“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” Ludwig van Beethoven
For a long time now, I have wanted to learn how to paint on vellum. For those that don’t know, vellum is a type of parchment prepared from animal skin (usually calf). It is prized for it’s smoothness, it’s durability and above all, that magical translucent luminosity that it brings to watercolour paintings.
|Cherry leaf on vellum, Dianne Sutherland Ball|
However, it’s not that easy- painting on vellum is not like painting on paper. It doesn’t like a lot of water, so requires a special dry brush technique and an awful lot of patience. It’s also eye-wateringly expensive!
Fortunately my friend, the very talented Dianne Sutherland Ball, recently set up an online course in vellum painting, and as I am a huge fan of her work, I signed up. I’ll be writing more about vellum as the course progresses.
So this week found me going right back to the basics once more, drawing out little squares and circles onto paper and practicing over and over again- flat washes, graded washes and dry brush techniques. I experimented with different brushes, trying ones that have been long neglected and forgotten, some that have never ever been used! Some worked beautifully whilst others were a total disaster! It’s the perfect excuse to order some lovely new brushes… well, I’ll need them for the vellum!
|Back to basic- the top was my first attempt with dodgy washes and odd shaped balls. The second attempt was better. The egg was my first dry brush attempt..|
I played with the paint, trying out new ways of putting pigment onto paper and pushing it around the page, lifting and blending and occasionally cursing! As I worked, I found myself contemplating how beneficial these kind of exercises are, and how they can open the door to new discoveries about ourselves as artists.
|A previous practice page of fresh dates (Phoenix dactylifera) with some real ones thrown in|
So often in life, we rush into things headfirst, impatient to start and too eager to finish. However, there is a lot to be gained in taking things slowly and going back to the basics. Often the path to mastering a technique requires endless repetition.
|Page of olive leaves (Olea europaea)|
There is something quite satisfying about filling a page with leaves, repeating it over and over again. I’ve often spent an afternoon, chasing something across a page, each time tweaking it to get the right colour, the right tone.
|Struggling to capture the soft fuzzy grey of the Dusty miller plant (Senecio cineraria)|
It’s that relentless pursuit of perfection, or as Vincent Van Gogh said “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”
|Shells make great practice pieces|
|A small dry leaf can keep me busy for a few hours... yes, I'm easily amused!|
|There's never an excuse not to practice... I once whiled away an afternoon in a busy waiting room .|
Next week I hope to start on the vellum and will let you all know how I get on. For now I will leave you with a few useful links and another quote. I'm off to practice some more!
"As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." Vincent van Gogh