Painting: sunshine, the Cinque Terre and the Great British winter

It would be logical for me to say that as the weather gets colder and more miserable, I get drawn towards painting sunny countries as a reminder that summer isn’t far away.

And yet, neat as that sounds, this painting is more about my longing and fascination for all things Italy, whether or not it’s cold over here (after all, it can get pretty freddo there too). I was lucky enough to travel a lot in Italy when I was younger, and I have to say, it is still up there with my top 5 most beautiful, sunny, delicious, and stunningly-fabulous places I’ve ever been. Its landscapes, food, language and architecture take my breath away.

More generally, I also love the shape and look of higgeldy-piggeldy buildings, whether clustered over a mountainside or coastline, as they are here, or Victorian brick buildings raggedly arranged alongside a railway line, which I see on a daily basis on my journeys in and out of London’s suburbs. There’s a sort of awful, crazy-beautiful, intensely organic, human element to them, as patchwork and ad-hoc and shambolic – and yet still standing – as they are.

But for this, it was something about the Italian coastline, in particular the Cinque Terre, that I wanted to capture. It just makes me want to paint stuff. How can you not look at all that colour and blue sky and sea and shapes and not be inspired?


(c) Hannah Thompson – Cinque Terre (in the Great British winter) – acrylic on paper

Painting-wise, this just about turned out how I wanted, although I’m never bloody 100% happy, of course! The sea and sky are a bit more impressionistic than I had envisaged, and perhaps the sea should be less navy, more turquoise…on the whole though, it came out OK. The flowers don’t look so amazing in this photo, but overall they gave the impression that I wanted….more or less.

And maybe there’s some truth to the whole rubbish-weather-paint-sunshine thing, because thinking about Italy, roads across seas, and a blue/yellow sky is making me feel warmer already…

My painting: To earrings, with hope – and sunflowers

As usual, I had an urge to paint something bright, with a powerful-looking woman centre-stage (with a perhaps inscrutable look on her face. I do enjoy a painting where the facial expressions are open to interpretation).

Then I watched Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) on Netflix, starring the beautiful Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell – I recommend the film, by the way! It’s set in Tuscany and is a very intriguing meditation on relationships – and the poster really struck me. I loved the colour and the position of Binoche on the front, and somehow related to her slightly ambiguous expression.

Juliette Binoche in the pose that inspired my painting...

Juliette Binoche in the pose that inspired my painting…

The “putting on earrings” action is also meaningful for me, as when I was doing my final exams at university, a group of friends and I had a saying: “Always wear fabulous earrings to an exam. That way, even if it all goes wrong, at least you’re still wearing fabulous earrings.” It’s always stuck with me, and I still use that philosophy today – hence why I’ve named the painting “To Earrings, With Hope”…

It’s a powerful mix of positive yet slightly fatalistic thinking, which can give me strength when I feel anything but. ALSO: I love painting flowers (and I added in a butterfly in there too, to play with colours and blending, for the heck of it). Once I’d decided I would use the film poster as inspiration, the flower-mirror setting just jumped into my mind.

Some of this is more successful than the rest – I’m really happy with the way the sunflowers have turned out, and I like the overall effect of the cartoonish style. The neck shading is all wrong, however, and no matter what I did I seemed to make it worse (argh!). However, I’m also just about happy with the mirror effect, and I like the silver pen finish on the earring (silver pen obsession alert!)…

There’s also, as ever, an element of self-portraiture going on here. Despite what you might see as narcissistic overtones (who, me?!) it’s really not 100% intentional – I don’t try to make the women in my painting look like me, as such, but I do always add in elements of things I like, which usually happen to be things that I have too – a nose piercing, for example, or an earring/ring I myself own.

She’s also wearing bright pink lipstick, which, as anyone who’s ever tried Mac in Candy Yum Yum matte knows to be a good idea, whatever the circumstance :P.

I’m never 100% happy with my paintings, ever, but overall, this does just about give the bright and colourful, yet contemplative atmosphere I was going for, and it’s also a bit of a break-away from my usual Mucha style, which was interesting, if a little challenging.

I think maybe I’ll frame it in red or pink, or perhaps more silver, to really make it pop? One thing’s for sure – I bloody love sunflowers.

main painting earrings

To earrings, with hope – and sunflowers (c) Hannah Thompson, acrylic with silver pen

Painting lyrics: On loneliness, solitude, and hells YEAH, SILVER PENS

Whenever I listen to music, I always pick up on some lyrics more than others, and imagine those snippets as paintings. It can be any kind of music, but there are inevitably certain lyrics that resonate more than others, that I long to put down on paper as a backdrop for trying out a new technique, or a new mixture of colours.

