You know when you go to someone's blog to find a recipe and you have to read their entire life story before you get to the recipe? You just keep scrolling and scrolling thinking "omg, I don't care about your life story, just show me the recipe!"? Well, sorry to say, but this is kinda like one of those! If all you want is the bottom line, scroll down to the last two paragraphs just above the photos.
Seriously! An amazing week!. This is going to be a long post so grab your beverage of choice and read away or, skim away, whatever you choose.
I should mention, because I am still over the moon about this experience and am gushing...this post is not sponsored, I am just still on my workshop high.
A little background: I've been painting flowers and rocks pretty much since I first picked up a paint brush. Acrylics used to be my medium of choice and when I made the switch to watercolors, I wanted to keep my same style and subject matter but, being self-taught, I needed guidance in how to keep my paintings as large and bold as I like them without being too "detail-ey" and fussy while keeping within the confines of standard watercolor paper sizes.
(someday I will write more about why I moved from acrylic to watercolor but this post is long enough already!)
I found that when doing acrylics I could do broad, sweeping strokes of paint. I could blend my colors - or not - as I chose. Watercolor is such a different medium and the flow of the paint is controlled by the water, the amount of water, the amount of pigment and less brushstrokes than I was accustomed to. Yes, I could do a very detailed painting mimicking the methods of acrylics and there are many artists who do this and do this well; however, I wasn't aiming for a realistic style and I didn't want my paintings to be worked too much - I really wanted to learn to let the water and paint do their thing.
After watching numerous youtube videos and finding inspiration and influence by too many talented watercolorists to name individually in this post, and numerous videos on artistsnetwork.tv, I googled something along the lines of "large floral watercolor" and found Birgit O'Connor and wow! Was I blown away! Her style of watercolor florals is bold and striking and reminded me of my acrylic florals (but much, much better!). Her rocks reminded me of how I did my acrylic rocks. Her method of teaching was clear, helpful and made sense and translated so well into my own way of doing things. I also loved that she used the word "simplify" a lot and "breathe". All things I tend to forget to do as I get waaaay too caught up in the details and the self-doubt and self criticism. So long story short, I am a HUGE fan of Brigit's work and Brigit's teaching style.
And now (finally) onto the week at the workshop!
Birgit in person definitely does not disappoint. I was worried I was going to totally fan-girl out and make an absolute fool of myself. Who knows, I may have; however, from the minute Birgit walked into the room, she did not disappoint. She has a way about her that makes you feel like you have been friends forever - we all know people like that - who just instantly can make a room of 27 women feel at ease. Well, that is Birgit in a nutshell. She is funny, warm, kind and on top of all of that, she is the most wonderful instructor. Within the first hour, I knew exactly what I had been doing to make my work frustrate me so much! Not enough water, not enough pigment and being waaaay to fussy with details. Not simplifying enough, not breathing enough and worrying way too much. Yep - I learned all that within the first hour!
And, while being funny, kind, warm and inviting, Birgit also managed to keep 27 women on track, give each person individual attention, answer questions, tell stories, demonstrate, compliment, critique (kindly!) and leave us all feeling each day that we had learned something new, pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zones and elevated our painting.
The ladies of the Southwest Washington Watercolor Society (SWWS) are so welcoming and warm and I left the week feeling as though I had made many new friends and wishing I lived closer so I could spend more time with so many lovely women!
Prior to going to this workshop, I was in the middle of a three week long artists block brought on by stressing, overworking and freaking out about a painting not being perfect. I was literally frozen with the fear of ruining my painting and because of this, I decided to only work on the paintings we did during class hours, not take them to my hotel room to work on later or work on them during lunch hour because I wanted to really stick with the "don't overwork" way. I have a tendency to fuss over every little detail and that is a habit I made a decision to break during this week. Had I worked on them outside of workshop hours, I felt I would have gone back to old habits and I really wanted to leave the weeklong workshop with that fussy habit gone forever. Because of this, I didn't finish even one painting completely and I am totally happy with that!
While we learned many techniques during this workshop and lots of tips and tricks - for me, the biggest takeaway was a newfound sense of freedom, joy and confidence in my painting. Definitely time and money well spent!
