• 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.

    I spent some blissful hours and was feeling very smug. However, when I looked at my paint sketches in the studio later I immediately reverted to my usual self critical ‘They are No Good’. But then I immediately reacted against this negativity. I realised that the exercise had not been about creating something ‘good’, ‘bad’ or anything in between – it had been about enjoying the day and gathering fuel for the soul.

    ‘Bluebells and tangles’

    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.

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

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  • Experimental watercolour workshop- new dvd cover

    The cover of my latest dvd has been finalised- and here it is!

    The painting used for the cover is one of a series of river scenes that I have made based on a local river that I see on daily walks. I have enjoyed watching this scene change with the seasons as the surrounding trees and vegetation reveal or obscure the water. I especially love it in the evening when the sun always gathers its strength at a particular spot, tangled within the branches. Many rooks live in the canopy and as the sun sinks the noise rises. It is very atmospheric. I tried to capture some of this atmosphere in my cover demonstration whilst finding a range of techniques to show you that suit the subject. Other versions of this river are featured in my book ‘Watercolour workshop’ ( Batsford 2018) on pages 90-91.

    Experimental Watercolour workshop is available to pre-order from the shop Orders will be sent after publication date of May 1st .

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  • Experimental Watercolour Workshop- NEW DVD

    My new dvd is based on some of the contents of my ‘Watercolour Workshop’ book which was published last year. It reinforces the book and vice versa with new interpretations and techniques. It isn’t necessary to have both though in order to benefit from their ideas. They are independent of each other. I took subjects for the film that had not already been demonstrated as step by steps in the book and explain in the film how each interpretation can be unique and different depending on how you mix and choose the ‘ingredients’. It continues the theme of experimentation as a way to develop your artwork and loosen up your approach.

    I painted a new version of the Lavender field and Cowparsley used for the cover of the book – and was pleased with the way the watercolour formed ‘happy accidents’ and had a real energy. I had painted an interpretation as a kind of ‘dress rehearsal’ before I painted in front of the camera as I needed to loosen up before starting . Performing to camera is pretty scary stuff but my practise piece paid off because the demonstration version had an energy, that was perhaps lacking in my first , unfilmed attempt. I added collage to the watercolour beginning, explaining how this optional progression could change the direction of your watercolours.

    Other demonstrations include a frothy Spring hawthorn and an atmospheric evening river scene. There are lots of ideas and thoughts behind the pictures and I hope if you get to see it you will be inspired to get your paints out and explore!

    ‘Experimental Watercolour Workshop’ dvd is now available to pre-order from the shop. Publication date is May 1st 2019 and any ordered before that date will be sent after publication.

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  • RI annual exhibition

    I have just spent two days in London at the RI exhibition in the Mall Galleries. Day one was the private view and opening of the exhibition. The gallery was absolutely packed but I got there quite early so had plenty of time to look round at all the gorgeous paintings. So much variety and some lovely stuff from non members as well as members. Speaking of which-At the end of the opening speeches I was presented with a wonderful diploma to mark the fact that I had been elected as a member this time last year.

    My paintings are hung in two groups. The main group is a block of four hedgerow themed paintings featuring brambles and rosehips. My two other paintings of May blossom and wild rose in the hedgerow are hung within a collection of smaller work by other members.

    I feel very honoured to be in this position and it was great to be able to ‘give back’ a little and offer portfolio reviews for anyone that wanted me to do a free critique of their work, on the following day. It was really interesting to meet people and see their artwork. Some people brought in some fabulous sketchbooks full of ideas. Somebody specifically came to the gallery to thank me as I had inspired her to begin her own watercolour journey. Her paintings are now incredible after only a few years of starting. Lots of people were nervous about showing their work to me but after talking for a while I think they realised that I wasn’t too scary after all! At that point,pads and phones appeared out of their hiding places in bags and we were able to look at a large range of images and have some useful discussions. As I pointed out a few times. Art is not a competition ( or shouldn’t be). We are all in it together.

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