Unfinished watercolour business

I’m starting this week where I left off last week, with another version of my Manchester tram. As I approached this version, I had a number of goals in mind:

  • A more clearly defined focal point
  • A greater sense of depth and recession
  • To introduce some colour, where I’d previously focused on a more monochromatic version
  • A looser interpretation of the buildings, yet with some suggestion of architectural detailing
Manchester tram (3)

Looking at these objectives, and at the painting, I think I achieved most of these things, albeit to varying degrees of success. I think that there are some really satisfying touches and moments, even if the overall result still leaves me a little cold.  Here are my three versions of this scene for ease of comparison:

Despite my many misgivings, I feel that this latest version is sufficiently well resolved, and is the most successful of the three, which meant I was able to move my focus onto something else!

Next up, Brighton Marina

With the recent move into autumn, I’ve been mixing up my bike rides a little bit as some of the woods that I usually cycle in have become too muddy even for my taste!

One route I’ve been taking is the coastal path that runs along Brighton seafront to Rottingdean along what is known as the undercliff. It’s a lovely cycle (not just because it’s flat!) and, cycling East early in the morning, I’ve been treated to some wonderful early morning skies. When the mood has been upon me, I’ve sometimes stopped to take the odd photo. It was on reviewing these for the first time that I saw one in particular that took my fancy to try and paint.

On this particular occasion, it had been a cold and clear morning after a terribly stormy night. As I cycled along the undercliff at Brighton Marina, I was taken by a beautiful anvil cloud rising up in the distance with the boats in dry dock silhouetted against it in the bright morning light. It also just so happened that I had a quarter sheet all stretched and ready to go!

Watercolour painting of an anvil cloud over Brighton Marina by artist John Haywood
Anvil cloud over Brighton Marina

To be honest, although I liked the view, I didn’t hold out much hope in my ability to paint it, so I didn’t take any photos as I went along. While I regret this slightly now, I’m so pleased and relieved to have completed a painting that I feel happy with that I’m willing to overlook any lack of ‘work in progress photos’.

This is one of those rare occasions when I think that the painting is better than it looks in the photo! In the photo, the delicate soft blue of the sky is a little bleached out by the backlighting of the screen. I may try to photograph this again in the hope I can get a better rendition of it, but in the meantime, this will have to suffice.

19 thoughts on “Anvil cloud watercolour

  1. Hi John, I am so behind in my reading due to my extreme workload these days. I have finally found one of your posts. As always, I really enjoy the paintings and your comments.

    The tram painting is great, and I agree with you. The last version is the best. So I am curious about your comments that the painting leaves you cold. Could you please explain what you mean by that?

    The marina even is wonderful, and the lighting is indeed super difficult. I took a photo similar to this a couple of years ago in Westport, Washington right after a huge rainstorm. I was looking west, right into that afternoon sunlight as you were looking into the morning sun.

    The light makes a tough scene as that sunlight washes out the rich colors from that super clean air following the storm.

    In my photo, I decided that I had taken the shot too early. The monochromatic effect would have been stronger and richer had I let the sun hit just lower in the sky, allowing the overall light to darken. It would be interesting to see your scene with more of a sunrise type quality.

    I noticed that day, that the photos I took looking away from the sun with that later afternoon light highlighting the ships, were much more vibrant and rich in their colors. Another idea would to be paint the anvil cloud as if the sun was shining on the cloud, highlighting it with the sky and boats behind somewhat darker, but still with that rich, warm hue.

    Anyway, just some ideas, and I loved the post. Thanks so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tim and many thanks for this. On the one hand I’m sorry to hear that you’re so busy with work, on the other it makes me feel a little bit better about my own overburdened workload of late – there must be something in the air!

      As ever, really useful, insightful comments. I’m not an especially great photographer so to get a photographer’s view on the qualities of light at different times is really interesting, particularly when you were speaking about the colours of the ‘super clean air’ after the storm being washed out by the morning sun.
      As for the Tram painting and your question about it leaving me cold. I suppose it’s because I saw this painting as more of an exercise. I didn’t base it on one of my own photos, but on one that came across but which nevertheless struck a creative chord with me. I think it may be this disconnect between the subject and my experience of it that leaves me feeling a bit cold about it. Does this make sense?

