I am nearing the end of completing this little painting, which I have really enjoyed doing. As mentioned in a previous post, the concept is based on an ancient Greek myth of Zeus disguised as a swan who seduces the innocent Leda.
I wanted a kind of African nuance, but ethereal too, with allusions to flight and feathers; the dreaminess of Leda’s imagination as she ponders Zeus’s love…
This last part of my process of painting posts deals with bringing the composition together towards its conclusion. This can be the hardest part for me. Often it is at the stage when I feel like abandoning my creation because it is not quite what my inner vision had conjured up: I get a little impatient; frustrated with the paint, or the colours, or just my own hyper-critical sense of perfection.
It is normally at this point when the all-knowing Muse leans on my shoulder and gently but firmly encourages me to keep going, even if I don’t know what I am doing. It’s often a good time to step back for a few days if you are feeling like this, too, and watch an inspiring movie or start a new book. What always helps me, without fail, is taking long walks – through tree-lined streets, in a park or wherever there is a bit of Nature to guide the creative instinct and clear the mind of clutter.
I rely mostly on my creative instinct when finishing a painting. When I consciously choose to open up to this intuitive aspect, it does seem to flow towards the resolution of the work. Holding the painting from a distance upside down gives a really interesting perspective, too, on design and composition elements that can be enhanced. I love also at this point to just quietly meditate on the process of filling in small details: hidden faces, creatures, patterns and spirits that inhabit this world that unfolds before me…
As many painters (and probably all artists) would agree: you have to know when to finally stop painting, and just put the paint brush down, and let it go. This moment is the sweetest, and the most troubling of the whole process: what if I just added a bit more detail there? Or some intenser colouring there? I’m not happy with her hand, should I try to change it? But inevitably, with me, something just clicks and I know that my creative journey is over with this painting. Perhaps the Muse calmly puts my hand down for me, and lets me sit back, but I know this moment is also sacred, for a new creation has been completed, and I have that inner satisfaction and peace that tells me so….
This is the latest painting I am working on. I started her about a year ago, inspired by my love for the colour blue and for the mythological story of Leda and the Swan. I have probably spent an hour on her – she measures 7 x 10 inches and the paper is a gorgeous cold-pressed smooth cotton rag .
The muse cannot descend with grace if you don’t have a few elements in place to welcome her. I have discovered that using good quality watercolour paper is essential to allowing the paints (and your Muse) to mix and flow beautifully. My preferred paper as I have mentioned in a couple of other posts is the amazing Stonehenge paper which I discovered at my local art shop The Artist’s Store while living in Katoomba, Australia. I love this paper because it is smooth – it has no grain like many other watercolour papers do, so it is great to use with coloured pencils and pen for clear, sharp lines and lovely blending.
The first thing I generally do is sketch out my design roughly in a soft lead pencil so that I can easily erase if necessary. Then I apply a light wash to whatever areas of the composition I want to have definite colours. Above are examples of this initial process from previous paintings (which can be found on this blog)
The paint brushes I use vary between ones for acrylic and watercolor. Some of my favourite paint brushes are also the cheapest ones, but I do have some beautiful sable-haired brushes strictly for watercolour use. The fan brush to the right is great to use for blending in larger areas of colour wash with great effect and feathered delicacy. It’s good to play with each paint brush and see what it can do: I use the finest tipped brushes for drawing in lines and faces little details.
As you can see, my palette is simple: I have used this old plastic plate for years now, and just squeeze out a selection of watercolour paints, plus some chinese white, in a way that I know I will use and blend them together. My favourite watercolour tube paints are Van Gogh brand which has a large selection of beautiful colours at very good prices.
Many people ask how I blend my watercolours, and the rule of thumb with this type of painting is to be very subtle when applying the paint to the paper. Watercolours by nature are transparent and have a beautiful translucency which is desirable to translate onto the paper or canvas.
Try to always keep the paper showing through to some degree, and gently layer your colours as you go along with delicate strokes, being careful never to overload the paintbrush with paint, and to use a good amount of water as you blend. I blend on both the paper and also on my palette, working from light to dark layers – so don’t start with your darkest colour first.
Next time I will explore more about adding detail, layering and making the composition flow….
Recently I received a very touching email from a young painter who wanted to know more about me and my artwork. She was especially interested and inspired by my painting technique and use of colour to express the elements portrayed in my work. Many people ask me where I learned how to paint the way I do – and the the basic answer is that I taught myself.
