Monday, 21 November 2016

The Red Shoes

I started ballet as an adult and have been going to ballet classes in London for the last 20 years and have been performing every year as a member of an amateur ballet company for the last 15 years or so.  Guess my age, an older girl is still on pointe and going!

This year I was given the title role in Red Shoes, a short piece choreographed by one of the company members.  SO. I had to prepare the red shoes myself.  I selected a pair of old pointe shoes that still have life left in them and got down to painting them.

And here they are, my very own red shoes.  I used mixture of red acrylic paints (permanent alizarin crimson and naphthol red light - which is like cadmium red) and added some water and also some flow improver to make the paints go further.

Pink pointe shoes are cute, but red shoes have something different.  They are mysterious and attractive.  Having painted the shoes and having a pair of red shoes in my own hands made me strangely excited - an effect I didn't expect!   In the story of Red Shoes, a girl got given a pair of red shoes, not knowing they have the life of their own and make her dance till she drops dead.  It's a dark story, but then I felt like "Yeah, I can understand you want to dance till you drop wearing the red shoes".  Well, the prop helped me to be in the spirit of the roll I'll be dancing!

And naturally I wanted to paint them.  Very fitting after homage to Rodin's Dancers paintings.  But shoes are difficult subject to paint!

Drawing/painting a pair of shoes is complicated enough, and these ribbons!!  They make the matter even more complicated.  I will need to paint a lot more of these shoes to get the hang of it.

Meanwhile, my feet in the said red shoes.  Mmmm, aren't they special.
...and the costume.  Oh I loved the costume, the peppermint green goes so well with the red.


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Rodin's Dancers@Courtauld Gallery

Carol @Paris Breakfast was in town again and we made it to Rodin and Dance at Courtauld Gallery.  I haven't been there for ages and I have quite forgotten that the gallery is packed with gems.

Au Bal/Eduard Manet this.  I marvel at the fast and casual brush strokes and simple but effective choice of colours.

The Passers-by/Raoul Dufy
...or like this. 

 Dawn Camden Town/Walter Sickert
Something a bit darker.  If I remember correctly, the man on the bed is speculated to be Jack the Ripper.
We made our way to the special exhibition area through these permanent collection.  Rodin and Dance exhibition was held at the top floor.  Taking photographs was not allowed, so I made several drawings.  The exhibition was not very extensive, only two rooms were dedicated for the exhibition but well worth a visit.  I kind of sighed relief because if it was bigger, I thought I have to come back with more stack of paper to draw them.  I only carried a few pieces of small watercolour paper.
I painted in the drawings at home, it was a good exercise so later I searched on the internet for more images of Rodin's dancers and drew them from the screen.
The hand gestures of the dancers looked very much like East Asian style dance, like Balinese dance.

This one looks more balletic. 
I tried to draw the figures in the simplest and fewest loose lines - getting them right in the first time is pretty tough but then using the rubber and leaving the trace of where the lines were before also leaves interesting marks on paper - in my opinion...  I'm wondering how much I can simplify the lines and still making them look like human figure, or just dropping blobs of flesh colour paint on paper without even drawing with pencil beforehand and making them look like human figure - just getting away with doing minimum brush strokes...this might be my next project.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Watching the Paint Dry

A couple of weeks ago I met up with Carol from Paris Breakfasts.  I have been her reader for years and it was a delight to finally meet her!  She gave me some very useful tips on how to experiment with watercolour on paper.  I used to try to do that following her blog entries but couldn't have quite got it.  Seeing it done in front of my own eyes made so much more sense.  Since then I've been doing the "Watching the paint dry" exercise whenever I find time.

"Watching the paint dry" is just that. You wet the surface of the paper and drop some colours, and just watch them flow and merge.  I find it works better if I don't fiddle with my brushes.  Less is more is definitely true!

I'm having a lot of fun doing this, watching the imaginary landscapes appearing without doing anything is just wonderful.  This one is done on a tiny paper but it's one of my favourite. It turned out to look like a dramatic stormy sky.  I'm wondering if I could reproduce something similar on a larger scale paper...
...And quite often you find the palette produces more interesting image than what you have done on the paper!  Shame it needs to be washed away...

