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ANN’S BLOG


  • A strange spring time

    Well – it’s Spring . The birds are singing furiously in my garden. The primroses and hellebores are flowering. The trees are in bud. The sun is shining in a cloudless blue sky.It is hard to imagine that unseen covid-19 clouds hang noiselessly around the garden, creeping stealthily to find a way in; the unseen and the unknown, the dread of what might be.   What a time we are living in! How strange it all is. What else can we do but focus on the positive, find pleasure in the small delights, take each day at a time and live for the moment?  I know it is easy for me to say these things when  I am  lucky enough to live in the countryside, surrounded by beautiful walks and  with a magical cottage garden . I spend most of my time in my studio , garden or on a local walk anyway, so nothing much has changed for me . Together with my lovely husband, we lead ‘The good life’,  and are tucked up here together  at home. We have salad growing in the green house, the herbs are  sprouting in the vegetable patch. I am even  eyeing up the nettles as a potential soup ingredient! In my studio I have gone into wartime mentality. I am using scraps of paper , thinking up ways to re-use, recycle, re-invent. Go back to the old ways . It is what we should be doing anyway- We need to start thinking differently about our time on the planet.  Make each day count. A day at a time.

    I am working on a project at the moment that means I am restricted in what new paintings I can post here. But there is nothing to stop me putting on a few ‘golden oldies’!  This painting, ‘In my dreams’, is featured in my book ‘Experimental Landscapes’. ( book-available from the website shop www.annblockley.com)  I pieced together some carefully chosen sections from various watercolours to create a patchwork montage of ideas. Rather than simply painting one image of a ‘view’ it is about inventing a wider, more poetic narrative. So if you run out of paper over the next few weeks-  there is no excuse not to still make some beautiful artwork!    Keep safe, keep positive. Think outside the box…  But- if anyone is feeling  sad  and alone in these difficult times do drop me a line at ann@annblockley.com. I don’t know that I will be able to help- but I’m here and we are all in this together.  xxx

                                                        In my dreams

     

     

    .I

     

     

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  • Painting in Autumn Woodland-a short video

    This  year I have been visiting a local woodland to paint and sketch. Not in order to make completed pictures but simply to  record what I see and enjoy the act of being outdoors.  In the Autumn  a friend made this little video of me sketching in the wood  and I thought I would share it with you today  as  we move towards the winter solstice.

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  • Sketching in China

     

    It is crazy how time has just whizzed by. I  cannot believe that my last post was when I came back from my trip to China.  That experience  felt like a personal cross roads – travelling to the other side of the world with  people I had not met before and  not knowing what to expect when we got there.  It was very much a plein air sketching trip and  most of the subjects were huge. I was deeply conscious of the fact that  (a) I don’t usually paint the bigger landscape, (2) I don’t really ‘sketch’ in the conventional way, (3)  I mostly work indoors to achieve all the kinds of effects and mark making that make my work  individual. and (4) there were buildings involved and with regard to painting or drawing buildings and straight- lines  I am practically phobic!  I felt really out of my comfort zone  but determined to  give it all my best shot.

    One of the  things I  loved once we had arrived and got into the swing of  the activities was noticing how the other painters work. I have been aware of this before, when I have worked alongside other groups of artists such as the Arborealists.  There seem to be two types of plein air artists: those who wander round looking at absolutely everything before choosing a subject, procrastinating because there might be something better around the  corner and others who arrive, choose their subject immediately and get straight on to it.  I am usually the first  type but I decided to  behave differently on this trip  and simply dive in at the deep end.

    I came home with a variety of  paint sketches and drawings. None of them were finished pieces, nor is it likely that I will   take them further. However, the process of doing them  was extremely enriching, I had used unfamiliar techniques to tackle different subjects which felt really good. I had  tackled some of my weaknesses  full on and  returned home empowered and stronger. I am now really inspired to do more sketching outdoors and see how it feeds into my studio painting.

    I have recently  painted some  completely different  chinese subjects in  my studio but more of that to follow next year. In the meantime here are some of my chinese sketches:

    Camellias and pagodas by the water- Chinese passers- by were not at all impressed by the bits of collage and abstract quality to this!

