Recently, I have been developing my watercolour approaches and starting to think about the sort of new art works that I want to create. In particular, I’ve been thinking about my watercolour development. How do I create works that are related to but distinctly separate from my urban sketching and reportage illustration? Having a studio gives me more questions and more scope!!
As I mentioned in my previous blog about watercolour, I’ve been starting to look at different media and the sorts of ‘paintings’ that interest me the most. This is fundamental to my beliefs about the purpose of paintings. I prefer the more impressionistic approaches and those that angle to a more abstract view. I prefer to allow the observer to ‘get involved’ and use their imagination! That said, I think I will always be grounded in the real world and a need to create a sense of place, at some level, in my work!
Watercolour development-Pigments, paper and brushes
I’ve started to explore colour and tone in my watercolour development. Specifically I have explored how to achieve reflective light effects and the full range of tonal values with watercolour. I’ve also started to develop my understanding of colour mixing of watercolour using a pure pigment palette. The palette I am using is here (please ignore the top row):
I’ve also started to use a selection of brushes for different aspects of painting. These include Flat brushes, a Hake, a mop brush and two rigger brushes. That is not to mention an unruly bristle one (that I haven’t used much yet!). All have their distinct role. The paper I’ve moved onto is Saunders Waterford (140 lb; 340 gsm) Not paper (see Venetian canal image below). I originally used Bockingford which I find buckles and is not as good (see Alcatraz image below).
I created both paintings shown below from photographs on a desk easel in my studio. My aim was to develop a greater understanding of tonal values and to be able to achieve the full range of tonal values in the paintings. Both were done using the pigment palette and brushes shown above.
I have evolved my thinking and my understanding about my visual work through my watercolour exploration over the last few weeks . Based on this exploration, I am keen to develop more of a textural approach in my work and a more individual response. I am struggling to see how I do that with the pure watercolour approach I’ve been following. My background in landscape design has driven a keen interest in texture and composition. Therefore I need to explore other opportunities to achieve the layering and rich surface textures that I am seeking. Previously, I have used mixed media/ collage approaches in design. I am now going to explore how these can be developed in my artwork. Watch this space!
I have been an urban sketcher for several years now and as such I use watercolour to tint my sketches. I’ve talked about it on my blog here. Sometimes I put colour down first and sometimes after line work but I definitely wouldn’t say I am a watercolour painter. That is a whole different ball game! I am interested in developing my watercolour painting skills but I don’t yet know where this will take me. For the moment I’m just going with it. Earlier in the year I made a start but now I am taking a somewhat broader approach to my learning.
My interest in watercolour goes back a few years ( starting with an unfortunate one week watercolour painting holiday which taught me little about the medium- enough said!!). I’ve never grappled much with the technicalities of watercolour( until now); knowing the very basics of techniques and colour but nothing more – preferring to rely on happy accidents ( which only takes you so far!). To be brutally honest it’s been a pretty random approach, perhaps driven by my fear of the traditional! From what I can gleen, it takes a long time to get anywhere close to competent at watercolour painting! So why would I?…what would make me start on any journey with such tenuous chances of success and that takes so long to master (is the later even possible?)-hopefully I’ll just keep striving for a better painting!
Watercolour-What’s the big attraction?
My interest in watercolour stems from several things:
- Its ‘fit’ as a medium for me-as a spontaneous versatile and relatively simple painting approach (I think I’m going to regret saying that!)-you can do a painting in a day!
- The transparency of the paint enabling layers of colour to be created
- Its ability to convey convincing light and reflection making it magical in many situations
- The wonderful rich colours that can be created/used to stunning effect
- The opportunity to let the paint to do its own thing without controlling its movement entirely, a kind of tightrope balancing act!
- That wonderful impressionistic effects you can get where you can see the textured brush strokes and the layers and splodges and the viewer fills in more details.
This blog is about my preparation for ‘that ‘journey. The ‘tool kit’ I’m starting with if you like! – I packed my bag and in it I put……it’s the step before the nuts and bolts of paper, paint and brushes. -Who and what will be my teachers?
Watercolour painting-Some helpful experts (texts)
I guess I am the sort of person that often likes to surround myself with information on a subject (within reason!). So I like the idea of finding those artists that speak to me and trying to learn from them. To that end I have texts of several well known watercolour painters. Whilst there is some overlap in the approaches they take, I have specific learning I would like to get from each of them:
Jeanne Dobie Making Colour Sing
This is the most wonderful text that covers both colour and composition in depth. There are 31 chapters, each covering a specific aspect of painting with colour or composition. The early chapters are all about the practicalities of colour and colour mixing: from creating greens to the darkest darks. Jeanne has what she calls a pure pigment palette of colours and I have decided to revert to this to learn how to mix colours and the technicalities of them (transparency, opacity, staining power etc). This one is going to take me a long time to work through!
