Friday, 24 October 2014

New Frisk 'Pink' Masking Fluid from the SAA - Reviewed!

In October 2014 I was sent a bottle of Frisk 'Pink' Masking fluid to try in advance of it's release. Having just recently recovered from the disease myself I was keen to review the product!

When I tell complete beginners to watercolour what masking fluid does, their eyes instantly light up. Having soon come across the problems of reserving light areas, masking fluid seems the answer to all their problems. I soon have to disillusion them! Masking fluid is a fantastic tool and really useful, but it is not without its problems and is certainly not suitable for all situations where you need to reserve white. 

When the SAA sent me a bottle of Frisk ‘pink’ masking fluid I was very excited to try it out. Not least because a percentage of the profits go to breast cancer charities, a disease I am recently recovered from myself. I wanted to put it though its paces, not just for reserving whites but also for a technique that people use less often, reserving previously painted (dry) areas of light paint. As I parked my car at the local supermarket, I looked down at the ground and saw the autumn leaves – perfect! Not only did some of them have little holes, others had light veins surrounded by darks. 

I selected a few and drew the shape of one of the Maple leaves onto my paper. First I masked out the small holes and let the masking fluid dry. (My tool of preference for this is a ruling pen, but some of my students do prefer ‘colour shaper’ tools.) Next I put an all over wash of Yellow Ochre on the leaf. It was tricky enough to get a flat wash on with the complex edge shapes; I would not have had time to paint around the little holes too, so the masking fluid did its job here.

At its best masking fluid can help you reserve crisp whites, lighter areas of paint and if ‘splattered’ on in layers can help build fantastic complex textures. At its worse it can ruin brushes, leave harsh unnatural edges and even tear paper. So I always stress to my students the need to understand how to use it properly and for the correct situations.

Next was the fun bit. A big brush and wet into wet all over the leaf, mixing a bright green from Prussian Blue, Cadmium Yellow, and adding bright splashes of Light Red and Red Oxide. Finally I used a little watercolour pencil to add contrast to the stem. Without reserving the veins with the Frisk fluid it would have been impossible to be so free with the paint. Now came the wait, to see how well the masking fluid removed, and whether it lifted any of the colour underneath.

Once the painting was dry the masking fluid lifted well, despite being on for a few days. The white areas were crisp and there was minimal pigment loss on the reserved leaf veins (there is always a little I find). Finally, using some well sharpened watercolour pencils I defined some of the edges of the leaf and the holes, and the finished result was quite pleasing!

Materials used for this review:

Saunders Waterford ‘High White’ NOT paper 300gm, Talens ‘Rembrandt’ watercolours, Derwent watercolour Pencils, SAA ‘Silver’ brushes

Saturday, 4 October 2014

 Bath Time At Last!

Time for a catch up post on our attempts to drag our house kicking & screaming from the ‘70’s and into modern life. Last year we were on track to finish the upstairs bathroom by Xmas 2013. I am not someone who prefers to shower, although when I have been to a martial arts or yoga class in bare feet a bath is not a good idea! So after about 3 months without a bath and three of us trying to use a room as big as a phone box to wash in, I was looking forward to getting my bathroom back. And that is when I found the lump, and had the biopsy and got the breast cancer diagnosis (see previous posts!) Fast forward another 5 months and my treatment and surgery was finished (the radiotherapy burns would have prevented my soaking in a hot bath anyhow) and all I wanted was to get that bathroom finished.

Everyone likes a before and after picture and these ‘before’ snaps are something to behold; possibly the worst room in the house; where do I begin in describing its delights? 

Cracked tiles in two different (unrelated) styles, more disabled wall bars than a mobility showroom, mould growing under the sealant, dirty pink shag pile carpet so deep if you dropped an earring back you never saw it again…

Satisfaction was mine as the revolting carpet came up and the tiles got ripped off the wall. 

When the paneling was taken down where the soil pipe was the hole in the wall became a super-highway for spiders, and at least twice a day I rescued 8 legged monsters in a pint glass and put them carefully in the garden, where no doubt they started making their way back up the soil pipe… “I am sure I have seen you before…” I would say to them as I walked them down the stairs.

There had also been several decades of spider activity under the bath, and Gimlet who can never resist a bit of exploration did his bit by dusting under the old bath with his face.

Of course I couldn’t resist using the new bathroom as a basis for another mosaic. I cut some petal shapes from white tiles and filled in with dark green, and charcoal coloured grout to show the flowers off. 