     

    Wenzhou city- the old and the new- across the river from a sparkling clean ‘gin palace’ boat- scared to spill paint on its white surfaces!

     

    hovels and old walls by the blue mountain. Bits of collage stuck on for the leaves.

     

    Beach with old fishing boat. Hot, humid and sand in my paint.

     

     

     

     

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  • China- ‘When wenzhou meets London’

    I am back from an incredible visit to China where I was invited to participate in a cultural and art exchange with a group of 8 UK and 8 Chinese artists.We were based mainly at The Nanxi Academy which is situated in a dramatic landscape in the Yandang mountains in South East China. The Chinese people we met were immensely welcoming and generous and we were treated like royalty. At the opening ceremony it was red carpet, entertainments, speeches and ceremonial robes all round.

    We were taken to a series of stunning locations; steep mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, bamboo groves, temples and pagodas. Everywhere, the clouds of golden dragonflies flew to greet us and butterflies the size of bats wafted past.

    It was challenging painting in the heat, being eaten alive by insects, working on location rather than in my comfortable studio, in unfamiliar territory and sometimes working on massive sheets of paper, twice the size of my normal work. I even tried painting in acrylic on canvas. It was exhilarating however to be completely stretched out of my comfort zone and I tackled it full on as a huge, probably life-changing personal challenge.

    It was an exercise in practising being immersed in the moment and enjoying the process instead of worrying about how the end result would turn out. Working alongside the Chinese was fascinating- noting their Zen approach to the way they work, treating the experience from start to finish as a series of calm and mindful treasured moments.

    It was a fortnight of laughter, friendship, art,culture,wonderful food and amazing natural landscapes. I am now going to look through my hundreds of photographs, the piles of sketchy artwork and try and make sense of it all. I feel inspired to paint and paint again like never before.

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  • #plastic-free 3

    Here are the findings for my research into finding more eco- friendly alternatives to cling- film for creating texture in watercolour . Clearly these are only single samples and as we all know these kind of experiments can vary widely each time according to how the paint is applied, consistency, temperature, luck and so on. So my research is not very scientific- but it is a start. I shall continue to experiment and if anyone has any bright ideas -do let me know and I will pass it on…  

     Tracing paper :  I crumpled tracing paper and placed it on top of the wet wash. It lay uncomfortably with no ‘clinginess’ so I weighted it down under some books until almost dry. It looked interesting under the crumpled tracing paper but once this was peeled off the resulting textures were slightly disappointing. Nb try baking/parchment paper? Other papers too?

    Crumpled tracing paper on top of a wet wash
    A disappointing result- but will try it a few more times.

     Wax paper : (plastic-free type) I tried crumpling it to replicate cling- film crumples. The finished texture is ‘bitty’ but has potential. I also tried a version leaving the wax paper on flat over the   paint and again, weighting it down until dry. The wax paper ripples leaving an effect like water -exciting!!

    Crumpled wax paper removed when dry-the result is quite promising- similar to cling-film
    Sample with wax paper laid flat and removed when dry-

     Plastic wrapper/bag : The texture from this was similar to that produced by cling film- but although this is re-used ‘waste’ material it is still non -recyclable  plastic so only a small advantage over cling film.

    Re-used plastic bag- not ideal but better than buying new cling film

     Tissue paper : I tried this with watercolour and ink in various ways and each was very promising.  The very thin paper ‘clings’ to the surface like cling-film creating similar marks.  When I trickled ink under the edges of the tissue paper into the watercolour- it seemed almost more successful than when done under cling film- hurrah!   I also found I could concertina it slightly to achieve a linear effect as well as the usual crumples. I took the tissue paper off when the paint was still damp to avoid it sticking.

    Tissue paper crumpled on wet wash-before
    Textures made by crumpled tissue paper – after
    Crumpled tissue paper on wet watercolour wash – with ink introduced-Before
    Crumpled tissue paper on wet watercolour wash – with ink introduced- After
    Tissue paper pulled into concertina patterns on wet watercolour-Before
    Tissue paper pulled into concertina patterns on wet watercolour- After

    Conclusion– I shall continue to explore but at the moment the tissue paper is looking very promising- no more cling – film for me! Project was inspired by Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s excellent tv documentary on plastic.


