In a change to previously advertised content, this week’s watercolours are both examples of me choosing subjects by how quickly I think I can paint them. I had hoped to feature my new watercolour palette, however, as part of the post I really wanted to film a short video and the light over the weekend, plus my available time was very poor on both counts. Instead, I selected a couple of source photos that have been in my ‘to paint’ pile for a long time. On reflection, it seems slightly odd that the reason I haven’t painted them before is that I wasn’t sure quite how to paint them, yet when my time was most pressured, these were the images that jumped out as ‘oh I’ll just bash something out quickly!’
First up was a view looking across the marina in Dieppe. This was done in an A4 sketchbook and my main hope was to find a means of simplifying the sheer mass of small boats and masts but still create the illusion of jam-packed marina.
I did spend a bit of time sketching this out, partly to try to get some of the shapes right but partly to help me think through how I was going to paint it. Once I started painting, it all came together quite quickly and straightforwardly. The aim was to create enough description in the front row or two to give the eye what it needed to say ‘boats’, and then find some means of shorthand to describe the more distant vessels. This did end up as a series of dots, dashes and dabs, but done with a degree of consideration and thought rather than being applied randomly. The masts were done last with some white gouache and really helped to make sense of the scene.
As I often find, working in the sketchbook takes away any hope or expectation of anything I do being ‘any good’ and liberates me a little. I’m not so sure I would have ended up with anything quite as loose and spontaneous had I tried this scene on a taped up sheet of paper – but I am tempted to give this a go sometime.
This other view dates back about five years! We were camping at a music festival a year or two after our daughter was born. The setting was lovely and, partly to get away from the hubbub of the festival we struck out for a walk through some nearby woods. The light was really bright and, looking through the perimeter of the woods, the adjacent field was brightly lit with sunshine. I took a photograph of the scene and it’s gradually been gnawing away at me ever since! One reason I haven’t tackled it is because it’s quite cliched. For anyone following any watercolour hashtags on Instagram, there are a plethora of similar views. While they can be visually ‘pleasing’ there’s also something quite formulaic about them too – like those films where you know exactly how the director is trying to manipulate you but at the same time you can’t help but go along with it!
Regardless of my opinions and reservations, there’s still the challenge of trying to paint it! Here’s the quick sketch I did to start things off.
And here’s the how it looked when I decided to down brushes:
Harking back to my new palette again, I’m really enjoying both the colour selection and the physical object and mixing surfaces. Looking this week’s paintings, and last week’s paintings, I think there’s a discernable difference in my painting.
This painting followed a very traditional approach of painting light to dark and from the background to the foreground. The darker areas in the trees were built up over a number of washes, sometimes using brushstrokes, sometimes splattering the page. While those areas in the trees dried, I worked on the foreground area – which was done with much more dry brushwork. The tree trunks and branches went in last, being mindful to vary the tone of them as well as the width of the trunks to help create a sense of distance.
Because one or two areas of the shaded foreground ran together and created areas that looked a little too uniformly dark, I mixed up a thin wash of white gouache and splattered that on to break up those dense areas. Aside from losing the sense of the path that ran through the woods from the viewpoint towards the light, I’m quite pleased with the impression of the dappled light on the ground of the woods.
I think this painting does conform to the many similar paintings that have preceded it. It pretty much looks like it’s supposed to: it’s gentle; sort of pleasing; sort of effective; kind of visually seductive but, ultimately, I think it feels a little ‘empty’. I don’t mean empty of people but, after a short spell of looking at it – just plain old empty!
Is this just me? Maybe I feel like I’ve just seen too many similar treatments but I’d be interested to hear if others feel similarly about this ‘type’ of painting.
Now I’m not going to promise any updates on the palette next week, but I am getting rather tired of having to keep on cleaning it out after each use because I’d ideally like to show it to you in pristine condition!