This will be the first of a few blog posts where I will endeavour to share my knowledge and experience painting with watercolours, acrylics, pen and ink, and maybe a few other things as well!
To start at the beginning of my artistic career – I was an obsessive drawer from the age of two, and by about 4 years old I felt a very strong urge to create images from my very active child’s imagination in any way that I could; luckily my parents, being artistic themselves, encouraged and nurtured me all through my creative journey. Drawing came most naturally to me, but soon I intuitively began to experiment with colour, design and composition.
An elderly lady with whom I attended some after school art guided me to growing confidence in expressing my inner artistic vision, with the use of pattern, complimentary colours, symbolism and playfulness in art. I will always be indebted to Mrs. Smith in Johannesburg for the joy she instilled in me for the creative process that all humans inherently posses.
In grade 2 I traded a drawing I made of 2 giraffes kissing, for a chocolate bar, and from that time on I knew my art was worth something. I sold my first painting of a fairy holding a peacock when I was 15 years old, then when I was 19 I embarked on starting my own arts business, beginning with screen printed t-shirts of my fantasy drawings with unicorns, mermaids and cats. Here are the first commissions of that time:
My style was still very linear and graphic, but later that I year I completed work for a more painterly, dreamier commission, combining the subject matter of a cat with a passion for the colour green:
Green Cat 1995
This Green Cat was done on canvas board, using a technique which I had developed in my final year at school for my art exam – a self portrait painted on stretched canvas using pen & ink, watercolor and acrylic. I found that the best way to learn to blend watercolours was the hard way: use a very difficult surface like canvas (primed) , to develop a respect and understanding of the more watery aspects of paints and how to make them work for you. The trick is to begin with a light wash of whichever colour will be dominant in your painting, and then work over that in gentle layers as your vision unfolds.
Self Portrait 1992
Mostly, however, I was doing very intricate black and white drawings using a technical Rotring drawing pen with archival pigment ink, which are great for steady line drawing because they steadily dispense the ink through a precision point with a continual flow, making the lines even and smooth and easy to fill in. Below are examples of this type of drawing, which were for a series of 3 commissions. I started with the faces and a rough idea in pencil of what the composition and organic shape of the composition would be, then just drew straight in ink using the process as a form of meditation. I still use this technique today, and never fully sketch my paintings or drawing out. I find it is much more authentic and spontaneous to rely on what comes naturally from one’s imagination through hand and instrument, than to relay on sketching everything out first.
Here is a later example of this process at work in Fairy Cat:
Later, well into my 30′s and living in Australia running a business Redwhisper Studio co-owned with John Robson, many customers there asked if I had been to a “Steiner” or “Waldorf” School because my artwork was so much like what the educationalist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner taught. This was completely fascinating to me: that I had never hear of him until then, but upon further investigation I realised that my intuitive painting was very much like his artistic educational vision – very dream-like, with bold and emotional use of colour and delicate blending of thoughts, impressions and the very colours themselves to convey the essence of the artist’s inner world.
Ceiling, First Goetheanum, by Rudolf Steiner
What this said to me is that everyone has innate creative ability, and those of us who choose to express it through painting need look no further than our own intuition and imagination. Of course, this does take discipline, hard work and inspiration, but the tools are there inside us, just waiting to be unlocked and used.
More on how I explored this in the next part…..Thank you so much for visiting my creative blog, and please feel free to share your own creative thoughts, I would love to learn and share with you!
” I realized that all the really good ideas I’d ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.” ~ Grant Wood ~
Last week we visited the lovely snow-dusted Mississippi river city of Dubuque., Iowa. We decided to drop into the wonderful Dubuque Art Musem a regional art gallery I was delighted to find had some works of this great iconic Midwest American artist.
The painting that particularly captured my imaginations was “Appraisal”
It is exquisitely painted, with tender, delicate detail and gently humorous symbolism.
The other painting that struck me was his eerily gothic and deftly satirical “Victorian Survival”
The first time I learned of Wood was as part of our cursory study of American art in a South African school curriculum. We briefly investigated “American Gothic” as an example of Depression-era painting, with its wonderfully subtle parody and gentle realism. I was lucky enough to see the original at the stunning Art Institute of Chicago
Wood was also an amazing print maker, his lithographs are dreamy, whimsical and surreal and have his characteristic delicacy and attention to the evocative landscape of his beautiful native Iowa…his childhood country school is also depicted on the 2004 Iowa State Quarter.