      Thanks again Tim and I really hope that the workload eases off to give you some more time for the photography!

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      1. Nice to chat with you, John. I now understand your feelings about the trolley painting. Actually though, I quite like it, especially your last version. I think the scene is reminiscent of that off to work morning feeling where you feel that you are going to accomplish everything today.

        Thanks for the kind words about the photography, John. I will try to get up on more of your posts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s odd, but my eye continues to return to the second to last, the one without color. As I wondered why, I realized that there was something about the painting that drew me “into” it. It was as if there was a mystery, a story, and it was timeless. This painting has a door the viewer can walk into. Perhaps without the color, it feels as if the Tram is standing still and it’s safe to go inside and explore 😊Love that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Liza and thanks so much for this, which is really interesting and chimes with something that one of my neighbors said when visiting the other day – that it was somehow easy to walk into. I’m not sure this is something that I could ever plan for at the outset of a painting, but it’s a wonderful outcome if that’s what it makes others feel able to do. Thanks so much Liza, really appreciate you taking the time to visit and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another grey morning? By now you realize that I’m not a fan of dreary, grey, colorless cityscapes. A brave of yellow is a wee bit of improvement but remind me of an old engraving that someone has failed to enhance with watercolor (not the SINGULAR word). I KNOW that England is not always rainy! Even your beach scenes filled with lovely boats end up GREY! Sabrina Garr=ossi usesgrey and brownish washes so beautifully they they are abstractly, the stars of her paintings! I went immediately to watch Gary Tucker, paint 2 pieces, both ‘cityscapes’ because he uses color so beautifully yet with a limited palette, and he doesn’t try to do such vast areas at once. Do you ever try to do more intimate scenes instead of vast ones? Please! I know for a fact, now that soot from coal burning fires has been cleaned off the buildings in London, that there ARE different colors in different buildings!
    Two things, other than grey, bother me just a bit in your 1st paintings: first, the tram covers the adjacent track, and then the people seem too small for the enormous buildings which are huge in scale but still should be IN SCALE with the people. With so little definition of the buildings it’s hard to tell if the vague images are pillars, arched entryways but even the few windows seem too large compared to the people. Also, even on a rainy day, wouldn’t one side of the street be darker or lighter than the other and not the same value? Then I find that a centered image, while calming, is also boring. Looking at Gary’s city paintings, he chooses off-centered views and strong lighting contrasts for a much more interesting painting, yet he still uses a limited palette for a strong image. He also uses touches of color on his crowds and always white or color to highlight the areas like shoulders, tons of heads where light falls. You’ve said before that you don’t do figures very well but generally you do them almost the same as Gary except of highlights Maybe you should study tutorials on figures in crowds to gain more confidence? Is that why you do vast subjects rather than more intimate ones?If so correct that!
    In spite of my critiques, I really enjoy Wednesdays when I get your blog! WE all need critiques to improve not just a stream of ‘Wonderfuls’ as most of us NEED critiques, as long as the audience is qualified.I’m sure you’d have some if not a lot of MY work too, if only I could show it to you!
    One final note, ‘em thinks’ you depend too much on photos! Photos should just be reference and NOT TO COPY and that tendency is always there to copy exactly that darned photo instead of interpreting how the scene makes us FEEL! I know if a photo is before me I can’t help but follow the rut of copying, now expressing! Enough if not too much…again!

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    1. Wow, Margery, you certainly had a lot to get off our chest here!

      Firstly, I’m delighted that you like my weekly blog. Secondly, I’m mightily relieved that I’m ‘relatively’ thick-skinned! 

