Isn’t he a dear! His ears are so big that I think he must be an African elephant, though babies do have big appendages. But even he won’t do for my Meander book pockets.
Years ago we acquired a regal red-glazed elephant who was immediately named The Elephant Of Distinction (I like Kipling’s Capitals). He graced our room for some years in splendid isolation, and was then joined by one entirely other. This elephant was bronze-glazed, caparisoned, schematic, dumpy, and was just as immediately dubbed The Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm. My daughter has used this image for two embroideries,
and I thought he would be ideal for the effect I was seeking. Here is a line drawing.
My intention is to make a lino print, excavating TEONDBIF but printing the background in various colours, then dressing him by hand. Simple, colourful, satisfyingly repetitive but varied at the same time.
I am thinking about making a Meander book as a Christmas present, containing paintings of photos my friend brought back from India. The “pockets” need suitable decoration as well, so I thought Indian elephants might make an agreeable motif. This is my first practice of that theme.
The first thing to say is that I actually enjoyed the process! Thanks to all that drawing practice the basic sketches went down quickly and reasonably accurately – always a confidence builder. I have limited my palette to Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Red and Indanthrene Blue which produced some wonderful mixes. I think I need to be more bold in laying down colour =- some of the early washes were rather pasty! But I am happy with these first attempts, and shall continue with more elephants just for fun.
However, I don’t think this motif will work for the project I have in mind. Maybe more stylised images dressed overall may be more in keeping as a design.
I’m going back to basics in watercolour, using a photo of a Rhine castle. I have limited my palette to four colours, Ultramarine Violet, Burnt Sienna, Indian Yellow and Viridian. I know from experience that these colours work well together, but if you think about it, I have the three primary colour in the mix. Ultramarine Violet could be made from Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Rose, Burnt Sienna is a Yellowy Red, and Viridian is a bluey Green which also has traces of yellow, and, of course, Indian Yellow itself! I know that’s pushing it a bit, but I do find it helpful to think of the colours I use in terms of the primaries. It seems to make mixing easier.
I started with a pale lavender sky – the sky is covered in light, high cloud, the late afternoon of a dull day – and intensified the colour for the most distant hills.
I washed the bottom of the valley lightly with clean water, Then painted the middle distance in a mid-tone mix of Viridian and Burnt Sienna. The rising mist adds interest to the picture. sorry the picture is so dark, camera trouble again!
Now for the castle and its grounds. I though a touch of autumn colouring might lighten the mood, which is why I included Indian Yellow in my selection. Mixed with Viridian it gives an agreeable green; Burnt Sienna, both neat and mixed with Viridian gives rusty tones and a dark green. The roofs and details of the castle and the bluff on which it stands were painted in a dark mix of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Violet
Finally, I used I used this mix, loosened with water, to create interest in the river by moving the brush swiftly over the paper so leaving the white paper to sparkle.
I enjoyed making my meander book and filling it with treasures. But I think I can go further with this idea. The construction of the book itself with its seven pockets gives the possibility of several surface designs. My first one was constructed from a piece of marbled paper I had made many years ago, and represents the full page design. But the book gets its name from the meandering folds of construction. All you need to start is a square of paper – size is unimportant, as the book is created by folding – and it is those folds which open up the design ideas.
The nearest of these squares represents the folds. Each square is folded in half, wrong sides together, then each flap is folded back on itself so that the folded paper resembles a W in profile. Open it up and repeat in the opposite direction.
The first square represents the cuts made, two outside ones from one direction and the middle one from the other. If this has been done correctly the pages should fold naturally into a little “book” with lots of folds down one side. This is the spine. The pockets for the treasures are made using double sided sticky tape.
The decoration of this paper before the treasures are even considered is the stage I’m interested in. Since each mini-square is a “page” in the book there are possibilities, are there not? The picture below demonstrates those possibilities. The back drawing is one image covering the whole sheet, in effect that is what I did using my marbled paper. The second one suggests one image on each mini-square. This will probably work best if only one or two images were used. It would look great if designs influenced by those wonderfully intricate tiles found in mosques were created, or, nearer home, medieval floor tiles, perhaps. The orientation of each mini-square needs thinking about! But I am going for option three. Here the design is a continuous flow weaving its way round the cuts which help to form the book. I’m going to design a dragon. It’s going to take time so don’t look for a quick result!
I have completed the final two “treasures”, so my Meander Book is now full. I have used Impressionist artists as my inspiration, Degas and Van Gogh.
This well-known picture is renowned for its vigorous brush strokes, something hard to replicate especially as my painting is so small. I’ve got the colouring reasonably well, even his very red face! In fact, apart from the eyes, I think this is the best of the seven. It’s certainly the most cheerful, well away from the black backgrounds of the first few.
This Lady is from an unfinished pastel by Degas, called “Combing the hair”. It wasn’t just the colour of the background which attracted me. I liked the simplicity, the economy of mark. The red hair against a red background is unusual, but it doesn’t look hectic. Maybe the pale mauve of her dress is a sufficient counter-balance.
