Making the Bubble Paintings
This week I thought I would share my process for making the ‘bubble’ pieces which so many people have said that they enjoy and have purchased from me.
I am currently preparing a number of pieces for a client who knows what colours she wants but hasn’t commissioned work from me before and is not sure if she will like the finished product. I take the view that if the client isn’t happy, I haven’t done my job so will keep going until I get it right.
In this case the works are on paper and I can easily get them framed and included into my collection for other potential clients. The same isn’t true of another commission I am currently undertaking where I have had to have bespoke canvases made at a rather high cost, but that’s a whole different blog post and I am comfortable that I can deliver what that client wants.
So, back to the bubble works. The inspiration for all these pieces comes from the tropical and cold-water fish we keep. I have been doodling for years and in the past I didn’t have an actual direction, but watching the fish, the aerators in their tanks, the foliage they flit in and out of, and the lines of the tank and filters, all these elements came together to inspire me to make these pieces.
I start each piece by considering which colours I want to put together and how they will interact. It helps to have a good understanding of how colours work, how not to make mud and which colours will play nicely together.
I tend to stick to three or four colours, though I may add in silver, gold or white if the colours are particularly dark just so that there are interesting value differences.
The photos below are of the first layer of ink I lay down and, in this case, I had prepared four foundation layers which the client didn’t really like so I produced a few more for her from which to pick. In the end I had 12 foundation pieces from which to work.
Knowing that our computer screens cannot be trusted to give an accurate colour match, I figured I would complete them all and then let her pick the one she likes best. She probably won’t thank me for giving her so much choice but equally when she sees them in reality it should give her enough from which to choose.
Having laid down the first layer of ink, I wait for it to dry a little and then sometimes add more ink – this is often where the silver, gold or white will be added. Moving the ink around when wet gives a different finish to when I have waited for a couple of minutes to move it. Interesting areas of light and shade are produced from moving puddles of ink as the outside edge of the ink dries whilst the middle remains fluid and can be washed off, lifted off with a piece of kitchen paper or blown off.
Moving the ink around at this stage is really great fun as I never really know what the outcome will be; it is just me playing with the colours.
I use several tools to move the ink around. I have a small air compressor with a fairly gentle output which produces large puddles of ink – the kind I allow to sit for a few minutes before trying to move with anything else. I have very thin paint brushes I use to move or suck up the ink. I also use tins of compressed air, which are generally sold for cleaning computer keyboards. These can be quite violent in their output so if I have a large puddle I want to move across a large area these are perfect but not good if I’m looking for gentle movement. When I want to have greater control, I will use a straw to blow though, although prolonged use does make me light-headed.
Once this is all dry, I start on the bubbles. I always start with black ink. I do this because I like to find a good balance with the lights and darks. I want to be able to have enough of both to keep your eye moving around the whole picture. I don’t just use the circles for bubbles though, as all the elements I am inspired by are used to a greater or lesser degree in the work. So sometimes it is just bubbles; other times I use lines and leaf shapes and I simply do not know before I start what I am going to do.
I respond to the shapes and lines that have been created by the ink. I decide where I need to put lights and darks and what would feel right in that space; circles, lines or leaf shapes. I try to ensure that I use different sized circles against each other to avoid repetition making one area boring. I will vary the distance between lines, or the number of lines used.
All the shapes, circles and lines are made freehand. I do have a couple of pieces where I used a ruler, but I am not as happy with them as I like the organic nature of the freehand work.
Once all the black ink is done, I look at where to add additional work to it. Gold tends to be my favourite because it harmonises well with the colours I prefer to use, but I do use silver and white on some pieces and sometimes I will use black ink over the foundation layer. It is all about what I feel looks right for each piece. The really fun part of using the metallic inks is that it can make work look 3D. I never plan for this but am always delighted when it happens.
To date the largest piece I have produced in this range has been roughly A2 size but I do have plans to make an A1 size piece and if I can find paper I am comfortable working on, an A0 size could be possible.
The paper I work on is good quality watercolour paper, I like Windsor and Newton, Arches and Saunders. I work on paper weight 90lb (243gsm) at least; often I will use 140lb (300gsm) and occasionally I will use 260lb (356gsm). Because there is no water involved, as there would be with watercolour paint, there is no need to worry about the weight in quite the same way and I never need to stretch the paper. I save the really heavy 300lb (638gsm) paper for watercolour paint but I am going to have a play with it to see how it works. I suspect it will act too much like blotting paper.
Different papers react in different ways as the watercolourists amongst you will know. Using ink, I don’t have to be precious about which brand of paper I use, I just have to understand how the paper will work with the ink. Every brand is different which allows for some works to be “sharp” whilst others I can create a softer, more ethereal, finish.
For the inks I use mainly three brands and again each gives a different outcome. FW inks by Daler-Rowney are lovely, rich thick inks which tend to move slowly giving a lovely depth to the finish. Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink are more fluid, they move easily around the paper whilst retaining a gorgeous colour finish. My third go-to is Schmincke Aero Color, which were developed for use specially with an airbrush spray gun. They are more liquid so move around really easily whist retaining excellent pigmentation. All three brands are completely colourfast.
For drawing the bubbles, I use a number of different pens. For the black ones I tend to use a Pilot pure liquid ink V sign pen. These pens are not cheap and they don’t last very long but I love the intensity of the black ink. I also use a Staedtler pigment liner, usually a 0.8 nib but sometimes a 0.5 when I want to have lots of smaller circles to create a dark area and my favourite pens are the Rotring technical drawing pens.
For the gold, silver and white I use Posca pens, Uni-ball metallic ink pens, Sharpie pens and occasionally a dip-pen using one of the liquid inks mentioned above. Again, all the ink pens I use are permanent and light-fast.
With all the ingredients above you too could make work similar to mine. There is one final ingredient you will need and that is patience – lots of it. Just a small A4 size piece can take me 8-10 hours from start to finish. Sounds like a lot of time to give over to such small works but the pleasure I get making them is worth every second.
I just wanted to let you know here that from now on, finished artworks will be now be shown firstly through my monthly newsletter. I have shared some of the stages of some of these works here but to see all the finished pieces before everyone else, please sign up to receive my monthly newsletter where my special offers and free prize draws will be announced.
However I do have one finished piece below which I am sharing here just to tease you. 😊
P.S. Some of the earlier pieces I made in this series also have words written on them. The idea for this came from two sources, my delightful friend Simon Sonsino
who is the most amazing calligrapher making work unlike anything you have ever seen done with the written word. He suggested I put words in my work. (www.simonsonsino.com – do check him out). The other source was a friend’s children. They thought that as my work has links to the sea, words like bubbles, jelly fish, seahorses and silly words like ‘giggle’ ‘squid’ and ‘happy lobsters’ would be fun to include.
When making commission works, I am always happy to add words which mean something to the client(s). 😊