Hearts Alight

I often design licensed artwork for clients on a work for hire basis. Contributing to a variety of collective projects, creating surface prints and patterns for an assortment of different products and apparel. However recently I have been pondering on the idea of creating my own print collections.

Using Adobe Illustrator I rendered my watercolour sacred hearts into vectors and created this mini collection. With a valentine themed greeting card as the hero design and three supporting repeat patterns. 

‘Hearts Alight’ Collection

Flaming Hearts

The Sacred heart is a symbol of devotion in Roman Catholic religion, representing the divine love of Jesus for mankind. It symbology is very popular in Mexico.  Artisans craft ornate trinkets from wood and metal, decorating them in colourful folk art and religious iconography. 

Inspired by their bright and bold colours, my interpretation of these delightful little treasures is a reminder to always follow my own heart. 

Floral Fever

Watercolours…forgive me, it’s been 3 weeks since my last session. Actually finding the time to execute a daily art practice of traditional mediums is not as simple as I first imagined. Partly because once I start, I don’t want to stop. 

Yesterday’s intention of painting for only one hour, quickly morphed into the whole day. Chores were neglected, work postponed and the world outside my studio was completely disregarded.

Inspired by a friend’s beautiful country garden, which I visited at the weekend for an engagement celebration, I thought I would try florals. Not a subject I would usually choose, in fact I have kind of avoided drawing flowers. Not entirely sure why, considering how much pleasure I derived from yesterday’s undertakings. 

I will have to suffer the consequences of such self indulgence today of corse, but it was worth it. I feel strangely refreshed and energised, ready for whatever the day entails. 

Lets Dress Up

Taking my cat illustrations a step further, I though it would be fun to dress them up and accessorise them depending on their behaviour.  

Hapless Harry spends hours sitting by the pond in his owners garden, just staring at the fish. His little head bobs round and round as he watches them circling the small raised water feature. Quite happy just observing, never attempting to snag its occupants.

Hapless Harry

Irritable Issac’s owner is a French Canadian musician, who enjoys a daily bike ride. He waves goodbye to the bad tempered cat as he cycles off down the street each morning. I often wonder if it is his absence that makes Issac so moody, or does the cat just long for a ride in the basket of his owners vintage bike. 

Irritable Issac

Pretty Pepper adores lying on the warm bonnets of recently run neighbourhood cars. Favouring those that have been freshly parked, leisurely swapping from one to the next, up and down the road all day. 

Pretty Pepper

Audacious Audrey spends all day following the sun around my garden. And she doesn’t even live here.

Audacious Audrey 

Neighbourhood Cats

I have been off the creative grid for a couple of weeks whilst my French cousin has been in the UK. We have had a lovely time visiting local landmarks and attractions and spending time with family. 

Feeling rather uninspired I decided to take a Skillshare class. Most of my spare time has been spent playing around with watercolours lately and I wanted to try something new digitally.  

Illustration in Photoshop: ‘Professional work from your sketches’, by licensed artist and illustrator Anne Bollman was my lesson of choice. Ann asks the class to draw their pet using various photoshop practises.

Until this class I have been using the photoshop pen tool to redraw the solid shapes in my illustrations, following the lines of my scanned sketches as a guide. However I have always been a little unsatisfied with the results. Preferring a more hand drawn look instead, but unable to recreate it. 

Ann demonstrates a technique of drawing shapes with a brush tool, then selecting outside your line with the magic wand, inverting the selection and then adding a solid colour fill. Producing a hand drawn shape. And the results feel much more like how one would draw on paper. 

My cat Boo

One evening last winter there was a terrible storm. Hail and sleet battered the window frames and howling winds tore down the garden fence. My son and I were curled up on the sofa under thick blankets watching a movie, when we heard a meow at the front door. Our cat Bruce had gone missing 3 years previous and for a split second, we both thought he was back. 

What met us at the door was actually a sopping wet, bedraggled black and white kitty. And she has been here ever since. Her name is Boo, on account of her surprise arrival. 

Having enjoyed using this new approach so much I couldn’t stop at just one moggy. So I would like to introduce you to my neighbourhood cats. Over the years we have given them all nick names, depicting their individual character traits. 

Purple Passion

The next logical step in my watercolour analysis was to mix red with blue. Starting with crimson red.

Now…. I of course knew mixing red with blue produced purple, but I was surprised at how many different tints and shades were possible. I started to see the colour in a whole new light. 

