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Happy Birthday Vincent Van Gogh!

A few years ago I did a collage and watercolour workshop at the Knockrose Studio. The brief was to make a collage painting which incorporated small sections of a famous artist's paintings. My own version of this was a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. 

Sunflowers, Wild and Wonderful (Watercolour 15 x 19 inches.  Water Colour Society of Ireland's permanent collection in the University of Limerick, Ireland

Sunflowers, Wild and Wonderful (Watercolour 15 x 19 inches.  Water Colour Society of Ireland's permanent collection in the University of Limerick, Ireland

I started painting watercolours of Sunflowers about 16 years ago. In fact it wasn't a painting of Van Gogh's that had inspired me originally, rather a lovely, loose, almost abstract piece by the late G. John Blockley. I decided to concentrate on the sunflower as a main theme for the portfolio that I was building for my third application to the Water Colour Society of Ireland. I explored the subject through drawing and painting, mainly in a very traditional style. I also produced some quite large pieces which were painted with loose washes and blazing colour.


This portfolio of work sparked off a deeper interest in the sunflower and I continued to paint different versions of sunflowers for a few years after that. I painted the sunflower in different stages through its natural cycle. It prompted some abstract work in which I symbolically portrayed the cycle of birth, death and rebirth that the soul goes through on its journey through life. I took the painting of "Sunflowers Wild and Wonderful" (which is presently in the permanent WCSI collection in the University of Limerick) and recreated it in collage. I incorporated a self portrait by Van Gogh in the piece. The centres of the Sunflower contained the swirling stars of the night sky from "Starry Night" and the petals of the flowers were made from mulberry silk tissue on which I had printed some of the many letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. I attributed the painting to Vincent Van Gogh as I wanted to create more than just a mere 'flower painting' ( a label which many women painters have been demeaned by).

  Painting is my passion, and I paint what I love.  Why should it matter what the subject is?  I feel that the true nature of painting is to impart a little of yourself in your work, and that is what is real and true about being an artist.

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James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, "Mememormee...."


I am not a scholar of Joyce. But from what I have read I can say that his genius is remarkable.  When working on some pieces for an exhibition on Joycean-themed images I started to explore the writings of Joyce from a different viewpoint.  I wondered what it must have been like to be in his head with so many overlapping ideas, words, and imagery.  It seemed to me that Joyce wanted to encompass more than just mere words in his writing.  His invented language for Finnegans Wake comes alive when it is read aloud and on hearing this, I started to “see” images in the sounds.


“Mememormee”, is a painting that started with a portrait done from Joyce’s death mask.  While working on it I became aware that I was entering an other worldness. While I painted I heard repeatedly the words, in memorium, in memorium...  The Word, Mememormee, taken from the last passage of Finnegans Wake where Annalivia Plurabelle is dying, suited the sounds that I was intuitively hearing, so this became the title of the painting.


While working abstractly I often reach a place in the painting where I have to ‘listen’ to the painting in order to know what happens next.  It cannot be worked through as an intellectual process, rather an intuitive one. As I painted, night-time images and sounds of the sea entered my mind in waves and I stared to see an imaginary seascape at night of the view from the back of Joyce’s Tower.  However, the physical image of the Tower is not present in the painting.  I felt it didn’t need to be there as Joyce’s craggy profile embodied the spirit of the Tower.  The waves from the sea wash over his memory, crashing and lashing against the visionary words contained in Finnegans Wake. 


As a visual artist, I felt the need to physically reunite the last and first sentences of the book in a patchwork of torn collage amidst the splintered shoreline of the coast, which contains the memories of my youth, as well as being the setting for many of Joyce’s works.

"Mememormee... Finnegans Wake" Tribute to James Joyce

"Mememormee... Finnegans Wake" Tribute to James Joyce

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Creative Collage for Journalling

"Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his nature into his pictures."

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), American clergyman.

 

It's hard to get the creative energy flowing when the days are dark and so short that I can barely get done the essentials, never mind trying to find the energy to create a new painting. So what I do instead in these days of low energy, is to connect with my creativity on a very basic level.  I gather round myself coloured pieces of paper, textured and translucent paper, and favourite quotes to add into my creative journal.  I paint the pages and glue in interesting pieces of paper to make a background for adding inspirational quotations at a later date.

I call it a journal, but it's not really a diary of any sort.  It's my friendly space to scribble and make paint happen.  All the better if I can add glue and some collage pieces.  I can't explain why it brings me this immense joy.  Perhaps because it is a place where the inner child can play without being judged.  Artist's usually have a hard time with self criticism and self doubt.  I don't think that will ever change.  There aren't enough affirmations in the world to stave off that awful feeling of insecurity about our work.  And maybe this is what, at the end of the day, makes are work all the more worth while.  Who knows?