Although it’s not exactly from the most sophisticated song I know (early 2000s, hello), I do love this lyric from Pink – Your Whole Life Waiting on a Ring to Prove You’re Not Alone. I especially like the dual meaning. There’s something very sad about the song (Glitter in the Air, above), but this line particularly speaks to me about the idea of loneliness vs solitude. After all, being “alone” is a state of mind, right? If you’re happy with your own space, and enjoying it (as I very often do), then you’re not really alone. Or lonely.

It’s only when you reflect on what else you might be doing, who might have called but didn’t, that you start to feel differently. It’s only when you consider that other people might be calling each other up to go out and do what your paranoid head thinks are impossibly-cool things, that you start to feel alone, when you were 100% fine before.

I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but I find this lyric interesting because it’s talking about “proving” that you’re not alone. It’s looking at it from the outside, from other people’s perceptions of your own loneliness. It’s not a coincidence that being called a “loser”, or “no mates” is such an apparently cutting insult.

People who like their own space and don’t care about being out at every latest thing, are often at risk from people who assume they must be sad and lonely, and missing something. It’s always an interesting balance between making the effort to go out and do things, realising that social interaction can be a wonderful tonic to life, and feeling comfortable enough in your own skin to be at home, alone, singing to your own hymn sheet, doing whatever you feel like, no matter who knows or cares. The latter is one of the upsides of being single, I think, but the wider perception is often more “cat lady” than “alone and happy”. Nice.

Equally, this lyric’s other meaning is clearly that of a “wedding ring”, and society’s still-prevalent perception that if you can’t find someone to marry you by a certain age then you’re probably a bit of an anti-social loser. (Again, that word loser. SIGH.) If you’re single (or simply alone for whatever reason) it can seem like the world is made for two – restaurant tables, hotel deals, double-your-income house prices.

People with the confidence – or shall we say, the don’t give a fuck-ness, to just walk into a restaurant or cinema, by themselves, often have to defend their actions to other people, like: “oh, it’s OK, I take a book,” or “It’s nice not to be distracted, ahem”. In a duo, or a big group of friends, people don’t question you. As one, you’re often seen as a odd, slightly weird, a bit of a loner.

Incidentally, on a slightly different point, I’ve never been one of those people to have a huge group of friends. My whole life, I have never felt comfortable in one of those big, loud, colourful gangs of impossibly-glamorous women, laughing over their cocktails at the hilarious, wild and varied lives they all do lead. I’ve always been a bit envious of people who can affect such insouciance with glorious abandon. I always feel like I’m the one at the back, pretending to have a great time but surreptitiously pulling up my tights, feeling like my hair needs a good brush, and wishing I could just talk to a few of my closest mates over a quieter drink.

[Katzp on DeviantArt – click for credit].

I’m pretty extroverted, but still much better in small groups – or even better – in a trio or duo. Or as a couple, say. There are advantages to being single, but the world likes pairs. It’s easier. It’s cheaper. It’s understood. People know what box to put you in if you’re part of a couple. If you’re not, you’re either probably looking to be in one, or you’re a bit dark and complicated and y’know, probably lonely as fuck.

There’s a balance to be had here – after all, it’s a famous saying that you can feel lonely as part of a crowd, and I can’t imagine anywhere more lonely than as one half of a bad relationship. Sometimes your own company is the best, other times, it can feel like your heart is literally bleeding out into your chest with the loneliness of it all.

In these days of Facebook weddings and holidays and updates from your most sociable friends, it can feel like as everyone else pairs up and hangs out, you’re even more alone. If you only had that ring – the phone call, or the sparkly left-hand diamond – you could “prove” that you’re not alone, that someone loves you. After all, right, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. Because no-one posts a photo or status of themselves having a genuinely fantastic night in, painting, watching movies and drinking whisky-tinged hot chocolate, on a WEEKEND (cough). That would be like, so weird, or protesting just WAY too much.

There’s also that idea that unless you’re part of that perfect group – be it a firm Sex-and-the-City friendship circle, or a solid couple – that your life can’t really begin. Like everything before is just a perpetual, temporary adolescence (wtf?). It’s why people have wedding lists, even if they ostensibly have all the things on it already – NOT because they’re out for all they can get, apparently – but because they’re supposed to be “starting life” together. It’s An Established Thing.

And that, my friends, is why I decided to paint this lyric. It made me think of all that, and it’s just one sodding line. It also gave me a chance to mess around with colours, and use my silver metallic pens, and that, we all know, is a glorious chance just FAR TOO GOOD to pass up.

Your whole life waiting

Acrylics with metallic pen… 🙂

Life in lyrics: Giving Monday the Elbow Part II

Some of my most vivid ideas for paintings come when I’m standing on the tube home, listening to my music, escaping the sweaty, noisy, shuffly, sighing carriage into my own world of lyrics and fabulous songs.

Although I love music, and have been known to shed a tear over a particularly beautiful song (yes, I know, cheese, sorry) I’m the kind of person who listens intently to the lyrics of a track – even the simplest phrases can be extraordinarily moving, funny or flippant, and I live for those moments when you realise a songwriter has perfectly captured your feeling or mood.

