I’ve been busy this week! The demonstration watercolour is coming along at my Wednesday class, and I’ve been experimenting with the black and white watercolour pencils.
First the painting – the initial washes were well dry as it was a week since I worked on this painting. This method of working strings out the painting time, but, adding up the actual time engaged comes to about 2 hours per painting, and that includes watching the paint dry. It doesn’t extend one’s powers of concentration, though.
The work is mainly on the cottage on the left. Using a darker tone of the cottage pink (Alizarin) and the browny orange of the other building , I indicated the windows, and introduced an idea of the Cheshire sandstone blocks in the wall at the front. A bit of “Calligraphy” drew in the eaves, the lamp post and the door, while the garden was splashed in using Viridian and Burnt Sienna in the tree and Viridian and Aureolin for the planting. This is turning into a watercolour as opposed to a painting in watercolour!
Now for the black and white drawing. I am thrilled to inform you that I did this freehand in the black watercolour pencil without any preliminary work in ordinary pencil first. It’s another view of Farndon (I can see another project coming on!) looking across the little lane which figured in my recent oil. Early days, of course, and I don’t know how this paper will be when I introduce water, but I am revelling in my new found freedom with pencils. I’ve started to use some white but think that most white will be in the garden. What about a cloud? I like the texture on the left hand roof, and am adventuring with the dark tree in the foreground.
I’m on Cloud nine! I have just completed the preliminary drawing for my new, rather complicated, demonstration watercolour – freehand! – and it looks accurate, and the quality of the line delights me. When I started sketching at least once a week with my students, I never thought that I would achieve this skill level so quickly. At least, it feels quick. I think it’s taken eighteen months, but when I remember that most of my life has been weighed down with a fear of drawing, with the conviction that I can’t draw, that is the blink of an eye. Now to add the paint.
I started with the sky as usual, painting loosely rather than a formal wash, and taking it down over the roofs. That avoids a sharp edge where the sky meets the roof and seems to add positively to the general atmosphere. I introduced the pink cottage, created the roof and trees in a darker shade of the sky colour, allowing the roof to bleed into the pink cottage on the shady side. Then I introduced some of the colours one sees in bricks into the wash of the more distant building. Individual bricks would be time-consuming, and rather boring, and counter-productive at this distance. But the varied colours and tones are a delight. Again, I avoided a hard edge where the building meets the pavement. I’ve painted over the windows which are largely darker than the walls, hoping to lift the paint for the white areas. It won’t matter if some of the paint remains there (I hope!) as a stark white would be too eye-catching.
We are making progress! As you can see, I have done some work on the white cottages on the left of the picture. I’m still painting loosely, indicating rather than defining. Some of the underpainting is showing through particularly near the guttering. The roofs are tiled rather than slate, so that zing of red balances the warm tones on the wall under the timber framed cottage. I put in the car – fortuitously it was there when I took my photographs – for I think it gives life and warmth to the painting. It won’t be quite so “important” when I’ve finished, but, after all, villages are lived in. And I found a fence I hadn’t noticed. All those diagonal lines should lead the eye to the church tower, but maybe the whiteness of the cottages enhanced by the red roofs can win the day. We’ll see.
Now it was the turn of that tower and the buildings in the background. It makes a rather charming picture on its own! I have used a small brush and added dabs of “near miss” colour to trees, houses and the tower, keeping the same tonal value. This just breaks up the surface so adds interest without drawing huge attention to itself. Only when someone stays to look more carefully will such detail be noticed, giving secret pleasure. It’s a sort of reward for stopping to look at my painting; and it’s reward to me for I take such pleasure myself in painting like this.
There’s lots more to do, about another 4 hours I reckon, so further progress will be slow but satisfying.
How to get started can be a real pain. Painter’s block, even when you have a deadline – especially when you have a deadline, for that’s when it strikes most often for me – is a hazard of the occupation.
It’s easiest to deal with in oils or acrylics, in fact it very rarely occurs for me with these paints. All need to do is paint the entire canvas in a neutral colour. In my case that can mean Raw Sienna,though often means Orange, which isn’t very neutral, I grant you, but it doesn’t half get the painting juices going. It’s not hard to get going with the canvas already “ruined”. I am more likely to be blocked at a later stage, needing to progress the painting but unable to settle what I should do next. Then I fiddle about at the edges to work my way into the painting again.
The real difficulty is in painting watercolours. The white paper is an essential part of the process, so you can’t paint it out. Even a light pencil drawing does not always help. One way I came across in “Painting People in Watercolour” by Alex Powers was to flick paint onto the surface randomly. The white surface in broken – the paper is “ruined” – it can only get better. It certainly works if your style can accommodate the splashes, but even those flicks have to be done confidently. And that is the crux of the matter. Confidence, real or pretended, is the answer.
There is some help in working from light tones to dark, the classic technique in painting watercolours, so that your excursions tiptoe onto the paper. But the unfailing method I use, especially when painting without drawing some guide lines first, is to have everything ready, pull my concentration tightly onto the job in hand, have the finished piece in mind, convince myself that I can do it, and plunge in. It’s exhausting. Whoever claims that painting is a relaxation couldn’t be more wrong.
