I have been using my watercolour pencils again. This is a much more complex drawing, and the fact that I even attempted it freehand speaks volumes about my new found confidence in line drawing.
The little garden is full of different levels, plants, and pots, with the reflecting water as an added complication. It is also very green and I am having some difficulty with the varying greens, so I shall have to alter my approach. To this point, I have used the watercolour pencils dry only adding water when I felt happy with the dry work. This has had some splendid results – I love the potted bushes on the top level, and the accidental “cauliflower” on the left which gives a perfect bush shape to work into – and the steps are acceptable. But the plants to the left of the steps are poorly shaped and too uniformly bright.
I am going to try mixing my colours on a scrap of paper then lifting them with a wet brush to see if I can find a subtle way to do this area. Then again, the “cauliflower” reminds me of one way that Zoltan Szabo paints trees, so maybe I can explore this idea as well.
I was so pleased with the pencil work results that I finished the painting! In fact, I liked it so much that I signed it.
I am enjoying the quiet, steady, progress of the painting technique – I can’t believe I wrote that – it fits so well with the time and place in which I can paint and I am discovering new aspects of myself. I had not thought that the prejudices I had overcome when painting for “The Bridges of Dee” would be followed so quickly by the collapse, the total collapse, of my fear of pencil drawing. Looking back, I see that “fear” is the right word. I am only in the foothills but this is a mountain worth conquering. Finally I can lay out in free hand a preparatory sketch before painting, and I am sure that as I practise this new skill, that freedom will translate to my brush and pastel.
What have I learnt so far ? If a pale wash is wanted, certainly on hot pressed paper, scrubbing the pencil on a spare bit of paper and lifting the colour on a wet brush is working satisfactorily (the sky); texture and detail can be indicated at will and either left to speak for itself or melded with the painting by a wash of water (the distant hill and the hay field); more graduation of tone came be achieved by mixing the wet paint on the paper (the bushes); this can then be worked on to introduce more texture; very deep tones have come by working directly into wetted paper with the pencil.
To my absolute amazement, I am enjoying my expedition into pencils, overcoming a lifetime aversion to them. I remember being pretty awful at drawing at school, blunt pencils, no idea what to look for, no idea how to begin, with others around me doing accurate, careful, BELIEVABLE drawings. I there and then decided that I couldn’t draw and have been convinced of that ever since.
Our weekly “no peeking” drawing sessions were beginning to beat down the barriers. Without them, I would never have even considered painting with pencils. But the fortuitous publication of the article in “Leisure Painter” and my frustration that circumstances were cutting into painting time , galvanised me into action. I have bought a box of 20 landscape watercolour pencils from Caran D’ Arche, giving me a good selection of related tones, and the recommended hot pressed paper pad.
This is my first attempt – a very simple landscape. I did the drawing and dry colour over an hour and a half in comfortable companionship in the sitting room, adding the water to the painting while waiting for the dinner to cook! There is a tendency to colour between the lines which I must guard against. The direction and style of brush stroke informs the way the wetted paint reacts and I also discovered that much more intense colour is released if I work into the wet surface.
So I tried again with a more complicated view. Here is the pencil work, again produced quietly over time.
And here I have added water. The picture warms as the paint is released, but some of the textures are retained (intentionally!) This is going to be an exciting project after all, not just a way of coping with circumstance. Living is a wonderful thing.
You must be aware by now that I am bothered about my painting. So much of what I do dissatisfies me, so much is just all right, and I feel I’m travelling backward, getting worse instead of better. I have been casting around, first to identify the source of the malaise and then to cure it. This is not a trawl through my emotions so that I can enjoy a good moan and maybe curry some sympathy. I’m hoping by sharing this state, other artists recognise it with a sigh and even some suggestions, or that new artists will not be dismayed by it if it strikes them.
OK. I know I’m not painting enough. Constraints of time and place see to that. And I’m not practising drawing enough either. Indeed, I think this is the chief stumbling block to progress. I have gone as far as I can using various drawing crutches and must use a pencil more to explore shape in detail, thereby freeing my brush to work spontaneously. It makes you look hard at what you are trying to represent, at both positive and negative spaces. A recent article by David Bellamy in “Leisure Painter” suggested a way forward. Using watercolour pencils, he created beautiful atmospheric paintings. This seems a way of encouraging the patience needed in pencil drawing while satisfying my love affair with fluid colour. A new student of mine is using just this medium with great success, so it should not be impossible for me to make some progress within my constraints.
Maybe also I am missing the focus provided by “the Bridges of Dee”. The five or so years involved in sourcing the images and painting them gave me a ready made theme for my paintings, without that I am unfocused. Well, I can’t go on safari, or chase down another river to follow, but I have the garden to hand. Right on cue, “The Artist” has an article by David Curtis on “The lure of the garden”, one by Judi Whitton on “Creepy-crawly drawing”, and another By Claire Harkess in which she exploits space in her wild life paintings. When you add to that a thought provoking discussion of the motif by Andrew Marr, you will appreciate my resolve to follow the spider and “Try Again”.