Elephants, Kittens and Art that I Love

I have a folder on my PC where I save links to work by other artists which I find inspirational, beautiful, or special in some indefinable way. Sometimes I look through these files (I have hundreds) for inspiration and more often for the pure joy of looking at the art that I love. When I save a link I put the artist’s name and web address (if it’s available) in a file too so I can look up more of their work. I also love going to local galleries and festivals where art is displayed. A lot of this art is really above my level in terms of me being able to paint something similar but I still have a go sometimes when an image particularly captivates me. It surprises me that the art I make turns out so different from the inspirational work I’m studying.  Anyway, here are two small watercolours I painted in my sketchbook while studying another artist’s work…

The original for this elephant portrait unfortunately came from Pinterest which very frequently doesn’t carry information about the artist who painted any given picture.

The original I was looking at is with this painting is the author of this YouTube Painting Video.

In both cases the art I was studying was significantly looser than the pictures I’ve made. I do find loose painting difficult to do but very beautiful to look at.

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Keeping it Simple with Gouache

After working on value sketches and simplifying shapes last week I wanted to put what I learned into practice. Gouache is a super medium for this. I really like it because it’s quick to paint, like watercolour. You can dry it off in less than a minute with a hair dryer. On the other hand, although it dries as fast as acrylics, when it’s dry it’s not fixed forever so you can reactivate it if you want to. (On top of that, due to a pain condition, I’m mostly painting in bed and both watercolour and gouache wash out of my duvet a lot better than acrylics or oils!!! Lol)

Norfolk Memories

My main aim was to try to simplify shapes as I painted and keep an eye on the values (how dark or light each colour is). The first picture I did was a view we had from a holiday cottage in north Norfolk many years ago. It was easy to simplify as I couldn’t remember all the details. I didn’t sketch beforehand because I wanted to think in shapes and not in lines.

So here it is…

About Gouache

This was the first sketch I’ve done in pure gouache for a while.  It’s a really interesting medium.  The amazing thing is that you can use it in two completely different ways.  You can use it like an opaque watercolour or, if you mix it up to a thicker consistency, you can use it much more like acrylics and oils but without all the fuss of using mediums or having paint that doesn’t wash out.  I often use some watery gouache in watercolour paintings where I want a less transparent layer but here I decided to go for the stronger consistency option and paint exclusively in thicker gouache.    Another thing I really like about this medium is that there’s no rush if you want to mix all the colours you need at the start of a session because even if it dries on the palette you can get it back to a useable state in seconds.  On the canvas too, you always have the option of reworking something, although there is a limit to how much you can do.

The limitations of gouache are not too difficult to deal with.

  • Because gouache paint can always be reactivated you have to be careful with parts of your canvas which are finished, but the same is true of watercolour.
  • Although you can put light values over dark, and dark over light, there is a limit to how much work you can do on one particular spot before the paint underneath starts to muddy the paint above which takes away the vibrancy of the final product.  Also, when adding paint on top of other paint I’ve found that stiffer synthetic brushes tend to dig into the layer below more.  Pure natural fibre brushes are much better at not doing this but they’re very expensive.  I use mixed natural and synthetic fibre brushes which are a decent compromise.
  • When the paint dries the light values tend to darken a little and the dark values tend to lighten so you need to always push the contrast in gouache paintings a little bit more to have a final picture with a full value range.

 

Clouds at Dusk

My second picture was an attempt to study a YouTube artist’s demonstration. She’s called Lena Rivo.  Her work is really beautiful with a very loose and distinctive style. I really admire the way she paints so freely.  I thought that studying one of her paintings would be really helpful in encouraging me to be a little more relaxed and use bigger simpler brushstrokes in my work.  So I watched her video late one night and then the next night had a go at painting the same scene.  Here’s Lena’s demonstration video…

 

 

Here’s what I came up with…

 

I think her stroke shapes are very different to mine.  Partly this is because I prefer a round brush while it looks like Lena is using a flat brush.  Partly though it’s probably to do with the way each of us paints.  Overall I’m fairly happy with my study, although I still prefer Lena’s work.  I really enjoyed working with gouache again too.

