Most years, around about September or October, I start thinking that maybe I should do a seasonal painting of some description that I can print up as Christmas cards. This is partly to save a fortune on cards, and partly because I don’t produce any prints to sell of my paintings, but think that a little supply of Christmas cards for my personal use would come in quite handy, and would be a good exercise for me to undertake.

What usually holds me back is a complete lack of my own reference material. We haven’t had much snow in Brighton for a few years now, and nothing that I’ve been able to get out and photograph. Fortunately, we’ve been getting a supply of Christmas cards designed by our daughter from school so it’s rather taken the pressure off me having to do anything!

I was, however, rooting through an old box of Christmas cards and I came across one of my favourite watercolour snow scenes. It’s more of a tinted sketch than a pure watercolour but there’s something about it that I really like. I think it conveys a spontaneous simplicity that is really joyful

Camile Pissarro (1830-1903), Winter landscape, Eragny, c.1890
The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

As I’ve been off my painting a little of late, I thought it would be a nice little exercise to get my brushes wet and to do a quick interpretation of this scene. One great thing about this was that it only took a few minutes to sketch this out!

John Haywood, after Camile Pissarro (1830-1903), Winter landscape, Eragny, c.1890

I’ve struggled to get a decent photo of this sketch but this is the best that I’ve managed to take. I usually paint more directly than this but on this occasion, I really enjoyed building this up with a number of really thin glazes.

The first wash was a cool blue-grey, made up from cerulean blue and light red which I washed all over the ground and distant hills. Then I turned my board upside down and put in a pale yellow wash of raw sienna and transparent yellow, into which I dropped in a pale mix of quinacridone magenta, cadmium red and cadmium orange along the horizon line, allowing it to run into the yellow to create a graduated wash.

Once this was dry, the pale grey-blue wash over the land looked a little ‘odd’ – so I glazed over it with a really pale yellow wash, the same as I’d used on the sky, and this seemed to bring a bit more unity to it.

Next, I just started loosely dropping in the other tints, working from the distance to the foreground but in no particular order. I was mainly conscious of trying to keep it light, of touch and tone, and not to overwork anything. At this point I thought that the contrast between the sky and the land was a little weak, so I turned the board upside down again and put in another graduated wash, only this time with a little more Turners yellow to strengthen the tone a little more. 

Here’s to some snow in early 2019 so that I can try to get some decent photographs together. Who knows, next year could be the year of my long awaited Christmas card! In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a fabulous festive season and a very merry Christmas.

21 thoughts on “A seasonal watercolour

  1. I really like your take on the Pissarro work. Your version seems a little more impressionistic. The colors and details are just a little softer. The way you used the more subtle tones seems to give a real feeling of that soft, cool winter light.

    What I find really fascinating about your water colors, John, is that you are so good at bringing out the feeling, the mood, of the scene, even though your details are usually less prominent.

    This fascinates me as a photographer because my medium is really all about the light, but far too often I get caught up in the details of a subject rather than “seeing” the light quality. I am learning a lot by reading your blog and studying your paintings. Thanks so much, John. Incredible as always.

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    1. Thanks so much Tim – I did enjoy this study. It’s funny about the comparison between the light within painting and within photography. I can’t help but wondering if from a viewer’s perspective, they are more forgiving when looking at a painting than at a photograph. I think with a photograph, there’s a much greater expectation for some form of ‘accuracy’ – whereas painters are able to lean a little more heavily on the old artistic license? Thanks so much for the kind and supportive comments Tim – I really appreciate them!

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      1. You are welcome, John. You may be correct about the light regarding the “accuracy”. But like you, we can take license by timing our shoots – morning light, afternoon, evening, sunny, cloudy, etc. They all have very different qualities, so the photos will all feel different. I am definitely of the opinion that no art form is superior over another. They all are our expressions of how something made us feel. So, hey that’s why I so love your work; it makes me feel things that photos just can’t always accomplish. Have fun, John. And hopefully spring is just around the corner. 🙂

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      2. Thanks Tim – I think that my paintings have improved my photography – but I also know that if I don’t like something about the photo, I can always try to edit it or correct it (or generally fudge it in some way!) in the painting! Fingers crossed about spring being just around the corner – I’m already beginning to appreciate the days getting a bit longer!

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    1. Hi Al – thanks for this – great that you’re back – I’ve had notifications about your new posts but am away at the moment – will catch up with all your latest news soon – meantime all best wishes for the New Year and for 2019!

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  2. That so nice, this first for me, just saw wash was a cool blue-grey, made up from cerulean blue and light red which I washed all over the ground and distant hills. Then I turned for you board upside down and put in a pale yellow wash of raw sienna and transparent yellow, into which I dropped in a pale mix of quinacridone magenta, cadmium red and cadmium orange along the horizon line, allowing it to run into the yellow to create a graduated wash…..I like it because it is natural..

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    1. haha, yes I can quite understand! Pretty as it is for some, it can be disastrous for others! I fear my actual control over the weather has, to date, been rather useless but I’ll do my best! Depening on how the snow falls (or not) this year I may well take you up on your offer of some photos!

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  3. Nicely done John. I am in the process of ‘imagining’ a snow scene from a view I did in the summer…not sure how successful it will be….it’s a commission so might have to wait for some real snow and revisit the scene!
    Wishing you and your family a lovely happy Christmas and an exciting New year. Thank you for these Wednesday blogs…I always look forward to them.
    Happy painting.

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  4. I just wonder how many watercolourists have been thinking similar thoughts over the last month or so. I myself have painted a little picture of my in-laws’ gate and front door with snow from last Christmas’s photo and used it as a card AND the original as a present for them – framing it this morning – so saved loads of money! I can see why you were so taken with the original Pissarro; it’s a lovely little study. His sky is a bit lumpier and more acrid than yours (where’s your Green Gold?) and yours is altogether more sanitised – but you’d expect that from of copy where you’re concentrating so hard on getting everything the right colour, the right tone and in the right place. Notwithstanding, it’s an excellent outcome. A really successful piece of work and It’s not too late to send it to me for Christmas, either.
    Have a great break! (Do bloggers have holidays???)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this Rob – I like your forward planning of getting the photos, doing the painting as a gift and getting Christmas cards from it! Definitely something to aspire to for next year! Hope that you have a great break (and maybe find time to squeeze a little bit of painting in!). I have one more Wednesday post to sort out for Boxing day to complete my 52 posts in 52 weeks for 2018, so not exactly a blogger’s holiday, but hopefully a nice one to end the year on!

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