Patterns of improvement

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Every artist has been there. You’ve tried to master a new technique or switched to a different medium and it just hasn’t worked. “No pain no gain,” they say. “Practice makes perfect,” they say. If the practice isn’t fun, fear, frustration and doubt will soon set in.

The trick is to find something that inspires you. Once those creative juices are flowing, break the process down so that it’s less daunting and more enjoyable. Find out how patterns and some sunshine inspired me to conquer my fear of water(colour).

A second summer

After a 9-year gap, we returned to a small farm just outside the small town of Palaia for a much-needed break last October. We had hoped for some sun and a bit of warmth but our hopes were raised on arrival when our host told us that they were in the middle of a “second summer”. I’d have no excuses for not getting those watercolour paints out.

On our first morning, we had a little wait before we could experience the second summer for ourselves. It was really autumn after all and a little early morning mist was to be expected. The fantastic weather would give us plenty of opportunities to tour the neighbouring historic towns like Vinci, San Gimignano and Volterra, sampling some of the amazing food and wine along the way.

Seeing all the sites lit by the Tuscan sun was really inspiring so I sat down with my watercolours for the first time in 20 years.

The frustrated artist

The conditions were perfect for painting and there was no shortage of subject matter in and around the farmhouse. I set up a studio (complete with wine) on the farmhouse terrace and began to paint the view across the valley to the distant hills.

The results were disappointing and my frustration was growing. I struggled to keep the colours fresh and the drawing accurate. Maybe it was because I had favoured oils and acrylics over the years. I made another attempt and although it showed some signs of improvement, I decided that enough was enough and put the paints away.

I poured a glass of wine and enjoyed the sunset.

Patterns everywhere

On the morning of the last full day of the holiday, I reviewed the photos I had taken. What really struck me was the abundance of patterns and geometric shapes everywhere you looked. The buildings with their neat terracotta roofs, patterned brickwork and mosaic tiles.

The landscape was full of patterns too. Olive trees laid out in ordered grids, vines and cypress trees in regimental rows and all the fields stitched together like a patchwork quilt.

I wondered if these patterns could help me with my rusty watercolour technique and reached for the paints to have another go.

Putting an idea into practice

I revisited the scene that I had tried to capture earlier in the week. I looked for patterns and shapes in the vegetation, in the buildings and distant hills. A cypress tree became a rectangle; a rooftop a square. I carefully drew each element of the composition and flooded colour inside the borders of the distinct blocks, trying to keep the colours as fresh as possible. The hours passed and by the evening I was proud of my half-dozen little paintings.

My lesson was to think first and paint second. Have a definite plan for each picture before starting and then let the paint flow.