I recently visited the RWS annual exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries (of which more another time) and was able to time my visit to coincide with the day that John Yardley was giving a demonstration in the gallery. I’ve long been an admirer of his work so it seemed like a great opportunity to watch him paint.
Sadly, however, I obviously wasn’t alone with either my admiration or sense of timing as there was quite a crowd around his easel throughout the entire time I was in the exhibition. It was nevertheless great to see him at work, even though I wasn’t able to see a great deal or spend as much time watching as I might ideally of liked. I also wouldn’t normally have taken photographs but was sheepishly taking my lead from others in the gallery and neither John nor any of the staff in the gallery seemed to take any interest or offence!
John was working from a photograph of a typical Venice scene.
There was a relatively detailed ‘under’ drawing and no initial washes put in. He was just working directly onto white paper and what struck me most was the amount of time John spent looking at the photo, looking at his painting, considering his next brushstroke and mixing his colours, compared to the actual time the brush spent in contact with the paper – which was comparatively minimal.
Also, whilst I didn’t stay for the duration of the demonstration, so didn’t see the final touches or the finished painting – I didn’t get the feeling that he would be building up any of the areas with further washes – rather that each brushstroke he made was the definitive brushstroke for that area – not to be gone back to or meddled with – (familiar note to self – stop meddling!). His approach was also made distinctive by the confidence and decisiveness with which he made each brush stroke. In this very purposeful way he was gradually completing the painting from, it seemed, top to bottom and working across the paper to allow each areas to dry out before returning to the same or neighbouring area to continue.
As John took a break, I was able to briefly express to him my admiration for his work – not something I often have the opportunity to do personally to artists whose work I like, and it felt like a privilege to be able to do so on this occasion. John was most gracious and self-effacing in response, which only made me like and admire him all the more! Also, whilst he was taking a break, I was able to see more closely the tools of his trade – from his relatively small number of brushes to his palette – which looks like either an original Roberson or a Craig Young style palette. I seem to remember reading somewhere too that he always uses the same water pot, which is always filled to the top so that he can tell more how much water he’s loading onto the brush.
Suffice to say it was an inspiration and a pleasure to be able to see John at work, and even moreso to be able to personally express my thanks and admiration.