As you may know, I also love to faff about on my free evenings and play with paints, and I love vivid colours and experimenting with blending. SO, I’ve often thought about combining these two passions (lyrics and painting). Last night was the first time I actually sat down and did it….here’s the result.

It’s a definite first draft, although on balance I quite like it.


There’s a lot I’m really not happy with though, and I’ve learned quite a bit from this first try:

  • I think I’ll try blending only a couple of colours in the background next time
  • Maybe choose a shorter lyric (I initially wanted to put even more on this, before I realised it wouldn’t achieve the same look with teeny tiny writing! ALSO I changed the “looking like a beautiful day” lyric slightly – sorry Elbow 😦 – to make it fit better on the page).
  • Try outlining the words in black pen so they stand out a little more, especially on the yellow?
  • Put more red and pink in it. (That’s just me. Heh)
  • Overall though, it pretty much captures that feeling of happiness and serenity that I get listening to this song (One Day Like This, by Elbow).

It’s totally unintentional that I’ve ended up writing about Elbow lyrics for two consecutive Mondays (I would barely have even called myself a fan – I think these two songs are the only ones I have, sadly; maybe that should change, I seem to like them more than I thought!) but there we have it.

The next verse is also gorgeous, so I might do a follow up. (‘Cause holy cow, I love your eyes; And only now I see the light; Yeah, lying with you half awake; Stumbling over what to say; Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day…So throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right).

Guess there’s something in these here tunes that makes me feel better about the week ahead… 🙂

My painting: An homage to Mucha (and good old gin and tonic)

I finally finished another painting – this time, an homage to both Mucha and gin! As someone who has only recently discovered how great a cold, refreshing gin and tonic at the end of a long day can feel, I wanted to honour this fabulous pairing.


[The Love of Gin, in homage to Mucha (c) Hannah Thompson, acrylic with metallic silver pen]

I’m not actually that happy with a lot of this, however.

Obviously, I’m happy enough to post it here (frankly I’m just satisfied that it’s bloody finished, it’s taken a while!), but I am genuinely surprised that it’s turned out OK, because at the beginning (throughout the whole thing, actually) I came within a hair’s breadth of scrapping it – many, many times.

The skin and the shape of the arms didn’t really turn out how I wanted, and the face looks a shade too cartoon-y for my liking. There are other bits of it that I struggled with, such as the waistline of the dress and getting a uniform covering throughout (my new paints are definitely thinner than the old ones I used, not to mention more unpredictable colours compared to the shade on the tube!).

The hair is OK, but not my best. I did enjoy doing the “botanicals” bit at the bottom, though – using shades of yellow and brown and white for the lemon, browns and fawns for the nuts and spices, and attacking the lavender and juniper berries with a million shades of purple and blue. It was definitely fun, if nothing else, but for a lot of it, I only kept going because I didn’t want to quit (story of my life! haha).

close-up lemonsAs with a lot of my art, I often knew what I was working on wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I didn’t know quite how to change it. I guess that’s what happens when you’re completely “self-taught” – which is, in my case,  a nice way of saying I HAVE NO BLOODY IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. And YET, considering how much I doubted it, I think it’s turned out OK.

And it’s about gin. Enough said.

ps. I realise the lemon is a political point. Entirely intentional. No lime in my G&Ts please, even if we’re only drinking Hendricks 😛

My painting: Zelda Fitzgerald book cover….with added silver!

My most recent painting was done in only a few days (and I’m not entirely happy with it as a result) but when I saw this book cover of Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me The Waltz (right), I had such an urge to do my own version of it that I got a bit carried away…

As usual, I’ve done my normal thing of adding extra colour and – as I’m sure some people would see it – “ruining” the delicate Art Nouveau quality with some garish lines, metallic pen and not-entirely-historically-accurate curves. I also changed it from portrait to landscape so I could have less hand, no title, and more hair action. 🙂

This painting is more me than the original, and I also brought a few autobiographical details into it, in the form of the nose stud and three of my many rings – one from Belfast covered market, one from Cambridge Strawberry Fair, and one from a holiday years ago in Mexico…(I like my rings to remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, if possible).

I’m not entirely happy with it, bits of it are clumsy and didn’t entirely work out exactly how I’d imagined.

It also took me a frustratingly long time to get the skin tone right (and I’m still not 100% on it). It’s also kind of space-agey for no real reason (other than I kind of liked where it was going, silver-pen wise), and very girly (but what else is new?!) but actually, considering how badly I thought it was going when I first started painting it, I think it just about works!

As an experiment with silver pen, shades of purple, pink and blue, and as another practice run with my new paints (I’m still getting used to their thickness and colour when they dry) I’m happy.

Now to decide what to work on next….:)


[Zelda Fitzgerald, purple hair edition (c) Hannah Thompson, acrylic with metallic silver pen]