The Moonlit Sea

I found another Shin Hanga print I really like. It’s by an artist called Koho Shoda. It really only has one colour and black and white. Here’s the original Japanese woodblock print…

I wanted to create something along the same lines but with a well known English boat as the main subject and in watercolour and gouache. I don’t live very far from Maldon where some traditional Thames Sailing Barges have their moorings. I think there’s also a repair yard in Maldon for these beautiful boats. I spent some time in my teens sailing on the Blackwater, very occasionally alongside these wonderful boats. They are so big that they’re a little scary to be near when you’re in a small sailing dingy, but they still retain the grace and beauty of a sailing vessel. Maybe coots feel the same way about swimming near swans!

(Wikipedia Photo of two Thames Sailing Barges going East on the Blackwater near Bradwell Power Station. By Terry Joyce)

I began with a wash using a mixture of French Ultramarine and Phthalo blue…

Then I painted on more details with gouache…

I did quite like the picture at this stage. It had an open feel. But I went ahead and added the foreground reeds…

Reviewing my picture at this stage I quite liked the contrast and the reflections but I very much disliked the ultramarine sky – it felt too warm and too saturated for the sea below it. To give you an idea what it might look like with the hue shifted towards green and away from red and the saturation dropped a bit I manipulated it in Photoshop. This is how I wish I had painted it…

I think this looked closer to what I wanted but it wasn’t there yet.

I was painting this in the last week of the Spring Term and was really tired so I was temped to leave it there, but every time I looked at the original, still taped to my board, it annoyed me. In the end, on the Thursday before the end of term I decided to do something drastic. I got a big paint brush I had bought for my son to use in painting the bathroom and used it to add a phthalo blue / ultramarine glaze over the top of everything. Then I worked the paper with water to blur much of what I had already painted. The gouache which I had used mixed with the watercolour and helped the paint to move and it really changed. In fact it really looked like a big dark mess, so much so that I went to bed in disgust!

However, today, the first day of the Easter Holiday, I saw it dry and still taped to my board. It’s amazing what eyes which have had 12 hours of sleep can do! I repainted all of the details and followed my heart’s feeling for the picture. Finally I had a painting I like!

Here is the finished picture…

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Meru, mountains and mobility

 

So last night I was kicking back watching a film on Netflix.  It’s called ‘Meru’ and is about a legendary Himalayan climb on a mountain who’s top is called ‘The Shark’s Fin’

 

 

As a young adult, and right through my twenties, I loved walking and climbing in the mountains.  I did some walking in the Alps with family when I was 16 and then some tougher climbing routes in Scotland, North Wales and the Breacon Beacons through my twenties with friends.  From the very beginning I just adored the simplicity of the thing.

Anyway at 31 I got injured internally while giving birth to my son.  It was a neurological injury and consequentially took years and many operations to figure out.  Then in my early 40’s I developed a infection which lasted months and gave rise to post infective fibromyalgia.  When I had the pelvic problems alone my walking was restricted and I could no longer climb.  Once the chronic pain thing happened I began struggling to walk even short distances.

I don’t really miss the climbing nowadays at all – it seems to be too much like hard work(!)  but I still have a lot of sympathy for folk who feel driven to get themselves up these tremendous peaks.  I was drawn to it by the sensation of climbing itself, the burning of your muscles, the percussive kicking into the ice and the wild isolation, all of which gave me a sense of euphoria.  What I do miss now though is walking, the joy of just gambolling about wherever you want.

So this week I painted a picture of a place I visited in the Alps when I was 16.  It’s a valley called Val d’Anniviers in Switzerland.  (One of my God-Parents was Swiss and lived just outside Geneva with her English husband. I’ve known them all my life.  We have holiday’d with them, over there, a few times and they’ve holiday’d over here with us.  Very sadly we lost them suddenly in a plane crash in 2011 while they were on holiday in Botswanna.)  That holiday in Val d’Anniviers with both our families is my strongest memory of them.  I can’t think of the Alps without thinking of them.  So this is for them and their surviving daughters who were mine and my sister’s friends growing up.