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  • #plastic-free 2

     Following on from my previous post I am looking at how we can cut down or replace cling-film as a paint texture-making technique. Clearly, any ‘single use’ material that we use instead is not ideal. Even if it is supposedly recyclable – the recycling plants cannot cope with the quantities of ‘stuff’.  However, if we re-use rather than buying new material (plastic/paper/other) that cuts down the waste a bit. Ideally, we wouldn’t use plastic at all, but currently most supermarkets and shops make it difficult to escape from. For the time being I am suggesting that we re-use these materials as far as possible if we cannot avoid them.  So instead of throwing away – I now look at our bins with an eye to what can be used in my studio.  When (shock horror) I discovered some plastic-wrapped apples in our fridge that someone had bought I collected the wrapping for the studio and will trial  these along with other ‘baddies’ as I  rescue them.

    The re-using plastic option is clearly only a minimal improvement over actually buying a roll of it so I have been looking at whether different kinds of papers could be used as an alternative instead.  I researched whether greaseproof or parchment paper has plastic in it: some do and some do not.  If it is called baking paper, as far as I can gather, it may be coated with silicon. I also wondered about tracing paper which I don’t believe has plastic in it but need to find out for sure.  I have some wax paper that I bought online that I already know makes interesting patterns – but different to the patterns we are used to with cling film.

     In my recent dvd  ‘Experimental watercolour workshop’ I have touched on this  subject  and in the dvd I suggest using tissue paper instead of cling film – the  potentially crunchy kind used for craft- not  the soft variety. It needs to be peeled off before the paint is completely dry to avoid it sticking.Eventually, I also want to explore whether different painting surfaces affect the ‘stickability of the applied texture- making material.

    I began each sample with a wet in wash of watercolours before placing the different materials on top – in different ways.

    To keep a certain degree of control in all the samples I used the same paper and paint colours. I used Saunders Waterford Not paper as this is a surface that I have often applied cling film to in the past. The colours are French Ultramarine with Quinacrodine Gold watercolour painted in random ‘wet in wet’ splodges.  The paper does slightly vary in size between samples because I used small random ‘offcuts’ of paper to avoid waste. The texture-making materials were all applied immediately whilst the paint was still wet. Some of them did not cling to the surface at all so had to be weighted down flat with books until dry and so these were mostly not photographed until finished.

    To be continued- Read #plastic-free 3 for the findings!


     

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  • #Plastic -free (1)

     I am getting increasingly anxious about all the news regarding climate change and plastic. I am also feeling guilty because over many years I have not only used but promoted the use of cling -film (plastic, shrink or glad wrap) as a way of creating texture in my watercolour paintings. As recently as last year, in my book ‘Watercolour Workshop’, I demonstrated ways of using it to create abstract marks in paint.

     So where do we go from here?  I have become addicted to the stuff. I need to find alternatives and I feel that I have a responsibility to the planet to pass on any useful discoveries. It would be easy to say ‘what’s the point’ because the tidal wave of plastic and waste is so immense that our individual endeavours can only form a droplet. But I strongly feel that I have to do something, in my own tiny way, and that if we all do the same- perhaps it will help.  And so I have made a start with some experiments but will continue to explore and share my findings . I will do this over a number of blog posts – otherwise each post would become far too big to publish- so please watch this space!

    ‘Tree textures’ patterns was created with the help of clingfilm- I am searching for new ways to make marks in paintings without buying rolls of plastic. #plastic-free

    To be continued…….


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  • Rainy days

    I had a lovely time last week meeting lots of visitors to my studio, chatting about art, life , gardening and inevitably the rainy weather! And of course selling paintings! Now I am sitting in my studio deciding what to do next.. It has been a very busy couple of years with my two new books: ‘Watercolour Workshop’ and ‘John Blockley: A Retrospective; exhibitions following these publications; my new dvd recently and the studio open week to celebrate that. Plus all the activities with the RI and Arborealist groups.

    Mountain Stream was featured in my book ‘Watercolour Workshop’ and- will be included in an online exhibition – at the end of June.

