Painting Paris

Religieuse à la rose. Chou à la crème. Macaron a la fraise. Quai des Tuileries. Maison de la Rose. Patisserie…

There are so many beautiful sounding words in French. I also think they look pretty when they are written out, although I wish the spelling matched the sound a little better! Still, it looks and sounds pretty in each respective way.

Paris itself is quite easily one of the prettiest cities in the world and it has inspired artists over and over again. It’s charms, colours, and flavours capture the creative souls and inspire art in all its forms. And yes, I am aware that I wax-poetic about Paris, which is absolutely a cliche. I’m cool with that; hopefully you are too!

Here are some finished illustrations that were inspired by delicious pastries, charming shops, timeless architecture and the bright pops of green and blue on every street corner…

Painting Mushrooms

One day, with a blank sketchbook page staring at me, I decided that I was going to paint mushrooms. I had a film on in the background that prominently featured food as the lead characters were chefs and I found myself painting a black truffle.

I meticulously painted in order to create the texture of the mushroom and I like to think I succeeded. It was only when I was done that I looked at it on my large mostly blank page and thought, without any context, it looks a little bit like a turd. And thus began my little chart of edible mushrooms.

I was surprised there were actually colourful and pretty edible mushrooms to paint! You learn something new everyday…

Struggles with Gouache

Gouache. Guh-wash. Goo-wash? Gwash? 

Even the name is a weird one. When I first saw it I never dared say it for fear of saying wrong. I patiently waited until I heard someone else say it first. So now that we’ve figured out how to even say it, what is it?

Simply, gouache can be likened to an opaque watercolour. Whatever that means. It’s a watermedia that is used for creating opaque methods of painting. It’s made from pigment, water and a binding agent like dexterin or gum arabic. It’s actually quite similar to watercolour in composition. Also like watercolour, gouache can be reactivated with water and the paint can be infused into the paper support. Then it gets all confusing because it can also act similarly to acrylic paint in that it can create a superficial layer on your support.*

And that dual nature of gouache is where my struggles begin. When I look at artwork created by gouache, I fall in love with the beautiful opaque, matte artworks that blend seamlessly into the paper and within its own designs. But when I attempt it myself, I can’t seem to find that happy middle between too much water and not enough mixed with my paint. Without water, gouache acts like an acrylic, thick and textured. With too much water, it looks like a strange dull version of watercolours with the paper showing through. It also dries to a different colour value.

To make it even more confusing, there are two types of gouache: the traditional version tempered with gum arabic and the newer acrylic gouache, which contains acrylic binding agents. Acrylic gouache behaves like a regular gouache except that it can’t be reactivated with water after it has dried.

Take a look at gouache versus watercolour:

With the right ratio of paint to water, gouache can make a beautiful opaque colour on the paper. Right below that, the darkest watercolour block still has a translucent quality. Clearly, I know how to work with watercolour better than gouache but it still shows how these two mediums are similar and yet different. (That was the goal anyways.)

Currently I am working with the traditional kind of gouache made by Winsor & Newton and I’ve got six colours exactly: the primaries, a green, black and white. This very limited selection of colours (thanks to a limited budget and picky painter’s taste) forced me to practice my colour mixing again. But practice makes perfect! I refuse to be beat by a paint!

*Just in case, “support” in this instance refers to whatever it is you are painting on, be it paper, canvas, wood, etc.

William Morris – Master Study

“I determined to do no less than to transform the world with beauty.” -William Morris

Creatives of the 19th century always seem to be triple threats – no, quadruple threats! In any case, they often excelled in several creative endeavours. It wasn’t unusual to hear about artists who were also architects who were also orators/singers/writers/poets/politicians… You get it. There were many creative powerhouses. William Morris was no exception.

William Morris 

Born on March 24, 1834 (we share the same birthday!) in Essex, England, William Morris was an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist. Wow! And on top of that, his work in textiles contributed to a revival of traditional British textile arts and production methods while his writing helped to establish the modern fantasy genre. He was also a trained architect. Talk about a creative powerhouse!

In 1861 Morris formed a decorative arts firm with Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Phillip Webb and others. This firm was very influential in the interior decorating practices of the Victorian period. Morris’ contributions to the firm were his designs for tapestries, wallpapers, fabrics, furniture and stained glass windows. He was very much influenced by medievalism, which can be seen in his design work. The firm also sought to return to Medieval-Gothic methods of craftsmanship as well.

