I know we understand each other. It means I can talk freely about my online class addiction. Phew. So this month, I took another class with Miriam from the Inspiration Place. It was called 'Farm Animal Spirits'. I'm not sure I really got what Miriam meant by this initially. I was more than happy to just start painting cute little farm animal babies... like these adorable little balls of fluff
Eventually every artist seems to draw or paint fruit. Have you noticed that? So it seems hard to call yourself an artist if you haven't brought the fruit bowl to your art table. To that end I decided to have a go at fruit this month in watercolour. I have decided to take a very loose wet in wet approach. This is so very much more achievable for me, I think, as opposed to attempting some proper sort of botanical style, or classical still life. Maybe next month. Or the month after.
My inspiration is Andrew Geeson. I discovered him on You Tube and have been watching his videos over and over again.
Watching people painting is almost as soothing as painting oneself. Actually ... in some instances it may even be better. You don't have to lift a finger and every painting turns out brilliantly.... It's painting for tired people. But please don't let that stop you getting out the paints and experiencing the tactile delights of watercolour for yourself!
So I am following Andrew's approach....
I start with a rough pencil drawing. I decided to use rough paper for a change this month. As the name suggests it has a rougher texture which creates more opportunities for interesting effects created by the watercolour falling into the little hollows. On my 300gsm rough Arches watercolour paper I sketched out three pears with pencil. (I still hate graphite pencil, but Andrew said....)
The next bit is fun! Using clean water and a big brush splash water about, here and there leaving spaces. I think the idea is not to think too much about it, but I must confess this can be a bit tricky. I couldn't help but worry about putting water on the bits I wanted to stay as highlights. I suppose this is how one puts the stress back into a freeing process... It's a journey... I'll get there eventually...
Time for colour. I chose to paint some red pears. So I splashed in some Lemon Yellow, then my favourite Schminke Translucent Orange and Scarlet Red. Where the water is across the pencil sketch the paint flows and runs. It's delightful to watch. You have to try it.
The burst of colour is joyful, but we can do even better - with shadows.
I chose Ultramarine blue and Schminke Brilliant Blue Violet. I am trying to let the brush and the water do most of the work, but it requires some restraint not to interfere. Initially I couldn't help trying to make brush strokes that go in the direction of the pear shape. This is a good thing in the ordinary course of events, but I learned towards the end of the painting that it is better to press a confident brush mark into the paper and then leave it, rather than dragging the brush around too much.
If you do that you end up with more hard edges and unnatural looking shapes. Of course you can soften hard edges with clean water, but a more efficient way is to use the expressive brush mark and not fiddle too much. Another consequence of fiddling is that you miss out of the beautiful effects of the colours blending cleaning into one another by themselves. If you drag your brush though them you can end up mixing them rather muddily. (Is that a word?)
I let this stage dry and then went back in with a smaller brush to add a few details. And of course a few details soon become a few more. Before long you can't help wondering if you shouldn't have stopped painting and not added any further details at all.
Knowing when to walk away is something I will be working on this month, I am sure. Can't wait....
Won't you get out your paints and join me?
I took a course with the lovely Julie Johnson over at the Jeanne Oliver Creative Network (a place of many lovely art classes, if you are looking...). This course is entitled Scribble Art, and was a marvellously fun way to study and practice the all important values. Here is the first one I did, Tree Pose.
I loved using loose and messy scribble to bring form to this figure in a pose that is known for bringing stillness. Rather apt, it seemed. We take our messy, scribbly jumble of thoughts and emotions into yoga class, and hopefully leave with a little more stillness and calm.
The second pose I tried was Warrior III. Somehow I couldn't help but add a little bit of coloured pencil. I had originally thought that I would leave these black and white - just pen and paper. But the muse suggested some subtle colour. Who am I to refuse?
The third pose I tried is Upward Dog, shown at the very top of this post. My favourite so far.
I can't believe I am already at the end of my flower faces series. I have to admit I am tempted to do another month of flower faces because it has been so much fun. But I already have something else in mind, so my series for June will be something a bit different from this. New medium, new surface, new subject. Exciting.
Creating something every day and posting it is certainly a challenge. But a good one. After the first month, I still highly recommend it. Even though my task of creating one flower face in pen and mostly watercolour is a relatively small one, it has still been tricky to fit it in some days.
And I think that is rather the point. Even a comparatively small task is easily squashed out of the day by things that seem urgent. Having promised myself (and you!) that I would post every day has helped me remember that while there are other urgent tasks in my day, this one is still important to me. It deserves its space.
