This week’s watercolour paintings are a couple of ‘amuse-bouche’ ahead of the main course post to introduce my latest watercolour palette, which I feel merits some dedicated attention!

Without wishing to spoil that post, I feel I can’t continue without at least alluding to my latest indulgence, as it has played such an instrumental role in these two paintings. In anticipation of my new palette, and in the knowledge that it had 16 paint wells, I’ve been going through my paints and deliberating on my ‘must have’ colours. I’ve also been mindful of some recent constructive comments about my use of colour, or rather my reliance on greys.

When I was away in France in the summer I took with me for guidance and inspiration David Taylor and Ron Ranson’s book ‘Solving the Mystery of Watercolor’ and found it a really wonderful companion and it inspired the approach I took with many of the sketches that I made.

Reading and sketching in France earlier this year

I recalled that this book featured some interesting advice and suggestions on some colour mixes so I’ve been referring back to this. So, with my new palette, refreshed paints and some invaluable guidance I set off on a new adventure to test everything out!

As I’ve been harking back to France of late (I blame it on the weather!), it seemed like an appropriate place to seek out inspiration. The first scene to grab my attention was a landscape featuring a house on a hill. The subject was similar to many of the sketches that I’d done during the trip. I was attracted to it primarily because I thought I’d be able to paint it quickly, but also because it featured a few challenges too, not least the foreground area!

Watercolour painting of a House on hill in the Dordogne in France by artist John Haywood
House on a hill, the Dordogne, France

I’m not entirely convinced that I rose to the challenge of the foreground but what I was pleased with was a lightness of tone that I think may have been missing from some of my paintings – often the result of my first washes being too heavy. I think this came down to a number of factors. Firstly, the new palette – I’m really intrigued by how the paints behave on the mixing surfaces. Secondly the colours and the new combinations – as I’m trying out a few new colours (such as transparent yellow and cadmium orange) I had to spend a lot more time mixing and adjusting my colours on the palette than I usually do. I was also working with very ‘loose’ paint – paints that I’d added to the palette from tubes and had then sprayed liberally with water before giving them a mix with a cocktail stick! This had the result of not picking up too much paint, or too strong a mix when I dipped my brushes into the paint wells.

I think this combination of factors led to me achieving a ‘lighter’ painting than of late, a painting that plays much more to watercolour’s transparent qualities. I also resisted the urge to go back into some areas and re-work them. The foreground, for instance, was all completed as part of the first wash. I was tempted to re-work this but, as I still wasn’t quite sure what I’d do to improve it, or if it would have the desired effect, I opted to leave it. It could still probably be cropped some and still work, but I’m glad I resisted the temptation to meddle as I think it would most likely have upset the overall balance. Oh, I also think it’s more ‘colourful’ too than many of my recent paintings, without losing any sense of unity.

Feeling encouraged by this effort, next up was a scene that felt much more familiar to me in terms of subject matter, but also more involved in terms of time. Again, sticking with France but this time a sunlit square in the delightful town of Perigueux in the Dordogne.

A watercolour painting of a square in the French town of Perigueux in the Dordogne by artist John Haywood
A square in the French town of Periguex, the Dordogne

I won’t do a blow by blow account but will pick out a few things of note.  I started this painting with a wash that is still visible on the sunlit walls of the buildings. This initial wash also included all of the ground areas that, with the exception of adding in some shadows, I didn’t touch again. 

The last thing I painted, was the sky. I did this purposefully as the sky was so strong and powerful in tone, that I thought if I painted it first, I’d end up painting all of the subsequent colours too strong too. Even painting the sky last it felt strong, but I think it holds up okay and I’m glad I did things in that order. As for the colours, again I was experimenting and spending lots of time mixing in the palette before committing to paper. What I like though is the variety of colour and the warmth in some of the shadow areas.

I must confess to being quite heartened by these two paintings. Despite their differences, I think there are things to like in both of them. I’m excited by some of the new colourways and am pleased to be gradually making friends with my new palette, which I hope to be able to introduce to you more fulsomely soon – perhaps once we’ve got to know each other just a little better!

21 thoughts on “New watercolour paintings from a new watercolour palette!

  1. I recognize that Frazer-Price palette. It’s how I found your blog in the first place.

    Did someone indulge themselves in a custom Little Brass Box?

    I think switching up the color palette is a great exercise. When I take a class or workshop I try as much as possible to use the pigments suggested by the artist, although I try to match them with my Daniel Smith rather than go out and buy another line of paint. Restricting yourself to someone else’s choices can force you to be creative in mixing the color you might have had as a convenience, but they do not. Doing without a standard can also force some creative improvisation.

    I’m doing a little switching up myself. I am setting up a palette for a workshop I’ll be taking in July with Thomas Schaller. I’m also setting up a Joseph Zbukvic palette as I have a few of his DVDs. Neither of them use phthalo blue or phthalo green. That is a huge difference to my palette. No quin rose either. I’ve been looking at switching out my regular quin rose for the Daniel Smith permanent rose madder. Substituting manganese blue for cerulean or going with Hansa Yellow light instead of medium.

