Afraid of the Dark

‘Don’t be afraid of the dark’

I realise that my growing need for learning to create more light in my tentative paintings requires adding more moody darks to my artistic endeavours – I seem to shy away from applying truly dark colours, afraid of muddying the waters too much, and yet I can also see it it is only in the dramatic juxtaposition of strongest dark next to softest light that the true luminescence of water-colour painting appears… 🙂

One Liner Wednesday


Painting Portraits

I was going to say I’ve never personally painted a portrait before, but realise that’s not quite true.

One of our projects in art class at school forty-something years ago was to sit in front of a mirror and draw ourselves in pencil. I didn’t really do all that well with that task, I looked serious and uncomfortable and my face turned out a bit wonky, especially my eyes. And once later on as an adult I tried to draw myself from a photograph, and admittedly that one turned out a little better, but it was still not a great likeness.

Recently I’ve been dipping in and out of re-runs of an hour-long TV programme on Sky Arts called ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ that seems to cover random episodes of the competition over several different years, and I’ve found it really fascinating to watch.

The basic premise of each show seems to be that nine individual artists produce a self-portrait beforehand in their own time, and then all together in real time each produce a portrait drawn from a previously unidentified life model in only four hours. There are three celebrity sitters for each show, so three of the nine artists each create a portrait of one of the three sitters.

At the end of the four hours, each sitter views the three portraits of themselves and chooses their favourite to take home with them. Most of the portraits are very different in composition and style, some are more realisitic and others more abstract, some are rather standard in their view and some are spectacular in their unusual approach to colour and technique.

To my surprise, oftentimes the sitter chooses not the most obviously realistic photographic representation of self, but instead they prefer those portraits that seem to spark an alternative vision of the sitter, or manage to capture something more than the general public view hidden within their personality.

Afterwards, and independently of the sitters’ preferences, the judges shortlist three out of the nine artists, and by the end of the programme finally whittle it down to only one artists to go forward in the competition. The judges look at both the artist’s self-portrait and also the newly-completed portrait of the celebrity life sitter before deciding on who should be the winner on the day.

There are eight heats each series, the winners of which go forward to the semi-final where it seems they all paint the same sitter at the same time. From the semi-final three artists go forward to the final, where each are given a commissioned painting to produce. The overall winner for that year then receives a paid commission to paint a well-known figure for a well-known public space.

Anyway, the point of explaining all of this is that I’ve become really intrigued over the last few weeks by watching the many different ways all the different artists approach completing their portraits – they all use different sized paper, board or canvas, all prefer different mediums, and have different ways of working, and all produce very different results.

Some I liked very much, and some I thought were pretty disappointing on the day – but it’s got me thinking, if I were to try to do a self portrait now, how would that experience be for me? Where would I start? What medium would I use? How would I choose to portray myself, and how could I go about capturing that feeling on paper?

I’ve actually had my portrait painted before, in oils a good fifty years ago – by my mum, who used to be an art teacher before she got married. I still have it here in the house, a head and shoulders portrait showing a serious-looking seven-year old in a scratchy yellow dress. I remember sitting for the painting, perched on a high stool in the kitchen, trying hard not to fidget too much and failing miserably…

I recently, tentatively, took up painting again (only in August this year) so am still on a very steep learning-curve and am still struggling with it all, but I’m wondering if I might try a proper self-portrait now just to see how I get on?

Start with a drawing or two at different angles, then maybe experiment with a colour study or two in different styles – I mean, if I’m painting myself and mess it up, at least there’s nobody else to offend or upset. And I’ll always be around to try again, no matter how many times I fail – a constant and familiar muse, I suppose?

But the thing is, watching these multiple artists as they decide how to make their mark on portraiture has really inspired me to give it a go myself. It’s really helping me to understand in a way I haven’t really seen before that painting is not at all like representational photography, it really is a completely different kind of artistic creative story-telling that can be as fantastical and magical as you choose it to be…

What can I say… Watch this space, and sooner or later I might just surprise us all! 🙂

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Spectacular

Cypress Swamp in Watercolour

What with one thing or another, a whole month had flown by with no attempt at painting anything at all, so the other day I decided to try to create a very different landscape to my usual Scottish highland views.