So my project of monthly series continues.
In closing off the last of the flower face posts for this series I would like to share seven of my fave flower quotations. Which is your favourite?
“The earth laughs in flowers.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Perfumes are the feelings of flowers.” ― Heinrich Heine
“A flower blossoms for its own joy.” ― Oscar Wilde
“Don't let the tall weeds cast a shadow on the beautiful flowers in your garden.” ― Steve Maraboli
"Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower." ― John Harrigan
"A woman should be like a single flower, not a whole bouquet." ― Anna Held
"When the flower blossoms, the bee will come." ― Srikumar Rao
Flowers are designed to get attention. That's probably why we love them. Those bright colours certainly can lift our spirits but they serve a very specific purpose. The point of the flower is to attract pollinators.
Insects, birds and bats are all pollinators. Insect pollinators include ants, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths. Honeybees do more pollinating than any of the other insects. Purple is the bee's favourite colour. (It's mine too. Sensible bees.) Bees are attracted to purple flowers more than any other colour of flower.
The honey bee aims for purple flowers for an excellent reason. Purple flowers contain more nectar than other flowers. So it makes sense that if the bee is genetically primed to seek out purple flowers they have the best chance of survival. It is a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the flower that has the showiest purple flowers increases its chance of pollination and also improves its chance of survival.
Butterflies prefer bright pink, red, orange and yellow flowers, while hummingbirds are attracted to red, fuschia, pink or purple blooms.
Flowers that bloom at night tend to have less vivid colours. These flowers tend to be pollinated by bats and moths, and there is little sense in their having beautiful colours that won't be seen in the dark. Instead, these flowers are heavily fragrant, using scent to attract their pollinators, rather than colour.
Interestingly, the honey bee doesn't actually see colours in the same way that we humans do. Bees see colours in ultraviolet. Primary colours to the human eye are red, green and blue. But to bees, primary colours are blue, green and ultraviolet. While the studies don't all agree on what the exact colour spectrum is through the eyes of a bee, they all agree that bees cannot see red. To a bee, red is seen as black.
We have been learning about the bee's view of the world from about the early 1900's and the work of Karl von Frisch. If you are looking for more recent investigations of the sensory perception of the bee you might want to start with Lars Chittka from Queen Mary University of London.
But on a more practical note... if you are wondering what colour to paint your hive..... go here!
Is there anything more cheerful than a bowl of Gerbera daisies? Daisies can be something of a humble, understated little flower, but the Gerbera is not easily overlooked. In fact, I think they look a little bit fancy.
They come in a glorious range of bold colours and can be single, double, quilled or crested double. See....? Fancy!
Like me, the Gerbera comes from Africa. It was discovered by a Scotsman, Robert Jameson, near Barberton in South Africa in 1884. My grandmother used to call them Barberton daisies. Now I know why...
Gerberas come in an impressive range of vivid colours. With their beautifully large heads and thick, sturdy stems they are an excellent choice of cut flower, that lasts well in the vase. In the garden they are perennial only in the warmer climes - tough winters are too much for African beauties.
All daisies are associated with innocence and purity. Gerberas have the added association of cheerfulness. But their benefits go beyond brightening one's day. They are effective at removing some chemicals from the air like the tricholorethylene that is used in dry cleaning. They also filter out formaldehyde and the benzene that comes with inks. So not only are they merry and bold, but Gerbera daisies may actually be decreasing our risks of cancer, asthma, allergies and auto immune diseases.
We are probably all aware that most plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day. However, unlike some other plants, Gerbera daisies continue to do so at night. This means that having a Gerbera daisy plant in your room at night can increase the level of oxygen in the room resulting in a better night's sleep.
Columbia and the Netherlands are currently the largest suppliers of cut Gerberas. The Gerbera daisy is the world's fifth most favoured cut flower. In case you are now wondering, the four most popular cut flowers in the world are rose, carnation, crysanthemum and tulip, in that order.
So go on, brighten your day, breathe a little easier - get yourself a Gerbera Daisy...
Yesterday I used up all the white space around my flower face with a textured background. Funny - it was only when I covered up the white space that I actually noticed that there was a lot of white space in most of the other pictures in this series.
I like that they don't have to share the page with anything else. I like the white space. It reminds me that I have made time in my life to make them, and that in turn has given me a little 'white space' around myself. Each flower face sitting in its clear space seems to be saying, "Make a little time for yourself."
It is so easy to have life take over and for there to be an endless stream of tasks to tick off the to do list. How often do you get to the end of a really busy day and find yourself wondering... what did I really do today?
