I can’t quite recall what possessed me to tackle this particular view, especially when my watercolour morale is at a low ebb!
The view is of London’s Trafalgar Square. The building in the background is the National Gallery which flanks an entire side of the square which is a constant bustle of people either sightseeing or going about their daily business or simply passing through to get from A to B.
I have been watching a variety of demonstrations on YouTube of late and I think one soundbite that has been ringing in my ears has been about breaking a view down to, big shape/s, medium shapes, small shapes. This view seemed to present an opportunity to focus on this. My aim was to treat the mass and grandeur of the National Gallery in the background as one shape and tackle it, if possible, in a single sweep, and then to focus on the figures and creating a sense of the bustle and crowds that are constantly moving through Trafalgar Square.
I know that many followers of this blog also follow the wonderful demonstrations by the American watercolourist Gary Tucker. If you don’t already follow him, I really would recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel and following his WordPress blog. I really enjoy his paintings and find his thoughtful explanations about his approach and considerations to be really helpful. One thing that I’ve observed is his approach to painting figures. He begins by placing his figures in the painting with just a simple brushstroke for the torso of each figure. Once he’s satisfied with the placement and positioning of the figures, he’s then able to revisit them whenever the time is right to add in the details such, heads, legs, gestures, the colour of clothes etc.
When commencing this painting I think these two considerations were at the forefront of my mind. Simplifying the shapes and trying a different approach to my figures.
Sadly I didn’t manage to achieve what I’d hoped in one go with the background building, so had to return to it a few times to before I felt happy with it – by which time I’d overworked it and wasn’t happy with it! While I’m not thrilled by the figures (with so many figures in one painting I think this was always going to be the case!) – I did find the approach, of placing the torso of the figures into the painting with a simple brushstroke that I could return to later really helpful.
The shadow and the highlights were the final elements to be added and these really helped to make the painting pop a little more!
Feeling marginally more encouraged than discouraged, I thought I would take some of what I’d learnt painting this and have another go at it:
The background building was done in one single wet in wet passage with the columns lifted out with a damp brush. Some areas are perhaps a little too dark but nevertheless, I find them more satisfying than in the first painting. When it came to the floor area, I felt it was too light, so put in a darker wash to strengthen in. Foolishly, I did this when the light was really poor and ended up going too dark which left me kicking myself a little!
The figures were tackling in a similar way, but I tried to be more mindful of how groups of figures connected to each other.
All in all, I enjoyed painting this second one more but when I stood back from it, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the overall result. The light and the shadows just didn’t stack up! In the first painting, the sky is much lighter in the top left than the top right, creating a sense of light and direction which then follows through to the shadows. In the second one, there’s no discernable source of light. The floor area is too dark and there’s no reason to show why the shadows are heading in the direction they are!
I’ve decided to write both of these off as disappointing days at the office!
A short while ago, I went through a spell of being quite pleased with most of my paintings so I’m just going to take my current run of form on the chin and keep on painting. Hopefully, I’ll turn another corner soon!
In other news, my Frazer Price Palette Box video is gradually coming together albeit in a very rough and ready way. Even though it’s driving me to despair, I feel that I’m learning a lot, even though it probably won’t look like it when it’s finished! I’ll hopefully have it ready in the next week or two, which in a sense would be most timely as, at the end of July, I’ll be whisking my Frazer Price palette off to France for our annual camping trip which I’m most excited about!