Originally I wanted white walls, but it looked so stark that I settled on a soft yellow green with the back wall in a linen colour. It still needed softening so I spent a few hours with a craft knife and cut a daisy stencil, putting a row of big daisies across the back wall in gold acrylic paint. (You will see the daisy motif again because I have since used it as a design for a lino print –waste not, want not!)

The bathroom now looks stunning, the only slightly sad thing is that we had to put a smaller bath in (the old bath being too big and cutting into the wall) and even though I am quite small it still feels very cramped. 

Nevertheless it is still luxury to have a proper bathroom and to step on beautiful tiles instead of that pink horror. Plus since the other family members prefer showers it is really just my own personal bathroom. So… two bathrooms done, one kitchen to go (doing the hardest rooms first), more on that soon!

Friday, 19 September 2014

A project close to my heart

Sometimes I guess things are just meant to happen at certain times. Back in the spring when I got a call from Keri of Birds Body Casting asking me to take part in an art project in aid of Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer, she had no idea I had just had surgery to remove a tumour in my breast and was about to start radiotherapy.  Of course I couldn't say no, my only concern was if I would feel well enough but when Keri explained that I had months to complete my artwork I knew it would be fine. 

 The first step was a trip to Keri's studio in Bury St Edmunds, where Keri explained that the casts were donated by women who either had or had been affected by breast cancer. I was given a bust cast and simply given complete freedom to decorate it as I wished. When finished the casts would be displayed in local businesses and shops then auctioned for charity. At this stage I did not know whose bust it was or what her story was.

All summer the cast sat in my studio and was quite a talking point for visitors and friends. I had my radiotherapy, helped to arrange a local art exhibition for 50 artists, demonstrated at the SAA's London event and travelled to the French Alps to arrange an art holiday for my students. Finally at the end of the summer when things had calmed down I turned my attention to the cast.

 As soon as I saw the cast I wondered if I could mosaic it, and I started drawing on it with little idea of what I was drawing. First I had a sort of neckline shape and wondered perhaps if I was going to put the top of a dress on the cast, but eventually it started to take a bra type shape. However it didn't look like lingerie, more like a sports bra or bikini. That is when I remembered how much I had missed swimming during my cancer treatment.

 It is no surprise I 'dressed' my cast - when I was a kid my stepfather used to get the Sun newspaper, and I was always upset for the ladies who had no top on, and used to draw underwear on them in black biro. I have always been more interested in clothes and fashion than life drawing. People look so much less impressive than animals when they are uncovered, it is no wonder we invented such a wide range of colourful clothing types!

 Whilst working on the cast I decided I had better finish some of my more usual panel mosaics, started earlier in the year and abandoned during hospital treatment.

Extreme close up! My biggest concern with this project was the fact that the edges of the cast were thin and definitely flexible. This could go either way I thought...

 But amazingly the tiles seemed to stabilise it, and by the end it felt more like a piece of sculpture. I was pleased to find it stood up alone too, because there was no way Keri was going to be able to hang this one by a thin ribbon, it was heavy!

Realising that the cast would be seen from both sides I decided to paint the inside. I had in mind the red soles of Louboutin shoes... and as I walked through the kitchen (currently being replaced) I noticed the test area of cornflower blue I had painted on the wall. A couple of coats and some clear varnish and the cast was finished!

Keri came to collect it and I asked for more information about the lady who donated the cast. Whereupon I was put in touch with the lovely Deborah!

 Doesn't she look great? And she is a survivor of breast cancer too. Here is what Deborah has to say about the project:

" Having breast cancer is a life changing journey and I wanted to share a very positive outcome.

Following a left mastectomy in April 2006 age 46, I had reconstructive surgery in July 2008.  Most people would never know what has happened so to share the fact that research, treatment and a positive attitude can conquer this disease means it had to be done."

Deborah and I had a chat over the internet and she is delighted with what I have done with her cast (luckily!)

The casts will be all together and on display at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds, open to the public from 2 to 3pm on Sunday 28th September.

After that look out for them in Bury shops and premises during October, they will certainly attract some attention I think!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

New SAA Watercolour Practice Paper - reviewed!

 As seen in the SAA 'Paint Magazine September 2014...

I was recently sent some samples of the SAA’s very popular watercolour ‘practice paper’ to try. The SAA have upgraded and improved their previous product and I was given the opportunity to try it out for myself. This is a product that I have been familiar with for many years, very economical and good quality, I recommend it to all my beginner students. When you are starting out the last thing you want to worry about is ruining an expensive sheet of hand made paper! I also use this paper in my demonstration workshops and put little squares of it out in all my classes for students to try their colours on.

The first thing I noticed is that the new paper is whiter than the previous one, something that is quite important to me. As always I stretched the paper onto board before using, and left it until the next day when it was flat and dry. Stretching is not hard to do and will hugely improve the working surface of any paper.