I was getting a bit fed up painting portraits with a black background. I had managed dark brown in the Shrimp Girl but this time I’ve managed blue!
This is from a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. It’s been called “Le Chapeau de Paille” though the hat isn’t straw at all. Rubens girl is shy, indeed rather timid. My lassie is altogether more knowing, and older, so I may have another go at her, time permitting.
I like the tilt of the hat, the touch of pink and the blue background but the modelling on face (almost non-existent in the original painting) is heavy. I don’t know why it appears to be blotchy in the photo, but it seems smoother in actuality. Maybe if I wash out the face and try again, I’ll do better.
However, the next copy portrait I am going to attempt is Van Gogh’s Old Peasant – a truly cheery picture, and I’m keen to see what happens.
Do you remember this lady? It’s a good while since I attempted to do some portrait “treasures” for my meander book. The small size is a good focus, however, and a chance to paint in watercolour again.
I am bothered about the faces in my “big” picture, trying to work out how much detail I need to put in them. Then I remembered William Hogarth’s “The Shrimp Girl”. The vitality of her face is caught with so few brush strokes. I felt sure she would aid me in my dilemma.
So, I made her the next “treasure”, knowing that the close observation required to paint her in minature would be a great study. I made a careful drawing, just enough to delineate the areas of tone, then, using very dilute Sepia I washed the paper except for her face and frilly cap. A light wash of dilute Burnt Sienna over the face completed this stage.
I darkened the underside of her tray, her hood and hair, leaving thin strips where the light catches the edges. She has a rosy glow to her face except where it is in the shadow of her tray, and her clothes also show warmth, so in with Burnt Sienna touched by Permanent Rose. Her eyes are very simply done, just a flick of dark added to the dark irises and a very slight shadow under the eye. Her happy smile is really only two tiny blobs joined by a line. Add blue for the shadows in her white cap and on the “shrimp” measure at the front of her tray, and she is done. She looks more modern than Hogarth’s girl, and I’ve managed to tilt her head slightly so she doesn’t look quite so happy. Evenso, I have to say I’m pleased with her. As a bonus, those “big” faces look more manageable now.
All my photos are turning out dark at the moment, whether I use flash or not, But I think the basic shapes are visible.
After a hard stare at the painting and at the photo of a stand-in, I came to the conclusion that his back leg wasn’t supporting his weight. When I think how many times I have corrected this error in my students’ work, I cringe that it took me so long to spot it in my own! Still, he looks more comfortable now, and she has somewhere to stand. Even so, her legs are now too long, and a bit like tree trunks.
It is less clear that I have done some work on the faces. There are difficulties here. The painting is very loose, so I don’t want to make the features too precise, but a reasonable likeness is essential. Moreover the size of each face is only 9 or 10 cms so the inclination is to use a small brush which in turn can lead to finicky brushwork precluding happenstance.
Some years ago, I began this painting of a very dilapidated house. All around it, the houses were pristine, elegant, expensive! This relict of another time was in urgent need of assistance. The case looked terminal, though television shows of buildings in a far worse state being reborn offer hope.
I was painting in oils. I added buildings on the left to even up the view and enjoying myself with colour and brush-strokes. Indeed, all was going well until circumstances interfered with my painting time. When I came back to it, I had forgotten my original intentions and couldn’t find my way back into the picture. I hung it on the wall in my studio and largely ignored it. Then, after my recent exhibition, I was reorganising the studio and my interest was rekindled.
Rather than dive straight in, I thought I would attempt it first in watercolour, taking the unaltered photo as my guide and limiting my palette to Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna. The mood is muted, elegiac even. The Photo has turned out rather dark . so none of this is clear! I’ll try for a better one later.
A broken wash of Raw Sienna with a tiny amount of Burnt Sienna in the mix gave me the building on the right, while the admixture of a touch of Prussian Blue, dirtied it nicely for the invalid. A splash of pale Prussian Blue on the old shutters and on the road completed this first phase.
When it was dry I added other broken splodges to suggest dilapidation before adding the darker details of windows, shutters and doors. This one isn’t finished either, but I feel I know the view better and can make progress in both. Result!
After last time’s poor effort, I decided to “play small” and attempt some detail on the figures. I rather like them the way they are but they do need to be more detailed as they are the focus. Maybe confining myself to a small area will increase my confidence again. So faces and feet are my tasks for this session.
I don’t want to put her feet in till I have his leg right. His left leg is too long (or his right leg is too short!) so I tackled that first. I re-drew the leg, straightening it and shortening it, making more of the fall of the trousers. It looked better so I ventured in with paint. The foot is rather balletic. However, attempting to insert the other foot showed up my erratic drawing skills. This foot is on the load-bearing leg but putting it centrally, in line with his chin so to speak, left the other foot floating.
Frustrated, I turned to her face and am reasonably content with the result so far. Tiny dabs of paint inch the face towards likeness – not there yet, but enough done to enable me to work on the dress next time, then over to him again. Could do with some serendipity but hard graft may bring it on!