Thursday, December 29, 2011


After a lot of thought, I've decided to call this painting ‘Imagine’

The John Lennon song has been in my mind today as I finished the last details on her dress. The words just seem to fit with Rebecca’s thoughts about the world. The title also takes us back to my initial request for her to imagine when I took the photo of her sat on the stool. Lastly it  leaves it very open for us all to interpret in different ways. For some it might be imagining her swinging on a star, for others flying and looking down at the clouds, for others just feeling the breeze on our own skin and the warmth of the sun on our faces, and for some imagining a world below the clouds where people live in peace and harmony.

 I wanted to keep that soft dream like quality to it, so haven’t used any bold bright colours. I did want to add some sense of excitement/ joy to it though and for this reason played with the compliments blue/orange and purple /yellow in the painting rather than pick a more analogous colour palette.

Hope this close up helps you to see more of the details.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Watching progress!

Here is my daughter Rebecca taking a look at my progress so far.  I hope the photo gives you some sense of the scale of the painting. I really like working this size. It really helps you to become absorbed in the feeling/emotion of the painting as you paint.

It was a lot of fun yesterday creating the wispy hair blowing in the breeze and the golden brown colour that her hair goes in the summer sun. I still have the bottom section of hair to paint but the tricky sections are done.

I'm still trying to think of a title for this painting. So far the ones I like best are:

1. Sky High
2. 'On top of the world' or 'looking down on creation'
3. J'Imagine

 Any thoughts on these or other ideas are, as always, greatly appreciated :)

I probably won't get around to posting an update again until afer Christmas so I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rise up above the clouds! Portrait WIP1

 I wonder if anyone spends as long on a background as me? Its taken me a week and many layers of glazing to create the effect I wanted. Its been fun though.

To me, a background helps to set the scene and develop the mood or atmosphere of the painting. I wanted a soft almost dreamy feel to this.

I expect many of you have traveled by air and have looked down at the clouds below. It has an almost unreal feel to it. We are so used to looking up at the clouds but now they are below us like snowy mountain ranges peaking through a layer of mist.

This was what I was imagining as I began creating the background.

Ok, time for a quick science lesson now :)

Each winter, when a high pressure weather system moves over the snow-covered mountain valleys , something takes place called a temperature inversion. When this happens the warmer air above traps a layer of cold air in the valley and the clouds settle almost on top of us weighing us down with misery as we long for the sunshine once more. Yet only a couple thousand feet above us, sometimes not even that much, the sky is deep blue in every direction and the sun sparkles. 

Isn't this a little like our lives? We so easily allow the problems and stresses of life to cloud around us, blocking our vision and dulling our spirits.  We need to remember though  that hope and sunshine are just above the haze. Once we realize this, we can leave the clouds of despair below us and move into the sunlight of hope. I guess this is partly what this painting is about and its an important thing to remember at this time of year as we lead up to Christmas.

I'm not sure how quickly I'm going to get the actual portrait section completed in the coming weeks but I'm going to remember to keep my head firmly above the clouds as I do so :)


Thursday, December 8, 2011

And all Because...... of the pieces of music I used for my slideshow was called 'I believe I can fly' and as I listened to it over and over again while I was putting the slideshow together, an idea for a painting popped into my mind.

My daugher Rebecca has been learning to fly  this past summer. Her tuition is on hold now over the winter months but she is looking forward to the spring again when she can complete her training and finally be able to fly solo. She seems so young to me still,  but I know she is growing up fast. She is so full of ambition and motivation to succeed. Its wonderful to see.  You know the saying 'the sky's the limit'... that is certainly true for her. I didn't want to put her in a glider for my painting though because I also wanted to encorporate the more imaginative side of her personality into the portrait too.

She is just like me in that way...she has such a vivid imagination so it was easy to get her 'to believe' in my idea for the reference photo shoot.

" Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!"– Dr Seuss

.... so I placed a chair in the middle of the basement and a  fan beside it, gave her a summer dress to put on and told her to sit on the chair, feel the summer's breeze through her hair and imagine she was on a swing high in the sky, above the clouds. 

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.  ~Henry David Thoreau

yes, I know she only really had the floor to look at, and a chair instead of a swing but  her imagination could fill in the rest and hopefully my pencil and brushes can bring to life what was in her mind. (fingers crossed)

The outline is drawn onto watercolour paper and stretched on a board. It is another big one... I just couldn't resist it. Its 24 by 33 inches.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Going larger with gallery wraps!