    Experimenting with a different palette is probably a good thing as I’m sure the light in England is different than that in France or Italy. You can have your sunny French palette and your overcast English palette.

    As for the physical palette, I just moved into a vintage Roberson palette that holds plenty of whole pans so I’m moving to large brushes and a large watercolor block. I’m hoping I can progress further in my quest to loosen up.

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    1. haha, well Mary, without wanting to give the game away too much, I may have indulged just a little with my new palette! Like you, I tend to stick with a brand of paints (in my case the Winsor and Newton Professional range) and I seem to have a core palette of colours around which I experiment with swapping colours in and out. Yellows are the ones that I’m finding hardest to pin down, but there are early signs of promise with the transparent yellow that I’ve recently introduced!

      I’m mightily jealous of your workshop with Thomas Schaller – what a wonderful painter and I hope you’ll be able to impart some words of wisdom afterwards!? Should you remember and have the opportunity, please do pass on my thanks and best wishes from this admirer on the other side of the pond! He has on occasion commented positively about my paintings when I’ve shared them on twitter and every time it makes my heart skip a beat! I imagine a workshop with him could be quite transformative!

      I like your approach to loosening up, bigger brushes, more paint, bigger palette, bigger paintings – sounds wonderful – happy painting Mary!

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  2. Hi John….well this is a very interesting read! I too feel you have been ‘told off’ and do like your response…we all have to be true to ourselves and our own vision. I personally really like your new lighter paintings and am happy this is the way you plan to go. I have the same David Taylor book and it’s one of my favourites amd always inspires me. I have a lovely DVD of his and what surprises me the most is how small the mixing area is on his own specially made palette. I am very spoilt as have a Little Brass Palette the same as the the Craig ones and do love it…it took me a while to save the money by giving piano lessons so am proud of it…it’s 5 years old and the price seems crazy now.
    I look forward to seeing your new palette…and your new adventures in colour.
    I never used Alizarin Crimson either as found it too dominating…the quinacridones are gorgeous.
    I went on a painting holiday to Dedham Hall with Paul Banning a few years ago (it was amazing) and we were only allowed to paint with 3 primaries all week, these being permanent rose, winsor yellow and winsor blue, red shade. Very interesting as they are all very transparent and staining.
    Didn’t mean to write so much…must be catching!
    Happy painting.

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    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this. It’s reminded me that I think I’ve also got a David Taylor DVD somewhere in the collection and I really should look it out as I haven’t watched it in ages! I’m also delighted to hear that you’re still so happy with your palette five years on – they are quite an investment and, in many ways, I’m still finding it hard to justify but hopefully time (and lots more painting!) will prove it to be a wise investment! I need to look up Paul Banning as I don’t think I’m familiar with his work but the three colour exercise sounds great – very taxing I would imagine and hard to resist the temptation so sneak another colour or five in there but I should imagine it’s a great discipline that would benefit us all to try out every now and then. (it’ll have to wait for another time for me as I’m still far too excited about having all my colours in the new palette!) Many thanks for the support and encouragement Carole, much appreciated, and happy painting to you too!

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  3. I live in the US; St. Louis, to be exact, but have lived in numerous areas in my 88 years! From New England to Florida to Alabama finally back to the midwest. I went to art school when abstract was the big thing…and found that both exciting and helpful though I do not paint that way today, but understanding it, learning about it has been really helpful for the design elements and ‘mark-making’. Also for freeing your mind so that you learn to paint from your soul and avoid just copying photos, which really KILLS your soul! At my age, I just attended a great ‘Landscape Class’ out doors in the heat of summer…which refreshed my memory of the necessity for Pleinaire Painting rather that painting from your photos…and how VITAL that is!
    I never had to earn a living by my art, luckily, but have had a lot of experience ‘doing art’. I have tried many mediums: oil, acrilics, printmaking (which I loved!) and pastels which I also loved…and recetly decided to return to watercolors in which I have not really had instructions, so I have spent hours studying online teachers from whom have gotten so much good advice. I have made much progress. Thus I feel able to critique your recent work.
    I am surprised that you did not realize why you relied on greys so much before you went to France! I LOVE England, but I’ve been there 3 times always in Sept/Oct when it was grey and rainy, so greys were appropriate! I also have lived for a long time in SW Florida and will be headed back there in Jan and am already planning MY new palette! (Can’t wait, it’s freezing here and we’ve already had snow!)
    But for my critique:
    The first thing that hit me was those umbrelas lined up like the Russian soldiers! I have never seen umbrellas set up in such military fashion! Remember… YOU are tha artist!!! You are in Control! Not a slave! The painting is what’s important, not what some unknown ‘control freak’ tells you…you must line them up just so! You are not a SLAVE to what’s there, you are a painter who can move trees, mountains and buildings, change colors, move houses or leave them out! You are not responsible for copying what is there, you ARE responsible for an interesting, PERSONAL interpretation of the FEELING…what has inspired you to paint this particualr location, and YOU are FREE to change it so it interprets YOUR feelings about the location…it is not your job to record every or any details! What inspired you to paint this scene? The sunlight hitting surfaces? One of the building surfaces will tell your story, the suggestion of umbrellas is enough, you need not include the entire block of the village! You do not need to record everything, it’s far better to let your viewer fill in the spaces, allow him to add his own memories or dreams. What excited you avout this scene that you have now made boreing by too much irreevant observation? Your vision cannot take in this much observation so what small part of it interested you?
    As to you your palette, try NOT to mix your colors on the palette but on the paper! Wet the surface, say of the sunlit surface of the buiding (you do not need to include ALL of them…the one would tell your story!) then DROP in the colors and allow them to blend together on the limited surface! That way you will keep the freshness of the water colors and the magic of what they can do…let the paint do it’s thing instead of you trying to control them! You will avoid over painting the surface and take advantage of the uniqueness of the paint! Let the paint do its thing rather than you controlling it! You say you are proud of the ‘washes’ on the surface of the sunlit buildings,,,try this and observe the result when you, having chosen apprpriate colors can do when you allow the paint to do it’s thing! You will be amazed at the results! You’ll need to practice mixing colors in this manner and you’l love the results! Some colors whill blend themselves in amazing ways but yoou”ll need to learn which ones do what.You are an ARTIST! Leave it up to some starving photographer to sell the postcard for the tourist.
    Margery Griffith

