When you are an artist living that roller coaster freelance lifestyle, every now and then a superb client walks into your life and gives you a project which lifts your soul and touches your life in surprising ways. My painting lecturer at Michaelis, Virginia MacKenny, described the painting process as a deeply cathartic experience, and I fully agree with her. This article is about my experience with such a project; a collaboration affectionately nicknamed “D³” by those involved.
In June 2017, I was approached by Gregg Brill on behalf of Rhino Africa Safaris, to create seven large (40″ x 60″) watercolour pieces. They were to be installed in RAS’ brand new development, Silvan Safari – a private bush lodge in the Sabi Sand region of the Kruger National Park here in South Africa. The focus of the seven pieces was on seven individual tree species found in the area where Silvan is built, and their unique role in the area’s ecosystem. Each work was to depict the tree, as well as the animals that interact with it and depend on it for survival.
The seven trees were: Blue Guarri, Knobthorn, Leadwood, Fever Tree, Cassia, Tree Wisteria and Kierieklapper.
Gregg wanted this work to be a collaboration between myself and two other South African artists, Danielle Clough and Daniël Hugo. I love collaborating on art projects, and these were two fantastically talented local artists. It was a resounding yes from me!
We had an initial meeting to brainstorm the pieces and to discuss logistics, including the acquisition of materials needed. The final brief was decided: The client wanted seven large works, each representing a specific tree from the area, plus some wildlife.
The pieces had to have three components:
The end result had to look dynamic and interesting, with strong focal points, and had to depict the importance of the tree in the local web of life.
I presented some colour samples for the client to choose from. This was made easy by my swatched out DANIEL SMITH 238 Watercolor Dot Card sampler. I ended up placing a rather extravagant DANIEL SMITH paint order because the client loved so many of the shades! I considered it an investment: I wanted to use only the best quality materials for this project to ensure maximum longevity of the work. We also had to get paper… BIG paper! So we decided on 152cm x 100cm (60 x 40 inches), 640gsm (300lb), rough finish – the biggest, heaviest watercolor papers we could find. After that, it was just a matter of logistics and sticking to deadlines.
Daniël did some rough, light lines in ballpoint pen on the huge papers, and delivered them to me in batches. I proceeded to paint washes over these. The brief required that the colours should have the appearance of having run, or melted out from below the final ink lines, so I tried to keep patches of pure colour in some areas, such as on the flowers and seed pods, but not so tidy that it looked like I was just colouring in Daniël’s linework. I also had to work sensitively around areas where pure white was required, such as the faces of the vervet monkeys with their white tufts of fur.
To create the washes, I mixed up individual paints in bowls and combined the methods of painting with hake/mop brushes and pouring. I added plenty of salt as I went along to create some splendid blooms. I wanted it to look untamed and impressive, like the landscape around the lodge. I left the paper unstretched and utilised its natural buckling to create areas of engaging visual activity. I refer to this process as “watercolour herding,” (last image, lower right) because I keep altering the height of the paper by moving objects around underneath it, to encourage the paint to move into the areas where I want it. I spent hours on end watching the paintings carefully as they dried, making adjustments as needed.
Ultimately, watercolour does what it likes, and can be a very unforgiving medium. That is actually one of the reasons why I love it so much – you never know what you’re going to end up with on a paper of this size, and your journey to the finished piece is both demanding and exciting. When you see a successful piece in front of you, there is a definite sense of pride and accomplishment.
Several of the trees have yellow blooms and golden seeds, so Mayan Yellow, Nickel Azo Yellow, and Quinacridone Gold all featured prominently in my palette selection. I also used a great deal of Deep Sap Green, Prussian Green, Sap Green and Green Gold to paint the vibrant foliage. (In my language, we call the foliage of a tree the “loof,” a word also meaning “praise” or “glory,” a very apt description for these majestic, wild trees!)
Naturally, the Tree Wisteria piece was a glorious mess of Cobalt Blue Violet, Ultramarine Violet and a touch of Carbazole Violet. For the barks of the trees, I used Raw Umber, Raw Umber Violet, Buff Titanium and on occasion, some Sicklerite Genuine.
