Prussian Blue…..it can take over a bit

When I was at art school I made a number of drawings where I masked off with tape a geometric shape on a piece of paper.  I then took pure Prussian Blue pigment and rubbed it into the masked off area.  I pushed the colour in hard and the result was a razor sharp form (once the tape had been removed) with an inner area of the deepest, darkest quality that absorbed light fantastically and had an almost velvety surface.

Every since I have had a bit of a soft spot for Prussian Blue, I’ve used it from time to time, but as a colour it can have a bit of a tendency to take over. It’s intense qualities being on the one hand really attractive to use, but at the same time you find yourself trying to keep it in check.

Today was such an occasion.  When I travel around I often take one of my small drawing books with me.  These are mostly filled with rapidly made watercolour sketches of landscapes I encounter.  These in turn feed into my studio work, recently in an increasingly direct way.

I don’t pretend to be a great watercolour painter. Generally I only use the medium on a very small scale in my notebooks.  Today I found myself on the Dutch north coast on a somber day, with grey clouds racing across a heavy sky.  The paints and notebook came out of my bag.  It set to work on a series of rapid sea horizon sketches. I love making these sorts of images, fluid colours and flows, held in place by the taught horizon line across the double pages of the drawing book. 

Today though was different for one small detail.  Yesterday, my much preferred Ultramarine ran out.  In my small box of paints, just twelve colours, I was forced to dip into the rarely used Prussian Blue.  Cautiously at first I mixed.  The first painting reflected this caution.  In the second the depths of the blue started to become more apparent.  In the third it threatened to get completely out of control and had to be quickly neutralised with some Raw Umber. 

The results are a set of paintings that took perhaps twenty minutes to make, but are surprisingly different to those I have recently made. They are also paintings that I think may well end up being useful once back in the studio.  Today, necessity was the mother of invention and Prussian blue crept back into what I am doing.

Travelling with a sketchbook

Two or three times a year I go either away on holiday or a short break. Mostly these trips involve a lot of outside time, often in quite remote places. About five or six years ago I started to take a sketchbook with me, on reflection I think this was because my own work as an artist had become increasingly related to the landscape and I think that I thought that by more careful observation of it I might actually learn something.

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That was six years ago and my work still very definitely has a landscape connection to it and I continue to take just a small black hardback book with me, either A5 or A6 and a small set of twelve watercolours, a pencil, a brush and a black fine liner pen.

What I do on these trips does in one way or another feed back into more carefully worked out ideas, but it has also become something in its own right. I have never thought of myself as a great technician, certainly not when it comes to a material such as watercolour, but I do enjoy the challenge and speed of it all, as I pause for a few minutes with my family most often as company.

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I have just come to the end of a two week break from teaching, the first week was spent in good weather in the landscapes and forests around where I live in the Netherlands, the second week over the border into the Eifel in Germany.

The resulting filled pages will  certainly never be exhibited, so a post on my blog certainly seems a good alternative.