Tag Archives: paint

Colour from the Landscape – Making paint

I’m busy at the moment jumping from one thing to another and I have several ‘makings’, new ideas and experiments going on at the same time. One of the most exciting is that I have been making watercolour paint.

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Grinding West Runton chalk with a muller

I enjoy the fluidity of watercolour and last summer I made several drawings using pigments I had collected from the landscape mixed with water. Of course when it dried most of the grainy pigment just brushed off, and ever since I have wanted to have a go at making ‘proper’ paint in order to make drawings of the landscape from the materials of the landscape.

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Grinding Hunstanton chalk – this chalk is whiter than the yellowed West Runton chalk

I finally collected together the right equipment (including the very handsome muller at the top of the page), ground up my pigments and had a paint making session. I have gathered five different materials from beaches along the North Norfolk coast. They are: chalk from Hunstanton, chalk from West Runton, yellow ochre from West Runton, Red clay from Cley, and sea-coal from Wells.

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Hunstanton chalk and gum arabic/honey binding solution waiting to be ground with the muller

I have used gum arabic and honey as the binders for the pigment. Gum arabic is sap from the acacia tree and you buy it in large, hard, brittle crystals that have to be ground down to a powder and then dissolved in water. Honey is also added to the gum Arabic to make the solution fluid and easy to work. Honey is a humectant: it helps to pull in water so that the dried pan of colour gets wet and is able to release colour more easily onto the brush.

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Red clay ground to a buttery consistency

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My little paintbox of colours from beaches on the North Norfolk coast.

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From left to right the colours are:

Hunstanton chalk white, West Runton chalk white, West Runton yellow ochre, Cley red,

Wells sea-coal black

I’m remarkably pleased with these paints. I have managed to grind the earths down to a surprisingly fine texture and I’ll show you the resulting paintings next time!

If you would like to have a go at making watercolour paint I’m doing a workshop at the Contemporary Textile Fair at the Landmark Arts centre, Teddington, TW11 9NN where we will be grinding and mixing pigments to make different types of paint. Hopefully there will be time to paint with it as well.

 

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Drawing music

In a couple of weeks time I’m doing a 2 day workshop at Art Van Go – Drawing to Music. I can’t ignore music and if I have it playing whilst I’m working I can’t help but respond to its rhythm and atmosphere. My body wants to move and before I know it my foot starts tapping …. I might even sing!

This morning I got out paper and paint, put on some music and let myself go, responding solely to what I could hear and what was appearing on the page in front of me. I did four large pages of drawing, each with three or four small sketches on each. I did them very quickly. I wonder if you can tell which bits of music were fast / slow / reflective / melodic/ rhythmic?

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Its a great way to free up – nothing matters, you can’t do it wrong as it’s totally subjective and it’s fun! Do join me at Art Van Go on 6 and 7 February if you’d like a go as well.

Colours of the Landscape

It is an ancient practice for artists to use earth as a painting material. For centuries (almost forever in fact) earth has been dug out of the ground, processed and mixed with binders to make colour. Raw earth colours can range from yellow to red and brown and when burnt can darken the colour substantially. The main colouring material in these earths is iron.

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Chalk is another material that comes from the ground. It is a variety of limestone and was formed over millions of years from the skeletal remains of minute plankton called coccolithophores. It is, of course, pure white.

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Sea-coal is a coal that washes up on the beach from exposed deposits that exist on the sea bed. It is a dark, dark black and is shiny and remarkably ‘clean’.

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These three cloth vessels (I am calling them Ground Works) have been coloured with local yellow earth, chalk and sea-coal. The materials have been collected from beaches along the North Norfolk coast, ground and then mixed with water to a creamy consistency and rubbed into the cloth. A wax and linseed oil mixture has been applied when the paint was dry. I’m remarkably pleased with the pure colour that I have managed to achieve with these hand ground, local pigments.