Hi everyone:)

So you all know I have been working on developing further the gallery wrapped paper idea for watercolours over the last 8 months or so.

In case you are new to this blog here is an example I did this summer mounted in a floater frame and HERE is the link to my post back in October which takes you through my version of the gallery wrap process

Up until now all the ones I have done, like this one, are small ones but I am now gradually trying and developing the technique for bigger gallery wraps. When I did one of the two baby duck gallery wraps which was14 by 14 inch I found that with the constant wetting of the paper (because I glaze) the foam core 'sandwich' had begun to bow a little. It was hardly noticable at this size, but it made me think about what I could do for larger paintings. I would like to get to the point when I can do a 40 by 40 inch gallery wrap. So....

.... this brings me to my current experiment. I have been sensible and not gone too big yet so I have just wrapped a 20 by 20 inch one (half the size of my goal size).

To stop the bowing/ sagging of the foam core I am trying sandwiching 2 layers of foamcore between the paper and stretcher bars. I stuck the first , as usual to the stretchers with double sided tape and then repeated this with the second layer of foamcore stuck to the first one and then wrapped over the combo. My theory is that while my top layer of foam core will still get very wet, the bottom one will stay dryer and support the top one. I like the slightly deeper more gallery style effect that the double layer of foam core gives me. I did a quick wet on wet experiment at this size and then took apart the gallery wrap to look at the foam core underneath. The experiment worked well.

I will have to think of something to paint this size now :) I'm not sure how much painting I'm going to get done this month as I am working on developing some ideas but in the New year I'm definitely going to try a bigger gallery wrap!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Baby on Board!

 'Life has a way of knocking over the most brilliant plans'
(from the Jerusalem Train by Jon Dietz)

Isn't this quote so very true.... not only for my painting but life too...with a 'Baby on Board' you can never be quite sure what is going to happen next. (grin)

This has been a fun painting to do.  I wanted to keep the chess pieces and board quite mystical, almost like a surreal world in feel, so I kept it deliberately 'soft focus'. In contrast the baby is very much 'in focus' because, to me, he represents real life with all its unexpected twists and turns. I also chose to add another colour for the babies arms to help draw attention to his action of knocking over the king. Its fun to play with techniques to help convey a message.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anyone for a Game of Chess? WIP 4

 It's World Watercolour Day today and I celebrated it in two of the best ways possible... firstly by sharing the news with friends on facebook and helping to spread the word about this wonderful medium and secondly by painting :)

I hope you have all helped to spread the word too and have had some time to paint.

I know many of you are curious to see my progress with the chess painting. I've now completed all but my centre of interest (the baby and the fallen king)

In the traditional chess game black and white are used for the chess pieces but I wanted more colour in this painting. I did however want to keep to the opposites idea for the opposing teams so chose my colour palette for this painting accordingly using mostly the compliments of golden yellows and purply/ browny greys.

I had a bit of fun in the background castling the king (quite literally). I've added a close up below for you to see as it is hard to spot it in the small jpg of the whole painting. Don't forget you can click on either image to see a larger version.

Painting for me, is all about  having fun as well as providing opportunities to engage the viewer and conveying a message. For me, castling the  king just adds to that childhood fantasy feel that I wanted to convey.

I'm still thinking about a name for this painting. I've had several ideas from friends and some of my own.

So far my favourites are:

Baby on Board
Rookie Player
Chairman of the Board

I'm really looking forward to the next part. I'm hoping to really punch the values on the king and inject some fun additional colour into the baby. fingers crossed it works.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anyone for a game of chess?

I seem to be averaging a chess piece a day. Glazing is never a quick process but I love how the shape and form  develop as you add each subsequent layer. As you can see below, I'm working on the gold pieces at the moment. I felt gold and pewter/silver pieces would add more atmosphere than  traditional black and white would have done.

I'm enjoying creating the strong lighting. I still need to add a couple more layers to get the depth and colour of each shadow on the floor but will work develop these further while I am working on the other pieces.

I'm still thinking of a suitable title for this painting. Any ideas?


Friday, November 18, 2011

Chess WIP 2

It is always a challenge to create the atmosphere of a painting, to put on paper what is inside your soul, to convey your vision. I didn't want to use the standard black and white, good versus bad version of chess, but instead to inject some subtle colour into the painting, to give it almost a surreal feel.  So I decided to create a suggestion of sky in the background with a break in the clouds lighting up the distant castled king. I also wanted another pool of light around the baby and the fallen king. It has taken many many layers of glazing but I'm pretty pleased with the effect.