Some of the works also have a shimmer element to them, such as the kingfisher on the Leadwood piece, and the sky on the Kierieklapper piece (below). This is from the Duochrome Aquamarine that I used. It gave the paintings some extra life and dimension, and is something one simply cannot capture accurately in a photo.
I handed off the completed paintings to Daniël in batches, and he worked his magic on them. Last of all, the works were delivered to Danielle, who created loose embroidered pieces which she attached to the work, adding some direct stitching details to help fully integrate the media.
Finally the day came when we all met up to do the official signing and handoff to the client. We were all thrilled with the results! It was simply magical to see the complete pieces all together like that, in person, for the first time.
Naturally, scans and photos do the original works a disservice. There’s nothing quite like the glow of watercolour on paper. The shimmer of the paint, the vibrant thread, and the velvety black of the ink cannot be represented fully by any digital image. You have to see it for yourself to see the light dancing through it.
Video of the finished collaboration project courtesy of Danielle Clough.
This project took around three months to complete fully, from roughs to signing. It was challenging, exciting and very satisfying.
Thank you to Gregg and RAS/Silvan Safaris for commissioning these pieces and to Danielle and Daniël for the energy and talent they brought to the table. Thank you also to DANIEL SMITH for making really good paint, and for giving me the opportunity to share this project with you all.
— Danelle Malan
Why I choose DANIEL SMITH Watercolours to paint with:
Initially, I was unable to find DANIEL SMITH anywhere in my country, South Africa. I kept seeing my favourite watercolourists speak of it, and the things they said were usually quite good. It made me so eager to try out this paint for myself.
Then one day, a local online retailer began stocking the brand. I was so excited and immediately ordered 238 Watercolor Dot Card to sample.
I was blown away by most of the paints, and ordered a few tubes as soon as I could. It was love at first sight!
I have never worked with anything as pigmented and smooth. I also love that DANIEL SMITH makes premixed colours that you don’t get in any other brand of paint. I like the innovation of the multi-pigmented paints like Undersea Green, Moonglow and Shadow Violet. To me, that is pure joy in paint form. The paint performs extremely well, it is very finely milled and application is sheer pleasure. I am happy to say that the bulk of my watercolour collection now consists of DANIEL SMITH paints.
DANIEL SMITH paints on my palette:
I use a rotating selection of tubes and squeeze out what I need, as I need it, per project. But the colours I find myself reaching for the most often are the following:
Quinacridone Deep Gold
Cobalt Blue Violet
Phthalo Blue RS
Deep Sap Green
Raw Umber Violet
About: Danelle Malan is an artist and illustrator from Cape Town, South Africa. She obtained her BAFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art (UCT) in 2010, having majored in painting. Since graduating, she has been involved in book illustration, panel talks at literary and creative expos, tabling at conventions, organising local artist meetups, as well as numerous art collaborations. Malan has exhibited in several group shows and has been featured in Marie Claire South Africa, as well as the quarterly contemporary arts magazine Art Africa. In 2011 she started co-creating the webcomic Cottonstar with her husband, Ben Geldenhuys. Malan is also training herself to write, draw and paint with her non-dominant hand since being diagnosed with an untreatable dominant hand injury in 2014.
Website: Dwuff.com (it points to her etsy shop)
About: Daniël Hugo is a freelance illustrator from Cape Town and has been part of the SA comic scene since 2000. He was a member of the Igubu collective, the creator of The Oneironaut & Other Tales and has been a contributor to a number of independent local anthology publications, Velocity and GrafLit to name a few. Recently he self-published the graphic novella The Souvenir, a prequel to and the inspiration for Uncharted Waters, currently appearing in SECTOR. As a local independent comic creator, he co-presented a panel on South African comics at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. Apart from his comic work he has participated in a number of group exhibitions showcasing more traditional artworks and limited edition prints.
About: Danielle Clough
As a photographer-designer-vj-embroiderer, Danielle Clough has lived a life forever bound to the hyphen.
Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Clough completed her studies in art direction and graphic design at The Red and Yellow School before embarking on a career in visual art, digital design and thing-making.