Thursday, 2 June 2016


Painted from a photograph.  Googling for the images brings up so many great moments of wildlife.  I wish my eyes were like camera lens and my brain records these magical moments like SD cards so that I can paint from memory without referring to photos!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Illuminated Manuscript Workshop Day 1



It was the first day of the Illuminated Manuscript workshop last Saturday. Well, actually the first day started on Wednesday when we went to the Windsor Castle library to view the real thing, the Sobieski Book of Hours. That was so beautiful and I felt very privileged to see such a rare treasure.

So on Saturday, real hands-on sessions started.



We are working on the first project, which is on 300gsm HP watercolour paper, not vellum. The tutor has drawn up an image that we will all be working on. We were given the image and a 4 inch square watercolour paper, with a thin board. First we fixed the paper onto the board with masking tape, then we learnt how to make a transfer paper.



Transfer paper is made with red earth pigment. The pigment is spread over evenly onto a thick drawing paper with a clean swab of cotton. I can't remember the name of the red pigment, I must remember to ask!




After the transfer paper is made, then we got onto transferring the image onto the watercolour paper. First one side of the image is taped onto the board over the watercolour paper, then the transfer paper is sandwitched face down between the image and the watercolour paper, then the other side of the image is fixed with masking paper so that it's not going to move about while the image is transferred onto the watercolour paper.


Then the image is traced with a pencil. The pencil needs to have hard lead, 5H above, so that the image is transferred clearly. If the lead is soft, then image doesn't transfer. Also, but adding extra pressure while tracing will create a kind of channel onto the watercolour paper, which will act as guide line for applying gesso and gum ammoniac, the base layer for gilding, later.




Checking the progress by gently lifting the masking paper. After the image is transferred, the red line is fixed with ink. The tutor supplied us with the oak gall ink that she has made according to the tranditional recipe.




The students have different pace of progress, so we were told to concentrate on drawing the Christ's head and around his head, so that even if the inking process has not been completed, we can move onto applying gesso on the halo of Christ.




Manuscript gesso is made according to a particular recipe. These little discs are handmade gesso made by the tutor. A disc is broken up and put into a small container, then a few drops of purified water just enough to cover the gesso is added. The manuscript gesso contains: slaked plaster, lead carbonate, seccotine (fish glue), powdered sugar crystal, red bole (red earth pigment).




When gesso has absorbed all the water, it is smoothed with the end of a chopstic, making sure there aren't any lumps. Great care needs to be taken so that air bubblers are not going to be introduced. Everyone was given the gesso in the little container. A little of the gesso is transferred onto the watercolour palette. We had to examine it closely, and if there are any air bubbles, they need to be eliminated with a needle that has tiny amount of clove oil at its tip.




The outline of the halo is painted in with the gesso that is slightly thinned down with water first. Then the entire halo is filled in with gesso.




My work in progress. It is difficult to apply right amount of gesso. I apparently applied it too thinly the first time, so I had to layer it. Then I put too much on, and the halo ended up with a slight indentation in the middle when the gesso completely dried out.




The original image and my work. When I was drawing the image with ink, I was referring to the original image but I didn't like the facial expression of Christ, so I ever so slightly changed his eyelid...then he became looking oriental, more like a handsome young Bhudda rather than Christ.




Don't know how just a slight change of brush strokes could change the entire face so much! I found it very funny, I had a bit of giggling session looking at my version of Christ. By the way, the creatures surrounding Christ are flaming Seraphs.


Once the gesso is applied, next we applied gum ammoniac to the border of the image. It is also the base for applying gold leaf. Gesso produces very shiny finish, and gum ammoniac produces subdued lustre.




We finished the day with the application of the first layer of gum ammoniac. This process needs to be repeated twice more, and we were told to get ready-made gum ammoniac and do it at home. I went to Cornelissen, a pigment shop in London near British Museum but they were out of stock. I was told that the manufacturer, Roberson, is producing a new batch of gum ammoniac with a new formula. So I needed to search the internet to source it. Eventually I got it from Gold Leaf Supplies.


We were also told that it is a good idea to keep the work in a box, as it is fragile. So I made a make-shift box for Mr Jesus Christ.