If you ever get the chance to attend a workshop in person, definitely go for it. You will not be disappointed. Visit the workshop tab on her website https://www.birgitoconnor.com and keep going back checking for new additions to workshops until you find one that works with your schedule (It took me three years to find one that didn't fall during a work deadline!). If you can't attend a workshop in person, Birgit's online workshops are the next best thing - even if you're like me and you just watch them over and over and over again! http://birgitoconnorwatercolors.teachable.com
And now onto the paintings!
Our very last day with only a few hours left, we started a new piece - also unfinished. This has just one layer of paint and is only half of the actual painting. The original painting was a 1/2 sheet and I used a 1/4 sheet and only used part of the image. Because of the lack of time, Birgit ended up doing the remainder of this piece as a demo and it was wonderful to watch her paint
I am leaving in five minutes to go have coffee with a friend who recently lost her dog. Losing pet is one of the hardest parts of loving an animal and as I am trying to think of all the right things to say to my friend, I am reminded of losing my beloved Abby.
She was an amazing dog. She was a large (very large) lap dog. She wanted cuddles and hugs constantly. Every morning when we woke up, she would jump on the bed, sit in front of me and wait for her morning hug. I would hug her full on as she laid her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. Her morning and my morning did not start officially until we had our hug. She looked forward to it every morning and it was a special ritual my girl and I had.
It was just one of many rituals but still - four years later - every morning I wake up and wish I had my dear sweet girl Abby to come up and ask for her morning hug.
Of course there are other memories that hit me, but that morning hug. Man, that was the best. She was a lovely, beautiful, sweet, affectionate and loyal friend, my Abby and I miss her every day.
The grief when I lost Abby was so overwhelming...I knew I could never capture her essence in a painting....how do you capture love, happiness, a heart full of love in artwork when we are always picking apart our work? Instead, I threw my grief into capturing her collar - it symbolized for me our special moments in the morning of her collar up against my neck with her head leaning on my shoulder and my arms around her. When I look at this piece (colored pencil work, btw), I don't see mistakes. I don't see "oh, I should have put a little more shadow there" or "that shape is completely off". What I see, is a memory of love.
Our pets are family and losing a pet leaves a permanent hole in our hearts. That's the risk we take when we love so completely and are loved so completely in return.
I am now leaving for coffee and hoping I have some words that will bring a smile to my friend's face or make her remember a special moment with her pet or even just give her a shoulder to cry on.
What a wonderful surprise! We are doing renos on our house and the yard is the very last thing on the list and it is a mess! An absolute awful yard - seriously, the neighbors must hate us! Luckily we do mow the lawn (and the weeds) but other than that, I rarely pay attention to what's back there. The other day (when taking a break from painting the house - not art), I happened to look over to the back of the house and was shocked to see some beautiful iris flowers growing. Grabbed my camera, took some photos and immediately started painting (as in art painting not house painting). It's amazing how beautiful they were considering they have had no love shown to them. Poor little flowers! They have since disappeared but I am looking forward to seeing them next year when they show their happy little blooms again.
Words to live by and words to paint by.
So. Many. Petals!!! Moving slowly, working carefully. This first layer is the basis for all layers to come. My husband walked in to have a peak and said "hey, I can actually tell what it is". haha. Funny guy! And then we both said together "Now don't f*** it up!".
So, I am working slowly, using thin washes, wet in wet and dry brush to build this first layer carefully. Moving at a snails pace but still enjoying the process and trying not to race to the finish line.
I posted the other day about thinking I wanted to work faster, looser and with ink but while working on this pretty little peony, I realized that I actually do love the process of working slowly. It suits my core personality and I can save those fast, loose, ink-filled works for days when I need to be more free. This slow methodical approach is definitely my style and where I gravitate to again and again. Artist's crisis averted!
So, as with all things in life, I am doing my best to not f*** it up! :)
Call me crazy (or maybe others will agree) but I am starting to prefer my looser faster florals that are watercolour and ink over the pieces I slave, sweat and swear over. It's not because of the effort or time that I put into the other pieces that is making me feel this way. I think it is that the inked florals feel more like they have a real piece of me in them - the piece of me I want to be. I get lost in the inking process and it puts me in a real zen state. I have to stop myself from over inking because I go into a little trance like state and could easily get carried away.
