Sunday, 25 January 2015

Confessions of a Colourholic

Colour! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.”
Paul Gauguin

I am addicted to colour. Yes, I am admitting it. Colour thrills me
There once was a time when a small pocket palette of twelve colours was enough to satisfy the colour junkie in me, but no more! 
My collection of watercolour paints has slowly grown over time and I still want more!

Is there such a thing as too many paints?
A friend very kindly sent me some Daniel Smith dot charts this week which had me swooning! (Thank you M!) If you haven’t yet discovered their wonderful range of paints, then it’s definitely worth trying a dot chart. There is just enough pigment to whet your appetite and leave you craving for more.

Daniel Smith dot charts, M Garham paints, Pergamena vellum... heaven!
I'm a big fan of Winsor & Newton watercolours, and Schmincke Horadam paints are also fabulous. I have  just been sent my first couple of M Grahams. Apparently they are made with blackberry honey so that the paint flows beautifully... mmmm!!  The same colour can vary a lot from brand to brand, so of course, I will have to get one from each. 
It’s FOMO, that Fear of Missing Out… the thought that there might be that one elusive hue that will cure all your pigment woes!

With so many tubes and pans of paint, it’s impossible to remember the characteristics of each, so I have got into the habit of making colour charts. Sometimes I paint them into sketchbooks, but I’ve found that making them on small pieces of watercolour paper works best. They can be pinned on the noticeboard in front of me whilst I work, or stuck directly onto my easel, or even carried with me when I go out and about. When sketching outside, you might not always get a chance to paint, but at least you can colour match and make a note. 

These fresh dates are photographed alongside the corresponding colour charts 
Colour charts are also handy if you need to take a photograph of your subject. Photography can change the colours, but with a colour chart nearby, you have a guide as to the true colour of the subject.
My colour charts are often made of  little squares of pure colour. I tip the paper after I paint the square so that the paint falls to the bottom. That helps me see the characteristics of the paint, such as if it is transparent or opaque, granulating or glazing. 

I use a template from Rotring to draw my squares which saves time.

The charts that I seem to use most are my earth pigments. I can see at a glance what to use.

I also make charts of mixes. My general rule for mixes in colour charts is to only have two pigments. When I paint, I might add in a third, but it makes life easier to keep the colour chart simple. I have some earth ones- lovely mixes of greys and browns which are very useful. 

I sat down one afternoon and made a Mother of All Blacks colour chart. It was a cold, dark rainy afternoon, no good for painting, so I experimented to see which colours made the best blacks. To my surprise I found that my least favourite colours, Hookers and Viridian, made the most divine chromatic blacks, particularly when mixed with colours like Winsor dioxide. Honestly, these are the paints that rarely saw the light of day, but now I look at them with renewed respect!

What a wonderful surprise!! The full chart can be seen here.
Of course, the colour that truly drives most botanical artists demented is green. It just HAS to be mixed. I’ve yet to find a good green from a tube. I often hear people grumbling that their greens always look the same, and when I ask them if they have made a green colour chart, they say no.
How on earth can you discover which combinations make the best mix if you haven’t tried them all out? Yes, it’s time consuming, yes, it is tedious, but it’s well worth the effort.

Usually with greens, you need to add a smidgen of red, pink or purple to tame it. However to make a green colour chart, it’s best to stick to the two main ingredients. I put yellows down one side and blues and greens down the other. That will give me an idea of what to use. I will add the tamer (pink/red or purple) later when I go to paint the leaf.

A number of people have asked me about the colour charts in my sketchbooks. Sometimes they are just charts of all the possible colours to help me decide what to use. Often they are simply reminders of what colours I eventually settled upon.

Playing with possible reds and trying to see which what happens over a yellow base, and recording which greens have worked
When I have finished a study, I write down all the colours that I have used, and the combinations, often on a messy scrap of paper. It’s such a useful habit to get into. I very quickly forget what colours I have used, so writing them down saves a lot of time and frustration.

Yes, I do scribbly pages too!
The most useful thing about making a colour chart is that it is the best way to break an artist’s block. Every artist loses their inspiration from time to time, but a colour chart is a bit like doing musical scales on a piano. They don’t take a lot of thought, but the chances are that once you have got those fingers warmed up and the paint flowing, you’ll begin to make exciting discoveries. That urge to create will return.  Go on, pull those paints out!

