If this sounds like the beginning of a particularly poor joke, I fear it may be one at my own expense…

…impoverished watercolour painter walks into a swanky restaurant. Sits at the bar. Orders a coffee. Finishes coffee. Orders the bill. Whhaatttt!! Surely somebody somewhere must be joking! £4.44 for a coffee!?

The longer story is that I recently had the opportunity to pop my head into a restaurant that I’ve never visited before but had heard was quite swit-swoo (if a tad pricey!): The Ivy in The Lanes, Brighton.

I was there mid-morning on a weekday and, as it was quite quiet, I was allowed to sit at the bar and order myself a coffee. It’s hard to know whether it was the salubrious surroundings or just the rarity of having some time just to myself to sit and enjoy the solitude and the luxurious surroundings but I whiled away a quite lovely half an hour or so.

Naturally my motivations for visiting were primarily painting related! Because I wasn’t familiar with the interior, I wanted to see whether it may provide me with any painting opportunities. So, while relaxing at bar, I was also looking around and taking a few photographs of anything that caught my fancy.

Reviewing my photos later, I wasn’t particularly convinced that I had any material to work with. The whole place is very brightly lit and visually, it’s incredibly busy. There were however a couple of photographs I had of the bar area that I liked the composition of. Here’s an example of one that I took without any people in it.

The bar at The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton

Now despite taking lots of photos that I eventually paint from on a phone, I’ve never really used the photo editing software to manipulate any images.

Well, what a revelation! I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and the array of options for what you can change is quite mind boggling, but it was really helpful in terms of accentuating tonal areas and contrasts.

I played around with a couple of photos, then chose one that I liked the look of most and printed it out in black and white. I then used my copic pens and white gel pen to work into the image a little more:

over worked reference photo

I used this as my basis for the painting. I didn’t take any work in progress shots of this painting, partly because I fully anticipated doing another version and partly because the time I had to paint this in was quite fractured. Because of the monochromatic nature of the image, I decided from the outset that I would limit myself to only ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and, to finish, some titanium white

So there’s not gentle lead in to this week’s image where you can see it gradually evolve – it’s just a fast-track to the finale:

Now if anyone has looked at The Ivy’s gallery of images – you’ll quickly be able to tell that I’ve taken some considerable liberties with the lighting! I certainly don’t think that this is in any way a portrayal of the bar at The Ivy. 

What I am pleased with however is that it does read as a bar! (Probably a bar that I’d be much more inclined to visit than the one at The Ivy too!)  It’s also one of those paintings that looks significantly better from a distance than from close up!

I think I’m most pleased about the areas of contrast. I can appreciate that it may not be obvious, but the bright areas over the top of the bar are the lights shining through lots and lots of glasses. I was quite daunted at how best to treat these without getting caught up in trying to paint each individual glass! I think for a first effort this worked out quite well. I also liked parts of the surface of the bar. I stayed purposefully clear of trying to add in too much detail about all of the place settings that were on the bar, choosing instead to try to just suggest them. I thought that trying to paint each plate, knife and fork would most likely become a distraction from the overall feel of the painting – due in part no doubt on my lack of conviction that I could paint them in the way that I might like to!

While there’s a lot that I like to think I could do better with if I were to tackle this scene again, there’s also a lot about this painting that I like – particularly the sense of energy and atmosphere. Suffice to say that I expect I’ll be returning to my version of the bar at The Ivy much sooner that I’ll be returning to the real version, especially at £4.44 for a cappuccino – even if it was an exceptionally nice one!