Now to bringing the characters in the painting to life.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Chess WIP1

When my son was a young baby, we went to Switzerland on holiday and he was fascinated by a large chess set that was situated across the street from our hotel.  His favourite 'game' was to crawl around and  knock over the chess pieces. I thought this would be a fun idea to play with in a painting.

 I was also fascinated by this quote: "The chess board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature."
— Thomas Huxely

Life is full of beaurocracy, rules to obide by and regulations that stipulate what is the correct way for us to proceed, but… the unexpected sometimes happens, whether this be man made or natural, and life is all about dealing with these unexpected twists and turns as well as following the norm.

In my outline I  decided to use the image of Alexander knocking over the chess piece from my reference photo but instead of the usual sized chess pieces I decided to make each piece enormous and have the chess board stretching off into the distance.

as you can see the actual chess pieces I am using are only small ones. So I had to take a little liberty with perspective in my drawing.

 So why the big pieces? 

A baby is so small in the world and yet,  it has such a huge impact on the lives of the whole family. You can plan so much but the unexpected often happens. So, in my outline, all the chess pieces (the family members), have followed the rules of life (the game rules) and positioned themselves ready to reach their ultimate goal(to check mate the opposing king)  but the small baby just comes along and knocks him over.

I know I am going to have lots of fun with this one:)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spinning a Tale

I have really enjoyed painting larger and am going to do more this size. It just has much more impact visually. It was also fun to creally develop the lighting effect in this painting, light against dark and dark against light to really make the key areas pop.

The spinner woman is  not only busily spinning the freshly sheared wool but also spinning her tale of life in the pioneer times. Every spring the wool would be sheared, collected, cleaned then brought inside and spun into wool to be made into clothing and blankets to keep the families warm during the cold harsh winters. Each piece of yarn that the woman spins holds this tale deep within it... it's woven into the fabric of time.

 Here is a close up of the woman. I had a lot of fun not only developing her warm welcoming and chattery personality but also the moving parts of the wheel as it wound the newly spun wool onto the bobbin.

I hope you have enjoyed watching over the last couple of weeks as her tale has unfolded. Thanks for the company.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Progress Photo's

James was watching me paint today and decided to take some photos so I thought I’d share a couple with you. It’s a good way for you to see how big this painting of the spinner woman is. The colours on the painting are a little darker in the darker areas in real life but the following photos should give you an idea of how it is looking as well as seeing me in action.  I promise I haven't painted everything with my smallest brushes:)

 I must admit with the size of this board the painting is taped too I have been painting this from all angles, even upright on a couple occasions but mostly flat on the table turning the board around so the part I’m working on is closest to me. Luckily today I could paint the right way up but it does mean the painting is upside down for you.

 As you can see, the spinner woman keeps a very close eye on me as a paint and never stops chattering to me :) I still have some of the spinning wheel and the un-spun wool to paint but the end is now in sight. I'll post again once is finished.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP 7

I've been busy painting the folds in the apron fabric over the last few days. I'm a bit sick of red now (grin). I decided to use red for the apron as it will provide a good contrast to set off the hands. The camera really doesn't like red but I have tried my best in photoshop to get the photo looking as close to the painting as possible. Some of the subtle colours in the glazing have been lost though.

Now I am going to paint the spinning wheel. My husband pointed out to me yesterday that I had missed a vital connection between the big wheel and the smaller bobbin wheel.  Its good to have a technical person in the house. Luckily this should be an easy fix with the help of a magic eraser and some tape:)


Monday, October 31, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP 6

I have spent the last couple of days painting in the pattern on her dress and creating the folds of the fabric. I have also been working on developing the contrast between the light and shady areas. The light of the paper only becomes really bright when it is contrasted closeby with some really strong darks. I have also painted the cloth around her neck. I decided to use a contrasting colour here as it seemed to help draw attention to her face and lead our eyes down towards where her hands will be.

I have now masked around the edges of her hands so I can paint her apron.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP 5

I know many of you are keen to see my progress in this portrait. I'm really enjoying it now all the weaving is done:)

I wanted to create that late afternoon/ early evening atmosphere  so am using a mostly warm colour palette for this painting with just touches of cool to add contrast and effect. The woman's face is now basically finished. To suggest the light shining in on her from the side it was important to really develop the darks to provide a real contrast to the almost white of the light side. I am pleased with the effect.  Her face is only a small section of the whole painting so I have cropped right in for the photo so you can see it clearly. I will begin working on her clothes next.