If I am not careful, the day whizzes by in a flash. Before I know it the things I would like to do - the things that are important to me, have been squeezed out. Unless you prioritise them, and set aside a specific time for them, they will be neglected into oblivion.
We multi task whether we realise it or not - even if we have read many an article telling us that this is not the way to do things anymore. Our mobile devices beep and flash and vibrate with every little whimper from cyberspace. It is hard to ignore that flashing envelope icon with every new mail, or the persistence of our social media notifications. In the car at school pick up, we can be planning the evening meal, googling a recipe for it and placing an online order - all while chatting to the mum parked beside us. Whatever happened to staring calmly into space for a few moments?
No, I seem to have to allocate time to be still. I don't want to say this, but it is like scheduled 'me-time'. No you see... I really want to go back and delete that. It sounds so selfish, doesn't it? But really, if we don't reign in the frenetic pace at some point - find a little white space for ourselves, we become less capable of doing everything else that we need to do.
If you are wondering how to go about incorporating a little time for yourself, this article has some helpful suggestions. If you are looking for some more in depth information and guidance than an article, you might want to have a look at Cheryl Richardson's books, like this one.
Sitting down with my paintbrushes and pencils is my daily white space. What is yours?
Explore the rest of the Flower Faces Series.
One of the things that plagues me regularly is wondering what to draw or paint. I worry that if I am not particularly inspired then perhaps I am not actually all that creative. But I am realising that inspiration is everywhere. And deep down I believe that every one of us is creative.
But doubt inevitably creeps in. I think it is part of the process. And it is not so much that I am not 'inspired'. I think it is more about a fear of not being able to make something lovely out of that inspiration.
So the plan is to 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. Let go of needing to make something lovely. Sometimes making something is enough in its own right. The process is often worth so much more than the final product.
The other day I found an enchanting photograph of a sunflower on Instagram. I have to be honest - sunflowers are not exactly my favourites because I often see them in their later stages of life and it is that picture that unfortunately sticks in my mind. Giant stalks with bedraggled leaves. Dry and brown, heavy with seed. I am so pleased to have found a far more hopeful image which will hopefully replace the one to which my mind has been defaulting!
The sunflower looked happy and hopeful and like it needed a face (currently every flower I look it seems to need a face drawn on it!). The other thing that the photo I saw inspired me to do was to use up the white space. As much as I have been enjoying the white space around my little flowers, I liked the change of dropping in a nice textured background. So much fun splashing in lots of lovely greens, extra clean water and even a bit of salt. Voila. Flower face Number 9.
So if you are having a spot of trouble feeling inspired (or scared to put pencil to paper - which I am thinking is basically the same thing) here are a few strategies to try:
- Pick the first thing that comes to mind and draw lots and lots of them. Just doodle loads of cats/flowers/tea cups - whatever you think of first. The more of them you draw, the more variations you will think of because as I have found, ideas come from ideas
- Take a class. If you don't know what to draw then let a teacher tell you. Allow yourself to be inspired by the teacher as well as your fellow class mates. One cautionary note, if I may - be inspired by these people, but do not compare yourself with them. Only misery can follow that...
- Choose a masterpiece that you love and copy it. Leonardo da Vinci said, " If one knows how to copy, one knows how to do". Its ok. You have permission from da Vinci. Go ahead and copy.
- Productively surf your social media faves.... visual cues bombard us - choose to notice which ones are speaking to your muse. You might just find a lovely picture of a sunflower to draw.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the rest of the Flower Face Series.
If you set about drawing flowers, it isn't long before you hit upon a daisy. In fact, a daisy might be the very first flower that comes to mind.
The daisy has been appearing in artwork for quite some time - carvings dating back as far as 3000BC depict our beloved daisy. And the daisy predates us humans by quite a considerable period. Daisies appeared shortly after the demise of the dinosaurs about 50 to 60 million years ago.
I have to admit, I tend to only think of the yellow centred, white petaled variety as a daisy. That gave me pause today. I do love white flowers. But today I didn't really want to paint a white flower. I'm not sure why this troubled me at all - I am putting a face on the daisy.... Having made that leap from reality... surely the colour I choose for the petals seems neither here nor there!
However, I did some research and found to my delight that the daisy comes in so very many stunning forms and colours. There are over 4000 species of daisies. Daisies are found everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. They survive in both wet and dry habitats. Daisies have a biennial life cycle, meaning they last for two years. Some of their relatives include echinacea, arnica, artichokes and endives. If you want to see some wonderful photographs and learn more about the delightful daisy head over to this rather glorious website.