This is my very loose, abstract take on a small segment of cypress swamp from my recent trip to visit my in-laws in Louisiana. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a start to getting back into playing with watercolours again… 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Segment

Digital Colour Corrections

Sometimes I find it frustrating that my watercolour paintings (including this abstract leaf print) always dry so much paler (and less vibrant) than I might like, but luckily with easy digital manipulation I’ve discovered I can visually ‘correct’ the colour when photographing and saving it as a digital image!

Here is the original painting before and after whacking up both the contrast and saturation by 30 (whatever that numerical value represents!) – I’d wanted it to feel like a bright explosion of colour, not a dull disappointment… 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Before

Rejuvenation: Learning to Play Again

I’ve been thinking recently that my blog is in need of some rejuvenation.

But the more I thought about it I realised that as my blog tends to follow whatever is going on for me in my life at any given time, it’s more likely that it’s my life that needs some rejuvenation – or more to the point, me. Truth be told I’ve been feeling old and boring and tired and thoroughly fed up with life…

I guess the Covid pandemic slowed us all down to some extent, whether just through a succession of lock-downs and restrictions or like with me, also getting sick with it and finding its long-term symptoms frustratingly reluctant to go away. Oh, and about a year ago I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right hip, so as well as ongoing Covid fatigue the arthritis has affected my mobility more than I like. As a result, indoor activities have taken precedence nowadays over gadding about here there and everywhere.

So lately I’ve been playing around with paints – with water-colour paints in particular – in an attempt to get a bit more creative again. So far I’ve mainly been painting landscapes and plants, with varying levels of success. To be clear I’m not ever aiming towards creating intricate, accurate botanical colour studies or detailed photographic replicas of my chosen subjects, but instead I’m trying to learn to paint loosely, recreating a more abstract visual ‘feel’ of the thing.

Basically I’m experimenting loads, messing about, mixing things up, finding what works for me and what doesn’t, and this week’s exploration of different ways of putting paint on paper comes courtesy of random garden leaves – I’ve been painting onto the backs of the leaves and printing them directly onto paper. It’s enjoyable to do, but is a messy business.

Playing around and experimenting with things like this feels such fun – it feels like it’s impossible to remain neat and tidy and fully in control of the outcome. Even getting as much paint on myself as on the paper is fun, quite liberating actually. And hopefully it will prove to be rejuvenating, too… 🙂

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Rejuvenate

Rudbekia in Watercolour

Still practicing my water-colour painting, still playing about with exploring different ways of representing my world on paper, still not quite there yet in finding my own style… But at least I’m still having fun trying… 🙂

Like Herding Cats

I never like feeling like a beginner at anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’m always emotionally uncomfortable at the feeling of not really knowing what I’m doing. There’s always an internal, infernal life-long feeling of not-good-enough-ness nagging away in the background, mocking my nascent efforts.

So here I am determinedly picking up water-colour painting in my later years, struggling to find my own way with what feels like such an unforgiving medium. It seems like there is simply nowhere to hide with water-colours, the promise of beautiful luminous transparency and fluidity that attracts me so strongly to it is also its biggest bug-bear for a control-freak like me.

I watch myriad tutorials on YouTube and try to replicate the wonderful loose light-touch techniques I see online, feeling initially motivated and inspired, but somewhere along the line it all regularly gets lost in translation. It feels to me like I’m painting with will-o-the-wisp water, chasing out-of-control colours careering across the paper, a bit like herding cats.

But still I persevere in the hope that one day I will stop feeling like a beginner so completely out of my depth. I’ll learn to love the way the water flows so unpredictably, stop fretting and fussing over it and worrying it to death, and learn to go with the flow. I’ll learn to lay the paint on the paper cleanly and clearly then leave it alone to do its own thing.

I’ll learn that less is more, let go of any real semblance of control and eagerly embrace whole-heartedly whatever creative outcome will be ❤

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Beginner