I have not worked in my art journal for weeks. This time of year is just busy to a crazily hectic degree. I decided to grab some little pockets of time over the past few days to produce an illustration in my art journal. I decided to work on an Art Journal Adventure prompt that I had missed. Last week’s prompt was “clown”. That was never going to happen given that I am a massive coulrophobe so I pondered the broader prompt, which was circus. My clown phobia is actually tied up in a milder phobia of circuses. However, I have an interest in the history of sideshows and “freaks” so that was the avenue my creative imagination wandered down. I have illustrated the Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square before in my art journal and this time I intended to draw another favourite “freak”, Lionel the Dog-Faced Boy. However, I was so short on art time that I decided to produce a much simpler and more whimsical illustration. I, therefore, chose to depict a version of the Fiji Mermaid. This was a curiosity exhibited by PT Barnum as the mummified remains of a mermaid when it was actually the head and torso of a monkey stitched onto the tail of a fish. This is just a simple ink drawing coloured with a very loose wash of watercolour.
The theme for the tenth week of the Colour Me Positive art journal challenge was “beauty”. The quotation provided was “Every piece of you is a burst of something beautiful”. There were lots of directions I could have gone in based on that starting point. However, a chat with my 8 year old led to the idea of a mermaid.
I have a checkered history when it comes to creating mermaid art works. My most recent effort was a success but I suspect that was because she had no visible mermaid features. I decided, therefore, to keep things simple with a monochrome illustration. I did introduce an element of challenge, however, by deciding to use biro as my medium, drawing straight onto the page with no pencil guidelines with the exception of the exterior blob shape so as to keep the wave shapes in line. With no ability to rectify mistakes (excluding Tipex) I was forced to slow down and draw more thoughtfully than I often do. It was, therefore, pretty relaxing.
The drawing evolved on the page so that it eventually depicted a mermaid in the foreground, sunning herself flirtatiously on the rocks, a shipwrecked sailor looking cheerful as he believes the beautiful mermaid will rescue him, and a lighthouse because I like lighthouses and it suggests perilous waters. Of course, we all know that mermaids like to drown sailors. It’s dolphins that do the rescuing. For that reason, I titled my illustration “Dangerous Beauty”.
This week’s Let’s Face It lesson was taken by Karine Bosse. The idea was to paint a watercolour portrait of a mermaid. As per usual, time pressures and improvisation with materials meant I strayed a little from the tutorial but I tried to stick to the ideas presented as closely as I could.
If you have followed either of my blogs for long enough then you will know that I have a bit of a mixed history with painting mermaids from the good, the bad, and the ugly. I tend to be better when portraying them as deadly sirens than as delightful creatures. I wonder what that says about me? Anyway, this lesson was a chance to try and overcome my mermaid issue. It possibly helps that the focus was just on the face and hair with no fishy body to portray.
I used the Kuretake watercolours I received for Christmas and I love them. The pigments are so rich and vibrant and the paints are smooth and saturate the paper. The turquoise and dark pink made my painting quite punchy I think. Making the cheeks so pink freaked me out a bit but their warmth does, I think, balance out the turquoise.
A change of month means a change of theme for the Documented Life Project. Whereas March was all about Doodles, April is all about “Colour Safari”, which apparently means exploring use of paints and inks. This week group members were instructed to use watercolour and the prompt phrase was “It’s water under the bridge”.
Watercolour is a medium I am comfortable with. I would not claim to be a proficient watercolourist as I do have a tendecy to just treat it as more transparent ink but I am certainly capable enough with watercolour, more so than other media. I, therefore, wanted to stretch myself with the subject matter for this week’s DLP journal page. I wanted to respond to the specific prompt but the bridge element was not speaking to me in any way so I focused in on the water instead. Given my recent episode of painting a monstrous mermaid and her not-all-that-much-better colleague, I decided that my personal challenge would be to paint a mermaid. A decent mermaid.
I decided to keep the page monochrome so I stuck to a blue colour scheme. After sketching in the mermaid, I started with background washes of watercolour and allowed them to overlap onto the figure so that the figure would look immersed in the water. Then, using the finest of my waterbrushes, I began to fill in the figure. I allowed the tail to become quite watery and blotchy, dripping stronger pigment into liquid areas and allowing it to spread to create the impression of a tail shimmering with scales and reflecting the water. I took several washes in directional brush strokes to layer the mermaid’s hair. After colouring the face, torso and arms, I spattered the page with a few shades of blue watercolour paint making sure I covered the face and kept it splotch-free. I like splattering anyway but I thought it would add to the idea of splashing water and surf.
I was pretty pleased with how the mermaid turned out. Certainly she was a better effort than my attempts with acrylic. I resisted the temptation to outline her in ink (as I had done with my Drawing challenge Siren) to try and take a small step away from my default illustrative style. It was also an opportunity to rub some rust off my face-drawing skills.
My name is Laura and I am a Control Freak.
Frequent visitors to my blog may recall that the other day I shared the “monstrous mermaid” I had painted in response to a Life Book lesson. I managed to successfully view the whole experience as a learning experience, spun the negatives into positives, embraced the mistakes. Nevertheless, it niggled at me. It annoyed me still. Because I am a control freak. I needed to test whether I had learned from the experience after all, whether I could use my analysis of what had gone right and wrong and create a better version as a consequence. So today I decided to eke out some art time thanks to having no volunteer commitments, getting cracking on chores early in the morning and cooking dinner in the crockpot.
