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

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]


My painting: In the style of Mucha

Aren’t Mucha paintings wonderful? To me, they’re a fabulous mixture of dreamlike composition and stunning skill, redolent with silky textures, serene expressions, swirling hair and delicate features.

A Czech artist working in Prague and Paris in the early 20th century, Alphonse Mucha painted adverts, flyers and posters – and sometimes just art for art’s sake – entirely representative of his own, Art Nouveau time (Art Nouveau is up there in my top 5 kinds of design, mainly for its unbelievable “fussiness” and delicate swirls).

The women depicted are more often than not softly curved, swathed in luxurious fabric and haloed by a mass of unruly tendrils and pleasingly-complex geometric shapes, either dancing or triumphant, or laid-back, smoking, drinking, sitting.

They are ladies of understated leisure and artistry, as creative as the artist who paints them. They have all the beauty and traditional femininity of a pre-Raphaelite Rossetti or a Stanisław Wyspiański, without the often-found “downtrodden woman” vibes. Here, the woman is centre stage, the owner of the picture, the mistress of all she surveys, drinks, eats or smokes.

And they’re often incredible records of the design and pastimes of the time, due to their role as adverts and flyers for everything from chocolate to cigarettes to alcohol to play performances. The history geek in me just can’t get enough.

Plus, I also think they are stunningly beautiful.

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