An old street

We visited two or three old villages as well as Old Nice on my recent visit to the south of France so that I don’t recall which one this street was in!  Nor did I take notes – the ambience was too restful for that.  (I’ll have to do better on my next holiday.)

The light is streaming down the street so most of the buildings are in shadow or glancing sunshine and the people are back lit.  It’s quite complicated at first sight but “Hazel’s dictum”works in this scene, too.

I began by dropping in the sky then a light wash of Burnt Umber on all the buildings.  This colour is less red than Burnt Sienna and serves well as the creamy stone in indirect sun.  The full sun is only on the top of the steps and on the heads and shoulders of the people.  When the wash was nearly dry I deepened the tone on the surfaces directly facing me, finally giving them a light wash of Ultramarine Blue  after  they had dried.  Now I had the buildings marching up the street and could begin on the detail.

Starting on the right,  I put in the tones and colours I could see, not many from this angle, finishing off with the window grill.  Advancing up the wall, I indicated the shadows cast by the open shutter and the deep tone of the window recess.  Downstairs had more flowers and a grill.  The next building shows its face only as a thin slither of light, framed by the shadowed  walls.  How effective that slither is! Just imagine the painting without it.  A roof line and vague window shapes dressed the further building, and we have arrived at the people walking over the crest of a little hill.  These are very simply indicated using colours already in the painting, and I’ve missed the highlights on two of them so a little opaque white will be called for at the end.   (I use Designer’s Gouache for that and it wanders if you work on top of it).

The building at the back of the street is actually on the downward slope of the road, the top of its heavy door helping to thrust the figures forward.  There is a huge terracotta pot on a high wall next, its greenery largely silhouetted against the sky.  The wall it’s standing on disappears behind another terracotta pot at ground level.

By working the detail starting from a fixed spot  (it doesn’t have to be the side) extra brush strokes “grow” the painting.  This is an encouraging way  to paint as the picture develops under your eye, and concentration on one area helps you to observe more.

Glimpsed in Nice

Just one of those moments when you see something paintable – and you have your camera with you.  Everything was just right, the colouring, the shapes, the sunlight.

Since the dome is strikingly bluey-green (I used Viridian neat with Ultramarine Violet for the darker places) it seemed sensible to use dilute Prussian Blue for the sky, laid in on previously dampened paper.  Then I HAD to do the dome, such an exciting colour, such a neat shape.  The building was painted warm golden yellow, so Raw Sienna was called into play, and the bright sun gave me crisp,  fairly simple decorative details, (certainly more simple than the extravagances of Belem Cathedral).  More intense mixture of Raw Sienna defined the  shadows in this bright sunny painting, with the addition of Ultramarine Violet for the really dark places.

At this stage, I took a photo  – in case I ruined the whole painting by inserting the trees.  It works fine as it is but element of surprise, of just a glimpse of colour, adds to the story.   In the event, I think the trees are indeed an interesting addition providing context and colour balance.  All the colours are in the yellow/blue sector of the colour wheel.  You don’t have to have opposites to make a good painting.    The darker tree is Viridian with the addition of Ultramarine Violet, while the lighter, in both colour and texture is Viridian this time with Aureolin.

Belem Cathedral

This is a rather hilarious attempt at the Cathedral.  There is no way that a person with my lack of patience with fiddly detail is going to do justice to this building.   You will remember when I was discussing the Belem Tower window  that I was wrestling with the “decoration on decoration” that is the norm for this period of Portuguese  history.  The Cathedral takes this style into overdrive.  But I liked the monochrome simplicity of the colour enough to give it a go.

I used Ultramarine Blue for the sky, the added Indigo to the mix to tone it down a bit.  Bearing in mind Hazel’s dictum ” shape first, detail later”,  I gave form to the dome, windows and door, and the returns in the wall.  I had fun trying to leave out the white flying buttresses in front of the dome and the attached ones on the distant building; and there were the decorative spikes on top of the walls.    Then it was a case of entering as much detail as I could before my patience ran out!

The few people give scale to the building.  I gave one or two of them red coats to spice up the blue.

A copper pot

This pot is in Lisbon near the river at Belem – you may remember the window of the tower at Belem I painted a short time ago.  There is a restaurant which claims that its Pastel da Nata with a special Belem twist is superior to all others.  As we were addicted to these pastries – and that doesn’t begin to describe their deliciousness – we had to try them.  To be honest, we’d have tried them anyway.  As expected,  since you can’t improve on the best, we couldn’t tell the difference.    But in this restaurant was this pot.

Isn’t it a cracker!  My frequent response to “where shall I begin?” is “with the bit you like best” so I started with the pot which, I am delighted to say, fell off the brush.  Fortuitously, the restaurant furniture was a lovely blue, just what the orangey copper tones loved.  Floor and plinth were a cool white and the light dancing on the greenery (which liked the copper, too) completed the picture.

A pot of flowers – completed

The first task was to complete the flowers. I used the same colours and technique as before.   It truly was a mass of exuberant colour so I didn’t try to differentiate the individual flowers too much, relying of light and shade to give vitality.

The pillar now looked too mauve in comparison to the pot and its stand, but that was soon corrected by a light wash of the Ultramarine Violet and Yellow Ochre mix and the introduction of that mix in a deeper tone in the darkest of the shadows.

I thought about making more of the setting, but decided against it.  It was sufficiently indicated to provide a backcloth to the main actors.

I’m reasonably pleased with this – flowers were never my favourite thing, and this is a more coherent attempt than the first one I showed you.

