This week’s post is inspired by a recent challenge that watercolour artist Jem Bowden issued to the followers of his blog/e-newsletter.
I’ve detailed below Jem’s challenge in full – taken from Jem’s original email – beneath which you’ll find my responses.
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it
Below are a few photos as references. Below those are some starting suggestions in terms of an approach to painting, and then it’s over to you.
And here are a few alternative skies, should you like to use one in combination with the above…
The painting process
Do one thing different to normal – eg, use a different colour (or whole palette of colours, though it could just be three), a different brush to normal, a different size or alternative paper surface, a different angle of board… or other things you might be meaning to try out for a first time.
Set a time limit and divide it in two – Maybe shorter overall than your normal time for a painting, then using a timer stop yourself two-thirds through it and walk away for at least half an hour before returning to complete the painting with refreshed eyes and better objectivity about what still remains to be done.
Before you start the painting decide on the following:
One bit of the subject that you will leave out entirely or simplify greatly.
One area at least that you will paint as soft-edged.
One corner that you will leave very ‘quiet’ in the painting.
And make sure you plan for one bit (at least) of negative painting somewhere.
Then stick to these things!
Other than that do as you like – change composition, atmosphere and anything else. Do it as an ink & wash, turn it into a cartoon, paint a rhinoceros into it, and so on. Maybe you’ll start with a small sketch to test some ideas out, maybe not. I hope you’ll have a go and enjoy it.
Before I’d had chance to make a start, I received another email, alerting me to a full demo that Jem had done based on the boat image:
I often find it difficult to tackle a painting when I’ve just watched someone else paint something wonderfully and with such apparent ease and fluidity!
I am however, getting gradually better at trying to paint things ‘my way’ rather than trying to emulate how another artist might interpret a scene, regardless of the esteem in which I hold them!
Here’s how I got on:
Attempt no. 1
For my ‘Do one thing different to normal’ – I experimented with a different paper. For the past year or two now I’ve used Saunders Waterford High White Rough 300gsm. I was, however, running very low on stock due to delays in delivery times. I remembered that some time ago I ordered a sample pack of paper from Two Rivers. They hand make all their paper and from the little I know about them, I love their ethos. They’re a small close knit team keeping a traditional skill alive and they obviously love what they do and I really admire this.
While the paper feels amazing, the way that the paint behaved on the surface felt so completely alien to me! I had in mind to make the sky the star of the show and keep the boats etc and secondary subjects.
I wanted to keep the foreground loose and simple, and keep the right hand side of the painting ‘quiet’.
From the first moment that the brush touched the paper I was battling with it! It was so different to what I’d become accustomed to and I just couldn’t get to grips with it!
The painting became a rollercoaster struggle – that only really seemed to find some kind of resolve when, after taking a break to reflect, I decided to paint the main focal point boat much darker than I had it. By strengthening it, turning it into a silhouette, seemed to pull the painting together a bit.
I still felt pretty disappointed with this painting and the entire process.
As it was quite quick to sketch out, I couldn’t resist trying to right a few a wrongs.
Attempt no. 2
This time, I returned to my trusted Saunders Waterford. I also decided to make the boat the unmistakeable focus of the painting.
I can’t deny that it felt nice to be painting on my regular surface again. I do think that the Two Rivers paper is amazing quality, but I need to spend more time with it – to learn how to paint with it, but this will have to wait for another time!
This painting came together with relative ease. I’d learn’t a lot from the first attempt and felt that I knew my way around the various elements better.
On completing this, I felt quite satisfied, pleased and relieved that I’d atoned for the at least some of the mistakes of the first painting.
It’s much to my surprise then that, after looking at these two side by side for a while – I’ve had a change of heart!
Once I’d managed to distance myself from how I ‘felt’ whilst painting them, I could see the two paintings a little more objectively.
I now think that the first painting has a greater dramatic impact than the second one. I still didn’t enjoy painting it though!
I really enjoyed this exercise and it felt great to do something different and to follow some of Jem’s prompts.
I’ve subsequently sent both of these paintings to Jem as he may be showing some examples of how people have responded to his challenge in a future post. As ever, I’ll be really intrigued to see how others may have tackled or interpreted the same subject.
If you subscribe to receive Jem’s emails (via his website) – you could get to see them all too!