The daisy is said to have been Queen Victoria's favourite flower. Not only has it featured in artwork, it has inspired many a poet. Euripides, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley, and Wordsworth to name just a very few.
It was Goethe's Marguerite who first pulled the petals from the daisy saying 'he loves me, he loves me not'. That cute, romantic notion has endured. In 1892, Harry Dacre wrote the song Daisy Bell which we all know....
Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do...
For a humble and commonly found flower, the daisy is certainly an impressively significant and enduring symbol.
When I started this series I worried about whether I would just create different colour versions of the same sort of doodley flower I started with. Would I come up with anything else? Enough to fill a month? It turns out that ideas come from ideas.
Committing to a series is like an extended brainstorming session. If you have ever been in a corporate style brainstorming session - first of all, sorry about that - and secondly, you may have noticed that they usually begin with awkward silence.
No ideas. Some one well versed in management speak will then usually say something like 'there's no such thing as a bad idea... don't be shy...'
Eventually a small voice pipes up. Hmm. Some thinking ensues. Perhaps a little smirking. Then another voice. It is often easier to criticise an existing idea than come up with a new one. But funnily enough, criticising an idea is the first step to making the idea better. Or coming up with a substitute.
Before long the brainstorming snowballs. From little or nothing in the beginning to multiple ideas. It's like our idea generating equipment needs warming up.
When I first felt a twinge of doubt about having enough flower faces to fill a month I got out my sketchbook. Made a scratchy doodle of something that looked more like a dandelion than a flower. From there other flowers appeared in my sketchbook. Each idea a little easier to come by than the last.
Now the only thing I have to ask is - is a dandelion a flower?.... well for my purposes, yes. And she looks far too regal to be a weed. But then, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said...
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
Explore more of the Flower Faces Series
It is feeling increasingly wintry here in Melbourne. Lots of rain. Puddles my daughter can't resist.
I think that is why I started today with big splashy puddles of watercolour.
I love the willful nature of watercolour. The unpredictability that used to bother me is something I really enjoy now.
And I have learned to be patient enough to let the layers dry before continuing. Art is helping me learn to slow down. I take this sort of thing as a most excellent excuse to go and make another cup of tea. (You are right. One never should need an excuse to make a cup of tea.)
I added more layers of colour. Dropped in different reds and purples. Enjoyed watching what they became. Because you never really know what you are going to get with watercolour.
And what I ended up with is one of those oversized, generous blossoms like peonies or roses. I love all those layered petals and the sense of abundance they leave with me. I can't help but see little whimsical faces everywhere, even snuggled into the base of one of those blooms.
I couldn't resist taking out my Derwent Inktense pencils. I like drawing into the still wet layers with them. The inktense colours are so vibrant when they meet with the water. And of course, being pencils they make small, controllable, detailed marks possible.
Oh coloured pencils... how do I love thee?... let me count the ways!
I may not be a poet, but a list maker? For sure. And I count 9 reasons to love coloured pencils.... thusly...
- They return you to childhood. Nothing feels more delightfully child-like than clutching a coloured pencil. Picasso told us that all children are artists. What easier way is there to channel your inner child?
- They are unassuming, low maintenance art supplies. Not messy like pastels, no brush clean up required, no waiting for paint to dry, not intimidating like oil paint, they are the friendliest tool in your kit.
- The way they feel. Is there anything better than the waxy glide of coloured pencil over paper leaving a rainbow in its wake?
- The range of colours. So many delightful colours to choose from, and infinite more nuanced variations appear when you blend them effortlessly together.
- Effortless blending. Oh, did I not mention the blending already? On their own, because they are good natured enough to work together to give depth, volume and life. And with a colourless blender pencil or some sort of solvent they dissolve into a seamless paint-like sheen.
- No smudging. Being a member of the anti-graphite pencil club I can't not talk about the fact that they won't smoosh all over the opposite page when the book is closed or move if you rub your finger over them. So both friendly and obedient, they are.
- Control. I love tiny details. Sadly, I am a teeny bit clumsy, I fear. Tiny pupils and eyelashes and other fine details are quite beyond me with something like a paintbrush. In fact, I should probably just throw away my rigger brush. Pencils enable me. Hurrah.
- Transportable. What could be easier than throwing a couple of coloured pencils in a cute pencil case? Add a sharpener and all you need is a bit of paper.
- They play so nicely with other art supplies. Now, this is why I bring this up particularly today. I took out my coloured pencils and used them to add the final finishing touches. Coloured pencils work so well on top of watercolour and matte acrylic paint and over gesso.
