Posted in art, lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters: The Wild Remedy – a book which explores the relationship between connection to nature and improved mental health

Today’s Monday Matters post is a little different in that it focuses on a book which I’ve recently started reading after hearing Chris Packham praising it on Springwatch last month. ‘The Wild Remedy – how nature mends us’ is the published diary of a naturalist, writer and illustrator called Emma Mitchell who has found herself better able to manage her mental health since she moved to live in the English Countryside and began to spend more time in nature.

Emma suffers from depression and finds that she particularly struggles in the winter months when the light is poor and the few colours to be seen outdoors are particularly drab. She describes her battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder and talks about how she has to force herself to interact with nature in any way she can in an attempt to lift her spirits. Her diary documents her highs and lows throughout the year and her experiences of the natural world in the different seasons. I have found her prose to be a complete joy to read and over the last few days I’ve devoured her writing and delighted in her photographs, drawings and watercolour work.

Whilst out on her walks, Emma absorbs herself in her surroundings and seeks out the beauty of flora and fauna and seasonal changes. She often collects wild flowers, leaves, berries and evidence of birds who have visit the area in the form of different feathers or pieces of eggshell. She also takes photographs of the scenery as evidence of the simple but wonderful sights of her visits to a range of natural environments. This immersion is a kind of mindful practise and one which helps her to become rejuvenated and happier.

When Emma returns home, she is able to study her finds and can search for them in one of her treasured wild flower books to learn more about a particular species. She also regularly makes photographic records so she is able to enjoy the beauty of these natural objects again and again. Emma is also a very creative person and she often produces detailed line sketches or small watercolour paintings which she finds very soothing for her mind. She includes her art work and photographs throughout her diary as a pictorial record of the nature calendar.

In the introduction to the book, the author describes a variety of research which has considered the effects of nature on the body and the mind. Walking in green spaces and observing natural landscapes has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by causing a drop in the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies and releasing seretonin (the feel good chemical) into our brains. Also blood pressure decreases and pulse rates slow which has a positive effect on your physical and mental health.

Further discussion of recent scientific research shows numerous other ways that being in close contact with nature is good for our health. For example, many plant species produce compounds and oils known as phytoncides and when these are inhaled, they have a positive impact on our immune, hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems. We don’t have to actively go around sniffing different greenery either. Just been amongst trees and bushes regularly is enough to enjoy these health benefits. If you add in a good walk, especially in the sunshine, you will likely find your mood lifting due to raised seretonin levels and the release of feel good endorphins from the exercise.

I’ve read almost all of Emma’s book over the last few days and I’m looking forward the last few chapters. Her diary entries are beautifully written and you really feel as though you are there with her due to her delightful descriptions. Her field photographs and flat lay shots of her nature finds are so inspiring and are guaranteed to make you want to take out your camera to create some similar images.

A stunning two page spread of a range of wild flowers Emma collected on her walk

Emma is also an illustrator and an array of line drawings and hand painted watercolours are included throughout the pages. Although I couldn’t match her art work, I am keen to use my pencils, fineliners and paints to have a go at creating my own records of nature spotted within my back garden and whilst out on my walks.

Emma’s watercolour of a house sparrow which was a regular visitor to her garden feeding station

I’ve mentioned before the meditative and calming affects that drawing and painting can have and how this helps the body and the mind. Emma describes how the repetitive process of creating her nature images and not focusing too much on the results is as much of a boost for her as the walk itself.

I highly recommend ‘The Wild Remedy’ if you want to learn more about how nature can support good mental health or if, like me, you have a keen interest in the natural world. Although I find that I need medication to keep my depression and anxiety at bay and that regular talking therapies are required to help me learn strategies for managing my condition on a day-to-day basis, I think nature has so much to offer too and also plays its part in my mental wellbeing. I make sure I either go out for a walk in the park or local woodland each day or spending time tending to my garden and I encourage you to find the time to do the same.