For the past two weeks, I have been working on this scene in my weekly class to demonstrate one way of painting buildings. In the first demonstration, I washed in glazes, letting down the oil paints with copious amounts of “Zest-it”, as an underpainting for the buildings. You can see this thin paint on the left had side of the picture below. I have treated the sky and the distant church tower more immediately with thicker paint which should not need much modification later.
The passage on the right hand side shows the beginning of the overpainting. Not a lot of the underpainting is left, but just enough shows to give depth to the painted surface. The main value to me is that the thinned paint uses the white canvas to create lighter tones, just as one does in watercolour. This in turn means that the true colour remains, not deadened by white paint, so I am encouraged to use true colour for the second pass – more vibrant and alive. I used yellow to lighten my greens, reserving a blued white for the cottages themselves. I am a bit cross that I didn’t make my underpainting of the cottages darker, for then I would not have needed to repaint the wooden beams. Next week I shall work on the white cottages on the left.
This is one I did earlier – about ten years ago! I was decidedly chuffed with it at the time and the years have not diminished my chuffedness.
There is absolutely no back or middle ground here; all is foreground. It was a rather small waterfall, which you can judge by looking at the leaves of the sapling on the left of the picture. There are so many differing textures , mosses, shrubs, rocks, grasses and water, both still and moving. I had a field day didn’t I? The red-browns and oranges are working their spells on the greens and blues, but are totally outclassed by the moving water.
My eye goes to the flat rock bearing the brunt of the fall, then follows the crack in the rock to the bushes above. These curve over the fall where the topmost leaves of the sapling help the journey down to the stream. Sometimes the trip is in the reverse order – and I just love the way the waterfall curves to the right in a series of miniature falls.
Last August , I wrote about a painting I had found unfinished after reorganising my studio. I was struggling to re-engage with my former painting self, and , although doing a watercolour of the scene helped a bit, it still didn’t sort things out.
Finally, I have finished it – and am delighted with the result. (That’s two delights in a row, last week and this week, – I’m beginning to feel nervous). The crux of the matter was the shadow of the nearest building. Since this building is an addition from another picture with different lighting, I had to re-construct how far the shadow would stretch across the road – not a serious problem. However, I had quite forgotten what colours I had used to indicate the shadow on the sunny building. I found myself trying very hard to achieve the right tone and colour using Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Violet to no avail. I had used Burnt Sienna in the watercolour, of course. All was resolved when I remembered I had used Raw Sienna in the oil. The moral of the story is, “Don’t wait so long before you finish a painting”.
It’s a pleasing composition too, the active diagonal lines leading the eye to the old dilapidated building in the centre of the picture, while the trudging fellow anchors everything there too. People in pictures always draw themselves to our attention, self-centred beings that we are!
I had so enjoyed painting this scene that it seemed imperative to finish it. There was not a lot to do – half an hour might do it. In the event it took three half hours but I am pleased enough to sign it.
I love the way the sunlight brightens the fells. It looks like the rain has just passed over towards the right of the picture and the little yachts are enjoying light breezes. Autumn is fast approaching – the colour in the trees tells you that.
It works as a composition too. The clouds seem to come together in the middle, then the eye follows the distant hills down to the fells which dip into a tiny valley. Then the break in the trees takes you to the water. The sails are just enough to break the horizontal line of the shore. I just noticed that the whole picture divides into approximate thirds! Boats and dip in the trees on the vertical ones and shoreline and the bottom of the clouds on the horizontal ones. Serendipity rules!
This is my latest watercolour pencil painting.
You may remember I showed it at an intermediate stage. I have made the picture smaller because it was beginning to get too busy. This is something I must guard against – it’s so easy using this method to get too detailed too early, so I’m thinking of trying other ways of using the pencils. Having spent years trying to loosen up, I don’t want undo all my hard work!
As far as this painting is concerned, the greens have been the most difficult to achieve (tell me something new!), and it is not an issue that I have resolved yet. Successes have been the actual drawing which is reasonably accurate (!), the bushes on the top near the wall, and the boat in the water. The steps are a bit wooden (no pun intended). The paint moves with water very quickly so some care is needed with brush strokes. Not every false move can be corrected.
I’m going to try using the black and white watercolour pencils as if they were chalk and charcoal. I have done one or two portraits using this method and got a good likeness, better than when using colour. I think this relates to tonal value. My other thought was to try line and wash.
Looking back at last January’s post, I found things I’d forgotten about(!), things still on the “to do” list, and two completed.
I did finish the portrait, though I am less than thrilled with it, – competent but uninspired. I thought that I could reprise it using mixed media, and I still intend to do so. In fact I have chosen the canvas and collect potential collage papers. I have even brooded about colour palette.
But the real success of the year has been the improvement in my drawing skills. This is something that I am truly pleased (and surprised) about, and it is so liberating. I’ve been intimidated about drawing all my life and now I fear no more. That has got to be a result!
This year I am going to continue working with watercolour pencils, but try to use them more freely. I’ve got one or two thoughts on how to achieve this but they are still hazy so I will feel my way slowly and hope something clicks!