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The ground pigments can also be mixed with a binder, in this case rabbit skin glue, to make paint. The paints I have made are rough and textured. I found the sand in the yellow earth difficult to grind down to a very fine texture and the sea-coal is also very hard and so difficult to grind finely. However, these local colours are remarkably intense and their texture is certainly interesting. It pleases me that the colours make a direct connection between the non-descriptive ambiguity of the vessels and the realism of the drawings.

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I love the idea that a material dug up from beneath the surface, in this case the colour, is able to describe the landscape above and so connect the work to the environment both physically and visually.

 

Spending time

It is a perfect summer’s afternoon – for me at least – with bright sunshine and a stiff breeze to keep me cool. It’s thin jumper weather rather than t-shirt weather. I walk northwards out along the dyke from Burnham Overy Staithe to Gun Hill with my husband, who as a good packhorse, is carrying a rucksack with a flask of tea, an enormous flapjack from the baker (to share), sketchbook, pencils, brushes and paints.

The wind is coming from the North West so we decide to turn left inland when we get to the end of the dyke to walk the spit of land that is called Gun Hill from the inside. This way we are protected from the wind by the high dunes until we round the end, opposite Scolt Head Island, to go back along the beach when the wind will be behind us.

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The tide is out. It was a big tide this morning so the Staithe and the paths around Gun Hill are puddled and wet. The exposed marsh is covered in a light purple/blue haze as the sea lavender has been out for a few weeks now. It is coming to the end of its flowering and soon the marsh will be predominantly green/brown again. We stop, facing inland across the marsh, and I paint. Looking back towards the village I can see occasional flashes of light from cars going along the coast road as the sun glances off their windscreens. There is virtually no sound apart from the song from several large flocks of small brown birds that rise up from the bushes, corner over the marsh and land further along. This happens over and over again and they make their way slowly across the edge of the marsh. I’m not sure what they are but a look through the binoculars shows that they aren’t sparrows …. They have smooth reddish brown bodies – I’ll look them up later in the bird book.

Another 10 minutes walking and something else catches my eye; a strong black line of mud with a shining flash of water in front. It’s hot sitting here out of the wind, so I do a quick pencil drawing and we’re off again.

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Round the end of Gun Hill we notice that the cordoned off ternary has been dismantled for the year. In the spring, the Natural England wardens who look after this part of the coast, section off parts of the shingle beach with simple stakes and lines to allow the terns to nest and breed. Terns prefer to nest on the ground and they are well camouflaged on the sand/shell/shingle. It would be very easy to walk over a nest and it is best that the birds are allowed to lay their eggs and let the chicks hop around protected from trampling feet.

We sit and have a cup of tea and a bit of flapjack. The wind has shifted. It has come round to the north and is blowing straight onto us. I put on my sweater. To the left over in the small channel that drains into the sea between Scolt Head and Gun Hill, children and adults are sailing little boats up and down. It is a perfect place to learn to sail. At low tide there is just enough water to be useful but also safe. The freshening wind fills the sails and sailing on a fast reach the water creams round their bows and their masts tilt. Hanging onto the mainsheet the sailors have to hike right out to avoid capsizing.

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I sit and write these observations and then paint the beach in front of me while my husband snoozes.

I can’t think of a better way of spending time.

Work in Progress (at last)

I don’t know why, but after weeks of prevarication and confusion I woke up this morning and knew exactly what I needed to do!

I’ve been fiddling around making work that is either too big to be called a sample or too small. I’ve tried things out that have had nothing to do with my core ideas in a desperate attempt to get to the ‘thing’ that annoyingly stayed just out of reach. Nothing has quite worked, although some things have had promise. Obviously it has all been worthwhile and has contributed to this eureka moment. Strangely, I think deep down I already knew what had to be done – it was there in my brain all along, but for some reason at 6 o’clock this morning everything fell into place.

Today I’ve painted 2.5  metres of linen cloth and made 120 wire eyelets. All that remains is to put them together ….

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….  of course it may all go horribly wrong!