Posted in art, bullet journal, creativity, Planning and journaling

Setting up my bullet journal for June: Summer fruits theme

This month I’ve gone for a bright and colourful Summer fruits theme and have included my own little fruit watercolour paintings which I scanned in and worked on using Photoshop on my computer and then turned them in to little stickers. I’ve not totally got to grips with all of the different things you can do on this program but I followed a great little tutorial which I’ll share below.

For my front cover, I created five different fruits, namely papaya, orange, kiwi, cherries and pineapple. I started by sketching them with pencil and then when I was happy with how they looked, I went over the outline and some details using a 0.2 UniPin fineliner. I then mixed colours from my Daler Rowney travel set and used a tiny brush to paint them. Each one is less than 4cm so I really took my time to ensure accuracy and it was a great mindful watercolouring activity. After scanning the paintings, I edited the background to make it white and removed some minor blemishes. Check out this great tutorial on YouTube for how to do this.

For my month at a glance I used the same kind of layout as usual with 6×6 dot boxes and again made my own stickers from some fruity artwork. I successfully covered up part of the date using some paper washi style stickers as I accidently wrote the beginning of the year as 200 instead of 2020. I did the spread late in the evening and think I was overly tired and that’s when I tend to make lots of mistakes. I also messed up on the next page too with is why I have a red paper background to the words ‘exercise tracker’.

As you can see, there’s a distinct lack of things happening in June due to the continuation of lockdown restrictions! My husband and I have started to go out to places but we tend to go on a whim rather than pre-planning.

I’m continuing to monitor my workouts in June and have just made a few small modifications and changed the colour scheme to fit with the Summer fruits theme. I’ve decided to make the steps tracker larger and have changed the scale on the graph to make it easier to fill in.

Finally, this month I’ve decided to make a record of the plants we’ve bought at the garden centre this year and include key information from each of the labels that came in the pots. I’ve also added a small drawing and coloured it in for each entry so that I’m also practising my drawing skills. The art work isn’t perfect but I’m getting better the more I give sketching a go. The layout of the spread is inspired by Emma at emusing-emma.blogspot.com who did something similar for her houseplants a few years ago in her bullet journal.

That’s all my spreads for this month. I have more plants to add to my record but won’t get them drawn until later on. If you would like to see more of my plant information, let me know and I’ll add them on to my BuJo set up for July.

Take care and stay safe everyone,

Posted in art, creativity, watercolour painting

7 simple but effective watercolour techniques using the wet on wet method that you just have to try

A few weeks ago, I shared my experiences of using the wet on wet method for watercolour washes. Today, I’m going to show you the results of some really cool wet on wet techniques using a range of household items which you should already have readily available to you. Let the fun begin…

Applying cling film

This technique is so easy to do but creates some really amazing effects. Simply wet your paper with water and then apply either a single paint colour or blend several together. Next, apply your cling film over the top, allowing it to crinkle in various places. Place a weight over the film e.g. a heavy book and leave it to dry. Remove the cling film and admire the weird and wonderful results (left hand image).

You can also work a different way where you place the cling film flat onto your table, add some clean water and then apply pools of paint directly to the plastic wrap (you could try maybe two or three different colours. After doing this, place your watercolour paper directly on top of the cling film. Flip it over and then either leave the plastic wrinkled where it is or move it around slightly to disperse the colour. When you’re happy with your creation, carefully remove the cling film and leave your paper to dry (right hand image).

Salt

For this one, you need to search for some salt in your kitchen store cupboard or pantry – any kind will do but I used some coarse sea salt which we had in our mill. I attempting this technique quite a few times and I got different results, some more interesting and effect than others. Begin by wetting a small piece of paper with clean water. Now paint the area with one, two or three colours. Ensure that the area is damp and shiny but not too wet. Dry off any excess with small amounts of kitchen towel if you have any puddles. Add a small amount of salt either by pinching and sprinkling it or using a mill like I did. Let the paint dry and leave the salt to work its magic. Brush off the salt with your hand or use a small ruler to gentle scrape it away.

