Archives for posts with tag: practice


I have a new brush, unlike any brush I’ve ever used before because it’s a brush that thinks it’s a pen – it fills with water like a fountain pen fills with ink, and the brush is where a nib would be. It’s called a Water Brush (this one is made by Pentel) and it’s quite weird to use. I need practice.

I decided to try it out by doing a small quick sketch of my neighbour’s front garden, full of winter pruned bushes all hunched and huddled in the dusk on a cold afternoon.

The more I draw every day, the more things I see that want to draw; everyday things that I see all the time. Suddenly my seeing sense has woken up again after a period of hibernation. Colours jump out at me. Shapes catch my eye. Pattern, texture, light and shadow have my attention before I’ve even realised it. Today this patch of garden is full of dark colour; tomorrow it may well be transformed by snow.

Sketching spontaneously when I see something that grabs me is not always easy to do and I’m out of practice, so it’s a good opportunity to experiment with new tools and materials that open up new possibilities.


Back to the Water Brush – if you squeeze the soft plastic body of the brush, the water flows out more fully into the bristles and you can pick up colour straight from a watercolour pan; then when you apply colour to the paper you can soften this out as more clean water flows into the bristles. It takes a bit of getting used to, but for sketching on location it would be really helpful as you could manage without a water pot – which is what these brushes were created to do. Big, graded washes are not going to be viable but overall the possibilities are huge. Lots of artists use them with water soluble pencils and I haven’t tried this yet.

Being more like a pen to hold, quite a lot of the time I find myself using the brush more like a pen. It comes back to a fiendishly sharp point as the bristles are sturdy nylon, though at the same time it’s soft and responsive enough to do a lot of the things you’d want in a painterly sort of way (though it’s very unlike using a sable watercolour brush).

So this exciting – more learning, experimenting, looking at new possibilities and hopefully changing the way I do things.

Note: this post appears in a slightly different form on another WordPress blog of mine. If you see it there there’s no plagiarism – or at least only by me!
Wordpress has weekly writing and photography challenges – but how about a regular drawing challenge?

I have a thing about words, there’s no denying it.

It’s always been a bit of a problem for me really, because I like writing almost as much as I like drawing or painting or working with fabrics, and to move between words and images is a complicated thing. I think it was Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right side of the Brain who describes the strange sensation she had when trying to talk to students about drawing while actually in the process of doing it, and finding herself weirdly and uncharacteristically inarticulate. Drawing and writing really are polar opposites.

Trying to put words into a piece of visual work and make the two things work together is even more complicated, and risky, because anything legible in a known alphabet tends immediately to draw attention away from everything else – but inevitably it’s something I find myself trying to do.

I’ve stitched together fabric and paper with hand written texts, and embroidered over the top. And I’ve written on paper that I’ve then stitched and painted and screwed up and torn and practically destroyed, before attempting to put it back together in a way that makes sense (not a comfortable thing to do, to make yourself deliberately tear up something that you’ve spent time carefully crafting). All this was appropriate in these pieces of work, because I was preoccupied with the way buildings – and landscape – are worn away over time, are eroded by sun and rain and wind and frost, finally collapse or disintegrate and then are rearranged into something else. During all of this, the history of the process is built into the structure itself and so in a way all kinds of stories are embedded in the material, whether it’s rock or mud or timber or brick or stone.

Prayer Panels 758 mm x 580 mm

Then I had the idea of doing the same thing with jewellery, and this is more complicated still, because if you’re wearing something with words on it you’re making a statement. For me, the text has always needed an element of mystery about it, so that it’s a story that is possible to understand only in part, in the same way that a book with pages missing or a letter that’s damaged and illegible is more fascinating because it’s incomplete.

In the end, it’s hard to be sure whether words aren’t better left where they belong, on the page (or nowadays on the screen)…… I think for the time being anyway, I’m happy to leave it that way, but who knows?

Whenever I look at something with all my attention – look so that I’m soaking it in and really seeing – everything else stops. It’s why for me going out for a walk is such a good way to unwind, because I can’t go far before I see something that I want to stop and gaze at.

