Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Watercolor and pen from my sketchbook. Two of my favorite drinks!
I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! May your 2009 be filled with happiness.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mid-Summer Missouri

In an attempt to get more painterly with landscapes I have started by painting from a photo I took in Missouri a couple of summers ago so that I can get to grips with the main concepts. Stage one, draw in your main shapes and block in the colours being careful about values. Stage two define the blocked colour shapes. For once I got a decent amount of paint onto the canvas (and all over me).

Another three hours on the chair today - and according to the oracle its coming along nicely though I have to admit to having some doubts at the moment. We'll see how it looks in the cold light of day, tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Comfort Zone

Spent a few hours this morning putting on more colour on the chair - begin to feel it coming out of the grisaille now. I'm experiencing something quite strange here - the colours should be the same value as the grisaille - and when you get it right its like there is no colour because it just melts into the picture. And then stand back and bingo its coloured. Looking at this photo I'm not sure that the colour is quite accurate as the distant arm is not nearly such a warm orange IRL.

My Christmas present to myself came today - some books on painting. I am inspired!!! Lots of tips such as painting 2" x 3" colour studies, daily practices, and all sorts of wonderful colour advice. I am in heaven!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Today I wanted to experiment - not really sure what I am doing when it comes to watercolour. I know the background isn't quite the way I want it but will wait until it has completly dried before I decide if i will continue deepening the background. I'd really like to have puddles of colour overlapping the hair but I am a little cowardly about throwing the paint around. Also wonder how much more I can push the tonal values in the face.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


From my sketchbook
A day of fiddling around and not getting anything done.

Friday, December 26, 2008


6" x 6", oil on canvas

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Memories

Today is my son's birthday - he is 22 today (I'm really not sure how he got to be that old because I swear I'm not much older!).

I was thinking today about childhood memories of Christmas. As a child we always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve (my father was Danish and it is the Danish tradition) - my mother would do the decorations in secret, locked away and it wasn't until we went to sit down for our Christmas dinner in the evening that we would be allowed to see what she had done. It was like magic when the door was opened and the Christmas tree was decorated. Dinner traditionally was goose with mashed potatoes, peas and red cabbage, and dessert was rice pudding. An almond (just one) is placed in the bowl of rice pudding and then everyone is served and the person who gets the almond recieves an extra little present. After dinner we would unwrap presents - the person who had won the almond present would pick the first present from under the tree. And then that recipient would pick the next present and so on. And just so we would have a taste of English Christmas, my sister and I would wake up on Christmas morning to stuffed stockings at the end of our beds.

When my son was born on Christmas Eve, I was determined that his birthday wouldn't get lost in the excitement of Christmas so we always had a proper birthday party for him with family. He always thought he got the best birthday because it was presents two days in a row! Our tradition on Christmas Eve went from birthday into Christmas late in the evening. We would read the Christmas story out loud, each member of the family reading a section. And then I would read "'twas the Night Before Christmas" to the children before tucking them into their beds.

Now they are grown and its been several years since I have had Christmas with any of my family but there are things I still do. Christmas is not Christmas to me without rice pudding and every Christmas Eve I read "Twas the Night Before Christmas".

I'd like to wish all my friends and their families "Merry Christmas" and may you all have a peaceful loving Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008


From my sketchbook.

Not enough time for anything else today - up to my ears in Christmas cookies. Why do I let myself get distracted with things like that? And tomorrow I wont be home until later as there is a Christmas get together that I could really do without. But then FREEDOM and 11 days off - woohooo paintbrushes, here I come! I'm making a list of things I am going to do during that time

1. Work on the chair
2. Do some pastels
3. Daily paintings
4. Plein air

Sunday, December 21, 2008


oil on canvas 9" x 12"

The white villages of Andalucia are incredibly picturesqe, brilliant white houses cascading down the mountains, their terracotta roofs glowing in the Mediterranean sun. My mother, sister and brother-in-law live in Jubrique, one such village, and we have been lucky enough to visit them there a couple of times in the last few years. Painting this makes me want to go back soon to paint plein aire. I'm still finding green a real challenge - maybe time to make a colour chart and try out mixing different greens.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Report Card

No art to show today. Not that I haven't painted. I have. All day long. Work is having a competition for decorating doors for the holidays. Our office is open plan so we are using our reception desk as our "door". It is about 40 inches high and has a ledge on it. today I spent the day painting a fireplace on unstretched canvas to put under the shelf area which will serve as a mantelpiece. Woking with the canvas on the floor was extremely tiring. My back aches and my knees are agony! Yesterday we made a Christmas tree from green card (in true Blue Peter fashion!) and also some candles that we will put on our "mantelpiece". Tomorrow I must make stockings to hang off the ledge.