In my personal sketchbook studies, I decided to fiddle with gouache paint and practice wielding this medium by copying details of a William Morris floral pattern. It had been my first foray into gouache painting for a long time and I was definitely out of practice. I never really found the balance between paint and water during this session. I think it turned out okay but I still prefer to see that paint sketch from a distance!

Next I chose to go back to my favourite mediums of watercolour and ink.

Again, I copied this image as an exercise to practice watercolours and painting creatures. In university, I studied costume design which meant focusing more on people and characters. Even as a kid I liked to draw characters (there are lots of fairies in my old sketchbooks). I realized recently that I didn’t paint very many creatures. No time like the present to try something new.

This rabbit is a close up from a tapestry designed by William Morris. It was a good way to practice bringing texture to a watercolour painting. I also included two of my favourite quotes (he was a writer after all) that I think summed up the relationship between beauty, art and life quite perfectly.

To create is to bring beauty to the world and that is a necessity of life!

Tree of Stars

It’s no secret I love doodling, sketching, and painting stars and galaxies – at least my version of them anyways. I think they are sublime. Space is terrifying and beautiful at the same time, which feels like a perfect metaphor to embarking on a creative journey.

In this video I had the challenge of creating a sketchbook cover. Instead of the traditional blank piece of white paper, I was working with black. If you ever feel stuck on what to draw or just looking for a new challenge, start with a dark base! Working with a dark background forces you to think outside of the box and use colours you wouldn’t normally use.

So what is the Tree of Stars? It’s a whimsical image born from a dark “paperscape.” Perhaps there is a story waiting to be told…

Paris 2016: Vlog + Time Lapse Painting

Last year I got to visit Paris for the fourth time in my life. Paris in the fall is brisk, bright and beautiful. It’s beautiful any time of the year but really, autumn holds its own special kind of magic. I fell in love with it so much that I took a job interview and nearly moved there. Of course every city has its cons but the slow service in cafe’s doesn’t bother me. It’s crazy expensive to live there but so is the city I live in now. I hear many of the buildings are walk ups – perhaps that’s what helps the Parisians stay in shape!

I can understand why so many artists made Paris home in the past. There is just something about the light and the architecture that inspire creativity. Continue reading “Paris 2016: Vlog + Time Lapse Painting”

Edmonia Lewis – Master Study

In university, I was fortunate enough to study something I really loved: art history (although it took me a while to get there from engineering; but that’s a story for another time). It was a fabulous degree to have taken. More recently, I was inspired by a video Minnie Small made on master studies for your sketchbook. In an effort to bring some of that educational spirit back into my life, I’ve decided to follow suit and start creating master studies in my sketchbook. First up:

Edmonia Lewis

Born in 1844 New York, Lewis was the first woman of African-American/Native American heritage to achieve international fame for her work. Against incredible odds, she dreamed of being a sculptor and she succeeded.

She lived during a time when slavery was a norm and during the American Civil War; she was accused of trying to poison two white women and theft of art materials(acquitted both times), and, because of the legal drama, she was not allowed to graduate from Oberlin College. None of that stopped her though. She made her own path and funded her journey to Rome in 1866 by sculpting medallions and busts of Civil War heroes such as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and abolitionist John Brown.

She went on to learn and work with marble, eventually setting up a small studio in Rome in the former studio of 18th century sculptor, Antonio Canova. Inspired by her surroundings, Lewis worked in a primarily neoclassical style.

In the Sketchbook

Primarily a sculptor, reinterpreting her work in paint gave me a chance to practice gouache and work in a primarily monochromatic palette. For her portrait sketch I used pencil and tested out my new Pilot G-Tec C. For my paint sketch of her sculpture, Hagar, I chose to work off a dark background, using ink to add some texture and colour to the page.

Painting Hagar was an excellent exercise in painting shadow and light. I painted her face at least three times before I was satisfied. I’m not going to lie, I nearly chose to just leave it blank! Now I think her head might be my favourite part of the entire piece. Goes to show perseverance pays off!

It was also a good exercise in colour mixing. I have a small set of Gouache paints: black, white, the primaries and green. Even though this piece is monochromatic, a little bit of each colour went into creating that neutral.

Overall, I’m really quite pleased with how this master study turned out. She was an interesting woman to learn about and I need the practice with gouache!