On sketching flowers

Date : 04/05/2019
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Sunday flowers 3 Clematis
Sunday flowers 3 Clematis
Sunday flowers 7 Small chrysanthemums
Sunday flowers 7 Small chrysanthemums
Sunday flowers 6 Mimosa
Sunday flowers 6 Mimosa

THE SUNDAY FLOWER SERIES

This year I do a botanical sketch project, called Sunday Flowers. Every weekend I make a quick watercolour sketch of a live flower.

I work on a very rough handmade paper from India, made of recycled cotton fibre. A bunch of large sheets have been cut into squares of 25×25 cm (10×10″) and are piled up on a shelf.

By the end of year there will be 52 and then we’ll see what I shall do with them! Fill a wall? Have an exhibition? Make a calender? Lots of options!

With a dark mix of indanthrene blue and sepia I do the quick drawing. I use Chinese brushes – a thin one for lining up delicate shapes and a bit larger one for twigs and such. Also for shading and adding some colour. Colour is often just leftovers from my palettes.

A sketch like this takes not more than ten to fifteen minutes, plus five more to add colour after the first drawing is dry. It is all about putting down an immediate impression.

One learns a lot about plants, plus trains the eye-to-hand skill, necessary for artwork. It is very enjoyable to do, I love it! 

Sunday flowers 11 Hellebore
Sunday flowers 11 Hellebore
Sunday flowers 12 Carnations
Sunday flowers 12 Carnations
Sunday flowers 16 Violet
Sunday flowers 16 Violet

I find it an excellent way to get to know different plant shapes, different species’ characteristic features. I try to be botanically true to the flower, thus using some time first just to explore it with my eyes.

How do the leaves attach to the stem? How do the veins display on the leaf surface? How are petals attached, how many? After studying, I just go along with the brush.

This quick rough study also allows me to catch the movement in the plant. All plants, all living things move, even if so slow we can’t see it. Plants dance! I try to see their specific gestures, coming from inside of them.

Here is a selection of my Sunday Flowers, so far. I post every Sunday on my Facebook profile and Instagram, so follow me there if you wish!

Sunday flowers 17 Marsh marigold
Sunday flowers 17 Marsh marigold
Sunday flowers 18 Horse chestnut, painted in Fabriano, Italy
Sunday flowers 18 Horse chestnut, painted in Fabriano, Italy
Sunday flowers 19 Wild cherry
Sunday flowers 19 Wild cherry

On room for dreams

Date : 01/01/2019
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I have not been posting for a very long while!

This autumn has been full of big changes and it takes time to adjust. The changes have been consious decisions and all is good. I have moved to Sweden again after seven years in Denmark and now live in the pictoresque, historical town Vadstena. Note, I say moving again and not moving back, since you never can go back… Time and life goes forward and all is new, if you want it to.

This blog post is about the first painting I have made since August. Now a new year is here! I call the work Room for Dreams.

It is about the important choices we can make, as artists, in order to create what we want. But – it also goes for everyone, artist or not. Decisions, big or small… This is how life itself works – small but important decisions will change your life, in the direction of your dreams, if you wish…

We need to dream and wish… but then to allow them to give us the power to make changes happen to aline us with them. That is an act of will power and if not used, the dreams can become negative, making us victims and low in spirit. It is a question of consiously aligning dreams with reality, or letting them separate us from it. Both dreams and reality exist in the flow of time, tangible or not. Yet. Working with my latest painting Room for Dreams has given room for thoughts. The title works on three planes (or more?): the actual subject as a picture from someone’s dream, also showing a place and atmosphere to sit and dream away and it is a metaphor for dreaming as such. It also shows the forest and what once was made from it (chair, window, door…), thus transformation by will force and conscious decisions.

Room for dreams. 37x35 cm (14,8x14") dec. 2018. 350€

Room for Dreams 38×35 cm (14,8×14″)

On a walk in the forest on a hot summer’s day, I walked by an old cottage, a place that seemed to be somehow looked after, but at the same time abandoned. So I stepped up close to peek through the window. It was beautiful and so tranquil inside, as if time had stopped some seventy years ago. I wanted a photo of the interior but it was impossible because of the strong reflections on the glass from the sunny forest behind. I took a photo anyway, just for my memory. Now, in mid winter, I found it and was drawn to it. This could be used as painting subject! I cropped it to make a nice composition and then started to think of how I could technically go about it.