The florals that are layer after layer, the ones that I fret over and stare at and think about and plan - I still love those pieces. They are also a part of who I am - a person who worries, stews, overthinks and is rational - but the looser inked paintings, those are the impulsive, fearless, free side of me. Both make me me. They are my yin and my yang. I can't say I could quit doing the planned slaved over pieces but I feel I am moving more towards the carefree, shit happens, go with the flow style. Or at least that is the direction I want to move in. I guess time will tell if the uptight side of me will let that loose side come out. :)
Here is an example. This is a piece I recently completed called 'Bouquet". I love this piece. I love the colours, the flow, the movement within the bouquet. I really really like it. Sure, the analytical side of me finds areas that could be better but I captured what I was trying to capture with this piece and as a whole, I love it. Having said that, there was a lot of thinking and analyzing that went into this piece. Where to have detail where to have less. Where to have midtones,darker values,lighter values. How to get interesting shapes. How to not stray too far from realistic but still have it abstract-ish. A LOT of thinking and analyzing and second guessing of myself. Now look at this one:
This little tulip was done while sitting at the hospital waiting for my husband to get out of day surgery, it was free and loose and the inking took my mind into the zen place it needed to be so that my mind wasn't worrying about my husband being under general anesthesia (no matter how minor the surgery, that is a fear of mine). I did this little sucker with a travel aqua brush - which I discovered today I really don't like but it did the job. The squiggles and doodles with my black ink just happened with no thought, no planning and no brain power. I was in the zone. When I awoke from my mini meditative state, I was happy and content. I wasn't worried if every shape, shadow, tone and value was perfect. I was more interested in how it made me feel and it made me feel happy. After all, isn't that what art should do? Make us feel something even if it's happiness?
And yes, I do realize that virtually no one is reading these blog posts and that it is really a glorified diary and that I am really just talking to myself but what the hell - I do that in daily life anyway and it helps me sort this kind of crap out. If you do happen to be reading this, thanks for indulging my mini therapy session that I just gave myself. :)
This bouquet of flowers is taking FOREVER!! I seriously feel like have been working on this non-stop for weeks but it has only been a couple of days. Why oh why can't I be one of those people who can knock out a painting in an hour or two??? I am happy with where it is going and anxious to finish but am taking a much needed break before I ruin it. :)
I started with an initial wet in wet wash of Winsor & Newton paints. I was going to do Dr. PH Martin's hydrus from the get-go, but I definitely prefer W&N for the initial wash. They move better in the water, they don't stain as quickly and I just found that initial wet in wet to work much better with W&N. I did try to start with Dr. PH Martin's Hydrus but it stained before I could even get the paint to move around at all. I was very frustrated.
Having said that, once I got the initial wash in, I decided to go in and do the remainder of the work with Dr. PH Martin's Hydrus liquid watercolors and I am LOVING them for this part of the work. There was (and is) a definite learning curve to working with them. I am finding, for me, I seem to work best with them using a teeny tiny brush and LOTS of water but the teeny tiny brush part could just be because I am working on such small little petals (in comparison to the normal size flower I usually do).
It seems that if I dip the bush in some paint/water mixture and then start working on the piece, I then dip my brush in more water and kind of feather the paint out or extend the particular line I am working on using the water dipped brush. It's definitely different than working with the W&N. I'm not actually rinsing my brush for the above, just dipping it into the water and going right back to where I was working.
Soft edges work well as long as there is sufficient water and definitely work better over the W&N then just directly on the paper. I am finding that I also have to move very quickly! This paint seems to dry much faster than the W&N I am used to. No time to think just do for those soft edges. If I move too slowly, the paint has already stained and a soft edge is very difficult. Again, though, after working with them for awhile I have noticed that they layer beautifully so if by chance I didn't work fast enough to get rid of that hard edge, going in with another color and laying slightly over that edge, watering it down slightly and then moving it along seems to do the trick. I wonder if this making any sense? It's so hard to describe in writing the process!