      For the record, I’m not exactly bowled over by the tram painting – but I think I made that clear in the post. The second painting, however, of the anvil cloud – is a painting that I’m proud of. You may not like it, and I’m fine with that, however, saying that it’s grey and you don’t like dreary grey paintings isn’t remotely constructive criticism, it’s just your subjective opinion/taste. Again, this is fine, but let’s not dress it up as ‘critique’.

      Can I please ask that, in future, you keep endeavour to keep your critiquing a little more succinct or focussed. This particular critique, for instance, covered (and mainly critically, rather than constructively) my style, proportions, interpretation, composition, choice of subject, use of colour, insufficient expression and not painting sufficiently like, or displaying the skill of other artists. There’s probably a few that I’ve missed too but you really haven’t left much out. If the option is either ‘wonderful’ or the stream of consciousness that you’ve left here, then I’d personally rather opt for either ‘wonderful’ or nothing at all!

      Seriously Margery, when the balance between my painting, and responding to such lengthy and far-reaching comments as this tips over towards more time responding and not painting, then I’m afraid, I’ll just have to stop replying – at least not extensively as I’ve tried to do thus far with your comments.

      As I’ve said on numerous occasions before, I’m delighted that you enjoy my weekly posts. As I’ve also said on numerous occasions before, I don’t paint to please you, There are obviously lots of painters painting subjects that YOU like in colours that YOU like, in compositions of which YOU approve, with the right proportions for YOU and in the free and expressive manner that YOU like. I’m more than happy to accept that I am not one of those artists and am minded to suggest that YOU spend more time corresponding with those artists rather than with me and my dreary grey paintings!

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  4. May I add to the swelling chorus of those who prefer your third version to all others. If I try to repeat a painting and retain only the good bits I usually find I’ve introduced new bad bits! I only wonder if you could bring out the brightness of those lights and bits of colour a bit more dazzling through the half-light. What would it look like if you put a darker wash over everything apart from the sky and the colours? I wouldn’t listen to me if I were you.
    The second piece is also very nice. I must admit I particularly like the detail of the wet path on the left. (I’m a bit surprised the western sky was so bright in the morning but that must be a feature of the English riviera!) I know you’re expecting a “however” so I’ll just oblige by observing that your cloud reflection extends slightly too far to the right and, for an old nitpicker like me, that’s a bit irritating as are the pencil lines in the sky! Got to keep you on your toes, you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, I’m most disappointed Rob! Not with you of course, but with myself. Not for the first time, I find that I’ve had to amend a significant detail in a post due to your eagle eyed observations. The bright morning light of the second painting was seen as I cycled East, not West as I originally described – no wonder my map reading is so hit and miss! You’re quite right with your observations about this painting. I can’t do much about the cloud reflection in this painting, but I may take an eraser to the pencil lines in the sky to see if I can lessen their prominence a little! (Although with my deteriorating eyesight and only viewing the original from a distance – I don’t find them too distracting!)
      I don’t intend to do any further fiddling with the tram painting. It’s not that I don’t think it could perhaps be improved, but more that I feel like I’ve already moved on from it!

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      1. Hi again Rob, I’m replying to my own reply here so not sure if you’ll get this but, in the hope you do – I wanted to let you know that following your comments, I’ve taken an eraser to those pencil marks in the sky and am delighted to report that most of them are no longer visible. I’m really pleased about this and it does make quite a difference close up! Sadly I could erase that over extended part of the reflection!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi John! I really love how you managed the third version! Those Yellow touches gives some kind of a sparklig to the painting.
    Just a question, I like the texture you give with that roughy/scratchy style on the buildings, is just the surface of the paper combined with dry-brush techinque, that give you this result? What paper do you used in this painting?

    Thanks in advance

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Luca and many thanks for this. Yes, you’re quite right, the texture that you can see is just down to the texture of the paper (Saunders Waterford Rough, high white 300gsm) and the use of dry brush with a soft-ish brush. Well worth having a play around with this on some scraps of paper or on the backs of failed paintings. I still often find that my brush it too wet to get the desired effect and then end up with solid line, which is usually the opposite of what I’m looking for!

      Liked by 1 person

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