 I have also been busy designing some brochures. Debi Watson gave me the idea. Thank you Debi. Business cards are very convenient to have with you but at shows or sales its great to have the extra space that's available in a brochure to give potential customers more information about you. So here are a couple photo's of my new brochure.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP 4

I finally finished painting the background section yesterday so today I was able to start working on the woman's face.

When I start painting a portrait I usually begin with the eyes. I guess it helps me to connect with the person. This time though I just knew I had to start with her mouth. Maybe it’s because I needed to hear her telling her tale once again.

I’m still underpinning her features and working on the light and shade on her face. I’ll add the skin tones once I have worked on her eyes, the bridge of her nose and her forehead. I can hear her encouraging me along now :)


Monday, October 24, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP 3

It's been slow going weaving this background fabric in watercolour. I've still got a small section to paint but I know from your e mails and messages that so many of you are keen to see the effect so I didn't want to keep you in suspense any longer;)

I love how, when viewed from a distance, it just looks like a simple mottled background. It isn't until you move closer that you begin to see the woven pattern, the sheep and the boy. It's just like when someone is talking. At a distance you can hear the sounds but they are all muffled. It's not till you come closer that you can hear the actual words spoken.

I'm looking forward to the point when I can remove the masking fluid and start on the woman.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP2

When I researched the work of Jules Cheret for the 'Slice of Life' book a couple years ago I fell in love with his monochromatic style of background that both told a story about his subject and added atmosphere to the painting.  I knew that one day, when the subject matter was right, I would use the essance of this style of background in a painting. It is ideal for 'Spinning a Tale' because through the background I can suggest her tale as she spins. Maybe I shouldn't have tackled one on such a BIG painting though. I've worked on it for two days now and only done one small section. Fingers crossed I speed up with practice. (click on the picture to see a larger version)

You you can see I have masked the woman and spinning wheel while I work on the background. It is such a big painting that I often have to lean over the bottom section while I paint and I wanted to keep the rest of the paper clean while I worked on this section.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spinning a Tale WIP1

There is a Pioneer village fairly close to where we live that is an absolute joy to visit. It feels as if you are entering another world as you pass through the reception area. One very hot day last summer Rebecca and I took a friend for a visit and while she was exploring the village we had enormous fun taking photographs and chatting to the volunteers. A couple in particular were wonderful to talk to, the tin man and this spinner woman.

I loved the way the sunlight from the window was creating wonderful atmospheric lighting but it was more than this that drew me to the photo. You might not be able to see from the small jpg but in the photo the spinner woman is not only busily spinning the wool but also  spinning her tale of how in the days of the pioneers sheep would be kept not only for their meat but also their wool. Every spring the wool would be sheared, collected, cleaned then brought inside and spun into wool to be made into clothing and blankets to keep the families warm during the cold harsh winters.

I thought it would be interesting to tell at least part of this woman's tale in my painting.

I am hoping to keep the lighting effect similar to the photo but to replace the background with a woolen blanket. In this blanket  I hope to creat suggestions of some of the sheep whose wool made it and a boy who is collecting the freshly sheared wool to take to his mother.

It's hard to imagine at this outline stage but I hope you can, at least begin to get the idea of what I am striving for. I just need to decide on the final crop.

I thought you might like to see the different versions that I am pondering over. Its amazing how by changing the crop you can alter the  emphasis of the whole painting. It's really worth exploring different possibilities before deciding on your final outline because, as you hopefully can see below, different crops can really change the emphasis in the message you are conveying.

The first crop I created is only slightly cropped in from my original drawing. I like the fact that it sets the scene and includes the spinning wheel as well as the woman  but I am a little concerned that her expression will be lost as it will be only a small section of the painting.

The second crop focuses more on the process of her spinning the wool but in cropping the spinning wheel becomes rather disjointed.

The third crop really focuses in on her face and hands. I love the fact that you can really see her expression but the spinning, apart from in  the very bottom section of the painting, is basically lost.

I thought about what I liked and didn't like about each of the above and then created the final crop below.  By cropping in slightly more from the first idea the expression on her face increases in importance but at the same time the act of spinning the wool as well as the story she is telling has its place too because the spinning wheel is still largely intact.

I've also adjusted the transparency of the background on this final crop to help give you more of an idea of the kind of effect I would like to create. I want the story she is telling to be almost as if it is woven into the fabric of time.