Applying rubbing alcohol

This was one of my favourite techniques. Rubbing alcohol AKA surgical spirit is usually part of our first aid kit (I use mine to clean my silver earrings too!). But did you know, you can use it to create some interesting effects on wet watercolour paint? Place a small amount of rubbing alcohol into a dish and put aside for later. Wet the area of your paper you want to work on and then add some paint. Now, dip your finger or a cotton bud (I used a cotton bud for the first example) into the surgical spirit. Tap your finger or the cotton bud onto the painted area. Repeat as many times as you like. You can also use cotton wool balls for larger blobs (as shown in the second piece).

Lifting paint with paper towel

This is also a good technique to use if you make a mistake in your work or you have excess pooled paint or water on you paper. Mask off the edges of your paper for a clean line around the edge. Wet the whole surface until it is shiny and then apply a wash of colour. Use a scrunched up piece of kitchen towel to blot away the colour. As you can see, I made little cloud shapes in my mid blue sky wash. Doesn’t it look great?

Feathering

You can feather the paint in a range of different ways. The first example (on the top and bottom paper) involves wetting a section of the paper and then applying a single stroke of slightly diluted paint in a downwards motion. This causes the colour to spread to create a feathery effect. For the second examples (number two and three on the top paper and in the middle of the second paper, I applied a strip of pinky red and then applied another colour in the same shape, touching the very right hand edge of the first colour. This causes the first colour to feather into the second and vice versa. The wetter and more diluted your paints the more it feathers. For the final example on the second piece of paper, I applied yellow paint and then rain a strip of pinky red down the centre.

I thought these techniques would be good for using to create variegated tree bark and petals. Do you agree?

Blooms and drop colour

Another really simple but effective technique is to drop colour onto a pre-wetted piece of paper. You can either apply lots of drops using a large brush to blend the colours or you can drop small blobs of paint and watch them bloom. Again, the wetter the paper and more diluted the colour, the more the paint will spread.

As you can see, I had a little bit of a problem with the paint leaking under the masking tape on the second one. I’m not sure if I applied too much water or if the cheap three rolls of tape for £1 didn’t help the situation!

Splattering

I covered this technique in my wet on dry post but as you can see, the splatters look different when applied to wet paper. On this example, below, the paper was wetter in the centre and so the splatters there spread further than those at the very edge of the area.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at my watercolour experiments. I had great fun exploring the different techniques and found it really calming and relaxing. If you’re looking for something creative to do during lockdown I would totally recommend giving it a go and I think it would be something great to do with kids too.

Posted in art, watercolour painting

Getting to grips with wet on wet: Watercolour basics

Last week, I wrote a blog post all about wet on dry watercolour including basic washes and fun techniques you can try to get interesting effects. This week, I’m exploring wet on wet washes and cool effects. Again, I’m sharing what I have learnt and some photographs of my actual work which I hope you will agree, isn’t too bad for a beginner!

What is ‘wet on wet’ (or wet into wet)?

As the name suggests, wet on wet refers to using wet paint and applying it to wet paper. It is also used to describe the addition of another wet colour to wet paint which is already on the page (commonly known as charging).

The wet on wet method is great for creating smooth transitions between colours, gradient effects and soft lines and edges. Artists typically use it for painting landscapes, simple skies and soft, flowing washes. Wet on wet can be a little unpredictable but that is what makes it so exciting as you are never absolutely sure of what you are going to get.

What are the issues with using the wet on wet method?

There are a few things that can go wrong when using wet on wet so it’s a good idea to explore the technique using small pieces of cheaper watercolour paper like I did before embarking on a larger piece. You will definitely find that you run into a range of issues along the way when you are experimenting but that’s part of the learning process and the fun of working with watercolour paints.

As you are working with very wet paper, one of the issues that can arise is paper buckling or cockling. This is more common (or pronounced) with thinner paper but can happen regardless of how thick your paper is. So why does it happen and what are the problems with it?

When the paper fibers absorb water they expand lengthwise, and they take on a more random alignment. When the paper dries, the fibers contract again. But to some extent the fibers retain their irregular alignment. This change in the structure of the fibers is what causes raised ridges and low valleys to form on the surface of the paper which we see as buckling… ridges and depressions… make paint flow difficult to control. It’s a nuisance which all watercolor artists have to deal with. This is pretty annoying because as you continue to paint, pigment tends to run into the low valleys and settle in pools. Stretching your paper is the common solution.’