We have a choice about the things we look at and concentrate on. In fact we have a choice about whether we really look at all. At times it would be easy to go through a day without stopping to look (and also to listen, touch, and smell) and sometimes it can even be hard to do it at all. This is what depression is about, when it feels as if you are locked in and don’t have a choice, and then it doesn’t matter what you look at, you can’t make the connection or escape from this imprisoned state of mind.

(A quick note, though, about the picture above – I couldn’t resist using it to illustrate that last sentence, but I didn’t take the photograph while feeling depressed! Far from it, in fact. I love the wonderful richness of the texture of the wall and the wood of the shutter, the pattern and contrast of the bars and the mesh, the subtlety of the colour and the mysteriousness of what might lie inside, behind the open window….)

If you’re depressed you tend to go about not seeing at all, or worse, noticing only things that reinforce feelings of bleakness and despair, so I’ve learnt that it’s important to maintain good habits all the time. I find that going out every day to take photographs but more importantly, to look, is much more than gathering source material and hoping that I’ll stumble upon something exciting. It’s more than taking some much needed exercise. More than anything else it’s about deliberately being aware, and paying attention.

In fact recently, I’ve learnt something astonishing – that simply by paying attention to the right things and making a habit of it, over time we can – and in fact, do – actually change the way our brains are wired.

This is from an e mail newsletter that I subscribe to called Just One Thing, by Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist from California:

“Moment to moment, the flows of thoughts and feelings, sensations and desires, and conscious and unconscious processes sculpt your nervous system like water gradually carving furrows and eventually gullies on a hillside. Your brain is continually changing its structure. The only question is: is it for better or worse?

In particular, because of what’s called ‘experience-dependent neuroplasticity,’ whatever you hold in attention has a special power to change your brain. Attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain – and your self.

Therefore, controlling your attention – becoming more able to place it where you want it and keep it there is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better.”

I’m still not sure exactly why, but this idea got me really excited. Possibly it’s because I like the tangible fact that something I’ve always felt to be true is actually a scientific fact. More probably it’s because I am so preoccupied with landscape and the way water erodes and changes it that I find this such a powerful metaphor, and now I can feel myself creating new channels in the landscape of my mind. If my brain is continually changing its structure, I’m determined to try to make it for the better!

Someone asked me the other day which medium I like using best. It’s a hard question to answer, but I think whatever I’m currently using I’d probably say that’s the one I love most, (though ask me that again when I’m immersed in jewellery making, or when all I want to do is stitch fabric, and it’ll probably be a different story). At the moment it’s watercolour, and drawing and watercolour painting are both equally important for me but for rather different reasons.

Actually watercolour has characteristics that make it easy to get obsessive about. Some of this has to do with the paint itself; it’s so enjoyable to mix and dilute and load onto a brush and to watch what it does when it get on to the paper – whether it’s a wet wash that runs and soaks in, or a dry swish of colour put on with the side of the brush, or two colours put on wet next to each other and allowed to collide and then merge and mix on the paper to create fluid explosions of new colour between them. I could do this for hours, and sometimes I do just this and nothing more – simply mix two colours in varying proportions.

I try to look closely at something every day, with complete attention, for several minutes – and though drawing inevitably means doing this, sometimes it’s more a matter of simply soaking up the experience of the moment and doing something like quietly mixing paint, thinking of absolutely nothing else. I have certain colours that are old friends – like aureolin yellow and cobalt blue which make lovely greyish greens, or cobalt blue and burnt umber, which make beautiful subtle greys – that I return to when I need consolation and some peace and stillness. After a while nothing else matters, and at the end of a day when I’ve painted like this the colours I’ve been mixing stay in my subconscious mind so that I see them when I fall asleep and sometimes they fill my dreams.

Returning to watercolour painting after not having done it for a while can be a pretty horrible experience though, because it is so unpredictable and demanding. Throw yourself into it without having mind and heart prepared and without imposing some sort of discipline on yourself, and the day is doomed. This is the side of watercolour that is not what people expect when they think they’d like to take it up, but it’s the flip side of the coin; get the practice right, and it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding form of art practice that I know, even more than drawing. I like the fact that it requires me to slow down and collect all my attention, to be in harmony with myself and to be focussed in the right way, and that if I’m not, all of that will be immediately and horribly obvious right there in front of me on paper. It’s what makes the expression art practice really mean something.