This week’s watercolour painting was inspired by a recent trip to the beach. We’d gone to meet some friends at their beach hut and to enjoy a swim in the sea. The water temperature is what can, at best, be described as ‘bracing’ but with a wetsuit, I’m able to enjoy a decent swim.

As I was drying off, I saw four friends set their chairs up on the top bank of the pebbles. As they were facing out to sea, I was able to get a few photographs of them.

There seemed to me something very British about this scene. Four people wrapped up warm just sitting on a beach, on a not especially beautiful day.

While not a beautiful day, the sky was glorious in a different way, with lots of different cloud formations. There was no doubt that this was going to be a sky painting!

I had in mind how I was going to approach this and, after my recent paintings of applying very thin glazes of watercolour to building the painting up, this was the complete opposite. To tackle this sky, I knew I wanted to do it in a single take.

Before I even started painting, I added some ox gall to my bucket of water. I’ve been using it on and off for a short while now. Now I’ve not used it in a particularly scientific fashion – so for anyone wishing to learn a little more about ox gall, my be interested in taking a look at this video:

For those that would like some more information on ox gall, you may find this video helpful:

One of the qualities of ox gall is to extend the drying time – which is what I thought would be needed on such an expanse of sky with so many different elements and patterns to work out.

I didn’t do any drawing out for the sky, so all the underdrawing was a line to define the horizon line, a line to define the beach and then the figures on the chairs, which I did try to spend some time on to get the proportions right.

I started out by wetting the paper down as far as the top of the beach. I let this soak in for a little while, until the sheen had gone from the surface of the paper.

I started at the horizon line with a really pale wash of cobalt violet and cobalt blue to try to get that sense of distance and regression towards the horizon. I also ran a pale strip of cadmium orange an inch or two up from the horizon line before continuing with the cobalt blue but gradually diluting it until it was clear. I then moved to the top of the paper and started to just drop in, with the tip of my brush, a diluted mix of cobalt blue and light red.

The penultimate stage

Once I’d started this process, I just tried to work as quickly as possible, all the time trying to keep an eye on the paper and how wet it was, and all the while slightly varying the paint mix. I also painted this with the board completely flat so that there wasn’t any risk of paint running down the paper.

Once done, I allowed the sky to dry completely. I then did the sea, from the horizon line to the top of the beach and allowed this to dry completely. Next up was the beach, which I did with a light wash of raw sienna, light red, burnt sienna and burnt umber to create a varied and mottled surface.

Once this was completely dry, I used an old toothbrush to splatter a fine mist of masking fluid onto the beach area. This was then allowed to dry before putting on a much darker wash over the beach.

Again, once this was completely dry, I added the figures, trying to tread a fine line between being loose and accurate! Once dry, I was then able to remove the masking fluid to reveal how the finished painting looked:

The final reveal

I can’t deny being quite pleased with this one, but it’s mainly because of how the sky turned out!

The last days of summer, a watercolour painting by John Haywood
The last days of summer

Would love to hear what others think of it!

23 thoughts on “The last days of summer – watercolour painting

  1. Great painting, John, and as you say typically British!. Wonderfully rendered sky, and I love the figures, especially how you have varied their heights against the horizon.

    I entered my first “show”: it’s a smallish affair, 50 artworks will be selected for an exhibition in Caernarfon over the Christmas period. Your recent post inspired me to enter, so thanks! If I manage to be selected I’ll be “gobsmacked”!

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    1. Hi Ray and thanks for this, so pleased you like this one – much appreciated!
      Congratulations on entering your first show too – I think that psychologically, it’s a big step so well done – whatever the outcome! I should probably try to enter more work into more competitions, maybe a resolution for next year! I know it’s trite, but if we don’t enter, we’ll never know! I also think it helps to try to develop a thick skin and not to take any of it too personally! (this based primarily on receiving many more rejections than I have acceptances!). Look forward to hearing how you get on – many thanks Ray

