Enjoying watercolours

After Efisio was born I have been in the habit of taking daily walks, hoping it would help my body recover from the pregnancy and heavy birth. I always thought it pointless to walk around the village that often, as there couldn’t be anything more boring than seeing the same environment every day. Longing to breathe in some fresh air, I sometimes pushed myself to put on the walking shoes anyway, but it always was with great reluctance.
However, since Efisio has been keeping me company during these walks, his soft cheek pressed against my breast in the baby carrier, taking a turn around the village is no longer a punishment. I suddenly realize, when I watch the look of admiration on his face as we pass a lime tree with yellow foliage or when a breeze makes him laugh, that everything I’ve grown accustomed to is entirely new to him and worthy of thorough investigation.
‘Do you see how lovely the golden wheat looks in the evening light?’ ‘Do you hear the woodpecker? I have already spotted four of them!’ This carpet of autumn leaves makes this otherwise dull path look splendid!’
As I’m pointing out to Efisio how beautiful our surroundings are, I find I start to appreciate my village and its sights, because I look at them through my sons eyes.

Finding inspiration near home
The fact that I’ve learned to see the beauty of my home, doesn’t mean I’m ready to dust off my field easel and capture Warffum’s most pintoresque spots quite yet. No, what I see during these frequent walks inspires me in a different way. The warm atmosphere of the grain fields in the end of summer, the tall skinny trees crowded together at both sides of the walking path at the village’s edge, the rusty hue of colouring leaves against greenish tree trunks… the general mood I get from these observations I use in the watercolours I’ve been making from imagination ever since I was pregnant.

Turning to watercolours
Letting go the urge to work only true to nature isn’t something I learned to do just like that. My desire to go beyond the naturalistic approach I’ve had for the greater part of my artistic journey, started when I decided to make a series of paintings based on a children’s story. A project which, I’m sorry to say, has been put on hold due to my pregnancy and early motherhood. 
Finding out the liberating effect of painting from imagination, pushed me to make a series of watercolours of dreamy landscapes. I’ve been exploring the possibilities of the watercolour technique at the beginning of this year, during my painting holiday in Corsica, and I find that it’s well suited to create airy textures and suggestive depths. Especially in combination with pastels, which I’ve been rediscovering lately, I feel I can recreate the fairylike potential of the parts of Warffum I explored during my walks with Efisio. 

Between washing, folding and changing diapers, preparing lunch and dinner, feeding and cuddling Efisio, going out on a walk together and taking time to rest, it can be hard to find a moment to paint and draw. Another reason to stick to the watercolours: the painting doesn’t need to be painted quickly, for it’s made of individual layers that need drying. While waiting for the best time to add a new colour wash, I can attend to house and baby managing.

The making of…
Starting a watercolour from imagination is not so different from setting up an oil painting from life. Especially when working without a reference, it is of the utmost importance to have a good composition sketch to guide you through the painting stages. In the watercolour The Badger Meeting I chose to use the skinny tall trees I often meet during my daily walks as powerful vertical elements. Putting the emphasize on the trees, the badgers would become a playful addition to the final work, making the mood of the whole less melancholic. Starting out with a simple pencil drawing, I then chose to do a small colour study in order to get the atmosphere I already had inside my head. Making such a sketch is not only useful for composition purposes, it’s also a way to find out which watercolour layers are needed to get a  specific result.

In my experience, having a good idea to start with saves you a lot of struggles during the painting process. I.e. the idea for the  watercolour with the fox hunting butterflies was there inside my head for a very long time and each day I walked past the wheat fields at the village’s edge, I got a more clear image of what I wanted my composition and colour combinations to be like.
Coming up with the composition for The Badger Meeting, I knew I wanted the tall trees too play a prominent role, but I wasn’t sure about which colours to use yet. As you can see in the pictures above, I made two colour studies in order to discover which one would best suit my wishes. As I liked them both, I used one for the badgers, the second for a landscape with red squirrels, which isn’t quite finished yet.

Although I have little knowledge of all the watercolour papers available, I have tried a few different brands and I am very happy with the Hahnemuhle Copperplate, on which the paint (Windsor&Newton and Daniel Smith) dries in a beautiful way, creating interesting colour gradients.
These gradients arise on the paper in the first painting steps, in very wet washes. The first wash is usually a strongly diluted layer of yellow ochre, to add some warmth to the whole. After that one dries, I continue adding diluted colours, using the wet in wet technique, creating vibrant clouds as a background. The most important elements of the composition, like the fox in the upper painting or the purple trees in the other one, are added using more opaque colours. Details are painted or drawn using watercolour or pastels, which add a nice grainy texture to the whole.

Discovering this entirely new way of working is a true pleasure and I hope that I’ll be making more of these ‘dreamscapes’ the coming months, maybe even turn them into posters to adorn the walls of many nurseries!

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