I decided to do a little sample painting of the peach coloured poppies in my garden. Wanting to try a range of watercolour media I used a combination of my favorite Talens paints, as well as some excellent SAA watercolours, watercolour pencils and even some ‘Brusho’ pigment powder. 

 As with the previous practice paper this one is fairly smooth, being close to a ‘hot press’ surface in some other ranges. The advantage with smooth paper is that you can get more accuracy; the disadvantage is that it can be harder to control washes. However, the paper took wet into wet techniques well and was equally responsive to flat washes and some of the mixed media I applied. The brightness of the paper shone through the pink flowers and I was very happy with the result. Due to its smooth surface beginners will find it easy to put an initial drawing down, this paper would also be very suitable for other techniques such as pen and wash, mixed media and collage.

I had hoped that the new paper would be as good as the previous one; I was relieved to find that it is far better!

The finished painting "Peach Poppies"...


Friday, 23 May 2014

A near death experience

When you get cancer people send you flowers!

So… it’s time for a catch up post. I haven’t written my blog for 6 months, and there is a reason for this, and not a rubbish one for a change.

Just after Christmas I was told I had breast cancer. The consultant tried to slip it in under the radar… “So, er, we found a few cancer cells” but I picked it up immediately because I am sharp like that. It was a bit of a surprise, I was probably the fittest I had ever been in my life - attending 3 kung fu classes per week plus a 50 lengths in the pool, not drinking, smoking or eating meat.

Now as a certified health freak I know all the statistics. I know for example that about 70% of cancers are caused by crappy lifestyle choices but that still leaves 30%, plus there is breast cancer in my family, and I have had (non-dangerous) lumps before.

 Just a small selection of my cancer leaflets...

Two things happen when you get cancer. Firstly your entire life is turned upside down. Forget work, forget the plans you made, the to-do lists, your daily routines, exercise, they are all out of the window because now cancer has taken over. The second thing that happens is you get a LOT of leaflets. The leaflets are mostly depressing. They carefully explain every bad thing that could possibly happen, from hideous side effects to the fact that your grasp on sanity is now considered to be on a knife edge, your partner may not find you attractive after surgery, and your relatives may not be able to cope. It’s cheery stuff and whoever wrote it all really needs a slap.

Whilst it had took a mere 5 weeks to get a GP appointment they got me into surgery just a week after my diagnosis and the offending lump was removed, along with lymph nodes to test if it had spread. After a mere 2 weeks of thinking I might die I was given good news, the cancer was low on the aggression scale, and it hadn’t spread anywhere, I had caught it early. No further surgery needed, just 3 and a half weeks of radiotherapy.

Yes this leaflet actually exists

I was given more leaflets. These were a little cheerier but stressed the fragility of my mental state. A lady in a long flowery skirt offered me a ‘Hope Course’ (hope I don’t get sodding cancer again), I thanked her but said I would rather poke something sharp into my eye. I might feel fine now she warned, but could ‘crash’ later; she has obviously seen my driving. About this time the receptionist handed me a survey to complete, full of intimate questions about my feelings, relationships, finances, fears. I handed it back, fixed her with the look I give the teen when she has gone out and left the front door unlocked, and made it plain I did NOT want to see it again. 

After this there was a wait of about 6 weeks for the radiotherapy to start. I got bored and decided I was going back to exercise, starting with tai chi which I had never done before, then kung fu, although I did avoid sparring. Radiotherapy was fine, although it made me tired, and burnt my skin.

More leaflets followed, including the hilarious 'Top Ten Tips for after Cancer Treatment'. I had stupidly thought I would get on with my life but no, there were many other fun things I could do. Cancer forums are one of those things apparently; cancer and forum being two words that should never be in the same sentence in my opinion.  But this tip was my favorite:

'Try to lead a healthier lifestyle' Good plan. HOW?

So before I had cancer I was an atheist, and a health freak and I am still both of those things. In fact one thing that irritated me (apart from those pesky rogue cells) was all the people who said ‘See, it makes no difference, all that healthy living, you still get sick’. Well let me tell you, cancer is a fight, and you don’t want to go into that fight unhealthy.

So, 6 months on from my near death experience things are getting back to normal and I can reflect a bit. I feel very lucky to have escaped with just a scar under one arm. I am truly grateful to all the friends, family, students and even complete strangers on the internet who showed me enormous kindness and to a health service that cured me without my needing to sell my house. But you won’t find me in a cancer support group anytime soon, I mean I would love to and all that, but I have a lot of stuff to do…