Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Umbrellas In Space

Hi everyone, welcome to my blog.

Yesterday,  at long last, I finally finished another in my umbrella series of paintings entitled "Umbrellas In Space".  Yep, those little umbrellas I've been doing have finally made it all the way to the final frontier - Spock would have been impressed - I hope he might have even found them "interesting" (Star Trek Forever - Yaaaayyyyy!!! - oops sorry about that couldn't help myself).  

"Umbrellas In Space"

This last painting took me ages to do and I had no end of trouble with it.  I am writing this blog for those of you like me, who are still  beginners at watercolour painting. 

After having previously (successfully, I might add) used Indigo in my balloon series painting "Gone Forever",  I again decided to use it in my blend of colours for the "Umbrellas In Space" background. 

"Gone Forever"

Indigo is such a lovely colour but it seems to get on to everything and absolutely refuses to come off!  It stained me, the table and my brushes blue.  Everything in the immediate vicinity seemed to be stained indigo, but undeterred I persevered and continued mixing paint for my test sheet. 

The sage advice from John Ford, my long suffering art teacher had finally sunk in and  I was being a good girl and planning my work, instead of doing my usual dive right in and  see what happens method (which is usually followed by the  "oh well, another one for file 13" action).  I never used to write down what colours I used because I remembered them from class to class.  Nowadays,  I find myself staring blankly at a painting I have started, frantically trying to remember what the heck I used and trying not to wonder what are the early signs of  alzheimers?

With this umbrella painting I built up the background with a number of layers of indigo blend washes (indigo with some cobalt blue and a touch of pthalo), trying to not be discouraged by the fact that my Neef brush (the one that cost me more than most of my other cheap and nasty brushes put together) was moulting so much I was convinced it had the mange.  A word of advice - don't try and pick off the shed hairs while the painting is still wet - another lesson learnt the hard way.....ho hummm  (yes John, I know you've told me that before on countless occasions - what can I say - I'm a slow learner, I have senior moments... senility?...I won't do it again I promise!)

I performed my usual appallingly streaky washes until John pointed out what I was doing wrong and away I went again on the road to perfection (ha ha!).  A word to the beginner - load your brush, load your brush, load your brush when you do a wash - make this your mantra.  Because I am poor at present (and I am sure I am not alone in this)  I tend to get a little bit ikey with the amount of paint I use.  I never put enough on the brush and never mix enough for the task.  Whether you are  doing a single wash or multiple washes, you need to be prepared to make up a lot of paint.  If you run out before you are finished it is sometimes difficult to remix another batch to exactly the same shade.  It is even harder if you didn't plan and keep note of what colours you mixed in the first place (see John, I am learning at last - your words have not been in vain!).

Anyway, after a few little traumas and multiple washes all eventually went OK and was looking great.  This lasted until I spilt a big blob of water on to what, only two seconds before,  had been my  perfect background.  Darn, darn, darn (or words to that effect) I lamented.  After I frantically soaked it up with a tissue I had a less than perfect background.  I had to wash the whole painting all over with more water to lift off the paint and make it all the same shade as where the dratted blob had landed, then dry it again and then re-apply a few more layers of wash.  Wash, dry, wash, dry, wash dry  - by the time I finished I felt I would still be wrestling with this piece when they came to cart me off to the retirement village and I was sure I had wasted 2/3rds of a tube of Indigo. 

I probably should have told you that before the indigo affair,  in order to do the stars  in the background   I applied whiteout (masking fluid) to the paper with a stiff brush (you can use a toothbrush) using the  well known classic  "look out everybody and stand back" method.  This method is the one where you load the brush, take aim, flick and fling for all you're worth and hope like heck the stuff lands where you want it to, so that your painting will look like a masterpeice and not a messterpeice.   I cleaned the table (again) freeing it of the flung off whiteout, a large percentage of which had gone everywhere  but where I wanted it to (of course - success is all in the wrist action I think).  I then carefully masked out  the umbrellas. 

For anyone new to watercolours, a little tip re your masking fluid or whiteout.  It doesn't come off clothing.  It will wreck your brush in no time flat - the horrid stuff will set like rubbery glue as it dries on the brush before your very eyes.  The way to avoid this happening is to put a little bit of soap or detergeant on the brush before you dip it in the whiteout.  Remember to repeatedly rinse the stuff off in water and then add your soap all the time while you are working, especially if it is hot weather (if you are in Adelaide in summer and its 40 degrees C, I have no suggestions to offer - perhaps climb into the fridge to work?).   