Wood’s colour schemes, his sensitivity to his subject matter and the magical elements that sparkle in his work really inspire me as an artist. I would love to hear any comments others may have of their favourite American artists – I love discovering new work!
This is a good link to visit for more information on this quintessential American artist:
The Masculine and Feminine revolve
through nature and life as One.
The Sun and Moon symbolize a great
power of love and balance…
Throughout my artistic life I have been drawn to expressing the beauty and power of romance between Feminine and Masculine elements. The Lover Archetypes are inherent throughout all cultures, religions and mythologies, and is woven deep within our collective consciousness and the very laws of Nature herself. Here are some of the paintings that I have been inspired to create in honour of the love that man and woman have spun together in the timeless dance of sacred love, union and deep mutual fascination that is the basis of the creation of human life…
you can click on the images for more information
This is the completed commissioned art work for Aldene in Wales! I enjoyed getting lost in the realms of nature and fantasy…and added some hidden fairies and little creatures throughout the painting if you look closely. It measures approximately 20 inches x 20 inches ; 51 cm x 51 cm ~ my previous posts outline the process of this painting.
You can purchase a beautiful print of this painting here.
I have recently finished this lovely commissioned original drawing of the Tree of Life for a wonderful customer in Germany. It has been done in pigment coloured pencil (I use Swiss made Caran d’Ache) and pigment ink pens and measures 6.5 x 6.5 inches. She loved my original pencil drawing of the Tree of Life with a sun and moon in the leaves and a dryad or tree spirit subtly portayed in the image which had been sold, so we decided to do one just for here with slight alterations and in vibrant greens, purples and blues:
I am currently accepting commissions for paintings, tattoo designs, business logos and wedding invitations to name but a few of the artworks I do as custom orders. You can view a selection of my previous artistic commissions here!
This is a close up of painting commission currently underway, the beginnings of which you can see below or here. I have been painting mostly with watercolours, adding touches with acrylic paint and pigment coloured pencil. There are two faeries, and a hedgehog so far….click on the image to enlarge and see if you can spot them! More little creatures to come later…
I have the pleasure of being able to do some wonderful commissions for fabulous customers over the years, and have been asked by Adlene of The Secret Garden of Beauty to do a custom painting to express the magical essence of her unique beauty salon in Wales.
I first liaise with the customer as to the vision of the original artwork they have asked me to create just for them, which may include photos, stories, memories or just imaginative feelings that they would like me to translate into a painting. In this case, Adlene wanted a secret garden theme with a magical, fairytale element to reflect the charm and tranquility of her wonderful beauty salon. Each commission process is different, and in Adlene’s I began with a black and white sketch, which I coloured in with a rough idea as to what she and I may be visualising about the nature of a secret garden….
The painting I have just begun is a watercolour and coloured pigment pencil artwork, which features mainly greens and pastel lavender with aqua blues, capturing the English garden flowers that one may find in the hidden garden of a mystical realm. More progress reports to follow ~ here is the beginning:
This is my completed owl artwork, as begun in the previous post.
Owls are such enigmatic creatures, and I have done many paintings, drawings and also an etching of these fascinating animals which you can purchase here. I enjoyed using plenty of gold pigment ink and pigment based coloured pencils on Stonehenge paper, thus creating a very decorative folk art style reminiscent of the naive artist Henri Rousseau and also traditional icon art.
My fascination with owls continues….
Here, I am using beautiful Swiss made Caran d’Ache colored pencils on my favourite Stonehenge paper. I am inspired by the work of the Primitive / Naive artist Henri Rousseau and his rich, textural and beautifully illustrative images. I have briefly sketched the outline and then layered the colours as I go, including pigment gold and silver ink for decorative highlights.
I have realised that I have a fascination with throwing cats and fish together.
It started with one of the first etchings I ever did, in London where I learned the craft 14 years ago; for some reason I was compelled to portray a little black cat swimming merrily along with some goldfish:
I hand coloured it with gouache, loved the result, and put out an edition for sale, which you can find at my Online Shop.
The image of a cat’s fantasy underwater realm stayed with me, and a number of years later I painted a whimsical watercolour and pastel of the same topic, only with added water nymphs and spirits:
A gorgeous Print is for sale here.