I adore my coloured pencils (you might have guessed). And Prismacolours are my favourite brand. But we had better not be biased. There are some downsides. I count two.
- Breakage. They do break quite easily when sharpening. You can try to improve this by baking them. No, really... I haven't completely taken leave of my senses. This melts the wax inside the pencil so that when it hardens again on cooling all the breaks inside the barrel fuse back together. I havent got around to testing this out yet for myself - will let you know when I do!
- Time consuming on a large scale. If you are doing a large picture it can take a quite a long time to build up the colour to the desired intensity. However this is easily rectified by point number 9 in the above list. Start with a wash of colour provided by watercolour or acrylic paint, then bring out the coloured pencils.
That's what I did today. I started with my ink drawing... and I liked it... yay! An improvement on yesterday....
Then I added watercolour...
And then I got out my coloured pencils to improve the shading and details. And yes. I do keep them in colour bundles with a coordinated colour hair elastic. Please don't judge me...
Final nerd tidbit... apparently both colour pencils and coloured pencils are acceptable names but coloured pencil came first. So I must be a purist. Or just old fashioned. (And since you read this all the way to the end (by the way, thank you) I can only assume that you would be interested in this sort of coloured pencil trivia...)
So tell me.... how much do you love your coloured pencils?
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Jane Davenport says ...
Not everything you create is a masterpiece - love it anyway.
Well, today I got a chance to try and do that.
Here she is Flower Face No 3...
One of the joys of mixed media is that you have unlimited options when it comes to 'improving' your painting. I think I used nearly everything today...
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be producing work we like. But the truth is that producing something you love every time you sit down is unrealistic. Ira Glass explained it for us - that it is the gap between what our good taste wants to see and what our hands are able to make as beginners. You know the one?... this one...
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Not working in a series is like sentencing yourself to an eternity of first days.
First days are hard. You remember them.... first day at school. First day of learning to drive. First day at a new job. Everything is unfamiliar. Awkward. A tinge of excitement for sure, but a bit uncomfortable. If you don't make art in a series then it is like giving yourself an endless stream of first days. You miss out on the chance of benefiting from the experience you gained in the last painting.
I resisted the idea of working in a series for a while. It felt restrictive, limiting opportunities to explore and discover different things. The problem is that there are so very many different things to discover. If you don't stick with something, at least for a little while, you actually make it very hard to learn from what you are doing. And extra hard to avoid feeling discouraged.
Its all because of the learning curve, I think. There is a theory that when you learn something new, you do the most learning at the beginning. That is the hard part. You have so much to learn that if you were to graph your learning over time it would begin with an enormously steep curve and then flatten out with experience. That steep curve is the initial up hill struggle when you are grappling with something different. When the learning curve starts to flatten out it is because you have tucked some of the basics under your belt. You have built up the necessary fundamental knowledge and skill. It was the absence of this when you started that made it feel so hard.
So be kind to yourself. Make art in a series!
A little while ago I started a new habit - I create something every day. I draw and paint a little character using limited supplies in my ten minute journal and post it on Instagram daily. I have found this small but consistent practice enormously helpful. Want to check it out? Here you go...
Then I came across Elle Luna’s 100 days project over at The Great Discontent. These words really spoke to me.
I had only been doing my daily journal page for a few weeks but already I knew this to be true. The muse doesn’t come and chase you down. You have to keep showing up consistently and then she can find you. Of course I signed up to #the100dayproject and today will be the 26th day out of 100 for my #100daysof10minutejournals.
The point of the exercise is process and discipline. I have realised that making time to sit down and create every day has helped me so much more than the counting of the art hours that I have been doing up until now. So I am changing tack. Actually it feels more like getting back on track. What I really want is to make art. The best way to do it is to do a little bit every day.
So the theme for this first month of May is flower faces.
This is Flower Faces No 1.
I have had a few challenges since the art bug bit me. Like the fact that I was a maths/science kid at school, and then a business graduate and professional who had never before considered painting or drawing. So knowing where to begin was rather tricky (not to mention entirely daunting!)
I started with books, then online courses. It’s all good. When you don’t know where to start the solution is simple…. Start anywhere! And then for the last year or two I have noticed that I only tended to do artwork from online classes - assigned tasks if you will. Now I want to do something that has nothing to do with anyone’s class. (I’m a classaholic, so I won't be giving that up) but I am challenging myself to make something every day, Monday to Friday and post it here. I am picking a different theme for each month.
Explore more of this series of Flower Faces.
Visit the shop to see if you can find your favourite from the series.