10 May 2010

Testicle snacks

No, not my first choice in beach refreshment, but the title of my latest watercolor. (Click to biggerize.)

The scene is a small rocky beach at Saundersfoot harbor, painted from a photo taken back in October. The day was overcast, and the scene was decidedly lacking the play of shadow and light that makes images interesting. Still, I was intrigued by the planes of the beach access ramp and railings, the dynamic lines of the sea wall, the rocky cliffs, and the lettering on the dilapidated old corrugated refreshment stand, which reads: “TEAS ICES SNACKS”.

Sadly, masking the tiny letters prior to painting wasn’t entirely successful, causing Tonia to read the sign as “Testicle Snacks”. Although I did try to beef up the legibility with a bit of Chinese white, now that she’s read the sign in her own inimitable way, I do too, every time I look at it. There’s nothing to do, really, but make it the title of the painting.

What I like about this piece are places where the watercolor went off on its own little tangents; in the cliffs, the rocky beach, and the concrete. There are two backruns in the painting (also called blossoms, blooms, cauliflowers, watermarks, backwashes or runbacks); one at the top of the brick part of the seawall, which added some much needed texture, and another at the right edge of the lowest ramp. Backruns happen when you apply a second wash before the first is dry. While technically a mistake, I kind of like the unpredictability of backruns, and I made this lower one on purpose. Once I applied the wash I could only stand back and watch what happened next. The sea washes against this ramp at high tide, and the the backrun captured the texture of the concrete ramp beautifully. I didn’t really paint that. It just happened. And this is what I love so much about watercolor.

For the record, I used my new little tube of artist’s quality ultramarine blue and, man oh man, is it ever a joy to paint with. The only way I can think to describe it is “more.” More juice. More life. It’s like the difference between fresh strawberries, and frozen ones. It’s amazing. I can’t wait to squeeze all my student quality tubes dry, so I can replace them with the good stuff.

This method of painting, laying down wash after wash, is easier to control than flinging juicy paint and pushing it around the canvas, and it made the actual process much less fraught. I took my time, and walked away a lot, and worked on the painting over a few days. It was very relaxing. That said, I don’t find the finished painting all that interesting to look at. It’s kind of flat. A dull painting of what was essentially a dull and overcast day.

I read somewhere that you have to be willing to risk ruining a good painting in order to make a great one, and I wonder if perhaps the missing ingredient in this painting is, simply, risk.


It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted a video for Multi Media Monday, mostly because I’ve not come across anything that felt imperative to share. That changed this week when knitsib, Leslie, shared this week’s lovely, lovely video with me, and now I get to share it with you. Thanks, again, Leslie.

Posted on May 10, in Blog


  1. Leslie wrote:

    Hi Brenda, I’m so glad you like the video. The painting, by the way, is fantastic. We often don’t give ourselves enough credit for the wonderful things we do. If someone else had done the painting your praise would have been different – we need to remember to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to others. My mother is learning to play the piano – and she is in her seventies. We never took lessons when we were growing up but I know she would never have spoken to us when we made a mistake the way she speaks to herself when she makes a mistake. She really is getting better and each time I hear her I’m blown away. So , be kind to yourself and enjoy. You have uncovered another wonderful gift in the treasure hunt that is your life. Have a great day!

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  2. EmlilyW wrote:


    I love that video! I first saw it a couple years ago before a showing of the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which you should see, if you haven’t). John Cameron Mitchell directed both the movie and the music video. Hedwig is a glam-rock musical a la Rocky Horror, though I think Hedwig has more heart. You can see a video of (I think) the best song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YO9FpWX57E This song tells the story of the “Origin of Love” as told in Plato’s Symposium. Good stuff.


    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  3. Liz T. wrote:

    It’s like the customer service cards in the pub where we knit on Wednesdays which, due to poor typography, I can’t help reading as “are you being screwed?”

    The backrun on the concrete is indeed delightfully tidal in appearance.

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  4. LaurieM wrote:

    The painting is lovely, the lines are great, but I think I know what you mean. I believe it looks flat. You have two rocks at the front that make me know they are real, but the rest are caricatures.

    I’m not trying to be discouraging! Just trying to help. 🙂

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  5. Felix wrote:

    Now I’ve read ‘teas ices snacks’ as ‘testicle snacks’, I will never be able to read it in another way.

    I love the bits where the water has bled and run on the page and the sweet detail of all those pebbles. Most of all, I like that it sounds like you enjoyed painting this and that you got that silvery flatness of the light on a dull day.

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  6. Don’t worry, Laurie, I don’t read your comments as discouraging! At the end of the process, whether painting, or knitting, it’s helpful to stand back and look critically at what works, and what doesn’t. Thanks for your comments.

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  7. Emily wrote:

    I specially love the rocks.

    D’you think testicle snacks are crunchy?

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  8. Only when they’re fried, Emily.

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  9. Dianne wrote:

    Great painting….and I love the name Testicle Snacks! I’ll bet you’re feeling much better about your watercolor skills now.

    Posted on 5.10.10 ·
  10. Sar wrote:

    I just relayed your painting’s story to my boyfriend and we both had a great laugh. Watercolours are a delight; they’re incredibly portable, magical in their alchemy and yes, you will discover a vast improvement on your colours as you move towards all artist quality paints. I’d donate your student colours now to a school and just move on. You’ll blown away by the intensity of your pigments, the colours will be much more permanent and lightfast, and you’ll be able to use dramatically less paint to achieve results.

    Have you tried the salt technique yet? SO FUN.

    Posted on 5.12.10 ·
  11. Libby wrote:

    you need more tone. That’s what I’m constantly being told in my drawing and sketching class. More darks and lights will make the objects look rounder – so she says. I’m still working on it myself. But I do like your picture it’s very calming. I think the colours are very ‘british seaside weather’ ;o)

    Posted on 5.12.10 ·
  12. Jenny R wrote:

    Hi Brenda, missing your podcasting very much, but am hoping you are having a great break. I LOVE your beach painting, in fact I love the flatness, thats what appeals. Very impressed, keep enjoying it. xxx Jenny

    Posted on 5.26.10 ·
  13. Cindy Calhoun Ulery wrote:

    Hi Brenda,

    Nice water color. I know it’s not as easy as it always seems to look. Glad you’re keeping with it. Happy that we get to hear a new cast when it’s ready.


    Posted on 5.27.10 ·

Comments are closed.