And now for another of those little hard learned lessons.  If you are aiming for a dark background and think you might be going to do multiple washes wherein you will be dragging your moulting brush repeatedly over the whited out surface,  then put on of LOTS of whiteout and make sure there are no bubbles in it.  In this painting I must have applied my masking fluid  a little too thinly and had a couple of bubbles to boot (which later  burst).  When I removed it,  there were countless little spots where the indigo had leaked through onto the paper below, so instead of nice white umbrellas they looked like they had contracted the bluebonic plague - little indigo dots everywhere (I was sooooo not impressed!).  A large portion of the time I spent on this painting was actually taken up by trying to remove this blue acne, and like acne it proved to be stubborn to eradicate (any other blue would have been easy, but I HAD to use indigo didn't I!). 

Indigo is a really, really strong colour - it's like the Arnold Schwartznegger of colours (sorry Arnie, probably spelt that wrong)!  I ran towards John in full hysterical lament bemoaning my misfortune (he saw me coming but couldn't escape in time).  I had spent so very long doing the background I was not going to scrap the darn thing without a fight.  After John calmed me from being hysterial to just plain grumpy,  he advised me to firstly try to wet the offending areas and try and lift the paint off with a tissue.  If that didn't work then to gently wet and rub at it with a brush and soak up the lifted paint with the tissue  (BUT DON'T , WHATEVER YOU DO,  RUB TOO HARD AND DAMAGE THE SIZEING!!!!).  The sizing (not sure if I've spelt that right either ) is the stuff on the surface of the paper and if you rub too hard and damage it, when you go to paint over it,  it will give you a nasty uneven finish because the paint will soak into the paper differently where the sizing is damaged or gone.  You really, really don't want to do this, you know..... so, anyway, after I had naturally managed to damage the sizing on the first one I attempted (ho hum, sigh),  I continued in a much more delicate fashion.  Happily, some but not all of the indigo lifted, leaving  fainter blue dots.  

To cut a long story short I then spent what seemed like forever trying to hide them.  Firstly I tried white watercolour  but Indigo Arnie just brushed that away and seeped right through tough and strong as ever.   Eventually, I resorted to putting some tiny dots of white acrylic over them and then painting over the top of the white areas with gouache, until the white bits were actually white again (at last yaayyy!).  For any beginners who don't know it, gouache is a water based paint which is more opaque that watercolours. In hindsight, it would probably have been quicker to re-paint the whole thing but I couldn't  jolly well afford to go and buy another tube of indigo!  

The stars in the background also proved an annoyance.  Before the whiteout and  indigo wash were applied I painted the paper with some lightly coloured washes of yellow and pink, the idea being that the splattered whiteout would go over this, then the indigo washes and when it was all removed my little stars would be faintly coloured.    As it turned out, my under washes were not strong enough in colour, the whiteout lifted off what little color there was so that when it was removed the stars just looked white.  I then had to go over it and carefully place some light colour into lots of little stars. 

This too  proved to be a time consuming exercise which had to be done with an almost dry brush.  If it was too wet it ran into the indigo and made a light blue star with a lighter indigo halo around it.  I always intended to put some planets in this picture, however there are now couple more planets than I originally intended,  one of which resulted from this little "colour in the stars" exercise.  The other planet was instantly bought into creation when I (again!!) dripped a drop of water onto the indigo background.  It was quickly soaked up with a tissue and painted over to make the planet.   A word from the newly wise - keep you water bowl well away from your painting!!  Also keep your coffee cup on a different side to where your water is (surely I am not the only one who has dipped their brush into their coffee by mistake?).  

So, although it all turned out alright in the end, "Umbrellas In Space" was an interesting,  time consuming exercise in what not to do, and also how to fix what are technically termed  "stuff ups".  

My thanks, yet again,  to John my ever patient teacher  for his advice (which he knows I am repeatedly brilliant at ignoring).  I think my little love affair with Indigo Arnie has finished for the moment and my next umbrellas will have a nice, light, transparent background (I wish).   Though I've got to admit,  I like the pretty light blue colour of my once white taklon brushes..... now if I could just get the indigo out from under my

Cheers all and have a creative day.

PS - If you like "Umbrellas In Space" and would like to buy it please go to my Artfire Studio at


  1. Ahhh...what a great story about those wonderful watercolor moments...thanks for sharing!

  2. Forget to say I love this painting, too! Great job :-)

  3. What an adventure, Heather! I think you are learning lots! I also love the painting and think it looks amazing!

  4. Thanks all - you comments are much appreciated. Watercolours certainly are a challenge sometimes! I think I drive poor John mad at times!

  5. Great narrative! You have a way with words as well as paint!