In an exchange of comments following one of my recent posts, the great watercolor painter Edo Hannema mentioned Rowland Hilder in relation to his ability to layer multiple washes but retain a magically luminous quality. I’ve always been a great fan of Hilder’s work and it reminded me that it’s been a long time and a lot of water(colour) under the bridge since I last attempted to paint in a Hilderesque fashion.
I looked over my library of books and selected one of my favourites: Rowland Hilder’s Sketching Country, which I particularly like because as the title suggests, they’re his sketches and notations. Still unmistakably Hilder, but looser and more immediate than many of his finished works. Against my better instincts, I was drawn to one of my favourites – a sketch of the North Downs. I’ve always shied away from this, I think because I’m most familiar with the genius of the original sketch, which is utterly stunning. My aim therefore wasn’t to replicate exactly, but follow a similar approach to try to capture some of spirit of this painting.
What I love about this way of working is equally what frustrates me about it. It requires a level of patience that I often feel is beyond me. What can’t be disputed however is the level of depth and complexity of colour that can be achieved through the application and overlaying of thin glazes of colour. In the past, I’ve often been guilty of going in too heavy with these glazes too soon, with the results that I kill the picture. On this occasion however I was pleased that I didn’t go in too strong too soon but was able to gradually build up the painting. Most of the time, I think that seeing my images on screen, with the light of the screen illuminating the paintings, serves to flatter them. With this however, I don’t actually feel the image does some of the colourways and combinations full justice.
Some parts of the sky in this image have about seven washes over them. Sure I could probably have got there more quickly, say in three washes, but the gradual layering becomes almost meditative. I spent most of my time mixing up thin, subtly different washes which were then applied very quickly (and, theoretically, confidently) as flat washes. The thing that I feel conflicted about is that this is supposed to be a sketch yet I spent a comparatively long time on this. I’m not displeased with elements of it, but the areas that I feel let it down are the trees throughout and especially the large tree in the foreground. I’m not going to give myself too hard a time though as there’s so much else I like about the painting – especially the sense of light moving across the landscape and, whilst it’s not necessarily apparent here, the subtlety of the sky.
Having enjoyed the process of this, perhaps a little more than the final result of it, I thought I’d tackle another ‘sketch’. This time unfortunately my impatience did get the better of me. By the time I got this sketched out, it was late and there was no natural light. I was in such a hurry to get the first wash on however that, under electric light, I went in too heavy with a supposedly pale wash of Winsor Yellow. The result was that I spent the rest of the painting trying to rescue my initial misdemeanour. Whilst I feel the end result is okay, it does look a bit more ‘landscape by moonlight’ than I was aiming for.
Again, for ‘a sketch’, this feels a bit overworked for my taste. I like elements of the sky, and I also like to chuck in some lamp black every now and then to shake things up a bit. Overall though I think I’ve still got some way to go before I find a place of peace between the considered glazing of Hilder and the immediacy and directness of Wesson and Seago. I’m beginning to reach the conclusion that I don’t need to sway one way or the other, but should use whichever approach best suits whatever I’m trying to achieve or convey. I do however much prefer painting trees in the Wesson-way!
So. I do think I’m able to demonstrate a greater level of patience now than ever before with my painting – and that this can garner great results. But do I enjoy painting this way as much as working more directly? I don’t think so. I have in mind a little exercise in ‘compare and contrast’ that I plan to undertake this week – just to put my theories of personal preference to the test and, as with this foray into the world of Rowland Hilder, I have Edo Hannema to thank for it. I look forward to telling you more and sharing my results with you next week.