Toward the end of last week I was catching up on some blogs that I’ve missed of late and came across a new post from the great watercolor artist Edo Hannema. I really enjoy Edo’s posts, partly because I respect and admire his paintings, and partly because he’s so generous with his advice and wisdom that I can only assume has been gathered over many year’s of perseverance and trial and error.
Edo’s latest post featured some you tube videos that offered some wonderfully practical advice on how to mix a number of colours that are staples in my palette – grey, raw sienna and burnt sienna. Now these three colours form the basis of so many of my paintings, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that – call me lazy – I’ve always relied on buying the tube colours. (I usually buy the 37ml tubes of ready mixed colours from the Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours range whenever my regular suppliers have a sale on!)
Well, I found Edo’s tips on how to mix these colours from others that I also have in my palette quite a revelation! Edo explains that often when using the tube sienna’s or using paynes grey or neutral tint for greys, the outcome can often become quite muddy. When however you create these colours from a mix of blue, red and yellow – the colours are much more vibrant and transparent. The videos clearly demonstrate this difference – and Edo explains why this is the case – but I was keen to put his theories to the test!
Here are Edo’s videos so you don’t have to go scrabbling around YouTube for them (although I would recommend subscribing to Edo’s channel so you don’t miss out on any future gems!)
I came across some photos that I took a couple of years ago whilst on holiday in Cornwall that I’ve long been intending to paint but have put off for various reasons, the main one being the quality of light. The Cornish town of St.Ives may be famed for it’s unique quality of light that has attracted artists and art lovers throughout history – but it can also do a pretty good take on the drizzly, mizzly and overcast too! In addition to the poor light, was the subject matter and composition. I saw that it had potential, and particulary liked the criss crossing of the all the boat masts, but didn’t know how best to simplify the scene. I was also nervous about tackling the foreground beach area of wet pools of water and exposed areas of sand.
With Edo’s colour mixes playing in my mind though, this subject called out to me as the perfect testing ground.
Here’s my first interpretation of the scene, looking out to sea at low tide from St.Ives harbour:
First I washed in the sky (using a mix of ultramarine, winsor yellow and winsor red for the sky). I then quickly carried this wash down into the foreground areas, adding in the raw and burnt sienna mixes very wet into wet. I then added in more of the sienna mixes to strengthen the areas of sand. As this was drying (but before it was fixed) I splashed on droplets of water from a fan brush to create some texture and movement. Once this was all dry, I had to add some more of the burnt and raw sienna mix into the sand areas. This may sound all planned now, but as I was painting it, I was all over the place!
Once this was dry, I was able to put in the background hills, harbour walls, etc, working my way forward until tackling the foreground boats and their shadows and reflections. I liked that I’d managed to simplify a lot of the background details, the distant houses and the boats in front of the harbour wall etc, bit on completing this, I didn’t feel at all convinced by it as a painting. I was, however, increasingly convinced by the potential of the composition.
I decided to do the same scene again but this time with a slightly different approach. This time I altered the composition slightly, mainly to reduce the sky which I didn’t think was doing as much ‘work’ in the first version as the foreground was. I also wanted to try to paint it differently. On this occasion I started with thin strip of sea and then added in the sienna’s only for the foreground. Only when this was all dry did I then add in the sky and then foreground water / wet areas. Around this point, this version started to go astray! Although I quite like the background areas, I had to really battle the foreground. What I would say, is that creating my own greys and sienna’s seemed to allow me to really build up the foreground areas whilst retaining a sense of transparency.
Another major hiccup with this painting was the boat on the right. I placed it far too low in the painting, and originally had it far too small, so it really skewed the perspective of the whole painting. Sadly, I only realised this when I thought I’d finished it! This meant a lot of ‘post-production’ work to desperately try to rectify it! I had to increase the size of it considerably and it ended up being overworked.
As I was doing this, I felt the painting generally lacked a certain bit of oomph, so I went in much stronger in the foreground area as a way of leading into the painting, and to creating a much greater sense of ‘wet’. This seemed to really helped to pull it all together.
The funny thing is that by doing the second one, it made me appreciate the first one all the more!
Whilst there are elements I like in both paintings, the first one is, to me, the stronger of the two. I now really like the texture in the foreground that seems to reflect a movement in the sky. I think that each of them is successful and that it’s primarily because of the vibrancy and transparency of the washes that have been used. I’m sure that, had I used the equivalent tube colours, the whole painting would have felt much muddier.
I really encourage any other painters out there to check out Edo’s videos and then to try them out for themselves! Personally speaking, I think that these two short videos will have a quite profound impact on my paintings so, thanks very much Edo!