Last weekend was the third and penultimate weekend of Brighton’s Artists Open Houses. I spent a lovely day at my venue, Art at Zerbs, chatting with visitors and wrestling with a new watercolour painting!

On a recent visit to my barbers, I surreptitiously took a few photos with a view to one day trying to do a painting of it. Although it’s recently been refurbished, all of the chairs and fixtures and fittings are all vintage and I really like the interior.

On reflection, it was perhaps a little too challenging a subject to try to paint under the gaze of public scrutiny! In preparation, I did do a warm up study to try to work a few things out and iron out some creases ahead of going public:

Barbershop, preparatory study

I quite liked areas of this but was also frustrated with other elements. Because I had quite a lot going on over the weekend, this study was done in dribs and drabs during the day and ended up being finished off hastily around midnight on Saturday, the night before I was due at the Open House. The final element was the tiles which, partly due to the poor light I was painting in, went on far too heavily. By now, however, I felt committed to trying to paint this again so taped up another sheet of paper and sketched it out again.

It’s a little hard to describe my process for painting on the day. Not because it’s particularly complex, but more because it was so long and drawn out and fraught with changes of mind! To summarise, however, I started off with a pale wash across the floor, then another pale-ish wash across the walls, the windows, the mirror, and the barber’s bureau. After this, I think I spent quite a lot of time chatting with people! Next up came some strengthening of the tones in the bureau and my first washes across the two figures. I then got slightly ahead of myself and put in a really bold and far too purple a shadow across the floor, from the doorway to the far right-hand side of the painting. While this felt great to do, I subsequently had to spend a great deal of time and effort neutralising the vibrancy of the shadow wash, then softening the edge of the shadow, before eventually creating a ‘second’ shadow, as if there may have been two different light sources, which is discernible in the final painting. 

This created a domino effect across the painting whereby I had to revisit everything to start strengthening the tones across the entire painting to work with the tone of the shadow I’d put on the floor! Once this was done, a little dry brushing around the mirror frame, the windows, some details on the bureau etc started to pull the painting together a little more. Next up were figures which I tried to tackle as a single shape. I’d like to say that this element was completed in one take, but to be honest I spent more time fiddling and re-working this area than I’d like to admit to! One of the last elements to go in were the darker floor times. I made sure to use a much more transparent mix than I had on my preparatory painting and this really helped to pull the painting together.

Finally came few highlights on the front edge of the bureau and on the pots and jars on the surface of the bureau – followed by some general tinkering about here and there. Eventually, I decided that enough was enough – and it was high time for an end of the day glass of wine!

Here’s the finished painting followed by a few other photos from the day – including an escher-esque photo that a co-exhibitor did for me using some clever doodah on their phone!

Barbershop, Brighton

Reflecting on Sunday’s painting experience, I’m considering a slightly different approach for next Monday – the final day of the Open Houses – when I’m next due to be painting there. The opening hours of Art at Zerbs are 11am-6pm and I’ve committed again to painting throughout the day.

I think that what I may need to consider for next Monday, even if only as an experiment, is to try to complete two paintings during the day. I think that putting a little more time pressure on myself would help me to keep the momentum going and perhaps replicate more closely a plein air time frame. I think stretching my painting out across the day leaves too much time for tinkering and repainting at the risk of overworking. If I were to total up the amount of time most of my paintings take, it would probably come to less than two hours, perhaps closer to three if you included drying time. If I were to choose my subject matter carefully and spend a little less time chatting and a little more time painting, I think two in a day should be possible.

The downside to this is that I’ll need to do a little more preparation to map out exactly what I’ll paint, but I think I might aim to do a quarter sheet and a half sheet – it’s not as if it would be the end of the world if I didn’t finish both of them.

Market update

After some brisk business on the opening weekend, sales have declined a little (my euphemism for ‘ground to a crunching halt’) over the past two weekends! This isn’t to suggest that there has been a total lack of interest in my work.

I’ve had some lovely compliments, some paintings are, I think, under consideration and some people have indicated that they’ll be keeping an eye out on my work for the future. With one weekend still to go there’s still time for a final flurry of sales and, even if it doesn’t materialise, I’ve had a ball exhibiting, meeting people and, of course, spending my days painting!

13 thoughts on “Barbershop watercolour

  1. You do like a big foreground, don’t you? It works very well here giving a nice feeling of space and volume and no doubt kept you well occupied while you chatted to visitors. By the way, I have no sympathy for you on the sales front since you seem to have sold more on the first day that I have sold in a lifetime! It all seems to be going pretty well. Congratulations on a great show.

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    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this and so pleased that, in this instance, you think the big foreground works! Thanks too for your lack of sympathy on the sales front – a timely reminder that I should be focussing positively on the sales that I have made and not negatively on those I haven’t made! So pleased you liked the show!

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  2. Good Job, John! I’ have thought that doing that floor would have driven you bonkers! Then to do it more than once! That poor barber mush have an aching back by the end of the day bent over as he is. Those washed are wonderful, by the way.

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    1. Haha, yes Margery, I felt quite the same about that floor, especially when I opted to do smaller tiles on the second version! Actually however, once I started on the tiles and got into a rythm, I fairly rattled throught them (much quicker than any other tiling I’ve ever done!). Really pleased you like it Margery – all the best!

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    1. Thanks so much for this and yes, you’re quite right! As for painting what I love, this came a just the right time. Instead of trying to second guess what may or may not sell or appeal, I should just be focussing on what inspires me! Really appreciate these timely comments, thanks so much!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly!!! You took on a lot but regardless your painting shines and has that feeling and look as though it wasn’t a struggle. Your approach and style shows through and I would never have guessed that it was a challenge. To me that says a lot about where you are as an artist, keep rocking it!

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      2. Thanks so much Margaret – I am pleased that I persevered with this (as you say, only I really know the pain of it!) and I’m really pleased that you feel my approach and style show through. I really appreciate this and I’m already beginning to look forward to this weekend’s painting in public! Thanks so much Margaret

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