 I can now start drawing it out on the watercolour paper. I am planning to paint this quite big so will be drawing it out approximately 34 inches high by 25 inches wide:)


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Awarded PWS Signature membership

I had a wonderful time over the last few days meeting so many artists here in Pennsylvania. Thank you so much Debi for your hospitality and friendship. Yesterday was the opening of the PWS exhibition and the very special moment when I was awarded my very first signature membership

Here is the moment captured for me by John Walker. Thank you John:)

and with me beside my painting 'Identity'

It was very busy at the opening and quite difficult to wait for quiet moments to take photos but I hope the following pictures will give you a flavour of the exhibition and, if you live close enough, tempt you to go and see it in person. Click on each image to see a larger version.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to create Gallery Wrapped Watercolours... a step by step guide.

Many of you have been asking me how I create a gallery wrapped watercolour so I hope this blog entry will give you the information you need to have a try yourself. Its enormous fun and has been very popular with buyers.

First select the size of individual stretcher bars that you want for your painting. Individual stretcher bars can be purchased easily from most art retail outlets e.g. Currys, Dick Blick, Dan Smith, at a very reasonable price in many different lengths.

Assemble the individual stretcher bars together and then smooth off the corners with a file so there are no sharp edges.

Seal the wood on all sides that the paper will come into contact with using the varnish. This will prevent any chemicals from the wood affecting the paper in any way. I use a roller to apply the varnish quickly and evenly but you can use a brush if you would rather.

Cut a piece of acid free foam board exactly the same size as the stretcher bars. Use some double sided sticky tape to secure the foam board to the stretcher bars as in the photo below.

Make sure you have a staple gun ready filled with staples (you don’t want to run out half way through the process) and a large bowl of water and a brush

Cut your paper to size. I use Arches 140lb cold press.  It will need to be 4 inches bigger than the stretcher bars both in length and width for the Standard 7/8" Profile stretcher bars. This is to allow for enough paper to fold over the side of the bars and onto the back. (If you are using the deeper gallery style stretcher bars, profile approximate 1.5" depth and width, allow 6 inches extra paper.)  On the back of the paper mark a line two inches in on each edge for the standard 7/8 profile stretcher and 3 inches for the gallery style’. This will give you a guide for where to place the stretcher frame once your paper is soaked.

Stretch your paper. Many people stretch the paper in a bathtub or sink. I simply create a puddle of water on a table that my paper sits in for about 5 -10 minutes. If you choose this method simply choose an appropriate surface to work on and then pour the water on the front of your painting. Use the brush to evenly spread the water around. After a couple of minutes carefully turn the paper over and wet on the other side. Your paper should now be standing in a pool of water. Let it soak there for a further 5 minutes.

Place the stretcher frame on top of the paper lining it up with your markings. Because the paper has stretched the rectangle you created on the back will be slightly larger than your frame so just place the frame evenly within these guideline markers. Fold over the two long sides and secure in the middle with a staple.

Repeat with the short sides. This will just help to avoid uneven stretching of the paper. When you fold the edges over pull tightly but don’t over pull (the paper will shrink during the drying process and do the tightening for you)

Generously staple along both long sides

Carefully remove the staple on one of the short sides and fold the edges as in the photo below

Fold over and staple the short edge.

Repeat the above folding and stapling steps with the other short side.

Alternatively you can make a small cut in the paper and fold as shown in the photo below

Then staple the side as before.

Once all sides are stapled turn the ‘canvas’ over and use some paper towel to soak up any excess water.

Remove the paper towel and leave your ‘canvas’ for 24 hours to completely dry before painting.
Then have fun. You will have all the joy of painting on the paper you love that behaves as you expect it but the finished look of a canvas without the need to mat and frame under glass or acrylic. Don’t forget to paint the sides too for that real gallery wrapped effect.

Once you have finished your painting and the paper is completely dry, fix the painting with a fixative such as Prismacolor fixative and allow to dry as per instructions on the can. (make sure you use well ventilated room for this or preferably fix outside as the fumes from the fixative as very overpowering)

Then varnish the paper with an acrylic varnish such as liquitex satin varnish. You usually need to apply about 2 or 3 coats of varnish to create a smooth varnished look.

Once dry you are now ready to hang your painting. Or alternatively you can frame the painting using a canvas floater frame.

Have fun and please don't forget to share any gallery wrappped paintings you do this way with me. I would love to see them!