I read on Tina Mammoser's blog today about looking back and evaluating the past year and thought that that sounded like a good idea. The year started for me with my making a lot of resolutions about creating regularly but got off to a very slow start! I was struggling with finishing the grisaille of the chair - at least now I am putting the colour on that (note to self - 2009 will see the end of the chair painting!), I did a few pastels and not a lot else until October. I did sell 5 pieces this year (four pastels and a drawing) so that was a bonus.

Things learned - I'm suddenly much more comfortable with using colour, I understand more about how it positions itself in space according to hue and value. A lot of the things I learned with pastels I am being able to put into my oil paintings and find that surprisingly - they work! I made a commitment to a painting a day and have by and large kept to that for the last month - admittedly there have been a couple of days when I have painted but not completed a painting but sometimes its nice to feel you are doing something of substance.

I've set myself some goals for the coming year that I'm not putting into writing yet - if they work out I am sure that I will be saying more. I'm planning to get out and paint plein aire - one of those feel the fear and do it anyway things. I also want to investigate getting work on Imagekind and other selling avenues.

We will be moving again next year so I have to plan how I will get over the hiatus of a couple of months without materials - or maybe put together a travelling art box to take with me - just leave the clothes behind!

So an early end of year assessment - progress made, more to make, but feeling very positive about the direction in which I am headed. It just remains to say thank you to everyone for their continued support - its great to have you along fro the ride!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yellow Thread

Another colour exercise. I have these cotton reel pictures sitting next to each other and they make an intersting block together with the differences in colour and positioning of the reels.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Chair

More work on the chair today. A little scared of rushing it. I am still sure I am not putting enough paint on the canvas. I'm not sure about the warmth on the closest arm - it seems a little too warm - daylight check required.

This morning when I got to work I decided to spend the time that I normally surf the net before the day starts (we always get to work about 45 minutes early) walking around the football pitch to get some exercise. The sky was amazing and I took my time to analyse the colours. We had had a huge storm in the night and the remnants of the storm clouds lingered and were being stroked by the rising sun. Wonderful brilliant glowing oranges and yellow with deep violet clouds and the palest blue early motning skies. With each lap of the track the sky had changed. Spending half an hour on analysis made me realise how incredibly quickly light changes at that time of day. After my 30 minutes my cheeks were glowing and my nose,ears and fingers were frozen and I was ready to crawl back into a cosy bed and not at all like going to work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Colour on "Comfort Zone"

I worked on the chair tonight - I don't know what came over me but I looked at it as it leant against the window and my palette was freshly loaded and lo and behold colour has been put on the canvas! I'm pretty sure that I am not putting enough paint on the canvas but at least I am over my fear of working on this. Having spent so many months on the grisaille the terror of ruining it was seriously hampering any advances on this piece. I've become very philosophical about it though. I've decided to face this project as a learning curve, not as a masterpiece. Anything that I learn doing this is another piece (please excuse teh pun!) in the jigsaw of my art education. It becomes even more urgent that I get a daylight bulb when such subtle colour changes come into play. One interesting discovery is how I can picture the chair so precisely in my head. All those hours of studying it and doing the pastels has it locked in my memory. We will see what Michael has to say!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lemon Juice

oil on canvas, 8" x 10"
I should stop trying to photograph work at night! Its a total lost cause! Still here is today's still life and once again the colours are not quite right. The background is definitely not that dark! I think the lemon is much richer IRL. Another thing about painting at night is that I am never sure what the picture will look like in daylight. I wish I worked a night shift so I could paint in the daylight! If I could only find a decent daylight bulb! Someone once said to me not to worry about painting at night and what the picture looks like in daylight because very few people hang their pictures in direct daylight.

