Monday, September 30, 2013

In the Spirit of Turner

"Fishing Boats in a Squall" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Another painting inspired by the sort of subject that interested Turner, although he would have made a much better job of it of course. I painted this entirely from imagination.

This is another exhibit in the Wave North Exhibition at Caithness Horizons.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Rough Crossing

"A Rough Crossing" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

This is the ferry that runs between Scrabster, in Caithness, and Stromness, in Orkney. I didn't tie myself to a ship's mast in a storm as JMW Turner is reputed to have done, but it felt a bit like it. I was at the sea-front in Thurso and the wind was so strong that I was having trouble staying on my feet. At one point I was being blown along and could only stop myself by clinging to a lamppost. I thought the ship and the stormy conditions made a dramatic subject, but all I could do in circumstances was take a blurry photograph. It was enough though, with my memory, to make this painting in more comfortable conditions.

This painting will be on show, with several others, at the Wave North Exhibition at Caithness Horizons in Thurso throughout October.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homemade Watercolour Blocks

Here is a tip for people who like the idea of using watercolour blocks, but don't like the price of the ones that you can buy: it's not difficult to make your own.

You will need 10 to 15 sheets of watercolour paper cut to a little larger than the size you want the finished block to be; a similar-sized piece of mountboard or stiff card (it should be acid-free if possible); two more similar-sized pieces of thick card of any type; PVA adhesive; a sharp craft knife and a heavy cutting guide.

Make the watercolour paper into a stack with the piece of mountboard at the bottom, and mark out on the top sheet the exact size of the block.

Cut down through all of the sheets and the card to leave a clean edge. This needs to be done carefully as it's easy to let the angle of the knife drift and end up with a bevelled edge. It won't affect the function of the block, but it doesn't look so good. The best way is to use a light pressure and gradually cut through. From this point try not to disturb any of the sheets in the block, so that you keep a perfect edge.

Next, cut two pieces of card slightly smaller than your block. These will go on either side of your block while you are glueing it. One is to raise the block off the work surface, the other is so that you can weigh it down evenly on the top.

Assemble all of the components on your work surface, so that you have a piece of card, followed by the block of paper, then the other piece of card, and weigh the whole of it down with a heavy weight or several heavy books (I have used a piece of MDF as well, just to make sure that the weight is distributed evenly).

On one side of the block, mark two vertical lines about 4 to 5 cm apart. These will be a reminder to leave a gap without adhesive, so that it will be easier to remove sheets after they have been painted on. Then apply adhesive to all four sides of the block, spreading it out evenly with a smooth stick or knife. It doesn't need to be very thick, but make sure to cover all of the edges of the paper sheets and the bottom piece of card. Leave it overnight and the next day you will have a block of watercolour paper ready to use.

The final thing, for convenience, is to attach a sheet of paper of your choice to the back top edge of the block, so that it can fold over and protect the front when not in use. When you have finished a painting, insert a clean knife into the unglued portion of the edge and slide it around the block to detach the sheet.

The nice thing about home-made blocks is that you can make them any size and shape that you like, so that if you've always fancied a long, landscape format block, or a square one, that's no problem.

If you haven't used blocks before, you may be disappointed to find that the paper still cockles sometimes. This happens even with manufactured blocks and is quite normal. The paper will go flat again when it dries. It is a mistake to think that paper in blocks behaves in the same way as paper that is stretched on a board in the studio.

One final point: if the edges come apart with wear (I have had this happen even on good quality Arches blocks), just weigh down the block again and apply more adhesive.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment, or send an email, and I will do my best to answer them.  I would also be interested to hear any suggestions for improving the process.

If you are making blocks on a regular basis, René's idea (see comment below) is probably easier. Cut two pieces of MDF, plywood or very stiff card slightly smaller than your block, and then use clamps to sandwich the block between them.

Sue Johnson has an interesting idea for making sketchbooks here, and a nice example of a printed cover for a block.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Dounreay Dome

"The Dounreay Dome" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

I don't think a final decision has been reached yet about whether to preserve the Dounreay Dome. The nuclear reactor is being decommissioned, but the process will take another thirty years or so. The last I heard was that the dome is contaminated and will cost too much to clean up. Also, other parts of the site are contaminated as well and it is unlikely the public will be allowed access for three hundred years. I don't see why that means that the dome has to be demolished though. To me. its value is not in what may or may not be seen inside it by visitors, but in its place in the landscape. It is such an iconic symbol of the first operational nuclear power station in the UK, and as much a part of Caithness as the other natural and man-made features of the county. The main cost of preserving the dome seems to be the need to repaint it every ten years. Hopefully the money can be found for that and the decision can be put off for a while.