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    1. Wow, Margery many thanks for such a comprehensive response and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’m familiar with much of your advice, possibly because we’ve read the same books or, equally as possible, because after a while most books on watercolour dispense very similar advice! I’m sure, or at least I hope that your comments were solely intended to be constructive however I must confess that rarely has anything I’ve posted ever induced such an apparent ‘ticking off’! You covered much more ground in your comments than I feel inclined to respond to line by line but I do feel compelled to respond on some points. First off I should make it clear that I fully appreciate that this painting is by no means perfect and some of your points are of course completely valid. However, you can’t, on the one hand, tell me that I’m the ‘artist’ and it’s up to me to create the image I want and then chastise me for having done just that! If I’d wanted to focus on one building, I would have. If I’d wanted to leave out more detail, I would have. I did move things around to suit the composition (admittedly more successfully in some areas than in others!). Yes there are many many ways that I could have interpreted this view to tell the story I wanted, but on this occasion, this is the way that I, the artist, of my own free will chose to portray it. That you feel I’ve rendered the scene ‘boring by too much irreverent detail’ is, of course, disappointing to hear but I respect that it’s an opinion to which you’re completely entitled. Of course there are a lot of sound points in your commentary too. I agree that mixing colours on the paper is wonderful and, In the course of this painting, I did mix colours directly on the paper. I did also spend time mixing colours in the palette too and can’t think of any watercolour painters that I know of or admire that mix purely on the paper to the exclusion of mixing in the palette. As I said at the outset, I’m sure that your comments were written with only the best of intentions, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve just been shouted at. With kind regards and much respect and admiration for continuing to lead such an active and creatively fulfilling life, John.

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  4. I don’t know who can have been so rude as to question your use of grey, John, but I have to admit that these latest works positively radiate sunlight so well done him (or her)! They’re so high key that I assumed you meant you have changed your palette of pigments and had to re-read when I realised you were talking about a plastic thingy – or is it a metal thingy? Or perhaps a ceramic thingy? Carbon fibre?

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    1. Hmm, I can’t quite recall exactly who it was now who mentioned my greys! I do recall however that it was you that put me on to Quinacridone Magenta in favour of Alizarin Crimson! I’ve been meddling with this new addition for a few weeks now and I don’t think I’ll be turning back anytime soon! Thanks so much for this top tip as it’s definitely played a key part in my recent efforts. As for the new palette, I hope to reveal all next week… (he said in a desperate effort to build anticipation!)

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    1. Hi Carol and thanks so much for this, so pleased to be able lto bring some warmth to your morning! We’ve just experienced our first snow of winter and the temperature has dropped quite suddenly here which is why I think I’m harking back to my summer holidays at the moment! Thanks again

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  5. I really like the Square in the French Town.. The colours are much fresher with less grey than you often use. Hope you don’t mind but just one minor point. The bottom line of the umbrellas is rather straight. Generally they change direction slightly where the horizontal supports meet the outer edge. This adds to the perspective. Of course it may just be that the reduction in size for the photo is giving a false impression.

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    1. Hi Michael and many thanks for this, much appreciated. I know what you mean about that front line of the umbrellas looking so flat and straight. There is a little bit of differentation on the painting and in retrospect I should have tried to make it a little more distinct. There were two large umbrellas at the front aligned square on which created the staightish line, with further umbrellas arranged behind them. I think on this occasion I may have remained too true to the source photo rather than using some licence (as I did elsewhere with this painting!) to make it work better as a painting!

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    1. Hi Laureen, and thanks so much for this wonderful analogy – that’s exactly what it’s like! So far there are some really encouraging signs that everyone’s getting along quite nicely – and I think that some might even become the best of friends! Thanks so much Laureen!

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      1. Ah yes, I have it mind to make next week’s post about my new palette. In my mind it was supposed to be the palette that would stop me buying any more palettes, but I’m already beginning to wonder if such a palette actually exists!

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