On My Desk

owls progress

Despite flirting with the acrylics last week, I am back into watercolour and watercolour pencil. Some things you just can’t fight. That’s what the owls seem to want, and if I am honest it’s what I want too.

When I have completed the first set I’ll come back in with pen around the main characters, but my main focus for this book will be on colour and action.

I am very happy with the Fabriano 4 drawing paper. If it were just a little heavier I would prefer it to Bristol Board. It is holding enough water to suit my needs, but in some ways with the smooth and sealed drawing surface (instead of using an absorbent watercolour paper) the watercolours are behaving more like acrylics. I’m happy with that.

Play Time

Today (after a tidy-up in the studio) I assembled all my pages and sketched a few more little owls fluttering their way up and down the tree. In the sorting of the storage area (not quite chaos) I found the remains of a block of drawing paper I had used for preliminary sketches for clients wanting a fresco in their ancient house some years ago. The paper is Fabriano 4, 220gsm smooth, and is about the weight I need; I have run out of the Bristol Board I was using in New Zealand. I thought I would try it with some Derivan Flow acrylic.

blog loosen up post

This isn’t an illustration for the book, but it was a couple of minutes of play time, exploring how much paint and water this paper will take, and loosening up my hand after some intense concentration in smaller, more detailed works. I think that the paper is going to be perfect for the light-weight acrylics, provided I drop my brush size down just a little to match. It doesn’t cockle (warp or wrinkle as it swells with the water) unless I use a very watery wash, and the acrylic slips and slides wonderfully on the surface. Best of all, it is available in my village, a two kilometer wander along the side of this beautiful mountain.

Can I build up an atmospheric background without it wrinkling too? Onwards…

Which Medium? (part two)

Painting and book illustration, while related, are two quite different ways of thinking, and my approach to each is different. But even within the illustration work I am using different approaches, alternatively watching my choices and immersing myself in the joy of painting and drawing.

Danish author/illustrator Danish Henrik Drescher says “My books grow out of visual concepts. I ‘build’ the book as a picture book and apply the words last. I use whatever materials I need to express my ideas.” (Pg 47 Children’s Book Illustration and Design edited by Julie Cummins 1992, PBC international Inc, New York). I think that is an exciting approach, and maybe when I have finished the increasing number of books in my diary I can try that too. For now I am more a painter/writer turned illustrator and in creating the images take a mixture of approaches.

With the owl series the words came in prose. Some of them popped themselves into verse. Some images arrived with the text, and some images are still evolving. It’s little surprise that my family of owls is proving to be quite troublesome. It’s not because of Fluff and Scuff’s mischievous adventures; I can create them scampering up and down the tree without too much trouble. But I really would like to paint them in watercolour, and despite my best efforts they keep evolving into pen and wash or mixed media. I am being pulled towards acrylics too.

So what are the advantages of one medium over another? Watercolour can be fast, although I like to work with many washes which does slow the process down. Watercolour is a surprisingly expensive option, as each storybook has approximately 25 illustrations, and each sheet of watercolour paper is an invisible expense. Illustrations are usually created larger than the actual book page size.

Michelle and the Bumblebee was illustrated on 300gsm watercolour paper, on this occasion using cold-press rough. When Mum Fell Asleep in the Bath is on Bristol board, which is for graphic design but which will take a limited amount of water without the paper cockling (buckling). The Lost Happy illustrations are on cartridge paper, but will be reprinted onto a different more absorbent paper so that I can colour them at my leisure and release a hard-cover, coloured edition some time in the future.

I started the owl series of illustrations on 300gsm hot press smooth watercolour paper, my most expensive option. It was a thoughtful, reflective process as I created the characters, using many washes and building them up slowly. It is my favourite weight to work on, and that was the paper I had on hand at the time. I will change to a lighter-weight watercolour paper as I wont need to use so much water, and a cold press rough will give me some texture. I can add acrylic paint to it if I choose, provided that the paper is at least 240gsm. The acrylics I have chosen are Derivan Flow, as these are highly compatible with watercolour.

So the paper choice is made. The mixed media option has selected itself. Now to the dominant colours. Children’s books give absolute freedom of choice. I think I will clear off my desk, select a bright and happy palette, put the pens, ink blocks and acrylics aside, and get ready to start again in watercolour. I don’t want my drawings to be too tight. As the owls come down from the tree a more spontaneous, brighter, energetic look is called for. Tomorrow is a painting day. It will be fun!

Which Medium? (part one)

Every time I return to painting in watercolour after using other media it is almost a home-coming. It is my favourite medium by far. So, I ask myself, why do I ever use anything else? Why can’t I choose watercolour for every work, and simply not move away from it?

My work as an artist demands that I respond to my clients’ requests for portraits, landscapes, gifts for anniversaries. In rural Italy that is usually a request for traditional oil paintings. The climate here, and tradition, mean that watercolours are less popular.

Occasionally I bravely give away all my acrylics and oils, claiming my space in the water colour world. A commission always takes me back to oils and acrylics. Acrylics are essential for under-painting in the winter, as oil takes too long to dry in my ancient stone house with small windows.

a fb arce ptg

Acrylic plein air painting of a rural hillside town in Italy, started in a group excursion and completed at home in the studio.

My styles change but my hand remains the same; I like a primary palette and I prefer to give the viewer access to my work by at least a part of it being easily recognisable.

My ventures towards abstract are most successful in watercolour, as I love to push the boundaries of water. This work (watercolour on 300gsm hot press smooth) is neither strictly abstract nor in a primary palette, but it does show the difference in the styles I have used to achieve the result I want. wc_washyWhy do I love watercolour so much? Maybe it is for at least some of these reasons: It is challenging, unpredictable at times, and allows me to push boundaries. It demands that I sit peacefully, reflectively, and enjoy the process. It can sooth, inspire, excite and thrill all in one session.

On a practical level, it is portable, watercolour works are easy to store, and the paint doesn’t ruin my clothes. Acrylics and oils somehow jump off my brush or palette and onto my clothes even when I am being super-careful, or when I forget that I haven’t changed into studio garb and want to make ‘just one more’ tiny alteration. (Can you guess who has ruined her vest, a sweatshirt, and two pairs of jeans in the last month?)