I mentioned in last week’s post that I was still awaiting permission to share my recent ‘watercolour departure’ and I’m delighted to report that Sue Harley / @bibababe27 has been in touch and has given me her permission and approval to share these images!

Now that the cat’s out of the bag as it where, I can say a little more about why I was so drawn to this watercolour departure. If you visit Sue’s instagram account, you’ll see a lot of images that are tagged as being ‘double-exposure’ and ‘intentional camera movement’. These images in particular really connected with me. There was something about their soft, indistinct haziness that I really loved and as soon as I saw them I couldn’t stop thinking about how I might paint them!

Here’s the first image that really grabbed me:

And here’s the watercolour that it inspired:

At the beach

I wasn’t trying to achieve an exact copy of the original photograph, but I did want to try to emulate the feel of it, especially the diffused light and the subtly merging colours. I did feel that I was working quite blindly on this. I didn’t do any preliminary drawing on this, and even when I came to do the figures, I did them without any drawing out.

The painting was built up by applying layer upon layer of thin washes. For the most part, each wash would gradually cover the entire sheet. This was partly because I wasn’t familiar with the smooth paper and I felt that one way to minimise any unintended harsh edges was to work across the entire page when it was all wet.

Here are a few close up details:

As I knew that I’d be painting lots of wet washes to achieve this look, I initially started work on three paintings, but quite quickly narrowed this down to just focusing on two. This was the second of Sue’s images that I tried to emulate:

Again, it was more the feel that I was after rather than specifics.

Walk away

I can’t deny that seeing my paintings side by side here with the photographs that inspired them is a little disappointing!

It reminds me why I decided to stop showing my own photographs alongside my paintings, but on this occasion, I hope it’s helpful to see everything side by side.

On their own however, I do like many of the qualities in these two new paintings. I don’t think that this represents a fundamental change of direction for me. As much as I’ve enjoyed this diversion, it has also helped to make me appreciate how much I love to paint in a bold direct style – not to mention how much I enjoy a good old swipe of a dry brush across a roughly textured paper!

Since finishing these two paintings, I’ve also picked up on the third one that originally started so should hopefully be able to share this with you next week!

I’m sure that regular followers will recognise what a departure these paintings are to anything that I’ve done previously! As I say, while I don’t see this as new style of painting at the exclusion of me painting in a more direct manner, it’s great to have this as another string to my bow – and I’d love to hear what you think of them!

In the meantime…

Another one for the collection

The deadline for the 2020 Sunday Times Watercolour Competition was the 24th September, and entrants received notification of the judges’ decision on 2nd October.

I was, once again, unsuccessful:

I remain, as ever, undeterred!

26 thoughts on “A watercolour departure

  1. Could I bother you with the sort of questions we watercolourists dread? How many washes? What colours did you use? But don’t worry about the brushes you use (: although as you are daring to use hot press, I could ask you for the brand. Arches or Saunders?

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    1. Oooh I honestly can’t remember exactly but most likely in the low double figures. I think because the glazes are going on so thinly I just kept in applying them until I was happy with it. I could possibly have achieved the same effect with fewer but this was all a bit new to me! As for the paper, it was Arches. This was out of any specific choice – I just happened to have some lying around! The paints were all my usuals – blues of cobalt, ultramarine and cerulean, cad red, cad orange, there’s cobalt violet in there and some lavender (Holbein), some light red and some burnt sienna and some raw sienna. Basically – it’s got a very little bit of everything in it!

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      1. It’s all fine David! I thought they were totally different questions! (Not sure how helpful any of the answers are tho! I’m still very much finding my feet with this particular approach!)

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  2. Haunting watercolours, John. Pure poetry! And I hope I’m not repeating myself here, as I am constantly being asked by WordPress to log in after writing a comment and then it brings me back here. Although I guess there is no harm in restating the truth! Great departure! Wishing you many more, as it’s the stuff of creativity.

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    1. Thanks so much for this David, so pleased you like these and I really appreciate your comments! Sorry for the WordPress admin issues! I did get both messages but they don’t appear instantly as I have to approve them first (helps keep down the spam!)

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      1. Thanks, John. Apropos washes, I’ve been doing a bit of experiments myself. Channeling Turner (I wish!) I have been putting strong first wash, letting it sit but not dry, and then washing it out under the tap or with a spray gun. Leaves a ghost of a wash on the paper (come to think of it, didn’t factor in staining colours, could be interesting) and when the ghost wash is dry, I put another fine wash over that. Creates a similar effect to the one you create. I wonder, could you tell me how you mix your greys, and just how many washes did you use in your beach paintings and, last question, promise! How thin? Tea, I imagine, and not TyPhoo.

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      2. Hi David – like the sound of what you’re doing there! My greys are usually a done with combinations of any of my blues (ultramarine, cobalt or cerulean) with either light red or burnt sienna. In terms of washes on those beach paintings, yes – tea, but imagine the weakest tea you’ve ever had – more like a cup of herbal for which you’ve poured the water in the cup first and done one quick dunk of the back in it! Hope that this helps!