Anthony @ Watercoloraffair.com

The method I used for stretching my paper was to soak it by immersing it in a tub of water for 5 minutes until it turns limp. As my cheaper watercolour paper is only 200 gsm this is all of the time that was needed because the thicker the paper, the longer it needs. I then fastened the wet paper to a plywood board and taped the edges with masking tape before leaving it to dry overnight. Unfortunately, the masking tape I have is pretty cheap stuff and so it doesn’t particularly stick very well.  

Another issue can occur if you use too much water. If you soak your paper and use heavily watered down paint, you can end up with ugly marks on your paper. I’ve seen a range of names for these including ‘blooms’, ‘blossoms’, ‘backruns’, ‘cabbages’ and ‘cauliflowers’ but they’re caused when the paint runs to the edges of a pool of liquid. You can avoid these by controlling the amount of water you have on your page by wetting your paper evenly all over until it has a nice sheen to it and then only slightly dampening your paint with a small amount of clean water. If you do find that water collects on your paper, you can use a dry brush to soak it up or a small amount of kitchen towel to absorb the excess. You especially need to check the edges of your work where you have affixed the tape as liquid has a habit of collecting there! I found the best way to learn is by experimenting to see what works best. I bought a few blocks of 10 A4 sheets of cold press paper, then cut each sheet into smaller pieces.

The final issue I want to mention today is the opposite to the previous problem – not using enough water. With the wet on wet technique, it’s very important to ensure that your paper is nice and damp. To ensure your work surface doesn’t dry out you should mix all of your colours first before wetting your paper. You also need to make sure you work quickly which can be hard when you first start out as you are concentrating on ‘getting it right’. This is why it helps to do some exploratory pieces with cheaper watercolour paper so you can get used to how the paint behaves.

Wet on wet washes

Using the wet on wet method has the advantage over wet on dry because it prevents lines of paint being seen. This ensures your wash is smooth and even whether you are creating a flat wash, graduated wash or variegated wash.

For the flat wash, first prepare your puddle of paint by adding a small amount of water to your pigment (you don’t need a lot as the water on the paper will dilute it further). Next, wet your paper all over with clean water. I used a large flat wash brush for this as it enabled me to work quickly. When you are applying the paint, you don’t need to be as careful as with the wet on dry method because the mixture will spread easily. You do, however, need to ensure that you are not left with any excess watery paint so remember to use a dry brush or small amount of paper towel to mop up any excess moisture so you don’t get those backruns I mentioned earlier.

For the graduated wash (also know as gradient wash), you should make a puddle of barely diluted paint then wet your paper evenly as with the flat wash. Then take some paint and sweep from one side of the paper to the other (if you read last week’s post, you’ll know that I suggested working from right to left if you are left handed like me). Then for each new sweep, you’ll need to add a little more water to the mix or to the brush each time. When you reach the bottom of your paper, the wash should be almost completely transparent. It helps to have your board on a slight incline for this to encourage the paint to seep down the wet paper.

Finally, for the variegated wash, create two fairly concentrated puddles of paint in your palette. Then, wet your paper as before. If you want a smooth transition between colours, you may want to tilt your board again. For this, sweep your first colour on in horizontal strokes either to the end of the paper or to somewhere near the centre. Then, rinse and dry off your brush a little on paper towel before adding the second colour to the still wet paint. Because the paper is wet, the two colours will blend together to create a variegated effect (Image 1). If you want a more random mixing of colours, you can simple tap colour onto wet paper in whatever pattern you like so it blooms and spreads (Image 2). Then do the same with your second colour. You can use as many different paint colours as you like but I recommend sticking to about 3 so that you don’t end up getting muddy brown colours when they bleed into each other. Like with the other washes, look out for pools of paint that you need to soak up with a dry brush or paper towel to avoid backruns.

That’s all of the wet on wet techniques I’m going to share today because I’ve run out of watercolour paper and have decided to order some more online to enable social distancing! I’ll post the results of my experimentation either next week or the week after depending how long it takes for my order to arrive. Hopefully, I won’t get as much cockling with my new paper as it is quite a bit thicker than what I have now.

