Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical words and watercolour

How to add a watercolour background to your paintings

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Choosing the right background for your watercolour painting can make or break the whole painting.

Don’t be alarmed though - even though the background is important, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are lots of options available to you and once you know what there is to choose from I am sure you will find the whole process far less vexing than it might once have appeared.

Let’s review your options…

Fascinating facts you didn't know about elephants

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

Did you know that elephants purr? Yes, a bit like a cat!

I learned so much investigating my painting subject for this month’s series. They are such magnificent creatures you can’t really help being curious, can you?

 
Elephants no 1 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 1 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

Aside from the iconic trumpet blast that we know, elephants not only purr but are thought to communicate with one another over long distances using a subsonic rumble. These messages travel faster over the ground than sound through air and are detected through their feet and trunks.

 
Elephants no 4 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 4 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

Elephants are the only mammal that cannot jump. And even when they run (which they can do at up to 25miles (40km) per hour) they always keep one foot on the ground at all times.

So maybe that’s how you get to be a symbol of groundedness and wisdom….

 
Elephants no 7 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 7 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

Elephant tusks are continually growing, so the older the elephant the longer the tusk. Just like most of us, elephants are not ambidextrous. A ‘righty’ will wear down the right hand tusk quicker than the left as they favour it for picking things up, stripping leaves from trees or fighting.

 
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I can’t say I ever thought much about elephant toes until now, but did you know that elephants actually walk on their toes? Yes, big as they are research shows that they put the most pressure on the outer toes of their front feet and the least amount of pressure on their heels as they walk.

Asian elephants might have smaller tusks, but they actually have an extra toenail on each foot compared to African elephants. All elephants have one more toenail on the front feet than they do on the back feet.

 
Elephants no 3 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 3 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

We all have our weaknesses, but did you know that the mighty elephant’s weakness is the humble bee?

Apparently elephants are instinctively afraid of bees. (I just decided I love them even more.) Conservationists use this to their advantage by placing bee hives around land that they need to keep elephants clear of.

 
Elephants no 2 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 2 - (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

A fear of bees feels like a very human thing to me, and it is not the only human-like trait that elephants exhibit. They are very social creatures that form tight knit family groups lead by the oldest, often largest female. Go girls.

They are remarkably caring creatures. When a baby elephant cries all of the herd will go and tend to it, not just the mother. They also greet other herd members with touch, even wrapping their trunks around each other.

 
Elephants no 6- (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 6- (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

Elephants grieve. When one of the herd dies they show signs of sadness and grief and they mourn the loss of the loved one for many years after passing. Using their feet and trunks they gently touch the skulls and tusks in homage when they come across the bones of their dead.

When an elephants passes through a place where a loved one once died, it will stop. Its silent pause of remembrance can last for several minutes.

 
Elephants no 6- (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

Elephants no 6- (Watercolour marker on paper, 5.8"x 8.3")

 

Elephants certainly are one of the world’s treasures. There is something so special about them which I don’t think I can do justice with words, but Peter Matheisson did.

There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.
— Peter Matheisson

I have spent a thoroughly lovely month learning about them and painting them.

Want to paint elephants with me?

I chose very simple supplies making these elephants an easy painting project even if you are new to watercolour or a reluctant sketcher.

Find out more by clicking here.

 
 

Where do you get your creative inspiration?

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Apparently if you ask Neil Gaiman where ideas come from he might just say something like, "a little shop near Bognor Regis". For inspired creatives who produce consistently it seems to be something of a tiresome question. Hmm, must be hard for them. But what do us lesser mortals do?

Well, as far as I can see, the difference between consistent creative producers and those of us asking these sorts of questions is that the producers have figured out how to 'show up'. 

 
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You see it’s a bit like that witty comeback. You think of the best one liner - somewhere between a few hours and a few days later, don't you? You had to have the snarky encounter and then give your brain a bit of time to work on a suitable response. Same with writing, same with painting, or any creative work for that matter.  It’s only when you engage yourself in the physical act of doing the creating that the wheels start turning.

Don't have great expectations of that first effort or two, however. Remember your comeback line? The first thing your brain came up with on the spot was probably something close to, "I know you are, but what am I?" Then, instantly recognising that some improvement was possible, your brain kept grinding away churning out pithy alternatives until, at last - perfection! (Too late of course, but a perfect reply, nonetheless.) 