Although purple has regal and spiritual connotations in our society and its history, it is a colour I have always associated with old age. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, purple rinse hair was popular with the older generation. Hospitals, doctors surgeries and care homes were painted lilac. And lavender scented products were a favourite gift to grandparents. 

The almost fossilised purple and white VW camper van that sat in the drive of my fathers house didn’t do much to elevate my impressions of this interesting hue either. That ridiculously old vehicle broke down more than it ran and didn’t go above 50 miles an hour. 

Today I am seeing purple as if for the first time, with a fresh new perspective. 

Crimson and ultramarine blue
Crimson red and phthalo blue
Crimson red and french ultramarine blue
Crimson red and cerulean blue

Put on Red Shoes and Dance the Blues

The colour red has quite a history, dating as far back as neolithic times. The prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, southwestern France, are full of it. The Aztec’s of Mexico were the first to produce vibrant red fabric dye. The Romans associated it with courage and adorned their gladiators in it. Charles the Great, the medieval emperor of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, painted his palace red as a visible symbol of his authority. And ancient Chinese philosophers believed it could elevate confidence, vivacity and luck. 

I wanted to compare the three watercolour reds I have. First up was vermilion red.

Vermilion red
Crimson red
Brilliant red

Mix and Match

My foliage paint colour journey continues with an exploration of phthalo blue mixed with yellow ochre.

I am finding this new path of investigation rather soothing and could quite happily play all evening. Often getting lost in the gentle swish of the brush and tranquil swirl of the water, forgetting the concept of time completely. Before I know it, the clock has struck twelve and I’m about to risk looking like a middle aged, over ripe pumpkin tomorrow. Time for bed! 

Phthalo Blue + Yellow Ochre

Lemon yellow and phthalo blue this time. I tried a different brush, thicker more rounded than the fine tipped water brush I’ve been using. Not sure I like it.

Phthalo blue + Lemon Yellow

And to finish a mix of medium yellow and phthalo blue. I used some metallic watercolour brush pens to add the detail. A recent gift from my sons. If only the tip were a little finer. 

Phthalo Blue + Medium Yellow

Seeing them side by side, my minds eye is already using the different shades for future illustrations.

Mixing Maddness

I was tempted to buy new paints today. The allure of something shiny and new pulled at my consciousness like a toddler tugging on its mother’s apron strings. Hang on, I said to myself. Get to know the paint you have first. Apprehension has held back my usual desire to experiment. Reaching for the pre-mixed tubes or blocks has become a matter of course of late. Time to try creating my own colours.

Foliage seemed a good subject for a colour investigation. The endless assortment of tints and shades to inspire is mind boggling.  

I added varying amounts of ultramarine blue to yellow ochre in this first study.

Ultramarine Blue + Yellow Ochre

For these leaves I used lemon yellow and ultramarine blue.

Ultramarine Blue + Lemon Yellow

Finishing off todays observations with a mix of medium yellow and yes you guessed it……ultramarine blue.

Ultramarine Blue + Medium Yellow

So many different colours with only four hues. I’m falling in love with watercolour. 

Cup Cake Anyone?

cupcake watercolour illustrations

The local gym my mother attends regularly holds fund raising events, to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. This week there was a homemade cake stall. Imagine my delight when she turned up with a plateful. Seemed rude not to illustrate them. After all, confectionary has been a bit of a running theme for me lately. I could not waste the opportunity to draw from life instead of reference.

Layering Leaves

layered tropical leaves painted in watercolour

I tried a different style of painting today. No outlines! Instead painting inside the pencil lines, then rubbing them away once dry. Rather than adding tone and definition with the glazing technique, I experimented with overpainting. Arranging the leaves on top of one another, waiting for each to dry before painting the next. Resulting in a transparent layered effect, that previously I have only ever created digitally. 

Painting a larger surface area has highlighted my crude application. It is rather uneven and patchy. Perhaps I need to use a bigger brush. Or maybe the inconsistency of the results is what makes watercolours so unique and I just need to lighten up. 

Mask it Out

selection of cacti watercolour
Don’t Stand so Close to Me

I tried masking fluid for the first time today. Wow…. Love it! However, I do need to get a silicon brush. Ordinary brushes get clocked up with dry fluid, making the tip gloopy and uneven. So you lose some of the precision.