This kind of subject is not just to splash around – it needs some time for studying and making decisions on colours, on layers, on techniques. My way of painting is often that way and I like the combination of analysis and spontaneity. I think and then I let go, like a breathing through the work, step by step.

Here the important thing was to create a dreamy atmosphere, thus keeping it high key, soft and harmonious. The main decisions needed to be about colour scheme and how and where to create contrast (focus) in such a picture, so that it could become interesting and not just flat.

Room for dreams, first layers.

Room for Dreams, first layers. The bottom part was cropped by the end, because I  didn’t succeed in creating what I wanted.

The two colours where to be green and warm brown, with lots of grey shades mixed by them. The colours should not be shouting out loud, but stay back in the story, just creating atmosphere. The greens should be light and rather bright. I used lemon yellow and ultramarine blue. I was not keen on granulations here, but by keeping the washes very thin, I avoided that tendency from the blue pigment. Also very little was used, to keep the colour light. Cobalt blue is brighter, but I find it a bit dull and too compact for the purpose here. I toned the greens down by adding a little permanent rose or alizarin.

The warm brown was mixed of yellow ochre, alizarin crimson and a little burnt umber. During the painting process I dipped my brush also into some other pigments, but these were the main one’s.

I added some very little blue for the table cloth to create interest. I used a thin phtalo blue red shade and then a purple mix of ultramarine and alizarin. It is a very small area, but important, since it was standing out from all the rest.

I decided not to use masking fluid for preserving whites, to avoid too many sharp ‘undreamy’ shapes in the forest and painted those parts more with dabbing and softening and layering instead. It was tricky, but should not have detail or focus, so it helped.

I payed attention to the very bright area of the window. It was the only part I drew with pencil in the beginning. This was where the strong contrasts should be and I slowly added to the shapes until satisfied, keeping the overall picture in mind and that the edges where not too sharp, nor too soft.

I belive this kind of work could have been painted in a more realistic way and by completing an area at a time, but then it would probably not give the strong dreamy feeling.

The overall look is warm, since this is about good dreams and not nightmares. Therefore I payed much attention to the grey mixes, to keep them warm. I do love mixing greys! So little makes big changes, warm or cold, light or dark, reddish, greenish, blueish… all small shifts make an impact.


On reflections and surfaces

Date : 19/06/2018
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Reflections on water… isn’t it mesmerizing?

I want to paint them in watercolour, but it is not the easiest thing. Recently I created ‘Decorated’ surface’ and here I share some thoughts and experiences. The title being double, pointing to both water and paper.

A painting like this is built up with many layers of rather thin and transparent paints. Working this way, with time for drying in between layers, leaves room for reflections in my mind.

So – what is a surface?

A regular in my philosophical mind… I have come to the conclusion, that absolutely most of what we percieve with our eyes and touch, are three dimensional. They are ‘things’. Exceptions are surface and also shadow. They only have two dimensions. 

Natural science try to look into all things possible and do so with brilliance, revealing to us so much fascinating and important phenomenons and facts. But still – it remains on the surface and never penetrates beyond it. It only comes to new surfaces and new and new… we finally end up in metaphysics.

A water surface has no thickness! It shows us the boundary between different densities. When the air is also full of water, the surface diffuses… Air is in fact diluted water, isn’t it? It seems ‘surface’ is something that shows a border between different densities of matter. The larger difference, the most perceivable is the surface.

A fascinating thing with water surfaces in nature is to see how quick and immediate its conversation with the air is. Also showing how they are so closely related. With the movements of air, the surface plays and creates constantly changing patterns. We try to hold it, freeze it, but we can’t! Photography gives us the opportunity to freeze that constant movement. Still it is tricky…

Then, how to paint it? How to translate and transform the impression into a static picture on a flat, two dimensional paper surface? Well, we do as best we can. I love studying how others do it, so brilliantly. I am a beginner at this, but want to learn, so I watch and experiment.