As Paul Klee said “Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
Wassily Kandinsky

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Sensitivity of Things - Mono no Aware 物の哀れ

Painting can be a journey of the mind. 

I have been contemplating the transience of life as I painted the little dead snipe this week. 
I came across a beautiful Japanese phrase Mono no Aware  物の哀れ (moh-no no ah-wah-ray), which roughly translates  as “the sensitivity of things”.
It refers to an awareness of the fragility of existence, an appreciation for it’s beauty and the gentle sadness of it’s passing.

Looking closely at a life that has passed
The term was coined in the 18th century by the Japanese literary scholar Motoori Norinaga to describe the essence of Japanese culture, but it remains popular as a concept in Japanese culture even today. An example of Mono no Aware would be the Japanese love of the cherry blossom. Every year crowds of people go out to sit beneath and admire the cascades of snowy blossoms, poignantly aware that these blooms will only last a week. Similarly a snowy landscape, the waning moon, the plaintive call of geese, even the ripples on the water of a lake can also evoke feeling of Mono no Aware.

Mono no aware is about the transience and bittersweet nature of life.

My snipe painting is also an example of Mono no Aware. I considered painting the snipe as if he were still alive, but decided that even death has it’s own quiet beauty, and so I chose honesty instead.
 Far from being morbid subject, it felt like such a rare honour to be able to study the beautiful patterns, colours and structure so intimately. The only thing that I recreated was the eye, which had not survived the nightly freeze.

There is transience even in death, and throughout the week I noticed the subtle changes, the slow decay. I’m glad that I made the colour notes for his legs the week before because they were the first to change. By the end of the week, the snipe was no longer looking his best.

Gallinago gallinago,  watercolour on paper  © Shevaun Doherty 2015
A dead bird is not the most obviously beautiful of subjects to paint, but I wanted to capture the evocative wistfulness of the moment. The Japanese believe that beauty is not inherent in an object, but only comes to into being when it is seen and appreciated. 
I hope I evoked that beauty.

Scarlet Tiger Moth  by Claire Ward
Another beautiful object arrived at my home this week. My friend Claire Ward sent me a stunning painting of a Scarlet tiger moth on handmade paper. Her work is exquisite- have a look at her website. It seems that like me, my friends are also stirred by the beauty and precious fragility of life.

"One's feelings are stirred up because he understands, deep in his heart, the moving power of the moon and the blossoms. The heart that is ignorant of this moving power will never be stirred, no matter how wonderful the blossoms are and how clear the moon is in front of him." Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Slow Approach

Plan like a turtle; paint like a rabbit.
Edgar A. Whitney

Sometimes starting a painting can be so daunting because there are so many aspects to think about. So I’ve become a bit of a plodder. Rather than dive in, I’ll take the slow approach and happily spend a few days just getting to know my subject first.

Flowers get pulled apart and painted petal by petal.  

Leaves are placed on the page and painted over and over again until I’ve found that perfect green mix. Just the simple pleasure of painting little squares of colour can make me feel like I’m accomplishing things.

It’s not just botanical work that is given this treatment. This week I have a dead snipe on my desk. 

A friend called me to say that she had found the poor dead creature and had kindly popped it into her freezer for me! Some of the snipes here in Ireland are winter visitors from Faroe Islands and Iceland. Never having seen a snipe in real life, I was both intrigued and excited. 
Curiosity overcame any squeamishness.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Plans, Paintings and Promises 2015

I never make New Year's resolutions, but writing a plan at the beginning of last year seemed to set the pace for the year ahead. Although I didn’t quite manage to do everything on my list, just having a positive approach can make all the difference.
 So here goes-

1. Positive steps towards promoting my art

Please pop along and have a look!
I have been dithering about promoting my artwork for far too long. This blog was my first step forward and it has definitely helped me to gain confidence as an artist. So this year I am taking the next step. I have just set up a Facebook Page for my art. Now I will work on getting a website up and running.

2. Exhibitions to Aim for

What is an art plan without exhibitions?