I was rummaging through an old box of books recently looking for something that I thought I had (mainly to save me buying it all over again just because I’ve forgotten what books I already have!) when I came across a book that was gifted to me quite a few years ago. As it was a book on watercolour, I immediately considered it a very thoughtful gift. When I opened it up to find that the entire book had been printed back to front and upside down, so most likely a charity shop purchase, I appreciated it all the more: thoughtful, thrifty and different! I also couldn’t help but spare a thought for whoever was responsible for an entire book run being bound upside down and back to front!
The book in question was ‘A Vision of Venice in Watercolour’ by Ken Howard OBE.
The book was also accompanied by a video of the same name. I haven’t seen the DVD but here’s a trailer for it:
I didn’t spend that much with the book when I first received it – I recall that it just didn’t feel like ‘where I was’ with my painting at the time. On rediscovering it again, however, I had a more thorough read and explore of it. First off, I couldn’t help but be struck by what a wonderfully gentle, humble and down to earth man he seems to be. The book follows his process as he tackles a number of Venice scenes and illustrated with lots of work in progress photographs and Ken’s step by step commentary.
Broadly speaking his approach is to build his paintings up with thinly applied glazes of wash. What I also particularly like is his willingness in his studies to use a bit of body colour, gouache or pastel to apply highlights or details.
I think one reason why I paid the book more attention on this occasion was that it chimed a little more with some of the smaller studies I’ve been working on recently. In this book, Ken explains that he prefers to work small when painting on location in watercolour, often working on two pieces at the same time. To do this he tapes paper to each side of a board, alternating from one side to another to allow the paint to dry. I have tried painting two views at the same time, but usually, find that I just end up concentrating on one rather than the other if I feel it’s going better!
Still, that was the last time I tried it so who’s to say whether I’d feel the same this time around!
After last week’s blog post, where I showed a study of Lindisfarne – the dear friend we were visiting all those years ago read the post and sent me a couple of new photos of Lindisfarne taken only a few weeks ago. I made a couple of crops to the two images and thought I’d use them as an opportunity to paint the two simultaneously. I don’t have a board that allows me to tape to either side (most of my boards have a tripod mount on the back of them) so I had to tape both pages to one side of the board. The paper I used was Arches rough 140lb/300gsm.
Below are some step by step images of how I got on:
I quite enjoyed working on these two and, as quite quick studies, I think they’re okay. Of the two, I think sketch 1 is the more successful of the pair, both in terms of composition and the overall treatment and handling of the subject.
Now as much as I’m enjoying these smaller studies, after completing this pair – and having only worked small for the past month or so, I felt the urge to work on something a little more expansive. I can’t recall exactly what led me to my next choice, only that I think it was another one from my archive that I’ve previously overlooked or dismissed. On reviewing this photo, however, I began to see more immediately what the painting of this might look like, and how I might paint it.
The view is looking up the Mawddach estuary in Snowdonia, Wales, at low tide. We have been to this spot a number of times because we have friends, John and Sarah, that own and run Graig Wen, of the most fabulous campsites in the whole of the UK (in my humble opinion). If you don’t like camping, there are also a number of cottages that you can rent – so there’s really no excuse should you ever find yourself in the vicinity. The location is wonderful and the scenery just stunning, even when the weather’s on the moody side!
Sadly I didn’t take any work in progress photos as I painted this, which I regret on one hand, but I also don’t think they’d have looked that good as I ended up painting this late into the evening under a normal electric light because I couldn’t be bothered to set my daylight light up! At the time, I also wasn’t sure whether what I was working on had any merit to or not! Here’s the finished painting.
It’s painted on a half imperial sheet of Saunders Waterford High White Rough 140lb / 300gsm – so about 3 times larger than the sketches I’ve been doing of late. Despite taking frequent time outs for drying, this all came together pretty quickly. I do have a few niggles about this, but overall there’s more that I’m happy about than unhappy. I often find that wet sand or mud can be tricky to capture so am particularly pleased with the foreground mud.
I was also really unsure about how to tackle the foreground rocks and boulders without getting caught up in trying to paint each one individually. I ended up using the chisel-like edge of a half-inch flat brush to make quite random and varied marks, making everything smaller as it receded into the distance. I also varied the consistency and colour of the pigments, even just splashing on some cerulean blue in the right-hand corner to try to evoke something like moss on the rocks. I’ve not tried the approach before and was pleasantly surprised by the result.
I’ve already got ideas about how I could improve on some areas of this if I were to tackle it again, mainly in relation to the sky and distant hills but, overall, I like the combination of elements that this scene offers.
I like the subtle flat open areas of wash combined with the more free and expressive brushstrokes, and it does evoke some wonderful memories of our time spent on the Mawddach.