Yesterday, I found myself in one of Johannesburg’s quirky bead shops, where I picked up a wonderful stash of gorgeous Czech glass beads and findings with which to play and create, and the result, unsurprisingly was this:
I had such fun making these, and have decided to start a few themed jewellery pieces along these whimsical lines. This pair and other lovely creations can also be bought in my Shop!
….with more to come soon….
Here is the completed painting. It has been such a wonderful experience doing this commission: thanks to my patrons for their creative support encouragement! Here is a shot with my Dad who helped my with the construction of a shippping box and a large board on which to paint. It measures nearly 2 meters x 2 meters (6 foot x 6 foot) and has been painted in acrylics. See the posts before this one for a step by step journey through the painting process.
Here are some detailed shots, and you can purchase a beautiful print of this painting here in my Shop
The painting is nearing completion now, and I have added much detail and flow to the composition.Below is the painting in its entirety, and once finished it will be rolled up, carefully packed and shipped away to be stretched onto a frame ready for hanging. I will post the final photos very soon…..
I have reworked the face of the lower mermaid, and am adding more and more detail and design to the composition, just on a free-form basis with paintbrush and paint – I love this intuitive style of painting and working the form and colour in.
Here is the entire painting, before I reworked the faces. Please click on each photos to appreciate them in their fullness of size – More photos to come soon!
Here are two shots of the progress of my mermaid commission so far – I have blocked in the basic colour and forms and composition, and started on the face details of both mermaids. I always like to do this initially to get a feel of the facial expressions and features that set the tone and nuance of the overall image. I have used acrylic drying retarder when painting in this technique, which gives flow to the polymer paints similar to that of watercolors.
Here are a few shots of my large acrylic Mermaids in Atlantis painting as it progresses from firstly a wash in greens and pthalo blues, with acrylic drying retarder mixed in with water to give a watercolour effect:
Then, in the second shot I have marked out all the figures and large details in white chalk, which is easy to wipe off with a damp cloth. I begin to block in the basic colours of the larger elements in the composition.
I have been attending sculpture classes here in Johannesburg with the wonderful Marina Walsh. She runs classes and also produces uniquely designed sculptural items for the landscaping, interior décor and game lodge markets. Her website is Marina Walsh Designs.
My first attempt at portraiture was this Bird Spirit head; what started out as a simple head study soon became a totem-like exploration of both the human head and the clay. It was fun to do and I hope to get more practice with this type of expression in 3D, which is quite a challenge after working in a painterly 2D format for so long…
We were able to sculpt from a live model which was so rewarding; she sat on a rotating platform while the class stayed still, so that we sculpted the clay as she rotated in 10 minute intervals, resulting in a surprisingly effective way to render a life study in clay! You start of with a stick figure roughly modeled into the model’s pose, then work the figure while looking closely at the model as she rotates before you. My figure turned out to be rather Rubenesque in her curves and demeanour…
Today I did some life drawing with a model in a session attended by about 20 other artists. I enjoyed having to work fairly quickly, and I decided to use a mixture of conte pen and wash, blue wax crayon, and a 2B pencil. Figure studies are a great way to work on one’s technique and style, and also to interpret reality in a unique way…
” Don’t seek to recall yesterday that is past
Nor repine for tomorrow which has not yet come ;
Don’t build your hopes on the past or the future ,
Be happy now and don’t live on wind…”
The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam
I am currently on an extended stay in my home country of South Africa, re-connecting with my family and taking in the exquisitely vibrant countryside for inspiration and new developments.
I stopped off on our travels around the beautiful Eastern Cape province into the tiny and little known township Neiu Bethesda in the dry Karoo region. The only reason one would do this is thanks to an incredibly visionary woman called Helen Martins. This amazing but extremely isolated outsider artist lived here up until 1976 when she took her own life due to her failing eyesight and subsequent struggle to realise her creative urges.
Her life here was made known by the wonderful South African writer Athol Fugart in his play (and resulting Hollywood film) The Road to Mecca. Helen left a treasure of art and imagination in her tiny home and backyard, some of which can be seen in the photos below. It is now called The Owl House.
What captivated me the most about her ethereal realm was the care and vivid imagination that went into creating it. She lived this creation every day; she slept and dreamt within its luminescent walls and smiling, whimsical faces of the creatures she had conjured up from cement, wire, beer bottles and pieces of discarded ephemera…and then she gave them life and showed them to us.
Thank you dear Miss Helen for such a joyful gift from such a lonely but inspired heart….
preliminary to a painting
watercolour & pencil.