Here’s the Swiss Tourist Board picture from that valley which I used as a reference (NB: Not my own photography.)

 

Many tourist type pictures are heavily doctored to make the places look pristine.  But this valley really is exactly like that photo.  It’s like walking through a real wonderland.  What the photo doesn’t show is the freshness of the air up there and the sound of the local cattle and goats with bells around their necks.  It’s was a real priviledge to have a go at painting this place.

I sketched out the main forms first (and changed them a bit to give me the feel and shape I wanted)…

Then I made a detailed ink drawing…

After that I played around in Photoshop for a while trying out different colour combinations.  My favourite two were these…

 

I couldn’t decided between them so I painted my final colours as a mix of the two.  I painted on different watercolour paper this week as I had some real issues with the paper last week.  It seemed to pay off as I had no further problems.

Here’s the final painting…

In loving memory of Nadine and Stuart. xxx

The Magic Fox at Musashi Plain – a Modern Watercolour

Having learned a lot last week about the value of having a vision for a painting, I did quite a lot of careful preparation work on this one.  My inspiration came from Tsukioka Yoshitoshi‘s beautiful work “Magic Fox at Musashi Plain” which was painted in 1891, in Japan.  Here’s a digital copy of the original…

 

I wanted to create a modern interpretation of this.  So I began with a quick sketch in my sketchbook…

Then I scanned this sketch into my computer and began to plan the tonal layout and then the colours…

Digital Tone Plan (Made in Photoshop)

 

Digital Colour Plan (Made in Photoshop)

 

Then, when I had a clear idea of what I wanted I made the final pencil drawing…

 

I put some masking fluid on the fox and her reflection and then painted a variegated wash with ultramarine, payne’s grey and black over the whole picture.

Then I removed the masking fluid and ran into my first real problem.  While I do aim to get some 100% cotton paper soon, I can’t afford it until next month. So I’m still working with the medium quality paper I have at home at the moment.  When I removed the masking fluid I got this…

 

It ripped up the surface layer of the paper.   I’ve been using the same masking fluid for a couple of years now and this has never happened before.  It was a real problem because any watercolour on this patch would soak in deeply and make the tear show up even more.  So, to save the picture, my only option was to move to gouache.  As it turns out this reduced the paper problem and gave me some lovely bright contrasting colours for the final painting.

Here it is finished…

 

One thing that really helped with this picture is that I finally worked out the physics of reflections and used the main learnings from this in the painting:

  • Reflections have less saturation than real objects.
  • Reflections are usually either lighter or darker than real objects depending on the surface lighting of the water.
  • Reflections are distorted by the surface changes in the water.
  • They are also broken up by ripples.
  • The angle of objects in reflections doesn’t show all features especially near the edge.

I think, when I have some good cotton paper, I might paint this again.

Here’s a final comparison of Yoshitoshi’s original (left) and my modern take on it (right)…

A Shin Hanga Heron

I had another go at trying to create a Shin Hanga styled painting this week.  It taught me a lot about how I need to find the vision of a piece of art before I start to paint.
As before I began with a quick sketch in my sketchbook and then planned how I would paint it.  I chose only one reference for the shape of the heron, but used six for the colours.  I worked out what colour I needed where and then made a plan to get that to happen.  Here’s my plan…
Then I started painting.  I began with a variegated wash in paynes grey and ultramarine with a little cerulean blue added towards to the top half of the paper…
Then I painted it according to my plan.
Here’s the final painting…
I’m not overly keen on this painting.  I think what is wrong is that I didn’t quite have a fully formed vision for the painting before I painted it.  I went straight into the ‘how’ questions before I was really clear on what exactly I wanted in my final picture.  I also made assumptions about the colours and didn’t think out the perspective I wanted with the shapes I have in the water.   In the Shin Hanga tradition an awful lot of thought is put into colour and tonal choices as well as careful work on perspective and reflections.  So if I want to make Shin Hanga styled watercolours I need to put in the same work, I need to find the vision for the piece and see it in my mind and heart before I start the technical side of the venture in actually painting the picture.  So that’s what I’m going to do next time.