Tom Hoffmann Watercolour Painting
I love this book for its strategic approach to the medium and the endless wise snippets dotted throughout stunning images (not all his, a great range is presented and discussed). It isn’t a how too, technical book but teaches awareness of the different aspects of the medium. The focus is on discussion about 4 basic variables: value, wetness, colour and composition. Its the sort of book you can actually read from cover to cover (and I am making my way through it. I’d be faster if I didn’t keep going back and forth!).
Shirley Trevena Taking Risks with watercolour
Who doesn’t like Shirley’s work?! I love her encouragement of an experimental approach and her mixed media work. She isn’t a purist but encourages a creative approach to developing a painting. Spattering, lifting colour, smearing and speckling are all used to create texture. Her use of other media including pencils and pastels appeals to my interest in creating texture and collage (probably stemming back to my days as a landscape designer). I have only just started to dip into this one but it seems like a wonderful treasure trove of a book!
Jeanne Haines Atmospheric Watercolours
I have had this book for a while and love the looseness, life and vibrancy of Jeanne’s work and her use of water! I talked about it and about a short course I attended locally by Judith Farnworth here on my blog back in April. To me, this artist/text offers something slightly different but complementary to the other works. I am using this text as a way of learning more.
John Lovett blog: Splashing Paint
Oh my goodness, talk about eye candy for the soul!! stunning paintings are created with an impressive use of light. The blog covers specific aspects of painting, from brushes to mixing greys! I’ve only just started to dip into it but I love it so far!
Of course this is just a start but it provides an initial focus and rationale for learning. The problem with having too many is that it becomes somewhat confusing and a reason to read instead of paint! I’m trying to balance that one by painting every time I do some reading about it! I’ve also just ordered Michael Rearden’s Watercolour techniques book for its practical focus on the medium. I am hoping it will complement my other texts. Of course all of this won’t make me a great painter, but I am keen to get to understand the medium and how to use it to better effect. I am hoping that maybe one day, my own style will come out of it.
What those that know about watercolour say (Quotes)
I love art quotes don’t you?! My thinking here is that when I see quotes that speak to me and have a useful lesson to share, I will write them down to help me remember those lessons. Here are a few that I’ve recorded so far:
‘Using The Brain more than the Brush makes the difference’ Jeanne Dobie
‘Most good paintings are based on sound draftsmanship’ Shirley Travena
‘Some information is essential, but most of it is optional. Discovering which is which is largely a matter of getting out of your own way’ Tom Hoffmann
‘I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them’ Pablo Picasso
‘Colours are like jewels: each should be placed as carefully as a precious gem in a setting’ Jean Dobie
Watercolour Eye Candy (Pinterest collections)
Of course everyone interested in painting, studies endless paintings and tries to learn from them (don’t they?!). I have started a pinterest board of some of my favourite artists work as a further source of inspiration and a way to clarify my preferences. It’s here. I will be adding many others as I study them.
Some other stuff
There are so many resources out there. I am planning to dip into Magazines (e.g. The Art of Watercolour), exhibitions, specialist websites, catalogues (Jackson’s do a great one) and YouTube etc as and when I need them. No doubt I will be sharing some of the gems as I find them!
This is the first of a series about my watercolour painting approaches. I hope you will follow along as I start my exciting journey!
It’s nice to be beside the seaside and it was great to be sketching in Whitby on the East coast of the UK for a couple of days last week! As is usual for me trying to capture the places I visit- it’s about recording my visual diary, my ‘snapshots’ of the visit. They are not necessarily images that I create in 10 minutes but they are snapshots to the extent that they are the images that I think epitomize the place and its character. I chose to use a sketchbook (not very successfully as the 200 gsm Fabriano paper didn’t take watercolour well (perhaps it will prompt me to develop my line only and line with pencil work further!) and loose 300 gsm Bockingford watercolour paper. The sketchbook work tends to be more of a diary, perhaps thumbnail sketches, looser and with additional pieces added such as maps. Continue reading
This last weekend, we (myself and fellow artist Hugh Winterbottom) ran our first Sketchbook Sketching Foundation workshop which aimed to equip people with some of the techniques and skills for drawing out on location and for recording their world in sketchbooks. It was an action packed two days (9.30-16.30 Saturday and Sunday) with a range of subjects covered and lots of opportunity for sketching practice. This blog gives an overview of the weekend and what we learnt in the process. Continue reading
Despite the weather in Manchester over the weekend (wet and cold on Saturday, cold then wet on Sunday!) vibrant colours and a celebration-feel lifted our spirits in the city centre as the Chinese New Year Celebrations took hold in several places, from Exchange Square to Deansgate and China Town. I spent some time on both days (although the celebrations were actually a four day event with New Years Day being Saturday 28th January), trying to capture some of this ‘sense of occasion’ in sketches. From the costumes to the dancing and decorations, the colours and the crowds, it was a festival for the eyes and ears and a challenge for our sketching spirits!