A pot of flowers again

So I tried again.  This time I gave myself a rough outline of pot, flowers and pillar, then ghosted in a wash of yellow ochre with Ultramarine in the shadows. This has defined my painting for me, and even in these early stages reads well.  I should have indicated the shadowy areas on the flowers, but that has just occurred  to me and this stage is long gone.


Next I tackled the some of flowers.  I remembered a small tube of Cobalt Violet I had bought ages ago, and thought it would be a good colour for them.  It’s an opaque colour but the bright colour opaques provide should work. Using it to create massed shapes of flowers, as well as blobs of paint, I approximated what I saw in the photo over the more sunny side, shadowed flowers as thicker paint.  The green, a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Aureolin gave me the complimentary to make the violet tones sing.  There is the odd splodge of Ruby Red  among the violets.  This is very concentrated work so I gave myself some light relief by turning the the pillar and  pot.

Decision time – how much detail do I put on the pillar?  It’s a creamy limestone, I think, roughly shaped into building blocks, and immensely attractive in its own right.  Side lit, it showed great texture – indeed, it was this that had first attracted me.  I re-wetted the pillar and cautiously suggested the various lumps and bumps in a mix of Ultramarine Violet and Yellow Ochre, emphasising the deeper shadows as the paint dried.  Shadows cast by pillar and pot were darked too.  This passage of painting didn’t seem to overwhelm the flowers so I supported them using the same mix (no blue!) to create the more formal shapes on the pillar and bowl.


A pot of flowers

Something of an experiment, this one – I liked the profusion of flowers, the colour against the stone, but wondered how best to display them.  so there are two attempts fused into one painting.  The colour, after much cogitation and mixing, resolved itself as Ruby Red and Ultramarine Violet, on the left hand side as blobs of colour and on the right as more diffuse shapes dropped into spaces in a green squiggle .  The left hand is nearer to the actual flowers,  but the diffuse side is a bit more exuberant perhaps.

Then I stopped thinking before painting.  The pot was cast cement, white against the creamy stone.  White in shadow is frequently shown as blue, so I painted it using Ultramarine Blue, quite forgetting that I already had Ultramarine Violet in my palette.  I could just about have got away with that if I hadn’t added the pillar behind the pot – in Yellow Ochre.  Blue shadow in yellow tends towards green, too cold for this warm stonework,   so I used Violet.  Now the pot stood out like a sore thumb, its blue modelling vying for attention with the flowers.  I was able to wash out most of the blue and rework it using violet though the blue still shows through.  Thought before action required.

Gone Fishing

As part of my efforts to encourage incipient painting thoughts, I am, as usual, looking to Hazel Soan for guidance.  It was pouring with rain, so I looked through my photos for a townscape with people in it to create a monochrome tonal sketch and found …..  Honestly, trying to discipline myself to follow the path I have agreed with myself is like trying to herd cats.

Colour – I can’t resist it.  Isn’t this a glorious turquoise?    All thoughts of monochrome townscapes fled as I plunged into the deep blue sea.

It’s Manganese Blue – a non-staining, semitransparent colour which I discovered in Zoltan Szabo’s book “Color-by-Color”.  It just sings off the page, orangy-reds being the perfect accompaniment.   Over washed with Viridian for the swell that lifts the shallow boat, still it glows through.  That’s no small achievement as Viridian is not a shy colour.  I’m truly pleased with that wave.  This is letting the brush do the work.  This is watercolour.

So, no townscape; no monochrome;  but perhaps I can claim in self defence that the figures are virtually silhouettes.

A tonal study 2

And finish it I did.  A bit clumsy in places, but maybe I’m nit-picking!

I like the freshness of the Cobalt, a beautiful warm blue.  Dilute Burnt Sienna  on the stonework adds its mite to the glow, while the mix gives me a dark which is not too great a contrast to the other tones.  Working this size is a blessed relief as more recent attempts have been a quarter of this size.    The idea of working small was to relieve the pressure of “making a painting”.  Frankly, I can “not make a painting” on any size of paper ….. it’s a skill I have been developing lately .  So maybe I should stick  to larger sketch pads in future.

This size has allowed me to indicate some of the intricate carving so characteristic of Lisbon architecture of this period.  You have to see it to believe it.  Think of baroque decoration then add more baroque decoration on top!  Every decorative carving is itself decorated.  Even at this size, it’s not possible to show all. Tiny shadows, flecks of light, must suffice.

Erddig Gardens

For our third sketching and painting day we met at Erddig, a country house not far from Wrexham.  It was a bit chill and rainy, but there were plenty of nooks, quite spacious ones in fact, to avoid the wind and showers.  The cars, carriages, bikes, trikes, etc., I decided could wait for a brighter day when the displays would be less gloomy, so I headed for the gardens.  Plenty of greens about, but it was the interplay of structure and planting which seemed to respond best to the uncertain light.

I was happy with the sketch I did in the morning.  I had found a relatively cosy seat with places to put my paints and water and was encouraged to dive straight in without any preliminary drawing.

It’s amazing what you can do if you try!   Brick and sandstone abound here, making a pleasing combination of colours.  I remember being attracted to them years ago when I first painted in these gardens.  The simple structures of these pillars with their distinctive banding got me off to a flying start and it was just a case of working outward from that firm foundation.  Through the gate, the garden was laid in with dull greens and reds.  These receded under the force of the brighter tones before the gate,  neat box hedging topped by a bright green creeper.  A rather shaky gate completes the sketch.  Considering that I was struggling to find the courage to lift a brush two weeks ago, I feel satisfied with progress.