Saturday, January 23, 2010


Piana, Southern Corsica, France
Watercolour 6 x 12

I have been meaning to do a little sketch of a view in Corsica this month through The Virtual Paintout, but haven't had much time lately.  I've wandered around the island and it has many similarities to Newfoundland in terms of topography - well just not the weather perhaps.  Islands tend to be rocky outcrops with links to the sea and land for income. Corsica has the benefit of warm weather for citrus and olive crops and the fame of being Napoleon Bonaparte's place of birth to aid tourism.

To those who don't live on an island, island life seems idyllic and in some ways it is.  In other ways it is problematic with services not as easily accessible as on a mainland.   The isolation of an island creates unique cultures in the arts, whether visual, music, literary or theatre.  Islands usually have flourishing artistic communities and tend to be welcoming places to those who want to become involved.

I wandered through parts of Corsica and found this vantage point overlooking the Mediterranean.  The rocky outcrops of cliffs and the sea stretching out to the clouds on the horizon remind me that all islands are connected to each other no matter where they are.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Masa poppy in progress

I have done some preparation with Masa paper to put it through its paces and see if I can achieve something that resembles what I envision in my head.

I started by roughly sketching my idea on the shiny side of the masa, crumpling and soaking the paper briefly then smoothing it onto a drawing board.  I added loose washes of pigment onto the rough side of the masa, letting colours mingle and flow into the fibres and creases.  The work is done on the smooth side of the paper and has a more subtle patterning than the rough side.

The still damp reverse side before it is mounted and rolled.   The top side is a much paler version of the reverse.

I left it to dry overnight and early  this morning used a wash of white glue and water on the back of the masa to mount it on a piece of 140lb watercolour paper.  I went to work and let it dry all day so it would be ready for me tonight.

So now I'm starting to gently add layers of watercolour to my paper.  Masa becomes pretty fragile when wet, so I can't manipulate paint as I could on regular watercolour paper.  That has good and bad aspects.  I need to think about colour, value and placement before I put down a brushstroke and if I need to change anything I wait til my layer is dry before going back over it.

I used a couple of different references for this piece, the main one being a lovely old fashioned poppy that I grew.  I love the crumpled tissue like texture of poppy petals and this paper and technique seemed like a good choice for rendering it.  I want the overall image to be fairly pastel, making you look more closely to see the image.

So why a flower, when they are the objects that I paint the least?  Because the pattern and colours simply said floral to me.  It could be nothing else. Its still in very early stages, but so far, so good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Negative space painting

I don't have a huge number of art books and the ones I do have are technique specific in most cases.  I like some reference manuals around to refresh my brain cells and provide inspiration. I don't have a lot of books because I find that its easy to spend more time reading about art than actually practicing it.

I've been more involved in watercolours lately and I enjoy the challenge of using them and am always looking for additional inspiration and insight into how other artists use the medium.  The tricks of the trade I guess.

I came across The Watercolorist's Answer Book a couple of days ago, while returning a really god-awful watercolour book that I'd bought online.  It rots me that I paid $10 more for it instore than on line, but that's life sometimes.  I have to say that this book is quite good.  Its filled with tips, techniques and solutions for watercolour artists.  From theory into practice, I think it was a good buy and will join my little band of mini advisors on the shelf.

Are you a collector of all and any art books or are you selective about what's in your personal library?

One of the demos in the book was a negative space painting which appealed to me.  I did a little study getting a feel for it and plan on seeing what happens when I translate this to masa paper on a large scale.  Yes, I'm a glutton for punishment.

This is a limited palette of phthalo blue, quinacridone gold, yellow ochre and raw sienna.  Salt was added to the wet surface to add texture and interest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Squeezing the day

I have a very busy life, like many people.  I have a full time job, out of hours meetings, private art lessons to teach, chores, etc etc.  At this time of year, I see images as I go about my business that I store away mentally for future use.  I always forget to take the camera with me, or its just not convenient to stop in the middle of the highway and snap an image without other drivers getting VERY upset with me.  But I need to find time - or make time - to capture some of these images.

Within the city there are lots of little places and things that I glimpse in passing.  The colour of light on snow.  A clump of bushes.  Ancient trees holding up the ice and snow to the heavens.  Early morning pinks and yellows on blue, blue ocean water.The night sky against the trees and fields on my way home.

So I have decided that at least 3 times a week I must get out at some point in the daylight hours to capture some of what I see.  It may be simple sketches, photographs or colour studies, but it needs to be done. I need that body of live work to gain inspiration from.

