“Like a dog with a bone”

(Definition: Stubborn; persistent; relentless; dogged)

This familiar expression is, perhaps, how I can best describe my past week’s watercolour paintings. If I were to be even less generous, I think expressions like ‘flogging a dead horse’ and words like ‘obsessive and compulsive’ would top my list!

Things actually kicked off quite positively. I found another Alvaro Castagnet workshop recording on YouTube that I like the look of so did a little paint along just for fun. The view is, apparently, a scene somewhere in San Francisco.

San Francisco Street View after Alvaro Castagnet

I was pleasantly surprised with how this turned out so was already much looking foward to my next subject.

I came across a photograph of Venice that really jumped out at me as something that would make a great subject for a painting that would also be a great for helping to cement some of my more recent learnings. Although I spoke last week of my pencil free paintings, I didn’t feel that this was a subject I could tackle without any guidelines at all. Here, for reference, is the pencil drawing I used to get me started:

And here’s what it looked like when I finished it:

While I was sort of okay with this, I was also a little bit disappointed too. I felt I could do it better! I wanted the reds of the awnings to be ‘cleaner’ and less muddy and the handling of elements like the lamps to be lighter of touch. In my mind, I felt that just about every element could be done just a little bit better!

What followed was another sketch similar to the last one, and here’s the painting that followed:

So. Instead of being less heavy handed with a lot of the elements, I actually ended up being even more heavy handed with them! Even so, I had hoped that it would compare favourably with the first painting. A quick straw poll of family members confirmed my worst fears. The first painting was deemed more successful than my second attempt. I couldn’t help but feel that this second attempt had been a bit of a waste of time and effort!

At this point, a kind of red mist began to descend on me. In a fit of pique – I decided to try to tackle this view again – but this time to jettison the sketch! On reflection this was a slightly odd course of action because I didn’t really feel that my previous attempts had the ‘painting by numbers’ feel of last week’s efforts. I didn’t think that it was ‘the sketch’ as such that had let these two efforts down, it was my painting that had fallen short of the mark! Nor did I have much confidence in my ability to actually paint this view without any guidelines to help me. Maybe this just goes to show just how blind I was with frustration!

Here’s what my first colourwash looked like – without a pencil mark in sight!

And here’s how it ended up once I’d downed my brushes:

Even though I still wasn’t completely satisfied with this attempt, I feel it came pretty close to righting a lot of the wrongs from the first two efforts!

Here for ease of comparison are my three persistently stubborn and doggedly persistent ‘dog with a bone’ attempts:

All similar, but all distinctly different too. I’ve spent way too much time on these three paintings to be remotely objective about them. Even taking into account the lack of a sketch on the third one, it is, I think by some margin better than the previous two. The sense of light is better, the handling throughout feels lighter of touch and more confident in application.

Swapping one bone for another

I’ve been trying to make a point of carrying my camera with me more often whenever I’m out or have to pop out on an errand. Despite taking a vast quantity of photographs, very few of them ever make my ‘favourites’ list for a potential painting.

One that did, was a simple scene looking down a small street in Brighton towards the sea. I think there was something about the view and composition, with the large tower block in the background, that reminded me a little of the Alvaro Castagnet scene that I’d just painted.

My photo provided the basic shapes and composition, but I changed some things, such as replacing the big refuse bins at the back of some restaurants with cars, and placing the figures where I felt they should be. Here’s how it looked when I’d finished it.

Little Preston Street, Brighton

As seems to be the way with just about all of my paintings at the moment, I was pretty underwhelmed with how this turned out!

After a bit of a break, I returned to this painting again to consider where it had all gone wrong! The list was quite long, but it started off with the figures being too dark and stark. Recalling some of the advice from my recent workshops about joining and connected shapes and elements – I thought the figures needed something to tie them together a little more. The long line defining the building on the left is too long, harsh and uninteresting.

As this painting would only ever be good for sketching on the back of it, I decided to have a little play around with it to see what might happen:

Little Preston Street, Brighton

With the exception of the sky, and the some of the lightest area of tarmac, every other part of the painting received a little bit of extra attention!

If you can forgive the fact that the shadows, especially in the foreground, don’t make total sense with a single source of sunlight – I think these ‘take two’ adjustments are a vast improvement on ‘take one’. I think it has much more atmosphere and energy and I feel the eye is drawn much more towards the focal point of the figures.

I think a bit of judicious cropping can make this even more impactful too:

Little Preston Street, Brighton

While it felt like a torturous path to get there, I was quite pleased with this finally turned out.

Maybe being stubbornly dogged and persistent needn’t always be a bad thing after all!

10 thoughts on “‘Dog with a bone’ watercolour paintings

    1. Thanks so much for this Evelyn! You’ve added some welcome balance to the poll I did with my family! The one without any pencil sketch is quite unanimously the best however (though I doubt I would not have been able to paint this without a pencil sketch to guide me had I not already made two attempts at it!)

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      1. There is a certain free-ness and looseness inherent in watercolor that I think lends itself to paintings without pencil sketches underneath. There is a watercolor society in the US somewhere that rejects any submission with any sort of pencil or sketch underneath. They are direct watercolor only. I’m not that good with sketching yet so I still do, but I’ve found the paintings I do without sketching first tend to be better. I’m not so tight. In one of the classes I took at the SDWS the instructor had us sketch first in a sketch book, then paint. I think Iain Stewart does this as well as he has a LOT of sketchbooks (Stillman and Birn) and he keeps them all. He does weed out his paintings every few years and burns them but the sketchbooks he keeps. I am trying to make this a habit as well but haven’t been out to paint in over a year and I don’t feel I have enough paintings to start tossing them. I also find some value in looking at them chronologically to see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. You are way beyond that. But I would encourage you to do both. Do a painting with a sketch and then another without. As you have found, repeating a subject has its merits.

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      2. Thanks Mary and yes, the idea of doing one with a sketch followed by one without is really good and makes perfect sense to me! The only thing is it requires a certain amount of discipline – which isn’t one of my fortes! I think I’ll still probably balance things out between sketching and not sketching, but I’m going to aim for increasingly minimal outlines before I start painting. Thanks so much Mary

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      1. The only painting I sold (and shouldn’t have) was of a California sunset with a man walking his dog in silhouette along the beach. It wasn’t my subject but a National Geographic photo. But the lady insisted as it reminded her of her youth on the east coast when they used to walk their dog along the beach at sunrise. So I let her have it.

        Not disparaging cats. I’ve done a few cats as well. And a hummingbird.

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