Isn’t it wonderful how a few squiggles of pastel can say so much! I have been working on this picture as a demonstration for my class, so the whole thing has taken, in total, about an hour and half to paint.
Most of the trees have been indicated by sideways strokes of the pastel with pinks and yellows varying the summery greens. Scribbled dark green, blues, purples and maroons form the right-hand trees with open fencing allowing light to dapple the path.
The slowly moving, muddy water of the canal reflects the trees darkly, depicted by vertical strokes of the sides of the pastels. Late evening sun casts long shadows, warming the trees and unusually, catching the inside of the arch, a natural focus of the scene. Two little boats snuggle into the bank, but even the brightly coloured one cannot take precedence of that arch.
Now I’m working on the figures. The light is coming from the left and slightly behind the figures. His shirt is a little tidier and his right shoulder more visible. She now has two legs to stand on ( but no feet) and her cardigan somewhat reduced near his right shoulder. A suggestion of modelling on the dress is an improvement, and her hair is more like that of the girl I know. I have made a start on the faces, still very much at the early stage, his face now turned to look at the viewer.
There is still much to do here before I start to attend to details – his legs are wrong, she needs feet, the pillar should be longer and the edge of the terrace sticks out further behind the pillar. All these things will be sorted.
I’ve also been working on the big vase in the foreground and am very pleased with progress! It such a wonderful colour (it’s more turquoise in the painting), I’ve been aching to paint it. The shape is intricate so this is only the beginning but the colours, tones and textures around it make a perfect setting, contrasting rough stonework with smooth ceramic, dark blues and greens and lighter creamy browns.
The reflections of the three central boats made for an interesting hour or two. The colours and tones are muted but the water is so still that it is almost a mirror reflection. In fact, if I turn it upside down …
… they look very much the same as the real boats!
I have worked at the hulls of each one. They may be painted black but age, reflected and natural light, introduce a variety of grey tones which create the shape of all those curves and angles. Darkening the background behind the first boat has allowed me to bring out the shiny surface of the long cabin.
The long thin format of the painting is playing games with my usual plan of attack. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and I haven’t worked out what is so strange about the “letterbox”. I trust that I will come up with a riposte soon.
I’m working on the distant and middle ground. The distant hills are not, in fact, that distant! The very pale lilac I have used so far gives the impression the the hills are miles away, but they are barely one mile distant. I’ve deepened the tone of the hills, given them more shape and introduced colour into the hillside. Those brighter colours are working well with the turquoise vase, and the darker tones bring the hillside a little nearer.
I’ve indicated the top of the railings more as a line in the wet paint than as a separate painted element, so it’s green rather than black. That’s fine as it is present but not strident, and I am delighted that some of the random brush strokes look like leaves – serendipity again!
This is such fun. I’m enjoying this happy picture. I’ve started to give more energy and colour to the sky. Originally, I had intended only a thin wash of pale blue without any texture as there seemed to be so much else going on, but correcting the size of the heads had introduced thicker paint there, so I decided to repaint the whole sky, largely blue I agree but showing the occasional fluffy cloud perhaps. I think this makes a better balance.
I think the tree must be a member of the larch family. Its needle-like leaves fall from the branches like lazy hands trailing in the water. I have built up the perspective there by using different colours and tones as I passed over the area, first Ultramarine Blue, then Ultramarine Violet, then Viridian with the addition of Burnt Sienna.
I strengthened the painting without altering the tone of the distant hills, then turned my attention the the garden. Since we are raised above it, only the tops of the trees and bushes show, so a mixture of dark and light green suffice. I’ve gone in with strong darks behind his shoulder and legs, enjoying the contrast with his white shirt. These darks will hide some of the metalwork he is resting against beautifully.
So the canvas is largely covered. I have extended the blue area behind the boats. I may have overdone it. In fact I’m sure I have. The light reflecting off the side of the cabin of the middle boat loses impact against the light background. However, there is just some of the water on the right hand side to rough in now, so I can see how the painting will turn out. I’m very pleased with the composition. With a bit of work, this is going to turn into a good painting. Boats are fascinating. There are so many lines and angles. They catch the light in so many unexpected places.
I have started to clarify the painting of the middle boat, and for some reason the reflection looks wonky! I didn’t notice this when I was painting, so the photo has done me a service. For a start, the reflection of the prow is at the wrong angle, and where the prow becomes the side (a nebulous place!) also needs a little more definition. Although the red of the cabin wall has been calmed down with the addition of a little Burnt Sienna, it seems to glow even more.
I roughed in the background to help the define the upper edge of the boats and to set the atmosphere. It’s a bit dark, though the blue positively glows in contrast. I’ll think about that while I cover the canvas.
The boats themselves are also roughly painted. I do like to cover the whole canvas as quickly as possible especially when I haven’t toned down the white prior to drawing the image. Toning down is not quite what I do, for I frequently paint the whole canvas bright orange, such a cheerful colour! Well, I didn’t do it this time so need to accommodate the dominating white as I chose my tones.
This photo show you how very sketchy the painting is at this stage. Part of this is the need to cover the canvas, but it also allows me to choose how much detail I want to add later, besides giving me confidence that the drawing is largely correct. Sometimes I catch just the right brush stroke at this early stage, like the reflection of the side of the green boat, and can let it be part of the final painting – one of those pieces of serendipity I mentioned when I started writing a blog.
This is a big painting – it’s nearly as big as me! Now and again, I like to use my shoulders when painting. It’s very satisfying.
My friends are relaxing on their rooftop terrace not long after they had finished it, so there is a certain amount of relief in their pose. The ceramic pots adorning the pillars are a brilliant turquoise which I am eager to paint. The pillars themselves are built in rough pale stone. The shady garden crowding his shoulder shows dark greens, while the distant landscape is, I’m told, “very Cezanne”, no pressure there, then.
I am delighted to report that I actually drew this freehand, so my regular sketching is beginning to pay off. When the basic colours and tones were painted in, I saw that I had made both heads too big for their bodies, such a common mistake which I should be able to avoid by this time, and I’m not sure about his legs. I made the necessary adjustment to the heads – oil paints are so forgiving. This first pass of colour and tone, which took about an hour, sets the painting going and allows gross errors to be eliminated early. Now I can concentrate characterising the differing textures and tones.
This term my painting group are examining canals as they wanted to improve on trees and water, and I wanted to add some interesting shapes.
The second boat painting, in acrylic this time, concentrates on the boats and their reflections. My starting image is a reasonably good composition, though I would want to fade the sheds as they are rather dominant and detract from the collection of narrowboats.
However, my canvas is long and thin, and that encouraged me to crop the image top and bottom and lose most of the boat on the right. This will place the boats and their reflections in sharp focus.
When I come to painting, I intend to blur the shed, trees etc using the tones to show or hide the cabins. It’s all drawn up ready for action.
I suppose it’s a small journey from bridges over a river to canal boats! A watery theme perhaps?
Water colour paper has a big influence on how a painting appears. I am trying some new paper, much recommended by Hazel Soan, one of my favourite painters. It’s called Khadi paper and I found it in Jackson’s on-line Catalogue. This is hand-made in India, so each sheet is separately produced rather than in a continuous roll using 100% cotton rag. It’s acid free, and has a texture all its own.
As you can see, it works beautifully for dry brush work, making it easy to create all those broken edged trees and bushes, yet it is possible to produce a smoother wash as in the canal itself. It bellied quite a bit when I used a very wet wash but reverted to its former self as it dried.
There is more to do – the shadows are too pale for a start – but I like the way it takes the paint.