Tonight, inspiration came from refinding an image of the northern lights.  We don't often see them this far south in Newfoundland but at times the sky lights up and dances in reds and greens.  I tried to take this photo quickly before they disappeared.  I didn't have time to think about a tripod or long exposures but the colour is there.  And so is my memory of them.  I translated that onto paper, using a slightly uncooperative frost outside to swirl the sky, combined with an ancient set of rock cliffs against a snow covered field. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two days to bid - Kisses for Haiti

I'm thrilled and amazed at the bidding that has taken place for the print that I put on Ebay last Thursday.  As of writing this, there are 31 bids and the final bid is $255!  With two days left to bid, I hope the bidding heats up a bit and brings even more money for the Haiti disaster relief.  All proceeds of this fundraiser will be donated to Doctors without Borders.

Please click here to bid.

My sincere thanks to all those individuals who have bid so far and to the radio, television and newspapers that have interviewed me and provided coverage on this initiative.  Your help is appreciated more than you know.

Today's The Telegram printed the piece above.

The Telegram

As the Canadian government also matches donations to charities for this cause, it makes it even more important to bid.  Its like doubling your contribution.  The winning bidder receives an 18 x 12 print of my watercolour Purity Kisses and knowledge that the funds will go to help the people of Haiti.  Bidding ends January 21, 2010.   Be generous, this is the pain you are helping to alleviate.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moving ahead and back

I'm frustrated with being unable to get the watercolour/ice mix just right to work on some planned images.  The weather is cold enough, but its just not working for me.  I just end up with sludge.  So I'm leaving that for a bit and concentrating on some more work with the masa paper and this portrait.

Here's another version of the clementine done on the coloured masa.  The shadow took over and I made the mistake of trying to correct it on the paper which then turned to tissue consistency.  But it makes for interesting shapes and lines within the piece.  Its looking like a very old clementine now! Well worth playing with later. For now, I've turned this little piece into a greeting card that will go onto my Etsy store soon as an original and print version.  I used a thinned glue to put the masa onto a black card then rolled it with a brayer to eliminate the wrinkles in the paper.

Its still in early stages of washes so is  looking rather pale.  I don't want to overdo it, but I do want some life in it.  I think I am being too controlled in it. It looks a bit precise right now and I want a looser image, yet still keeping the likeness.


I have a concept for a sheet of masa but will experiment first then show you.  I sometimes rush ahead and like a five year old, throw my work online saying 'look, see what I made!' before its ready.  My first experiments with masa were just that experiments, but I have a better idea now of how it responds and what to do with it to make it respond accordinly.  Its quite strong when dry, but fragile when wet, so once the background colour is in and dried, you can paint on the smooth side but its pretty much a one shot deal, especially if you usually tend to apply lots of layers. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Masa experiments

On Saturday I gave a private lesson in watercolour basics and used an orange for a demo.  That piece stayed with the individual to study, but I liked the colours and wanted to try it again at home.  I used a clementine and put down loose washes of colour, letting some hard edges form and losing other edges within the shape.  I think oranges or their cousins, tend to be one of the nicest still life forms to paint.

On to the experiments...last week my order of paper from my art supplier arrived, but I haven't had a chance to experiment with it until today.  I had ordered some Masa paper, as well as three other Japanese papers in addition to my regular supplies of watercolour and drawing paper.  I have been reading about using Masa paper to create batik-like effects, as well as its use for prints, and wanted to play around with it.

I tore up a small sheet to see what I could produce with it.  Masa has a smooth side and a rougher side, apparently the smooth side is the side to use for painting.   I crumpled a piece of the paper and put it in warm water for perhaps 20-30 seconds.  I gently squeezed the water out of it, then smoothed it over a wooden drawing board.  While it was still wet, I dropped pigment into it and watched as it spread out, intensifying in the creases and mingling with other colours that I dropped on the paper.

Masa is quite strong paper, but very flimsy when wet.  I did a quick relief print of the little seastar that I had found last month on the beach and the paper takes the print cleanly and very well.  The painted background of the paper can be used on either side it seems.  The side I dropped pigment on is bright and clear, but when I reverse it, the colours come through as pastel and muted.  It is recommended to backpaint on the rougher side, let it dry, then paint on the smooth side.

I think I could have smoothed my paper more or crumpled it less but the effect is interesting all the same. There are a lot of possibilities with this paper and I will be exploring it more in the next week.  I am considering its potential for a future larger project.  As the paper is inexpensive, I don't mind if a few sheets don't work as I want.  Sacrifice in the name of art!

As an update on my Ebay art auction to raise funds for the Haiti disaster, I was interviewed by a local radio station, and the information placed on their website.  When I last looked there were 20 bids and the amount being raised for Haiti very encouraging.  Thank you to everyone who has bid to date.   There are four more days left before the auction finishes.  Please circulate this information to your networks and consider bidding.  The winning bidder receives a beautiful print and knows that the funds will go to a very worthwhile cause.  I will donate all funds from this to Doctors Without Borders.