But in my moments of play, I just allow the process to take place.  I gently enter into a world of meditative 'making' and it all just flows out.  At the end of the day I love to leaf through the pages of my book and allow the colours, textures and precious marks to enter my senses like gentle whispers, reminding me that my energy will come back; that the dark days will soon pass; that I'll be back up on my game once again; and that the continuous evolvolution of creativity is doing exactly what it needs to do, in exactly its own time.

Some pre-painted collage paper (tissue) and mulberry silk tissue, and paper lace.

Some pre-painted collage paper (tissue) and mulberry silk tissue, and paper lace.

To Make a Start all you need is some different types of paper, or take plain paper and paint it with some acrylic paint.  Some paint/watercolour crayons and some Golden Matt Medium (or semi-gloss) or PVA glue (all waterbased) and a glue brush.
If you want to get a little fancier, you can paint on plain white tissue paper with some acrylic paint (I like to use Golden's Fluid Acrylics - the colours are lovely and strong).  I prepare the paper in advance, but once they're dry they are quite strong and waterproof.  These papers may be as simple or as complex as you like.  Sometimes I add several layers and sponge on some gold acrylic paint too.
If you want to start gluing on white paper that's fine.  Alternatively, colour the paper before you start so you have a base to start from.
My Creativity Journal 2015 to 2017

My Creativity Journal 2015 to 2017

These are some of my journal pages.  Some have been written in with quotations, others are left to fill in another day.  Most of the pages are randomly put together without being thought out or designed.

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Killiney Bay, Watercolour Painting Demonstration

This is what I do for my 'day job'.  I thought I'd share some techniques that I use every day for painting the scenes in my local area of Killiney.  I take my little dog, Darcy, walking here every day after I've dropped the girls off to college.  (It gets me out, and keeps me honest!)  When I reach the top of the hill (haven't counted the steps yet) I am rewarded with this beautiful scene.  How lucky we are to have such a view!  It has become one of my regular stock paintings.  It's good, because it keeps me practising my scales, so to speak.  Working with subtle greys, and brushstrokes that must translate into a realistic scene is a very good discipline.

The materials used, as always, are Winsor and Newton Artist's watercolours (which are lightfast!) Saunders Waterford Paper, 140lb Cold Pressed (NOT surface) and Pro Arte Brushes (Kolinsky Sable and Series 100, the latter being a mix of sable and nylon for more control).

The colours are French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Venetian Red (or Light Red), touch of Viridian Green, and Paynes Grey.

Have a go!  And Happy Painting!

Killiney Hill Walk, Spring

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Sketching in the Walled Garden, Marlay Park

Yesterday I took advantage of the good weather and went for a stroll in the beautiful walled garden at Marlay Park.  The plants and trees have come on so much in the past few years since it was first restored in 2000.  I chose a spot beside some beautiful pink roses and getting out my watercolours to paint after a long absence, combined with the heavenly scent from the flowers on the breeze was a potent blend for pure happiness.

The wonderful thing about going out sketching is that I can get time to spend in nature while actually working at the same time.  I enjoy being out in the open so much that it has become an absolute necessity for my health.  When I can feel the sun and the breeze, and hear the birds singing, I feel completely grounded and at peace with myself.  The scent of the roses was intoxicating and I couldn't resist photographing them close up, with a view to doing a painting later on.  

What is so lovely about the garden it it's old wall.  It was built towards the end of the 18th Century and when I am there, it transports me to another world.  While I was sitting painting I imagined how Mildred Anne Butler must have sat for hours creating her soft garden scenes.

The Garden Path by Mildred Anne Butler (1858 - 1941)

I love the timeless quality of her work.  For me, this style of watercolour will never go out of fashion.  There is also another lovely drawing of the gardens by Anne La Touch.  The house used to be called "The Grange" but was renamed when David La Touche married Elizabeth Marlay and bought the house in 1764.  I'm not sure what relationship Anne was to the family.  (Write to me in the comments if you know).

Marlay Park Demesne 1837 by Anne La Touche

My view of the garden.

The great thing about my sketchbook is that I can open it to a double page and lay out the panoramic scene which captures the whole atmosphere of the place.  I don't spend too much time trying to draw detail onto the rough watercolour paper (my sketchbook is supposed to be NOT (not hot pressed), a semi rough surface), but I've noticed the texture of the paper changes slightly if the weight of the paper is very heavy.  So I use the camera to take detailed 'notes'.  In all I spend about one and a half hours on the sketch and about thirty minutes wandering around the garden and taking photos.  When I get back to the studio I will use both the photos and the watercolour sketch to compose a new painting showing more of the foreground detail.

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