In this watercolour I used different techniques. All painting is about catching the light. In watercolour we need to think backwards and decide in advance where the light shall be in the final painting, since the paints are more or less transparent and painting a light colour over a dark obviously doesn’t work.

Before starting

I study the subject, being live or a photo, carefully for as long time as it takes, until I stop seeing what it ‘is’ and everything just becomes shapes and lines. Scaling down to two dimensions only. Then I look for the underlying colours. Often there are some very few, or even just one, colour in the bottom, creating coherence and unity and harmony in the subject. Probably something I notice unconsciously when I get hooked on a subject, but then have to become conscious of in order to paint it.

Decorated surface, wip 1

First washes and adding some masking fluid. Barely visible here, since this brand, Sennelier, is turquoise in colour

Decorated surface, wip 2.

Adding greens and some lemon yellow, working wet on wet, wet on dry and dry on dry, with a light touch of the brush. The structure of the paper helps!

Decorated surface, wip 3

The right side left, ready to paint greens over the grey underpainting, to unify the shadowy part. All wip (work in progress) photos are too blueish, because of photo quality, sorry!

First washes

A thin light mainly cobalt blue wash was painted on wet paper with a broad brush over the whole sheet. Very thin at the top, for it not to turn too dark, when yellows and greens should be put on top. When still wet I added a thin and very bright yellowish green mix on the top part, fading down into the blue towards the bottom. I was not sure where that meeting edges were to be, didn’t plan that in advance, so I was careful not to get green onto blue, where only blue should show in the end.

When totally dry, I added masking fluid on detail parts that I wanted to keep crisp bright in the darker greens. I tried out a new brand, Sennelier, a bottle with a fine tip to place it with. I found it very tricky and hard to handle, because it was so liquid and too much ran out, hard to manouver. Also, it said to shake the bottle before use, stupid thing! Because it creates bubbles, that comes out on the paper! Everywhere else, it is said not to shake the bottle. Why didn’t I think… Otherwise a good medium, I shall just learn to handle it. The amazing Thierry Duval uses it all the time, so if he can, I can too…

Then I started to draw, with an hb pencil, the shapes of the dark ripples on the light blue water towards the bottom of the sheet. That was the only drawing I made.

Mixing greens

I mixed four different greens: one bright yellowish, with lemon yellow and very little cobalt blue. One green green, with the same yellow, but a darker blue, ultramarine. A darker with the same yellow, but also quinacridone gold and indantrene blue. The darkest and coolest with quin. gold, indantrene blue, some very little phtalo blue green shade. To all mixes, to tone them down to more natural shades, I added raw umber, in different portions. Raw umber is a bit greenish in itself and helps the mix stay green. If you use burnt umber, which is more red, you easily get a grey mix, instead of green. Also sometimes I added a very little hint of permanent rose, to shift some shades towards brown, mostly used on the right part of the sheet. Indantrene blue is a bit greenish in itself. It is very transparent and I love it, but it dries much more light and dull, than it looks when wet and thus is a bit hard to handle.

My palettes, paint tubes and chinese brushes - my very good friends!

Here are my friends, how helped me with this piece: My palettes, chinese brushes and Sennelier watercolour paints in tube. Missing is Permanent rose (W&N) and the broad hake brush, already hanging to dry.

Decorative surface. 35x50 cm (14x20") on Arches fine grain 300gsm 2018. In juried internet exhibition NAS (Nordic Watercolour Society, nov. 2018. 500€

Decorated surface 35×55 cm (14×20″), this is how it really looks. I did warm all up with very thin and quick glaze of quinacridone yellow, though, at the end. See it also here.

Just go on…

The tricky thing, that I need to study more, is the transition between light ripples on dark and dark ripples on light! So on to the next one… Every painting I do is an experiment and a learning. That is the energy that drives me. Once finished, I put them aside. No framed paintings in my home… Just go on, go on… I guess defines my character.

Your experiences on greens?

This with mixing greens… many seem to find greens difficult. One shall learn by experience, how the pigments mix together.

Comments are welcome!


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