The delightful seph_hazard came round for dinner on Friday night. I've wanted to paint her for a while (ever since I saw this photo of her, in fact), and the original plan was to invite her and wildeabandon for dinner! wine! gossip! painting! (I figured that sitting for me would be less dull with someone to talk to.) Except seph_hazard had a headache, and then I didn't finish cooking until about 10pm¹, and then wildeabandon left and I was drunk and tired and we decided to do the painting the next day.
This was a brilliant plan. It worked out perfectly. I very rarely spend the day at home, cooking and drinking tea and fussing the cat and pottering. It was really really lovely. I had long chats with seph_hazard, we had a delicious breakfast of muesli with banana and strawberries, and then an even more delicious lunch of all the leftover roast vegetables from the night before chopped up with pasta and pesto and grated cheese. And I discovered that the local cornershop sells real beer! How did it take me this long to discover this? Anyway, they have Fullers ESB Champion and Honeydew in the fridge for £1.90 a bottle, and I had some with lunch, because it was a sunny Saturday at home and I could.
The sunlight was perfect: seph_hazard obligingly posed on my bed, bathed in light, and we chatted a bit while I painted. I kept meaning to take regular breaks but we'd suddenly realise half an hour had passed without me noticing. seph_hazard was brilliant at sitting and didn't complain even though her wrist and back were killing her. I painted her in about four half-hour sittings, possibly slightly longer.
28" x 18", watercolour on Chinese watercolour paper
Again my inclination was to shade with colour rather than black/white, although until it dried I had no idea the blue was that intense. I'm pleased with this. The anatomy is somewhat lacking - I've made her spine about six inches shorter than it needs to be - but I was having difficulty fitting her on the paper anyway, and if you didn't know she was taller it wouldn't necessarily be noticable. Given that I sketched in the hands and arms at the last minute while seph_hazard desperately waited for me to finish so she could rest her screaming wrists, I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. I've never done proper skintones in watercolour before and it was fun.
In fact, the whole thing was fun. I had someone to talk to: I had a beautiful naked woman to admire. Having a sitting model forced me to work fast and efficiently; I didn't procrastinate (although we took leisurely tea breaks), didn't fuss, didn't dawdle and didn't get bogged down in perfectionistic detail. I could never, never have painted this in four hours from photos. At least, I don't think so; watercolour is faster than oils so maybe it's the medium that makes the difference. But this was fun. I want to do it again. I want to try to do a life-painting session like this regularly if I can, making space for it properly, with a model all to myself and enough time to do them justice. I've already agreed with cyrus_ii that we should aim to do art together every week, so that when one or the other of us inevitably cancels we'll end up doing it about once a fortnight, which is about right. I don't think I'm up to organising a group life painting session (and I don't have the space) but trying to do something like this twice a month or so would definitely be good.
The watercolour paper was given me by Stef when she came round to paint tea dragons. I don't really understand it. It's uber-soft with a textile feel to it, like pounded or recycled linen, and it tears like cloth, with fraying threads. But it's so thin that water practically dissolves it. This makes it an unusual candidate for watercolour painting.
I have a proper polished A2 school drawing board (which I stole from school), but this paper is slightly too big for that. Instead I've tended to use the back of an old, huge collage/painting on chipboard - also from school; my first-term AS Level art project. It's a silly, gothy bit of self-indulgence and while I'm not quite ready to recycle it yet, I have no qualms using the back of it as a drawing board. It provides a handy flat surface that covers my bed and is easily big enough to tape a sheet of watercolour to for painting.
Each time I've worked on this paper with the Chinese ink, I've experienced the unique process by which this paper darkens and crinkles when wet, creating extravagant folds and contours as you work and scrubbing up little strands of paper, like shed skin, whereever you work the brush. Water spreads through it like tissue, but if you use a less wet paint consistency you can do precise lines. This was the first time I'd worked on it in my watercolours and I underestimated the difference in consistency between watercolour blocks and Chinese ink.
The paper took about three days to dry, by the end of which it still didn't want to come off the back of my AS Level collage. I spent long hours looking at it and wondering if the painting of seph_hazard was good enough to sacrifice my teenage artwank to: I could cut around the paper and use the old art project as backing. It would lose me a drawing board, but I'd been put off using it for that purpose anyway. cyrus_ii suggested that I needed to wait for both paper and chipboard to dry: at present the latter was still wet. He demonstrated that with patience it would be possible to ease the fragile paper away from the sodden board after waiting for both to thoroughly dry, and then gently pulling the one away from the other at a speed of approximately 5mm a minute.
I waited until today, which was possibly not long enough, and then I managed to remove the painting leaving only half-a-dozen fragments of coloured paper attached to my old art project. I'm not sure whether to patch it from the back and repaint it - they're only tiny holes - or leave it. Anyway, I'm not using that chipboard as a painting surface again and I think I'll be wary using that paper for anything other than Chinese ink. But given that for a while there I thought I'd lost the painting of seph_hazard to misfortune, I'm not displeased.
The painting left a print on the chipboard where the colour had soaked through, like a ghost of the original:
The grey smudges in the bottom left are the same effect from an earlier painting, portrait orientation and rotated 90 degrees. I think this effect is fantastic, but there's not much I can do with the prints unless I want to sacrifice the collage they're on the back of. I will definitely bear it in mind for the future, though. Layering paints and prints and paper could be very interesting.
1. It was good though. Garlic bruschetta with pesto and cream cheese; heaps and heaps of roast mediterranean veg drizzled in herbs and olive oil and balsamic vinegar (OMG courgettes: I always forget how nice they are. Also sweet peppers, mushrooms, red onion); cannelloni stuffed with feta and spring greens chopped and cooked in garlic and pesto; lots of garlicy tomato sauce; salad with cherry tomatoes and fresh spinach leaves.
Making the cannelloni was less easy than it looked: first I wasted a whole bunch of lasagne sheets by cooking them stuck together and not being able to separate them without tearing them to bits; then wildeabandon patiently softened each one for me in boiling water and olive oil and I still had trouble making the rolls without everything falling apart. I had some of the leftover cannelloni and sauce with olives and LOTS of salad tonight though, and mmmmmm good food with fresh ingredients. I should do that more often. Next time I make the cannelloni though I will use goats cheese, and probably mushrooms or spinach instead of greens. Greens are cheap and good for you but not as tasty, and even cooked they were a bit tough and stringy to be a good pasta filling. Possibly I should have steamed them rather than stir-frying them.