    Being in the studio, looking at finished paintings on the wall for lengths of time makes me want to start all over again. I have made a start by going through my plan chest and throwing some unfinished work out that is not going to make the grade- even as collage pieces. Although I encourage students not to be too hasty in throwing their art away I think we sometimes have to be brutal and honest with ourselves and only keep the ‘best’ pieces. It is good for the soul- and it makes room for new work.

    Later this month I shall be putting some paintings online so that those of you who couldn’t get to the exhibition will get a chance to look – or buy! I am going to have a short holiday and then I shall be getting my sketchbook out and doing some soul searching work , experiments, writing and playing. Plus I have an exciting project to start planning…

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  • Spring Exhibition

    It’s getting close to the start of my Spring Exhibition so I am frantically finishing off paintings, putting them in frames and mounts and sorting out my prints . I have had a few new card designs printed too, and I am constantly checking supplies of my new DVD as orders are still coming in thick and fast.

    All the paintings that I did for the DVD will be in the show alongside alternative interpretations of similar subjects: rivers, meadows, hawthorn trees through the seasons.It is all looking rather colourful- foxglove meadows, lavender fields, teasels, bluebell woods, woodlands, cowparsley, and hedgerow subjects.

    Foxglove meadow

    The courtyard outside my studio is looking fantastic at the moment. I just hope it lasts until the exhibition! There are foxgloves, columbines and a kind of vetch that has simply appeared from nowhere,all growing out of the gravel. There are alliums and lupins and the hollyhocks and ‘love in a mist’ are still to come.

    Outside my studio

    By the way the pub over the road is now closed unfortunately so you will have to get a coffee/lunch/tea in Moreton in Marsh or Shipston on Stour before you come ( or afterwards- depending on your priorities!) You can park in the pub car park however or down the road at the village hall. There will be some yellow signs up on the main roads around Todenham. Please don’t rely on the google map directions on my Ann Blockley RI Facebook page as it is not accurate for some weird reason. Church View is (surprisingly) opposite the church and ‘library phone box’ in Todenham. (NOT Toddington – as someone once went to!)
    Hope to see you soon!

    The Spring exhibition is at Church View, Ann’s Studio gallery, Todenham, GL56 9PF, UK – June 8th-14th See events page for further information


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  • In the woods

    I have been visiting the woods recently in order to try and get ‘back to nature’. I feel as if I have got into a lazy habit of always painting in the studio without enough plein air work. It is easy to convince yourself that a photo and sketchy scribble will do and gradually find yourself feeling rather removed from the subject. So I have been loading my rucksack with inks and paper and visiting a local wood to do some painterly experiments in situ.

    paint sketches in the bluebell wood

     

    I made this a priority over everything else because the bluebells have been coming out thick and fast and for several years I have left it too late to visit them- always finding something else ‘ more important’ to do. This year is a bumper year for bluebells. Their colour is a true feast. It sounds silly but I was quite surprised to see that the flowers were not the colour that my brain had somehow told me they were. Not really blue at all- more purple- but varying according to the light. I experimented with using different blues- some painted to be true to nature and others a more ‘imaginative’ version. Some Cobalt Blue with a touch of Quinacrodine Magenta seemed to capture the ‘real’ colour but I also played with turquoises and French Ultramarine.

    work in progress

    I found myself lost in the moment. Absorbing the sounds and sights of bumble bees, the woodpecker, deer and pheasants.A pink crab apple tree was still in blossom and red campion and cowslips fought for space in the ocean of blues and fresh greens. Picking my way through brambles, branches and old tangled stems of old man’s beard and honeysuckle made me realise that the typical romantic notion of a bluebell wood is not necessarily accurate. There are thorns, stinging nettles and awkward undergrowth waiting to trip you up. You have to stoop under and scramble over branches and logs. It is not all sweet and pretty- It’s raw nature. 

    ‘Bluebells and tangles’

    The exercise had not been about creating ‘a product’- but if I achieved this it was a bonus. The essential purpose had been about enjoying the day and gathering fuel for the soul.I had not intended that the pieces be ‘finished’ but I couldn’t resist working into some of them on a later occasion and decided that the woodland experience had injected them with a raw energy that I liked.

     

     

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