 

Simplification and Value in Painting – Short Studies

This week I focussed on studying tonal value (how light and dark different parts of a painting are) and on how to simplify what I paint (something I find quite hard). My inspiration came from this lovely blog post by Ros Jenke.

I decided on three colours for each picture, a dark, a midtone and a light colour. Then I gave myself a limited time to paint each piece.

Although I began to get a feeling for it later on, at the beginning of this exercise I didn’t really know how to approach this task. Many children I work with are mortally afraid of failure and it stifles their learning, especially in art. So I’ve included my failures here as well as some successes.

I began with a landscape study. I worked with watercolour pencils which gave me a free and easy feeling and got me into the mindset of sketching rather than painting a finished piece. I tried to stick to the idea of looking for shapes and keeping to three simple values.

Here’s the first sketch before I fixed the pencils with water…

And here’s the finished study…

I gave myself 20 minutes but still ended up working on details rather than shapes. I even added some black watercolour to “pop out” the foreground. It’s not what I was planning.

Next, I had another go with a shorter time frame (15min total) making a study of some rocks. Here’s the watercolour pencil before fixing…

And here’s the study after fixing the paint with water…

Again, I wandered into details of the splashing surf. Still not what I wanted!

Then I tried painting directly with watercolour, no sketching at all and really thinking about shapes…

This was simpler and I felt like I was getting there, but then I lost my mind in the last few seconds and detailed the little snowy owl on the fallen tree. Merlin’s Pants! 😀 So I gave it up that night as a bad job and went to sleep.

The next day I had another go. I went back to the pencils and really restricted my time frame for the study down to 10 minutes total. This time I chose lovely retriever…

I activated the watercolour pencils and here is the study…

I could see the shapes making up the picture – and I had no details. I was finally working out what to do.

To try to embed this learning I quickly drew and then painted another picture of a face…

…and it worked out again. The secret, I think, was to make time so short that I could only get the basic shapes down. I am going to continue to work on this process from time to time this until it becomes second nature.

In fact, I think this style would look great with gouache – so that will be next week’s adventure! 😀

Elephant Hawk Moth and LadyBird in Watercolour

I had more fun with painting this week. I was browsing the internet when I came upon this beautiful creature – an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

Often, many of the biggest, most beautiful insects in the world are found in warmer climates, but this pink-lovely is resident in the UK! Apparently it really likes Rosebay Willowherb which is a colonising plant on wasteground, roadside verges and other places. We have it at the side of the Common near where I live. I’m going to look out for it and see if I can see any Hawk Moth caterpillars, pupae, or even young moths this spring. They overwinter as pupae low down on plants or even in leaf litter so I might find one in any stage of development. In fact tomorrow is the 2nd February, which is traditionally the day when ancient people around here used to believe that the earth began to stir again after winter, so it’s a good time to start looking for new life.

Because I had so much pain when I was painting in acrylics at the table I’ve gone back to painting in bed with all of the paintings I’ve done in the last two weeks and it is so much easier. I painted 2 pictures this week – the Elephant Hawkmoth and a Ladybird on a Flower.

Here’s my initial sketch of the moth…

I decided to paint this using a mixture of watercolours and watercolour pencils. The pencils were ideal for the details of this subject because I could get really thin lines, even thinner than with my 10/0 rigger brush. I started with a graded wash as my background with two colours in it to work in harmony with my subject. However at the end I realised that I needed a plainer background for such a detailed, patterned creature so I mixed my watercolour paint with white gouache to make a flat light green colour. I chose it because it’s supposed to be the complementary colour for pink. Here’s the final painting…

My second painting this week is quite simple, a Ladybird on a flower. Here’s the sketch…

I used watercolour paints for this one, rather than the pencils. It was done with basic wet on wet washes and a tiny bit of wet on dry for the shadows. Here’s the final painting…

I was feeling quite sunny when I painted this and I think that got reflected in the cheerful colour palette.