This last month (to the day) has seen some drama in our house. When I say ‘our’ house, I use that as a general term. It’s the place I grew up, not the same house I spent my childhood in but its home because the people (my mum and dad plus others) and the ‘things’ make it so. It’s where I have so many memories and now I have been given some time to be able to capture them in drawings. Not that I have had too much time yet, but I have made a start and I will continue. So this blog is about drawing memories: a sense of place and sense of things. Continue reading
I am thrilled to have been invited to exhibit and sell my drawings at the Sale Arts Trail Christmas Bazaar to be held on Sunday 27th November at the Claremont Centre in Sale. I have attended both the summer and Christmas events as a visitor and also as an Urban sketcher in recent years, so it is particularly thrilling for me to be able to exhibit for the first time. Continue reading
Over the last two weekends, I have visited two different Manchester locations to draw: The Etihad Stadium in East Manchester, the Manchester City Football Club grounds and ChinaTown in Central Manchester. Each of these drawings were created over a several hour period: pencil, ink then watercolour (paint and pencil). In terms of identifying the best main view and composition, I did this by walking around the site and observing different aspects: the angles, the depth of view, the light and shadow etc. The other thing I do is to write down (or at least have in my mind) key words that reflect what I feel for the place and what I want to convey in the main sketch. I can then refer to this as I draw. Continue reading
To say that it has been a traumatic week sounds dramatic. I received an urgent call on Wednesday lunchtime. By Wednesday evening I was standing outside the Stroke unit in my hometown down in Suffolk. Hugging my parents and wondering what was next. The corridor setting was quiet, cold, remote and downright scary. There seem to be 3 types of people around; those going about their daily routine; those who have come to know this as their daily routine and the downright fearful. Continue reading
Autumn has always been my favourite season. For two main reasons: firstly the quality of light ; lower in the sky but with a warm glowing quality: in the UK it has often been a sunny and bright season. Predictably, the second reason is for the stunning colours; burnt reds; rich oranges and simmering golds; magentas and the like. Continue reading
As promised, this is the second post of my holiday sketches from Zante, the first, arguably more polished sketches, can be found here. I am so pleased that I decided to take a small portable A5 moleskin watercolour sketchbook as well as working on loose paper. The sketchbook enabled me to record my visual diary, in parallel with the finished pieces on paper and importantly, it allowed me to be looser, more experimental, less polished and to have fun! Continue reading
For a while I have been torn between using loose watercolour paper to create my sketches and recording in sketchbooks. There are pros and cons and as an urban sketcher with an interest in telling chronological stories through drawing, I have often worked in sketchbooks (moleskine, Stillman and Birn, SeaWhite, Handbook) and most often at A5 size for its portability. For me, the issue with using that approach alone is three-fold: one is the size is arguably a little small (although of course you can buy larger size sketchbooks, but then there is the size and weight!) ; secondly creating prints from them is not always straightforward. The third is that because work for prints was in my sketchbook, I was getting tighter and more precious with my sketchbook work (which is the opposite of what I want!). Continue reading
I have mentioned colour first in several of my posts of late so at the risk of sounding a bit like a stuck record, I will talk about it again here. I am talking about it because I want to develop the approach, (lots of others do it as a matter of course), but I want to see how I can progress it for my own needs and in specific ways. Over the last couple of weeks, I have used colour first in many situations and I want to share those drawings as a way of unpicking where I might be heading with it. Results have been variable, leading to a whole lot of questions and clarifications and I am going to share some of those thoughts here. Continue reading
It has taken me longer to move on from the urban sketching symposium in Manchester than I had expected although I wasn’t sure what I expected really! You can hear about some of my takeaway lessons from my role as correspondent here. The olympics has certainly helped me to move on over the last two weeks and I don’t mean because it was a diversion or that I sat and sketched the activities ( although that may have been a good idea! ) but that the athletes talked so passionately of this concept of just keeping practicing and going on to improve skill- just keep on going… It’s a point well made.