I liked what I had done with the collage before – using gelli plate prints torn at random and interspersed with book pages – so I decided to replicate that with the addition of also using some scraps from a map. This time I scraped a thin layer of gesso over the centre of the collage to both knock back some of the collage colours a little and to provide a tooth for the paint to adhere to. I think where I went wrong most before was in my use of heavy bodied acrylic paints. I did use them again for my second attempt but this time mixed with bases of craft acrylics to increase the fluidity and extend the drying time of the paint. That allowed me to blend a bit better and also allowed the collage papers to show through a little in places, which I thought was a welcome effect for a mixed media piece. I really liked all of the dots in my previous painting so I did dots again.
I changed it up a bit stylistically too, working in my more cartoony style, which helped simplify things a little. I did, however, stick to the same colour pallette because I liked the teal greens and russet reds I had used on the previous attempt. I also used the same phrase again – “Go with the flow” – an instruction to myself I am ironically not abiding by given that I insisted on a do-over on this mermaid painting. A lovely woman who is a member of one of the online mixed media groups I belong to very sweetly and generously sent me a whole box of shape punches she was getting rid of recently. Among them was a seahorse punch. Perfect. I found some origami paper in my stash that was both green and orange, picking up colours from the painting, so I punched a few seahorses out of that paper and adhered them to the painting.
Job done. Perfect? Absolutely not. I still have a lot to learn but at least I know I am learning from mistakes. I am much happier with this mermaid. I still prefer my siren drawing though.
I learned quite a few things from this week’s Life Book lesson.
Firstly, it is a good idea not to stand my mug of boiling water and lemon next to my water jar as it is inevitable that a paint covered brush will end up in the drink.
Secondly, I need to curb the temptation of going off piste so much. Eager to marry my own style to the techniques being taught, I am being too impulsive. I need to find the time to follow the tutorials more closely, even emulating the tutor’s style, before embarking on a version in my own style.
Thirdly, that my promise to myself to embrace all of my mistakes as learning opportunities can feel quite challenging at times.
This week’s bonus lesson was led by Patti Ballard and the technique demonstrated was painting on top of collage with acrylic. Ballard’s instructional video depicted her painting a ballerina on a tightrope and the phrase “Courage Dear Heart”. Ballerinas are not really my thing. In fact, the one really good pen and ink drawing I ever did of a ballerina I gave away to a friend. The idea of painting one, therefore, didn’t really trigger any enthusiasm in me so I decided to paint a mermaid instead. I have been planning to carve a mermaid lino block print for ages but cannot seem to settle on a design so in the mean time I thought I would use one for this lesson.
The collage step went well. I used some papers and some of my gelli prints and it all looked quite harmonious. And then it came time to paint.
I am really quite inexperienced with acrylic paint. I am comfortable with pencil, charcoal, ink and watercolour but I have not yet gotten the hang of acrylic. I think the first mistake I made, therefore, was using paint that was too heavy bodied. Something a little more fluid may have helped me a lot more with blending. My second mistake was to go too dark with my colour palette. I wanted to ensure that the painting stood out against the background papers but in retrospect I should have toned the colours down a lot more.
It was not long before the whole thing was just looking like a complete and utter mess. I have read a few times that it is important to just keep going, plough on through the ugly stage and have confidence that it will all pull together. So I powered on. It got a little better but was still pretty ugly. Adding lots of dots and circles in different shades of blue and white just made it a more highly patterned mess. Oh dear. The chance of it all pulling together into something cohesive and aesthetically pleasing was looking unlikely.
As I pondered the concatenation of errors in my painting, reflected on how I needed to turn this failure into a valuable learning opportunity, I decided that the phrase I should stamp onto my painting was “Go with the flow”. That is the type of courage I need with this mixed media art course. I need to do my own thing a bit less, conform a bit more, accept that I will stumble – sometimes badly – but keep on trying. I need to stop being a self-critical control freak and need to just “go with the flow”.
So here, in all her monstrous glory, is my mermaid.
The sirens were a group of dangerous women in Greek Mythology, using their song to enchant and lure sailors to their deaths by drowning them. When we vacationed on the Sorrentine peninsula back in 2006, we were told that the rocks between the bay where we were staying and the island of Capri were the home of the sirens. Thankfully we didn’t run into them. There is a strong history of drowning in my family history – it’s the leading cause of death after war and tuberculosis – so I wouldn’t fancy my chances up against a siren. I am pretty sure lots of Mediterranean islands lay claim to being the home of the sirens in the hope of enchanting and luring tourists. Not to their deaths.
The sirens feature in some of the major myths. In the story of Jason and the Argonauts, for instance, Orpheus whips out his lyre and starts playing it in order to drown out their song. Orpheus’ music was more beautiful than their song so the sirens were defeated. Take that! In The Odyssey, Odysseus decided he wanted to hear the siren’s song so he had his men bind him to the mast of his ship – so that he was prevented from diving into the water when the sirens tempted him – while his crew plugged their ears with beeswax.
In classical writing and art, sirens were part-human-part-bird – rather like the harpies –perhaps because of the connection to bird song. Despite their hybridization, they were considered to be beautiful, sensuous and seductive. Think “sexy sparrow”. No? Me neither. I, however, decided to not take my drawing down that classical route. The original sirens have become conflated with mermaids so I decided to draw a mermaid. This was for two reasons: firstly, it avoided me all but repeating my harpy drawing; secondly, I have been meaning to draw or print a mermaid for quite some time now so I thought this drawing would be a good starting point for working on another mermaid some time. I drew her with lots of curves to reinforce the idea of her sensuality but I added the skull and bone at the base of her rock as an allusion to her deadliness. As a creature of the sea, I used a blue and sea-green colour scheme. I enjoyed drawing her so I do hope I find time to create more mermaids some time soon.