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  2. John, thanks for the further info on the Ox gall. I see what you mean, she had the surface already shiny wet. If you didn’t apply the gall to the water, how DID you apply it? Assuming you preset the sky, for ex, how did you add it to the paint without using too much? Apply it to each color of mixture? Think I would get the WN brand but wonder how/IF it differs from their granulation medium? I have that and like it though don’t use it a whole lot and mostly with abstracts, but the label lists NO INGREDIENTS! Probably? Because it’s harmless and they think you’ll just make your own…
    I have photos from Different angles, some my granddaughter’s and some my own. My problem is not doing individual areas but Hillary hopes I do the whole scene. The main hazard being the stone walls. Yes I can paint stone walls but the perspective is difficult; the main part has the viewer looking down on the pond since the forward wall is just about knee high, then it recedes along the garden getting lower, so it really looks weird! It also makes the left of the painting uninteresting and mostly green. I believe my solution is going to be just focus on the pond; It has all the interest anyhow. So, start again today after doing the darned sink full of dishes! Thanks for any more info you can give me!

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    1. Hi Marge – I did apply the Ox Gall to my water – it’s just that when I did the sky, I let the paper absorb more of the water before I started painting. In the video, there was a lot of water still sitting on the surface of the paper when the paint was applied, so the spreading was much more exaggerated. The brand I have is the Winsor and Newton one but I’ve never tried any other brand so I can’t really make any recommendations one way or the other!
      Good luck with the commission – look forward to hearing about how it turns out!

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    1. Haha – not sure how many buyers I’d get for that but I have to admit it’s very satisfying! In the past I’ve managed to persuade my daughter to help but the only way she’ll help me now is if I pay her!

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    1. Hi Brian and many thanks for this, I really appreciate your comments. I also really enjoyed your recent post and paintings from your Kent and Sussex trip! I lived in Whitstable (and after that, Margate) so some of the scenes were instantly recognisable. I do still regret that I never explored Faversham more when I was so close! If I ever make it back over that way I may have to get some location tips from you! Many thanks Brian

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  3. Lovely painting, John! You know me (by now) and I love water! (and color). I thought you were using Ox Gall to keep the paper wet/damp longer, but when I watch the video I realize it’s for ‘moving’. I am currently having a fit over a painting I’m doing which is a landscape that includes a goldfish pond within a garden. Everything is giving me problems and I have a time limit to meet! It is a commission for a major birthday gift. The pond includes ‘black’ water as well as brownish that must include rocks under the surface as well as gold fish and Koi just under the surface and a wall and a variety of bushes etc. A weeping red Japanese maple with colors from near black to scarlet with leaves falling into the pond is a real pain in the neck! Why did I say yes???

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    1. Hi Margery and many thanks for this, so pleased you like this one. The Ox Gall helps with both the movement and maintaining the working time so it helps with both – well worth having a play with! The person in the video applied the paint when there was still a lot of water on the surface of the paper so the ‘spreading’ was much more pronounced. Your commission sounds like it’s either incredibly challenging or a nightmare! Maybe it’ll make you think twice before you volunteer for your next commission!

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  4. Hi John, that was david milton jones, not a lot of veg! If you could rid me of this meddling veg I would be most grateful. I don’t know where WordPress got the idea from, as I don’t even like veg. Wonderful painting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David, afraid I have no idea how wordpress has made you synonymous with ‘allotofveg’ but at least I now know that you are one and same – even if you don’t endorse the association! Thanks again David, all much appreciated.

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  5. I love that John! I really like how the beach and se are quite flat and illustrative against the very 3D sky – it makes a really engaging combination. And yes, a very English day at the beach…

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    1. Thanks so much for this Bec. It’s funny that you should pick up on the figures being ‘illustrative’! It’s exactly the word that came to my mind after I’d finished this and it did annoy me a bit! Perhaps it shows my own snobbery but but I’d much rather be painterly than illustrative. I had to have a harsh word with myself to just get over it!

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  6. It’s wonderful, John ! I love the spatial divisions, the mesmerizing, mottled sky and the intriguing band of figures. And, the beach was handled so well, too. Really nice !! 👍🏼 😉 👍🏼 ……….Maureen

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    1. Thanks so much for this Maureen, what a great reaction! So pleased you like the composition – it does fly in the face of the rule of thirds a bit but hopefully there’s enough interest in the sky to get away with it!?

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