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  3. Hi John! It’s been a while… I always read your blog but I was not in the mood to leave a comment because I was in that “artistic-drama” mood, I stopped painting for too long, recently I discovered I’ll become dad in march and this is putting things in the right order so I am gradually going back at painting, and for make things more interesting I bought a little beginner-set for acrylic paint to give it a try.

    This style of panting is really amazing, you gave a touch of magic-atmosphere and looking at them makes me feel relax. And you know what? The second one is so delightful that reminds me Turner’s paintings.

    Just two techincal question, is that stretch paper? and wich is the size?

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    1. Wow, Luca many congratulations on your news! That’s wonderful. Funnily enough, it was just before our daughter was born in 2011 that I started painting again and set up this blog! I somehow imagined that I’d have loads of time on my hands! As is was, over the next four years, I hardly managed to do any painting! Becoming a parent really resets your priorities so I really wouldn’t give yourself a hard time if your painting takes a dip. Enjoying being a parent is much more important, and the painting will always wait for you to return to it!
      So pleased you like these two recent ones. They are both done on quarter imperial sized sheets, so approximately 38x28cm. The paper was also stretched, for which I use the Ken Bromley Perfect Paper stretcher which you can see more of here: https://brusheswithwatercolour.com/2011/11/30/ken-bromleys-perfect-paper-stretcher/ – Hope that this is helpful and again, many congratulations on your wonderful news!

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  4. I absolutely adore the first one and I appreciate the close-ups a lot because it strengthens the story. I bet you can combine both evidently. If you were to take this experiment as a segue of change while staying true to your preference of painting directly. If that makes sense. Hoping to see more!

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    1. Hi Margaret and thanks so much for this. I still can’t quite see how to combine the layering (that seems to require long gaps between applying washes) and a more direct approach but it’s early days yet! For the time being, it feels good to have tried something different, enjoyed a degree of success from it and be feeling generally a bit more chipper about painting again!

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  5. Hi John. Ooh I am happy to see these after last week’s cliffhanger!
    Yes I just love them. It is wonderful to see some colour and I do think the softness is lovely and so very Turner-ish too! They have so much atmosphere.
    I do hope you continue along this new path for a while John. Isn’t experimenting fun!
    Happy painting,
    Carole

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    1. Thanks so much Carole and so pleased to not let you down after building up the anticipation last week! Really pleased you like them. Whether I’ll stay on this path for any length of time I’m not so sure about! I do like them, but I’m already missing my direct approach too. I wonder if there’s a way that I could bring the two approaches a little closer together? Maybe an experiment for another day! Thanks again Carole

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  6. I’ve been considering entering the Sunday Times competition next year, and any others I can find…need a lot more practice first though!

    Do you happen to know of any websites that provide a full list of all available competitions, John?

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    1. Hi Ray – there are a few sites that are probably worth you registering with. First up, I’d recommend Parker Harris, who organise a lot of exhibitions on behalf of organisations (such as the Sunday Times Watercolour exhibition): https://www.parkerharris.co.uk/artists/artist-opportunities/ Another site worth signing up with is the Making a Mark blog – which lists and covers all of the major art exhibitions and competitions: https://makingamark.blogspot.com/
      and finally, you might want to check out this list of all the open entry competitions and exhibitions that are listed on the MOMA website here: https://www.moma.co.uk/uk-art-competitions/ – hope that this is of some use Ray, maybe I should dedicate a blog post to this? (please remember me when you’re accepting your awards and prizes from all of these places!)

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  7. Love these paintings John! The figures are perfectly handled. The first painting my favourite, the second…hmmmm, perhaps it is two paintings joined, pretty much split as you’ve shown the close up of this one. Hope to see more. I looked at Sue’s photos, great use of the technique to produce some stunning images.

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    1. Hi Ray and thanks for this. think the first one is my favourite of these two as well. I’ve been in touch with Sue to get a few pointers to see whether I might be able to start producing my own photos to work from but with a similar feel to Sues! I can tell it will be pretty hit and miss, but so is my painting!

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  8. Carol here in cold and blustery Upper Michigan. I REALLY like that you are using more color, John. The misty and ethereal effect you favor is present, but the color brings the paintings to life. Fear not! Color is a good thing!

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    1. Hi Carol and thanks so much for this and I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the colours! I can’t guarantee that they’re here to stay, but it’s nice to know that I can put them to good use when the mood’s there!

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  9. Hi, John……
    I think these are sooo lovely, understated and suggestive. Also, some of those delicate washes are very “Turner-esque” ! Just a great and intimate interpretation of both !!
    Maureen Gass-Brown

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maureen and thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it! I must confess that I feel that these had a slightly Turneresque quality to them but I didn’t feel comfortable about making any allusions to the genius of Turner!!

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