of wild seabirds in Chile. There were black cormorants resting with their heads curled under their wings, fat seagulls and…something that looked like a penguin? I hoped beyond hope, even though it wasn’t their breeding season so the resident penguins were far out to sea. Investigating when I got some, I discovered it was in fact an imperial cormorant.

I haven’t included guanacos in my sketches, even though I started painting one in the Torres del Paine. Too obvious. No, though the guanacos were amazing to see when they photo-bombed us on arrival at the park, or chased our car along the side of the road, it was the birds I was most fascinated in.

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Chilean finches, tough little birds

The second night of our stay in the park we left our cosy lodge to discover that the surrounding walkway and lawn had been taken over by all manner of birds. The quaintly named cowbird, which looks more like a fat crow than a cow, a strange rail type bird with a long curved bill, and countless sierra finches that were hopping around in the grass. What surprised me most was how little these birds were bothered by our presence. I’ve found such small birds in Malta and Europe to be extremely skittish and nervous, but these guys weren’t going anywhere. One little fellow, an austral thrush, was feeling particularly brave and sat on the fence chirping at us, not quite willing to give up his claim to the territory.

In my next post, I’ll introduce you to the city’s resident animals: its dogs.

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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.

 

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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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Birdbrain!

“Birdbrain”: we’ve all heard the term, bandied it around, perhaps even referred to another person as one. But where does this come from, and does it have any merit?

The common notion is that birds are, to put in bluntly, dumb.

But birds aren’t stupid at all. By proportion, they have pretty tiny brains (a macaw’s brain is about the size of a walnut), so it was wrongly associated that a small brain meant small intellect (how very birdbrained of us to suggest this) but recent studies are proving quite the opposite.

Birds have a vast number of neurons located in their forebrains: the area that is responsible for intelligence. In fact, some species have as many neurons as primates!

So what does this mean for the expression, birdbrain? Take it as a compliment. Birds are amazingly complex and varied species. Crows and corvids demonstrate self-awareness in mirror tests and can use twigs to fish out grubs.

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‘A Home Under the Stars’, Oils on Canvas – €350 – enquiries may come to me

Arctic terns have amazing navigational skills, circumnavigating the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year.

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‘Borealis’ Oils on Canvas – €500 for the set of three

New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the Kea can break into locked cars, sealed backpacks and lunchboxes, all in the name of mischief. They can even solve complex puzzles as seen in the highly-recommended documentary ‘Beak and Brain – Genius Birds from Down Under

So next time someone calls you a birdbrain, do some research! Watch some videos, or, just paint them!

 

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Painting the Night Sky

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.

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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.

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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.

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Use many cool and deep tones, and warm colours. There are so many different moods you can create!

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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.

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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! 🙂

“Animals” Art Show – Colors of Humanity Art Gallery

 “Laysan Waltz” and “Night Parrots” from my Cosmic Nature paintings have been accepted for inclusion in the November 2017 art exhibition and show, “Animals” at Colors of Humanity Gallery in the USA.

So many wonderful entries!


“This show will run November 1-30, 2017. Artists from around the world were called to submit their work. There were 103 accepted entries and they came from 16 different states in the USA as well as 11 other countries: Canada, Germany, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Malta, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Kingdom. A variety of styles and mediums were entered, including but not limited to, acrylic, beads, colored pencil, digital, fiber, glass, gouache, graphite, ink, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, and watercolor. The judging criterion was originality, interpretation, quality, demonstration of ability, and usage of medium. Other factors, such as the clarity of the images provided and their ability to be viewed online, also contributed to our decision. “Best of Show”, “First Place”, and “Second Place” winners received a monetary award in addition to special recognition.

We were very happy to donate 10% of all entry fees from this show to the Bedford County Humane Society, located in Bedford, PA, USA. For more information about BCHS please visit their website. http://www.bchsonline.org/ Colors of Humanity Art Gallery, LLC is not affiliated with the BCHS. It is our hope that this small act of kindness will blossom and grow to help someone else.

Thank you to all the artists who participated! Your talents and skills gave us a diverse body of work to create this attractive show.”

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?