I heard today that the portrait of "Leon" arrived safely and that he was very pleased with it. He has promised me a photo of it when its framed.

"I just received the portrait. Unbelievable. It is stunning. I am seriously and utterly impressed. I cannot begin to thank you. I’ve no doubt my Mom will cry when she gets it."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Ronda Valley

The sun refused to cooperate today and was doing that really annoying "now I am shining, now I'm not" thing so today's painting was from a photo I took when visiting my mother and sister where they live in southern Spain. Ronda is one of their nearest sizeable towns (they live in the isolated white villages in the Andalucian mountains). This is the view north from the bridge in Ronda - the most amazing view down the canyon to the fields and vineyards beyond. Ronda is one of my favourite little towns in Spain and despite the tourism it has maintained a wonderful charm. The history dates back to the Moorish conquests of Spain and the buidlings are old and picturesque. (photo of the painting is not quite accurate - the background is more neutral and the rocks to the right are much brighter but try as I might I cannot get an accurate photo.)

I have for the past two years, not allowed myself to paint from photos (except portraits) and I know that I have learnt an enormous amount in working from life. I've been very aware of the limitations of photographic references but recently I have read a lot about using photos as a tool. On one site an artist said he only ever uses photos he took himself because he knows the space and the photo acts more as an aide memoire than anything else which made immediate sense to me. While I will continue to try to work predominantly from life, I will forgive myself, on days like today, when I use a photo reference.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Plein Aire

I really wanted to go and paint plein aire today but I have too much to do at home (those horrible domestic things that get in the way of painting) so I stayed here but determined to at least try something new. This is the view off my back balcony to the neighbours house behind us. There were nice shadows cast off the angles of the house which is white. Trying to get distance into each step back in the building was interesting and working with white walls and trying to create some difference between those closest and those further away but still in full sun was difficult.

Last night was the first night I have missed my daily painting in over three weeks but I was totally exhausted when I got home from work. Its funny how quickly something can become a habit. And how quickly you can lose them! (Guilt here about not working out! Something had to give!). I'm trying to decide whether to go with canvas panels or stretched canvases for my next order. I do really like the "boing" factor of a stretched canvas, but thinking about how quickly daily paintings are going to add up bulk-wise if I do them all on stretched canvases.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I needed to do something different tonight - hard day at work called for something expressive. Trying to keep in my head all that I have learned in the last week but finally being overcome by colour. If I have it right, the greatest contrasts in value should be in the foreground and the further back to the horizon you go the less difference there should be in tonal value - so you could have equal tonal values of orange and purple in the background but in the front you should have your darkest and lightest colours. It was fun to really let go with colour. Now to find a way to use colour but with more control. The colours are not quite right in the photo, the sky is much paler and less overcast looking.

Today I had to go out to from work to buy flowers. Flowers here are extemely bright and gladioli seem to be the favourite flower - and in every shade, bright gaudy oranges and yellows, pinks and reds. My favourite flowers are all white and I find the colours a little garish here. After the drabness of the Middle East though, it is a refreshing change to see so much colour. Roses are still blooming at them moment and even in my own garden I have roses by the dozen. Unfortunately I also have marigolds which are one of my least favourite flowers along with carnations and gerbera daisies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paint Box

I knew I should never do it - I put black back on my palette and bang its all over the place! It makes it too easy to do darks and I had just got the hang of creating dark tones using other colours. Lesson for the coming days is to remember that black needs to be used with restraint.
I'm a real Brit and drink gallons of tea everyday - when I'm at work its an excuse to get up from my desk. But when I'm at home it's a break to walk away from a painting and then come back to look at a piece with fresh eyes. The only problem is that I then immediately see things that need doing and I put down my cup of tea and it invariably gets cold and I end up drinking rather tepid tea. One thing that I have not yet managed to adopt, from my new American side, is drinking iced tea - tea should only ever be very hot, served with milk, strong and preferably in a large mug. The other thing that I have been known to do all too often is to clean my brush in my tea cup!

I tidied my "studio" today (it is really the upstairs landing)and it seems a little more ordered and things are easier to reach. I have discovered that I have a number of mid size canvases and also two large ones which immediately set me to thinking what I could work on largescale. Time for that journal to come into play to work on some ideas.

