"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Colour as Therapy ....

For almost eighteen months I didn't post here on my blog at all ... I had a bit of an art and personal crisis going on and I was struggling to keep my head above water.  Blogging is a funny thing, sometimes you have the urge to broadcast and other times you feel like deleting the blog and yourself from the online world altogether.  I had been making a lot of art but not feeling comfortable with the process.  I think I have a balance now - if I want to put words and pictures on a page that are meaningful to me, hopefully they may be of interest and if not - it still makes a nice visual diary to reflect on.   

The quote above resonated with me so much that earlier this year I decided to get away and spend some time with a lovely friend, amazing artist and teacher Susan Harrison-Tustain.   I had recently been working on a significant art commission which took months to research, plan and complete and I felt the need to explore the properties of colour a little further.   It's a fascination I have as many artists do, especially with watercolour - the interplay between colours, the subtle gradations and in particular how colour temperature affects a painting.  Susan is a master of this work so I spent the week in her studio exploring a whole new world.

 We talked a lot about colours, hues, textures, light, how the background affects the subject, colour harmony  ... the list goes on - way too much to cover here and I have a book full of notes which I was taking as Susan talked about colour relationship, her knowledge was extraordinary.  For those who are interested in her technique and process - there are a few great DVD's to choose from on Susan's website.

I was thrilled to see she uses the same paint palette as me - the good old milk glass egg dish - and it was interesting to work with her preferred brand Schminke watercolour paints, the colours were beautiful.
Susan works with many layers of colour and I love the way she uses yellow as a priming colour to 'set the tone' so that the finished product comes alive.

 As I wanted to spend all our valuable time painting and learning more about colour I brought along  a photo which was used for reference and allowed more time to focus on watercolour and learn about building up the layers.

My home town is a long way from anywhere, so travelling from Western Australia to the North Island of New Zealand required flying through the night for eight hours  - then driving for three hours to Susan's home town.   I was pretty exhausted at the end of it but when you are doing something you love with the company of like minded the time really flies.
Thank goodness I took plenty of notes and photos, being tired doesn't bode well for all that close work and information.  Susan and her lovely husband Richard were wonderful hosts, we have so much in common - our mutual appreciation of so many beautiful things and I will never forget how kind they were, not to mention stunning cooks!

It was a very memorable time and enabled me to put a few things in perspective.  We were then able to switch off and enjoy the beautiful sights that NZ has to offer.  One of my favourite pastimes is kayaking so I took every opportunity to get out on the water and just glide in the peaceful quietness - simply magnificent.  Just what the doctor ordered, peace and tranquility out amongst the beauty of nature.

A big thank you to a good friend and wonderful mentor, for  restoring a more playful and adventurous approach to the beauty that is watercolour.

"Nature always wears the colours of the spirit"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Otehei Bay, New Zealand

Diversion ...

Framed and ready to go

The Watercolour Society of WA Annual Exhibition was a great success in terms of numbers attending and artworks exhibited - almost 300 which were received with great enthusiasm.
My botanical rose painting looked a bit subdued in amongst the vibrant colour and movement of the works in the gallery - portraits, landscapes, architecture etc  with many artists taking advantage of larger sheets and full colour to portray their subjects.

Initial washes

I love to see work in progress photos of watercolour paintings to see the layers and detail bringing it to life.  Sometimes I think I prefer those images to the finished piece!

Starting the leaves

Rose leaves are so complex, take longer than the flower

 I knew my painting would be the shy girl in the corner - botanical art is the kind of work that the closer you get to the painting, the more you see - everything is in focus and detailed.    Many mainstream artworks are best viewed from a distance where you can get the full visual impact whereas botanicals invite you to step in closer ... just as in nature.

I always do a quick check of black and white tonal values:
© Vicki Lee Johnston

"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way" 
 - Edward de Bono.
This quote was posted online recently and resonated strongly with me, thanks to friend Sarah from The Natural Year

The artistic path has led me down many roads and the newest route is taking somewhat of a detour to my norm.  I am working on a couple of projects to explore a slightly new way of working.  My subject is still nature - still botanically correct - but there will be some subtle changes and shifts in the way I present the work which is already bringing in positive new energy and optimism.  We have to find the fire that lights the creative juices and keeps us inspired and motivated, even if it takes us on the path less travelled.

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Acceptance ...

Almost completed rose WIP

 I have almost finished my latest piece which had an extremely short deadline of one week from start to finish!  I had previously decided I wasn't going to put myself under the pressure of such deadlines but this was a labour of love and came together quite quickly.

Botanical art is a beautiful tradition, very exact and technical - but also an expression of the artist's curiosity with the natural world and wanting to portray it accurately through art.  

As I work in watercolour it seemed like a good fit to approach the Watercolour Society of WA for consideration to join their art community.  Acceptance is based on a juried submission, so I presented a number of paintings for assessment and I was very happy to be welcomed as a full member.  I was surprised to hear their annual exhibition was to be only weeks later, a great opportunity to work on a new painting.

With a very short time frame it's best to do what you are familiar with and choose a subject you love ... so for me it was the rose.  I have plenty of inspiration here in my garden and I chose a simple elegant rose in beautiful shades of pink.  I composed it in a classically traditional way - thinking along the lines of how Redoute would portray his magnificent rose paintings - as though they were suspended in mid air, with a slightly ethereal quality.
Some fine tuning to be done and then off to the framers.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

The pink rose represents love, gratitude, appreciation, gentleness and admiration.

 I would like to dedicate this rose painting to a special friend.
In honour of Rita and her beloved Danilo.
Un abbraccio forte xx

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Flower Power ...

It's spring in Western Australia and the wildflowers are blooming!  I grew up on a farm in an area of  prolific wildflower diversity and I always try and head to the countryside to see this spectacle in situ. If I can't get away from work I head to Kings Park and Botanic Gardens in Perth.  We are so lucky to have this wide open space right  in the centre of our city to showcase our natural diversity and beautiful wildflowers which bring locals and tourists in their droves to view nature showing off.

When you visit the Botanic Gardens you don't have to go far to see a wide variety of species - September is the best month to visit during the Kings Park Festival when the wildflowers are at their best.  We enjoyed a beautiful blue sky day about 25 degrees, perfection.

I feel like something is missing if I don't see the wildflower display each year, nature is putting on a show and deserves to be noticed.

Western Australia is a huge state and you could drive for hours to see these wildflowers growing in their native habitat, thanks to Kings Park and Botanic Gardens for allowing locals and visitors alike to see so much variety in one place.

I took hundreds of photos as usual, so it's difficult to display only a few here - so I hope you will indulge my love of our local flora and enjoy the visual art show.

My husband is a great supporter of my botanical art and a lover of nature also - he also managed to take some beautiful pics for our archives.

Paradise ...

I hope you enjoyed these images - I loved being out amongst our flora on a beautiful spring day.  So much food for thought and inspiration for upcoming art projects, very happy!  Every season brings a unique view on nature and its bounty.

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All images © Vicki Lee Johnston