Doughnut Disturb

The one thing I quickly learnt about watercolour is, you need a plan. Colours must be chosen in advance, as the paint needs to be wet and ready to apply. The light direction has to be determined, so highlighted areas are not painted and will show in the finished artwork. And time needs to be set aside for the paint to dry between applications. When working digitally, colours and highlights are something I experiment with. And changes are instant. Sometimes I start a piece I have sketched with no idea of the colour palette. There are no do-overs with watercolour, what you put down, stays down. No ‘control z’ if you make a mistake. 

water colour chocolate and pink donuts

Trying to master chocolate, experimenting with different colour browns in today’s watercolour illustration. 

Chocolate with Everything

I probably eat chocolate four, five times a week. Wow! I hear the health conscious cry, that can not be good. And it is probably not. However, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that regularly eating small amounts of chocolate could actually reduce the risks of heart disease. Well, if that’s not a good enough excuse I don’t know what is. Just need to take on board ‘small amounts’ and I’ll be fit as a fiddle. If only!

Here’s is my attempt at watercolour chocolate cakes.

selection of watercolour chocolate cake illustrations

I found it challenging to produce a smooth finish on the chocolate, both the matt and gloss versions. Although I am rather pleased with how cookie and brownie turned out. Almost good enough to eat.

Tea Break

I am not the biggest fan of biscuits, they are too dry for my particular palette. However, add a cup of tea and things change. Dunking biscuits in hot tea is a sweet British treat. Judging when the biscuit has retained enough liquid to be soft, yet not so much that you lose haft to the teacup, is as much of a delight as eating the biscuit itself. 

I find it difficult to trust the watercolour paint. I am not used to having to wait for the results, so have a tendency to over glaze. 

All Butter and No Waistline

I have the sweetest tooth and continental pastries are a particular vice. Living close to three stores that sell fresh baked goods is precarious for my waistline. I can’t resist their wondrous variety of fillings and topping. And the way their buttery pastry melts in my mouth. Hmmm yum yum. 

I used a different watercolour technique, called glazing, to paint these delicious pastries. Starting with a light all over base colour. Leaving some areas completely paint free, that would later work as the objects highlights. Once dry I went over with the same shade to create volume. Finally adding detail with more colours once the second layer of paint was dry.

Coffee for Breakfast

Continuing on the theme of a daily art practise, I have been playing around some more with watercolour paints. 

Having enjoyed illustrating food almost as much as eating it, it seemed logical to persist with it as my subject matter. 

My mother is French, which meant coffee was an essential part of everyday life as I grew up. Whenever we visited France breakfast was round the table, often outside, sharing fresh bread, croissants and homemade fruit preserves. All washed down with large bowls of coffee for the adults and hot chocolate for the children. Today even the slightest waft of brewing coffee beans and I am transported back in time instantly.

I used the wet on wet technique to paint these coffees and their accompaniments, as it can produced some really interesting colour mixes. Wetting the paper first, painting the subject with clear water, then adding the wet paint on top. 

It wasn’t as easy to reproduce the wet on wet success of the previous illustration in these upright coffees. The paint mixed beautifully as it gathered in the circle shapes, but vertically….not so much. It is in these instances where I miss the controllability of digital painting. Adobe’s Illustrator gradient tool kept popping in to my mind as I struggled with producing a gradient using watercolours. 

Back to Basics

I can not actually remember the last time I used any traditional mediums. Apart from sketching with pencils and creating ink textures to use in photoshop. And sometimes wonder if my endless strive for perfection is a derivative of this. The temptation to edit is too irresistible.

I wanted to get back to basics and needed to move away from the screen for a while. So I took a Skillshare class by watercolour illustrator and surface designer Ohn Mar Win. “Sketchbook Practise: Grow your art everyday”

The class encourages you to start a daily sketchbook practise. Creating a safe place to experiment and grow. To improve your skill and develop your own style without purpose or judgement. Somewhere just for you and your own creative advancement.

Day 1

Here is my first attempt with real watercolours. As a younger artist (before Adobe) I always painted with Acrylic. It dried so quickly and layered so easily I felt in control. Watercolour meant risk, no room for error….so I stayed well away.

Day 2

I am starting to understand how the watercolour paint lays on the paper in this second attempt.

Day 3

Experimenting with tone and shade with these limes. Finding it a little tricky to keep that transparent quality.

Day 4

Trying to add contrast to these oranges by playing around with watercolour pens.

Day 5

Feeling so much more confident with the paint already. A daily painting practice is really going to improve my skill level. This class is definitely what the soul doctor ordered, I quite like these lemons!