One thing that I am going to have to find time for is some admin - Website, thinking about selling prints etc etc..... I really resent losing valuable paintng time to this sort of thing but its one of those things that really has to be done. What I need is a secretary! Or to give up my day job! My to do list is growing by the minute.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dusky Rose

When picking out my subject for today's little painting I was a little surprised to find that nearly all my lipsticks are almost identical in shade! Its not even as if I wear lipstick that much - it never stays on, I put it on and then a few minutes later it seems like its gone. I read somewhere that someone had figured out that over the average woman's lifetime she will eat over 6lbs of lipstick. If each lipstick weighs at most 2 ounces that is 48 lipsticks! And for all those millions of women in the thirld world who have never even seen one, that means that some women must be living entirely off lipstick!

I was thinking more about sketchbooks this morning and was reminded of the journals we had to make in art school. Quite a high percentage of our final grade was on our journals as they were supposed to show not only our process in exploring concepts but our research into other artists, our philosophy and conclusions we had come to. There was a guy called Gary, on my foundation course (wonder whatever happened to him!) who was a sculptor - produced an amazing final piece at the end of the year with multiple steel oscar type figures holding up a square stone block on their heads. His journals were as beautiful as his artwork. He wrote everything on a typewriter using something like tracing paper and then tore out the words of the main sheet and stuck them in his journal over the drawings. And then there was Debbie (she went on to do a year designing fabrics for DKNY) who did wonderful fabric designs and her sketchbook was filled with the most amazing stuff. A good journal was judged by how fat it was - you were supposed to stick flyers from all the exhibitions you went to see (seeing other contemporary artists work was considered extremely important), pages of magazines, little sketches you had done on other papers, bits of anything and everything (leaves, pressed flowers, fabrics, paint charts, etc etc). These were definitely all working journals though rather than decorative pieces. Though they seemed like very hard work at the time, now I think that there were many benfits to this kind of working journal.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Working with blue underpainting proved more difficult than the magenta did. Very hard to get cleaner colours for the icing. The extemely subtle colour changes in the cupcake case were very hard to do and not revert to using tiddly brushes.

I'm trying to get myself to do more sketching so this is todays - ok yes, I did it from a photo - excuse? Em..... none!
I remember reading in "Five Quarters of the Orange' by Joanne Harris about a recipe book, created by the main character's mother, which is illustrated with little drawings and paintings and the idea captivated me then. And of course it would be a great way to capture my crazy nomadic lifestyle on paper. Since then sketchbook/journals seem to have taken off as an artform and I love seeing snippets posted on blogs. Its a bit like peeking through a window into people's lives. Not sure I will ever get my sketchbook looking like that but i'll give it a go! There seems to be as much to learn about creating great sketchbooks/journals as there is to doing any other artwork - mixing media like ink and watercolour, coloured pencils and an abundance of other media. And then there are the sketchbooks themselves! I have moleskines - both waterolour and drawing. And then I've seen homemade sketchbooks and I wonder about whether I should try to do one of those. There are whole books written on creating journals. I got some great tips from Billie Crain on putting together a watercolour sketch kit so I will do that tomorrow to take to work with me on Thursday. I already have coloured pencils salted away at work - now all I have to do is put pen/brush/pencil to paper ....................

Any tips on journalling/sketchbooks welcomed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

With A Cherry On Top

Also had great fun working this landscape - I need to take another look at it tomorrow in the daylight as I think it needs some tweaking.

Its a very long time since I have done a landscape - I think this is the first in around 3 years. Landscapes were my first love in painting and painting this reminded me of that. Two of my favourite artists are Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud. I love Diebenkorn's abstract landscape Ocean Park series. And Wayne Thiebaud paints deliciously coloured landscapes (he also paints cakes and pies!)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gold Thread

oil on canvas 6" x 6"
Another colour experiment. I started with a purple and cerulean ground and then worked into that with colour. More paint on the canvas this time.