26 thoughts on “Watercolour painter walks into a bar…

  1. Actually, John, i look forward to Wednesdays when I get your blog! Guess you could say that’s why I really like your seaside, beaches, boating work; they do have colors and generally aren’t dreary. Of course you can paint the scenes you want and I suppose it makes you feel good when everyone (but me!) ‘loves everything you paint’, it boosts your ego. All of us though, should consider critiques valuable to our learning. I know I can make a painting believe is good but then someone else sees it with a fresh eye and woops! There’s a flaw you didn’t even see! Happens to all of us!
    As to the blob of color in the lower left, it’s a good idea but in this case, it creates 2 definite interest points being just 2 things that draw your eye. That’s why each of us needs to stop often and gaze at the painting from a distance, sometimes overtime, to see it’s weaknesses as well as strengths. To just accept ‘Bravos!’ Is limiting your experience.
    For example, I just ‘finished’a landscape photoI’d taken in Wales because I was intrigued by the patchwork of different green fields in a valley as seen through the bare branches of a big tree and the inevitable hedgerow of Hawthorns I keep starring at it sitting on an easel with a mat around it so I can see what it’s weaknesses are, and what I can still do to improve/correct it.
    Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of abstract WCs and had forgotten how much they help my landscape work in which one gets carried away with the correctness of individual parts and how much those blobs of color shapes and lines, textures and values with NO ‘names’ attached, can help one see things like balance, the importance of values, more clearly.I MEAN well, believe me!

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    1. Thanks Marge. I’m sure you mean well. So far I have always read, published and, more often than not, responded as fulsomely possible to your comments. I do however find that the basis of much of your ‘critique’ is deeply rooted in your own subjective view on what you like or what you think is good. While that is of course valid – it is still just your opinion – and, if I may say, you do convey your opinions rather forcibly. Happy painting Marge.

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  2. Truly an amazing job with your drawing and painting. The handling of the glass is stellar. I could go on and on but the one thing that I pick up on is a depth of connection and feeling with your subject. If it was me, I would be proud of your work. Cheers and carry on John!

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    1. Wow, Margaret, thanks so much for this! At first I was thinking that I should give this another go, but after seeing some of the responses to this one, I don’t know if I should now! Thanks again Margaret 🙂

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  3. This is wonderful; I really love it. This is almost a still life, but then the bar person gives some movement. And your composition is superb. The lines, and the tones just draw the eye right into the scene. Wow! This is simply gorgeous. Well done, John!

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  4. John, I think you did a wonderful job with the subject matter!……Your piece is so expressive, painterly, and suggestive. Great areas of contrast and lots of energy in your brush strokes ! very nice job !! 👍🏼 🤗 👏🏼

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  5. As usual, I have to agree with Carol! Why are you so afraid of color, anyway? I feel sorry for anyone who lives in such a dreary, colorless world! It’s so boring!
    I have a question: What is that blob of burnt under, looks like a small cat or dog. In the lower left corner? I turned my iPad sideways to see the entire painting at once and as expected, it attracts the eye so you haves two centers of interest; the woman tending bar and the dog/In the corner and the eye flies back and forth between the two! Not good!IDO like the glasses and the rest is well done! You never need an inventory of every item insight. Remember “Less is More”!
    Rae Andrews is a ‘color purest’ of Utube who gives some excellent info about color and what make good mixes. She’s from NewZeeland but lives in the US. Try watching her!

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    1. As ever Marge – I’m staggered by your inability to allow anyone to express themselves the way they choose to or in a way that doesn’t conform to your world view. I’m not afraid of colour. I chose, on this occasion not to use it. Please spare me your sorrow or pity. I’d far rather you chose to either not comment at all, or just not follow my posts. That way you wouldn’t be burdened with my dreary old boring colourless view of the world.
      As for your question. It’s not intended to be a cat or a dog, but I actually like the accidental ambiguity of it. I just saw it as ‘something’ – a bit of light catching on something. A bit of variety or texture that I thought would break up an otherwise very dark passage.

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  6. A very interesting and successful painting John. Well done with the glasses as I think you’ve done a great job on those. The barmaid/landlady reminds me of a Renoir lady! I would still like to see more colour but good job.

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    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this! Now you mention it, I do see the Renoir lady resemblance, I think it may partly be the tilt of the head! Whatever it is it’s purely co-incidental but I can’t deny that I like the allusion. After having learnt a lot from this one, I’m thinking that my next version may have a little more colour to it (or at least a greater tonal range!) – Thanks so much Carole

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    1. Haha, thanks so much for this Warren and, looking back, I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I embarked on this one! So pleased you like how it turned out and really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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