Watercolour from Paris and First Steps Back into Acrylic

So I’m back to work this week. This is my favourite term of the year. It’s cool and steady with less in the way of ‘special days’ so we can get on with the learning. I’m going to try this year to balance my work and rest time so I have time to post every week. This week I’ve got a couple of paintings I did whilst in Paris in the summer and some thoughts on starting again with acrylics…

Paris

I painted a few pictures while I was over there in various places. They were all watercolour with occasional use of gouache white. Here are the first two. I was always pushed for time with these pictures so I tried to get down at least the main shapes and colours before people moved.

The first painting was while waiting to board the Eurostar at St Pancras International in London. I was feeling a little stressed at this point having been given a pat down search by Customs (because my heart implant makes the machine go off – I was carrying my pacemaker card but they decided to search me all over rather than look at the bloody thing!) So painting was a great way to calm down again. Here’s the picture I came up with…

My second painting was on day 2 when we visited Notre Dame…

There were actually armed police and droves of tourists all over the square in front of the cathedral so I moved a little to side for my painting. I picked out this beautifully dressed woman in red for my forground and the side buildings of the cathedral as my main subject. There were actually some cars parked behind the bushes just behind the railings but I missed them out too. I have always much preferred the quiet alleys next to cathedrals to the buildings themselves. They seem more friendly somehow.

Acrylics

I have been having a play with some acrylics for the first time in ages this week. My favourite jeans and top attest to this – I forgot how messy I am when painting! It doesn’t matter that much with watercolours but permanently marks clothes with acrylics! Rather than use the ones I already have which are over 10 years old I bought a small new set of good quality paints from Winsor & Newton. I also got some acrylic media to go with them. I have always used a retardent for blending because the paint dries so quickly! But I also wanted to see what effect a flow improver and gloss and matt mediums have. I’ve not got any painting finished from these explorations yet. I did some basic exercises and then began working on a small blue monster and doing different parts of his body with different methods so I can see the difference. The additional media do help a little to make the stuff less sticky but it’s still been very very different from using watercolours.

My feeling is that I’m struggling a bit because, having spent so long on watercolour in the last few years, I’m trying to use acrylics like watercolour and that just won’t work. So my plan going forward is to paint with acrylics in a totally different way – just strike out on a new path! There’s probably some special technique name that I would know if I’d ever been near an art school but I’m going to call it “just blobbing the paint on”. I’m not going to try to make gradients by thinning the paint with medium and moving it about, which I do all the time with watercolour, I’m going to make my gradients with different shades and colours and different painting strokes. I’m also going to blend a lot less than with watercolour.

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Mopani Wood and New Directions

Mopani Wood

For my last Inktober picture I played around with ink. I used some water brush pens and 2 types of black ink. I began by wetting an area of my sketchbook and then dropping the ink into the wet area just as you would when using a wet in wet technique for watercolour. I got myself a lovely ink-run…

I let it dry and then began to feel out shapes in the random way the ink was lying. At first I just added some strong shadows…

I wanted to keep some of the ink I laid down in place and move some of it with a water brush later so I put down Pigma Micron ink (which is VERY permanent and great to use even under a heavy water wash). Then I used another pen which has soluble ink and put some of that on top. Then I went in with my water brush and moved the ink around again. Once that had dried I added some details with the Pigma Microns. Here’s how it looked after that…

Mostly I was taking my cues from the patterns made when the ink ran and moved in the water. At first these patterns reminded me of smoke and fire and I thought that my ink drawing would end up being of a fire. But as I continued to work at it – just letting it draw itself – it began to remind me of this beautiful wood which is used often in the aquarium trade. The wood is called Mopani Wood and has these beautiful light sections with this lovely dark brown grain in places. Here are a couple of pictures…

It’s great for fish which like acidic water as it leeches tannins into the tank. Fish which wouldn’t spawn in my hard water area will spawn with Mopani wood in their tank. Some aquarists don’t like the way it yellows the water but I think it depends on what you want. If you want your tank clear and uncoloured, then no, it’s not a great choice. But if you want happy, comfortable fish in natural conditions then it can be great.

Gradually I added more detail and reinforced my darks and lights using a mixture of fixed and water soluble inks. Here’s the last interation when the drawing was nearly finished…

And here is the final Mopani Wood drawing – all from an ink-run!

New Directions

Looking ahead, my next artistic adventure is going to be in acrylics. I began all of my adult artwork about 16 years ago with acrylics where I painted 3D geometric abstracts…

Now, having worked through a variety of mediums and art courses over the years, I want to go back to acrylic and see what I can paint now. It’ll be fun!