Keeping with my watercolour paintings of local views, this week’s subject is St. John the Baptist Church on Palmeira Square, Hove. It’s about five minutes from where I live and, as a subject, it’s probably one that I’ve photographed more than any other but never with the light in the right place for me to conjure up a view I’m happy with. What actually draws me to this scene isn’t the church especially, but The Flower Stand, that sets up outside the church every day.
I’ve often found it a struggle to fit the church and the flower stall in to the same view as they seem to compete for attention, but I thought this composition might work. This is the first painting of I did of the view:
This didn’t take long to do and, although I quite liked it, I felt that the darks were a little too heavy. I liked it enough however to give it another go.
Initially, I did think that this effort was more successful. A little lighter of touch, with more warmth in the foreground and more subtlety in the handling of the church.
The more I’ve looked at these two paintings, however, the more dissatisfied I’ve become with them. Partly the painting of them, which I’ll come on to, but I think there’s also something much more fundamental. While I quite like the view, mainly because it’s one that’s so familiar to me, I don’t really think this works as a composition. Most successful paintings have distinct areas such as a foreground, middle ground and distance. The focal point of a painting is often somewhere in the middle ground. I think that one of the problems with this view is that everything is in the same area. There’s very little foreground to speak of and no distance. Everything’s in the same plane. Which I think makes it quite dull!
As for the actual painting, I put an initial wash where the sky meets the building. On the first version I used a yellow and on the second, raw sienna. While this was still wet, I then put a wash of blues (mainly cobalt but also a touch of cerulean) and allowed this to run into the first wash with the aim of allowing them to run together to create a lovely sense of transitioning light. Sadly, on both paintings, I meddled too much. This is a fatal error to make which – instead of creating a subtle and magical transition – makes green!
I’ve also found that, while I’m really enjoying painting on the Arches rough paper, it’s not without its drawbacks. On both of these drawings, I made quite few mistakes when drawing it out as I was trying to get the scale and perspective of the church correct. Where these errors weren’t going to be painted over – such as in the sky – I tried to erase them with a putty rubber. I suspect that the rubber I’m using is too soft and, instead of lifting off the pencil, it left a dark smudgy residue on the paper, and seems to have an adverse effect on the surface that impacts on the way the paint behaves. You can see this most noticeably on the second painting where – in-between the green bits, there are also ‘grubby’ marks in the sky where it should be, clear as day!
I do still think that elements of this view have potential, but not as I’ve tried to compose and paint them here! I have in mind a view in which the church may appear in the background, but more as a distant silhouette rather than as a focal point, and I think the flower stand will also appear again but much more prominently as a main focal point.
After having been quite pleased with my paintings over the past few weeks, I can’t deny a bit of disappointment with these efforts. While I’m on the subject of disappointment, I received another rejection email from the other watercolour competition that I entered recently. Naturally, I’ll be adding this to my motivational hall of shame collection!
But let’s not part in such a downhearted fashion! There are many positives to be derived, even from disappointment. For instance, it’s good to be able to reflect on why a painting has or hasn’t worked – both from a compositional point of view and a technical point of view. It gives me something tangible to learn from and move on from. As for competitions, well there’s no shortage of competitions to submit too. In true, ‘as one door closes, another door opens’ fashion, I stumbled across another competition over the weekend and have already started to compile a list of possible submissions.