So the trick is to create. Want inspiration and ideas? Show up.

That's when you get inspired. And also improve your skills, problem solve, not to mention just plain old enjoying the process of creating. Writing, drawing, basket weaving - doesn’t matter. It applies across them all. Begin the process. Enjoy the process. Let the product begin its evolution into something better and better.

 
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You see, it’s science. There's this thing called the Reticular Activating System in your brain. It sets out collecting bits of data from your world that match whatever it thinks you are looking for. If it is a witty comeback line then all of a sudden snippets of eavesdropped conversation, Seinfeld reruns and newspaper letters to the editor all seem to appear with some relevant insights, feeding into your creative problem solving machinery.

So it is with any other creation. The difference between composing a witty retort and writing a novel or painting a picture is simply a matter of scale.

But back to that question regarding the source of inspiration for a moment. The answer is you. Your world and everything you experience. Anything that touches your heart in any way.

You swim in a sea of inspiration. In fact, there is so much of it that you can't see the wood for the trees. Only when you begin - something - anything, do you give the Reticular Activating System its command to seek. Then like a bloodhound on a scent trail it is off, filtering and collecting salient pieces of your world to inspire your creation.

Now, I'm not saying showing up is easy. But it is better to have a more practical step to take as opposed to waiting for some sort of mystical holy grail of ideas to be revealed. 

There are pitfalls, like of course, that inner critic poised to speak out as soon as creation begins, if not before. But whatever form your creative work takes, your job is to get started.

Put pen to blank page, apply fingertips to keyboard, clay to the wheel. Dip your brush in the paint and get it moving.

 
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Over the years I have come up with a process to prime myself for any studio time. (I have inventively named this My Prime Process.) It is the best way I know of helping me to Show Up. It addresses nearly all my objections and gets me working. I do it first, before I start painting anything else or even writing. But I have also found that it serves so many other purposes.

Find your way to get started.

Then do it.

You never know where it might get you.

Looking for more tips about showing up in your art practice? I have an online class that’s got you covered - click here to find out more about it.

 
 

Fresh Flowers and Fresh Starts

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

Fresh flowers are a joy to paint. Their sweet little faces are such a thing of hope. At the time of writing this it is spring so there is an abundance of new blooms about.

 
Fresh Flowers no 1 Spring is Here - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

Fresh Flowers no 1 Spring is Here - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

 

But the reality is that new blooms appear year round. Seemingly eternal geraniums, marigolds in summer and plumbago in autumn. Even snow will not deter the little snowdrop.

 
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It is this relentless optimism that I adore. The stuff of fresh starts. An endless string of new beginnings if necessary.

There is such relief in that idea, isn’t there? 

 
Fresh Flowers no 4 Leucadendron - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

Fresh Flowers no 4 Leucadendron - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

 

These little blooms remind me of the persistence of hope. They seem to prove that there is always the chance to begin again.

 
Fresh Flowers no 5 - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

Fresh Flowers no 5 - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

 

Doesn’t it always seem like there is a new habit you are trying to form?

From a consistent sketchbook practice, to a daily step goal or learning to meditate there is always something to be working towards.

 
Fresh Flowers no 7 Abundance (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

Fresh Flowers no 7 Abundance (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

 

A good thing, of course, to be constantly improving. Conventional wisdom is to make sure you don’t ‘break the chain’ as Jerry Seinfeld famously counselled.

 
Fresh Flowers no 3 Vase of Carnations (Watercolour, on paper 9"x12")

Fresh Flowers no 3 Vase of Carnations (Watercolour, on paper 9"x12")

 

That’s sound advice, of course. Doesn’t make you feel marvellous when that chain does break though. With the best will in the world, life happens. So we also need a helpful way to approach this rather likely eventuality.

I think it is this - the important thing is not that the chain has broken but how quickly a new one begins.

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
— Mary Pickford
 
Fresh Flowers no 2 - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

Fresh Flowers no 2 - (Watercolour on paper, 9"x 12")

 

Let’s take a cue from nature and remember that a fresh start is always there for the taking.

The chance to begin again.

No guilt at having faltered, just hopeful persistence.

Want some help with growing your creative habits? See what is new in the classroom.