Until next time, keep finding space in your life to be creative during this lockdown period and if you have any finished projects to share on your own blog, let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to check out your work.

Posted in art, creativity, watercolour painting

Wet on Dry washes and 5 Super Fun Wet on Dry Techniques to get you started with the Basics of Watercolour Painting

A few weeks ago, I shared my vision board for the lockdown period in which I set some things to work on whilst we are social distancing and spending more time at home. One of these was to do more watercolour painting. A while back I started an online 7 day challenge but unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I didn’t get it finished. I got myself all stressed out about doing it and it basically became a chore when it was meant to be enjoyable (sometimes I get too serious!). This time around, I’ve done a lot more research (to develop my confidence), binge watched lots of YouTube videos and read lots of information on various websites (some were much better at explaining than others. I’ve also made notes on what I have learned. In this post, I want to share with you some wet on dry techniques that I tried out and really enjoyed. Hopefully it will encourage you to have a go yourself. I’ll be doing wet on wet techniques soon so look out for that popping up on my blog.

So what is Wet on Dry?

Also known as wet into dry, this technique involves using dry paper and applying wet paint to your page (which is demonstrated here). It also refers to adding wet paint to a dried area of paint already on the paper using layering (something I will explore at a later time). Wet on dry is regularly used by artists as it allows plenty of control over the paint. There are lots of wet on dry techniques and I loved experimenting on small pieces of watercolour paper. I actually split up a few large sheets into sections using masking tape and then left them to dry and used my paper trimmer to make little labelled cards showing the different examples.

Washes

The first technique I tried was washes. These basically involve adding paint to your paper in a smooth uniform way. There are three main types of wash – flat, graded and variegated. With a flat wash you apply the same colour and tone across the whole of the area you are working on. With a graded wash you graduate the colour from a light to dark tone or from dark to light. And in a variegated wash the colour and tone changes in various places of the work area.

With the flat wash, I wet my brush in clean water and then half loaded it with paint. Starting in the top left hand corner, I swept horizontally to the top right hand corner. I then repeated that action adding more paint for each stroke all of the way down the marked out piece of paper (I used masking tape to get neat edges). As you are working wet on dry, you need to work quickly to ensure that the paint in the wash area you are working on stays wet. You also need to slightly overlap your brush strokes so you are working into the bead of paint that forms at the base of each line. If you find when you get to the bottom that too much paint solution has formed at the end, you can mop it up with a paper towel dried clean brush to avoid streaking or a back wash being created which is where the solution bleeds back up the paper and creates an unwanted blooming effect.

For the graduated wash (also known as a graded wash), I started with a little water and lots of pigment. I then did one sweep horizontally like in the flat wash. For the second sweep I added a little more water. You then continue adding more water to lighten the colour until you have very little pigment on your brush by the bottom of the page to create a very gradual change in tone. As you can see with my example, you can sometimes see the brush strokes which I guess is one of the drawbacks of using a wet on dry technique.

You can also do a graduated wash in reverse from light to dark by adding more pigment to your paintbrush each time but I found this much more difficult and so have not included the results here! I’m sure some of you would be quite happy to see my failed attempts but I’m afraid I filed them in a special place under my desk 😀 ha ha!

I found the variegated wash the most difficult and again, had a fair few failed attempts. In the end, I found the best method was to start with one colour at the top of the page and graduate to the middle and then repeat the process in reverse with another colour from the bottom of the page. I then blend the colours whilst they were still wet in the middle. This may not suit everyone and I may find I develop my technique differently as I become more proficient with the medium. I would recommend experimenting and finding what works for you personally.

You can vary the density of the colour in the flat wash by using a lot of pigment and a little water for an opaque wash or a small amount of pigment and lots of water for a lighter translucent shade as shown in the second photograph. Whatever kind of wash you are doing, it’s a really good idea to use small pieces of cheaper watercolour paper to play around with different washes so you can develop your technique. As I said before, I found I needed quite a few goes at the variegated wash before I was happy with the results.

