I drew the sketch above in Dulwich Park a couple of weeks ago, in early February. At this time of year, a quick sketch is all that is practical to do out of doors, but I have now used this sketch to make three different versions in watercolour. I usually paint using a primary triad – that is obviously red, yellow and blue – mixing all the other colours from these three. But they do not have to be the same three pigments, and there are many options to choose, which may be warmer or cooler colours, or creating a darker or lighter effect. In particular, these pictures use three different blues: French Ultramarine, Cerulean, or Winsor Blue. Here are the three images with their varying palettes.
I have been sketching again at Kew Gardens, in the Temperate House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, as it was a day of heavy rain. I experimented with water soluble coloured pencils, on backgrounds of random watercolour.
Yesterday, I was painting at Kew Gardens, in London, with friends. We also visited on a very hot day last week, shown above. Kew has a famous gallery of botanical art, superbly skilled work in the very precise style, originally developed as a method of scientific recording. I was trying to paint watercolour sketches in a freer, more painterly style, more about atmosphere than precision. Well, that is the idea, here are some sketches from yesterday, painted on location.
And here is a scan of the painting which is in the photograph at the top of this post.
Today I have been at the Horniman Museum gardens in South London. I had a small pack of cards and envelopes made of Khadi paper, a handmade watercolour paper from India. I found a quiet place to sit overlooking the formal gardens, seen above. Without much plan of what I would do, I started with a very conventional view of the flowers. I then decided to simplify and enlarge the images, and to start with backgrounds based on the formality of the rows and angles of the flower beds, adding flowers to these backgrounds, working quite quickly.
As a consequence of the pandemic and the lockdown, I went several months without sketching on location in London or elsewhere. However, cautiously, I and my friend Lis Watkins have returned to sketching outdoors near our homes in south London. We are fortunate to have some beautiful parks and gardens which provide safe and reasonably quiet places to draw and paint. Some of Lis’s beautiful work can be seen on her website which has links to her Instagram page and twitter account where her sketches are posted. The locations of my sketches here are, from top to bottom:
- Horniman Gardens (above)
- Walled garden, Horniman Gardens
- Belair House, Dulwich
- Olive tree, Belair House
- Dry Garden, Dulwich Park
- Bell House, Dulwich
Above, a watercolour I have done today, a corner of Kew Gardens in London, of the small garden behind Kew Palace. This is based on the last sketch I did out of doors in London, in mid-February this year. A picture of the sketch taken at the location is below:
Yesterday and today I have painted two new versions at home, altering the scene to imagine the changing season, leaving out the archway on the left of the small building. I have been working in watercolour, with a loose wet-on-wet start, followed by some more detailed brushwork. Yesterday’s version is below. I think today’s version is better on the whole, but, as seems inevitable, there are bits of each I would like to see combined in one. I think today’s version has too much fiddly detail in painting the plants and I quite like the areas in the picture below where I have outlined some of the plants with the brush, leaving quite a bit of white paper. The building below is too bright in colour, and should be more muted. Never mind, I am keeping in practice and one day I will be back painting on location again.
Most people’s ideas about the Elephant and Castle area of south London are, I think, that it is modern, and frankly a bit gritty. But did you know it features in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night? Twelfth Night was first performed on 6 January 1601 as part of Queen Elizabeth I’s Christmas celebrations and then had its first public performance at the Middle Temple.
Act III, Scene III:
A street. A conversation between Antonio, a sea Captain, and Sebastian, who has been shipwrecked.
Do not, then, walk too open.
It doth not fit me. Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant
Is best to lodge; I will bespeak our diet,
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town; there shall you have me.
Why I your purse?
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think is not for idle markets, sir.
I’ll be your purse-bearer, and leave you for
I do remember.
The circumstances under which I was drawing the ‘idle markets’ of Elephant and Castle on Saturday 14 March 2020, were unexpected. Urban Sketchers London had scheduled a sketchcrawl there. Suddenly, London was hit by anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. We decided to cancel the meet-up with 24 hours’ notice. I was sketching alone at the meeting point in case people had not got the cancellation message – my sketch is above. No-one turned up but me.
Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers London met at the Wallace Collection. I chose to draw in the Arms and Armoury Galleries, and drew a series of helmets (above). I was particularly interested in the helmets which provided full cover for the head, and had a strange and dramatic relationship with the human face.
Continuing the theme of heads and faces, here are two drawings done in the Africa Galleries of the British Museum. The one on the left is a grave marker from Sudan, and the other a bronze head from Benin.
I drew yesterday from a roof garden at 120 Fenchurch Street in the City of London. The garden is open to the public and is fairly new; the plants will become more established. The roof garden is at the fifteenth floor and has spectacular views over London. My fellow sketchers, Lis and Gafung, tackled the views, whilst I looked more at the structure of the new garden.
My drawings here are based on drawings by Honore Daumier of French judges (drawn about 1850). Today I have been drawing in the study room of the Victoria and Albert Museum works on paper collection, which own the Daumier drawings, and many others. These collections, which also exist at the British Museum, Tate Britain and the Courtauld, are an extraordinary and little known resource. Members of the public can make appointments to see, and if wished, draw from drawings by world famous artists, free of charge. So much can be learned from the close observation which comes with copying drawings in different styles.