Also have had this idea in my head for a charcoal for a while and after reading Stacy Rowan's post about seeing things that you want to do and filing them in your mental pending file I decided that the time had come to do put this one on paper. I've long been fascinated by drapery and classical images of fabric folds and white fabric in particular. So here is the start - still toying with the idea of the bowl and chair. The bowl is one of the copper ones I bought last week at a bazaar. I would like the spotlight to be on the fabric with everything else in the neutral block.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Red Thread

oil on canvas, 6" x 6"
The first of my "homework" - I'm sure I'm still not getting the paint on thick enough (that is SO hard for me, I want to scrape off and leave minimal paint on the canvas! I'm using cotton reels as they are nice solid blocks of colour to work with while I learn this new way of painting. It involves starting with a dark wash over the canvas. You then "erase" the paint for the most highlighted areas and then paint into the ground from dark to light. As I see it the image here on the computer I can see that my top ellipse on the gold thread in the background is not right but, in my defence, I was concentrating more on colour than anything else in this exercise. I am very pleased with the muted colour in the front yellow reel and its shadow. This was very definitely a different way of painting and I was aware mid way through that I was not thinking about accuracy of depicting s but was engrossed in colour and light. I'm not quite at the Fauvist point but feel I am heading in the right direction. One of my instructions for these lessons was to paint as if using a palette knife and not to draw with paintbrush. If you want to learn about how this method works I really recommend Michael Newberry's tutorial .

At the end of our road is a police post - I was struck this week that this would be normal in many cities until you think that the policeman has his tent pitched right there on the pavement/sidewalk and in the morning when we head out to work, his laundry is hanging from a line strung between the tent and trees a few feet down! Police and Army both are "housed" in tent villages in what is the "posh" end of town. Among large villas that would be the envy of many western towns are these little encampments, complete with guard posts and little snack shacks. At one of the security posts that we passed today I was surprised to see smoke billowing out from the inside the post and when I looked back I was even more surprised to see that the soldiers had lit a fire INSIDE the post which couldn't have been more than about 4 ft square!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Last Bite

oil on canvas 6" x 6"
Today's daily painting is the last bite of cherry pie from last night's slice (yes, I did eat it - the first ever cherry pie of my life!). I started out with the fork on a plate but after failing to get my colours together I abandoned the plate for a flat work surface.

I've been set some homework so my next few small pieces are giong to be a little whacky and a real test in many ways. Not just because of the colour I am going to use but also because I have to paint with thick paint which is something I find very hard! Not sure if its the Scrooge in me or the control freak!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sweet Cherry Pie

oil on canvas 8" x 8"
Not sure about this one - think I am going to have to do a little more work on it after I have left it a bit. For some reason this was a real struggle and I can't figure out why. It strange how some days putting paint on canvas is as easy as pie (sorry!) and on others its like doing battle with the enemy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Perfect Mix

Another manic painting session with more running up and down the stairs. Its one way to get some exercise! Beginning to get a little panic struck about my shortage of canvases. Going to have to think seriously about making my own canvas boards.

Great delight with the mail arriving today - the friend whose portrait I just finished sent me a care package of chocolate, and delicious chutneys in interesting shaped jars - can see a bunch of still lifes coming from these.

Still researching the Fauvist movement and am intrigued to look at Matisse's work and see it develop. So many artists get stuck in a groove of what sells and that stops them from growing. I love to see the progression and hope that my work too will develop in that way.

I have been thinking of books that I own from my University days and have a bizarre longing to go back and read them even though at the time I found them rather ivory tower-ish and rather obtuse. In particular I would like to reread John Berger's "Ways of Seeing".

Intersting picture for today - the driver of a motorbike wearing a helmet and full protective biking clothing (a rarity in itself) while his wife sat side-saddle behind him in a bright pink shalwar khameez with the scarf prettily draped over her hair. I'm fascinated by the multitude of colours worn by Pakistani women after the monotony of black abayas and niqabs of the middle east which are rarely seen here. Girls at work wear brilliant colours - lime greens and bright oranges, some patterned in modern designs while others are traditionally embroidered with silks and sequins. One thing that had intrigued me is how they keep the scarf draped all day - and then I was told that its all down to safety pins! So much for that!

"Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions"Pablo Picasso
all artwork is copyright of Anita Murphy 2006/2007/2008/2009