Since doing my washes, I’ve found a watercolour tips website which suggests that if you are left handed, like me, you might be better off working from right to left (as I sometimes wish I could do when writing!). I will be sure to try this next time as I think it might make things a little easier.

Dry brushing

As the name suggests, this technique involves using a dry brush and wet paint. However, it is a good idea to wet the brush and then dry it off on paper towel so it is a little bit damp before you start. I experimented with a flat brush working with the very edge and then the whole brush in a downward motion to create different effects. I then used a pointed round paint brush and kind of smooshed it onto the paper and then used a vertical wiping motion at the bottom of the paper. I think these techniques would be great for adding texture to clothing or buildings in a painting.

Splatters

Next I had great fun trying different splattering techniques, The first method involved flicking the bristles gently with my finger. I used a flat brush for this and it produced a fine splattering which I could control pretty well. I’ve actually used this before in my Autumn tree painting which I shared as part of my bullet journal set up for October 2019. The second method involved tapping the handle of the brush. For this one, I used a round brush and had to load quite a lot of slightly watered down paint onto the full head. I tried tapping with my finger on the handle and then using another brush handle which I found was easier. Both got quite messy so I would recommend covering any areas of paper you don’t want to work on and using a plastic cover on your table!

Another way to create splatters is by blowing. This can be done using your mouth only or using a straw. With both methods, you need to apply a blob of paint to your page and then blow in the direction you want the colour to splatter. I found that I could get much more control when I used a straw and didn’t need anywhere near as much puff!

Pulling

This technique involves adding a fairly concentrated area of pigment to your page and then using a wet brush to pull the colour in different directions. I created kind of flower shapes by adding a blob of paint and then using a wet brush I lightly touched and pulled the colour outwards from this central point. In the second example I used a more controlled pulling method to create five petal star shaped flowers by placing blobs of paint to mark the very edges of the five petals and then pulling into the centre, again using a brush wetted in clean water. I much preferred creating the looser flowers and definitely need more practise with the detailed work. For the detailed pulling, I found it hard to create an image in my head of where I needed the five petal points to go.

Feathering

I really loved this technique which involved using dry paper but a kind of wet into wet technique to make the paint bloom. For the first one, I painted a line of highly pigmented paint vertically to my paper. Then I touched the paint gently with a wet brush on either side working downwards to create a feathery effect. For the second example, I repeated the process but this time using different colours of paint. It’s a really cool effect isn’t it!

Drips

This technique involves adding a splodge of paint at the top, lifting your paper at an angle and then dabbing into it with a water and paint solution to create a bead. Eventually the bead of paint will become so heavy that gravity will cause the paint to drip down. Depending on how much solution is added and how much the paper is lifted the drip may even run off the page. I used masking tape at the bottom so it created a straight edge but you could leave the paper un-masked and allow the paint to run as far as you want. I found a great little watercolour piece using the dripping technique here which I might try at some point soon.

That’s all the techniques I tried using wet on dry. If you want to find out more from real artists who have played with watercolour a lot more than me, here are some great websites and YouTube channels I came across whilst perusing the internet.

– Anthony shares tips and tricks here for complete beginners and has really good explanations and photos. He goes into depth about washes and how to improve your technique.

– Shelby goes over basic techniques and also provides lots of ideas for using watercolour paint in your bullet journal. Find her at https://littlecoffeefox.com/ I would love to do perfect my techniques and be ready to do some spreads in my BuJo but I’m certainly not at that stage yet!

– Hieu (AKA kelogsloops) who is an aspiring artist from Melbourne in Australia, provides funny but informative demos on this part of his YouTube channel He uses thicker paper than me but as I’m just a beginner, I figured cheaper stuff was good enough for now and better than nothing!

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my wet on dry watercolour work. I really encourage you to give them a go as you might find a new favourite and relaxing hobby during this lockdown period. I’ve got quite a collection of brushes and paints and a couple of blocks of relatively cheap watercolour paper now but you don’t need much equipment to get started. I began with a couple of brushes, a travel tin of Daler Rowney half pan paints and a gummed pad of coldpress watercolour paper.

Let me know if you fancy giving these techniques a go and which you think might be your favourites to play around with.

Happy watercolouring,