I am making this sound much more difficult than it actually is. It's just a learning process and a different way of using the paint than I am accustomed to. Well worth the effort and I absolutely intend to use these more often.
I am sure the more I use them, the more it will just seem normal and I likely won't notice a difference in the way I am working with the two different paints.
I bet part of the problem is I just used too much pigment to begin with. The paints are so highly concentrated that a little dab 'll do ya and I probably had my paint to water ratio off. I think it is actually forcing me to be more creative and to develop my style a bit more which actually makes me very happy.
Perhaps I should have chosen a simpler piece to try the Hydrus liquid watercolors on to begin with. I usually tend to do single large flowers, so for me, this is a very complicated piece but so far I am happy with where this is going. As usual, I can pick out everything little thing I wish I had done differently but overall, I am happy with it and I have yet to paint anything where I don't see every little problem area. I try to tell myself that is normal.
Taking a break from the painting for now - I seem to have drained away all of my creative energy. Time to do some work and use the analytical side of my brain.
I am definitely a fan of Dr. P.H. Martin's Hydrus liquid watercolors. I love how vibrant they are and am looking forward to using them more.
BTW - this WIP is from a photo I took of a bouquet of flowers at Costco of all places - inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places.. Seeing as we had snow here yesterday, there were no flowers to be seen outside. Somebody forgot to tell mother nature that spring has sprung!
Waiting for paint to dry (literally) and why I broke down and bought Dr. P.H. Martin's Hydrus Liquid Watercolors
While patiently (okay, not so patiently) waiting for paint to dry on my latest piece, I decided to just play around with color and texture and have some fun. This small piece (approx 5x7), is what I was hoping would become a textile for a scarf.
I've been wanting a new scarf with vibrant bright colors and haven't been able to find anything I really like. Still haven't after painting this! The colors are just not vibrant enough for what I wanted for my scarf and it is not something I wanted to add layer after layer of color to. I know, I could have just adjusted the colors and saturation in Photoshop, but I really want it to be 100% totally my watercolor art with no digital adjustments (other than adjustments needed to create the repeating pattern). I want the piece to look free, messy but filled with intense color and texture.
This piece is what convinced me to get Dr. P.H. Martin Hydra Liquid Watercolors. Because nobody in Calgary carries them, a friend who happened to be in Edmonton this weekend is picking them up for me and I hope to get them from him early next week.
Can't wait to get those lovely bottles and to start playing and hopefully come up with something similar to this but with more intense vibrant color.
As with this piece, which I have called "Blobs", I will play around with texture - salt, purposeful blossoms, spray bottles and perhaps some bleach to try to get the look I am going for. Once that is complete, it is then time to photoshop the finished piece to create a repeating pattern and then find a reputable company to get my scarf printed. I can't wait to get my hands on those paints and start playing!
Continuing on with yesterday's garlic painting below, I am still in a foodie state of mind. I am happy with the progress on the onion and the garlic in this WIP but this ginger is kicking my ass! I want the colours to be interesting and not just a flat brown - I see so many other colours when I look at ginger - but I am currently struggling with making it different enough from the onion and garlic and getting the value right
As you can see, I am in the early stages of the ginger and the value needs to be much much darker. Darker than the garlic but not darker then the onion while still keeping the colours different enough so that it doesn't become one with the other elements.
I think I will also be gently scrubbing out a little color on the garlic where it meets the gjnger. Now that the ginger is going in, I can see that I went a little darker than I should have on that side.
I keep starting paintings with the intention of adding ink at the end but just can't bring myself to do it when I am so happy with the finished painting before the ink! Perhaps this time I will go for it. We shall see
Back to that darn ginger!
These are the notes I took while making Chrysanthemum. I struggled with this one - the paint and water took me to a different place than I had originally envisioned and I had a hard time going with the flow. In the end, I am happy with the piece and where it led me. Sometimes it's best to sit back, trust the process, trust yourself and let go of what was originally in your head. 99.9% of the time, that zen state that you go into while painting is going to lead you in the direction you were intended to go to in the first place. Lesson learned!