More experiments with watercolour

Folly one

I have been looking at the work of the French watercolourist, Marc Folly.  His style combines very skilled drawings, often of dramatically lit interiors, with very free use of watercolour.  The first two paintings of mine here are based on a couple of his works, although obviously lacking his skill.

Folly two

I then experimented with two paintings based on a charcoal drawing of an arboretum I did last year.

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Art is hard

I have been continuing my project to paint memories of walking in the Peak District.  Earlier this week I got out my art kit, and a photograph I had taken in January near Stanage Edge.  I aimed to experiment with a bolder style, and some less familiar colours, including Lunar Blue from Daniel Smith (which had been a free sample).  On rough watercolour paper and working very wet, this produced a high level of granulation.  Now, an ambiguous distant image I like, but this was a bit much.  There was a rocky outcrop in the foreground and I struggled to indicate this while keeping the distant view as the main focal point.

Stanage Edge first day

In another attempt, I gave more attention to a group of trees on the skyline, but failed to make them look austere enough for winter trees.

Stanage Edge another day

Today, I tackled this subject again, with a more familiar approach, colour mixing, careful choice of brushes, and the result is below.  “Moving out of your comfort zone” is one of the clichés of art.  Painting within your comfort zone is pretty hard, actually.

Stanage Edge second day

Fast and loose?

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Two weeks ago, my watercolour class at Morley College had a topic of trying experimental approaches in larger scale.  One of the artists we were introduced to was Lena Gemzoe, including a video of her at work, working on very wet paper, pigment applied mostly with a plastic card.  I had a go at this, and here are two paintings I did, above and below:

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Now because of restrictions in London because of the coronavirus pandemic, I am working at home and the college is trying to offer virtual classes for the last couple of weeks.  I wanted to apply this freer approach to a real-world subject, without being too preoccupied with accuracy.  I am working on a project I have called ‘Landscape and Memory’, painting places I know but cannot visit.  Initially I have started with some of my photographs of the Peak District in Derbyshire, a place I have often walked with friends.  Here is the first:

loose and fast Today I have done two more, which are below.  I don’t think either of these are particularly good, but attempting to take a more free approach means trying things which may not work, and learning from that.  The second one, below, in particular, is bigger than I usually work, and I think that shows, especially the rather ’empty’ centre.  I am also trying to resist adding more controlled detail at a later stage.

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Sketchbooks into paintings

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I’ve just spent five days at West Dean College in Sussex, on a short course called “Sketchbooks into paintings”, with artist Katie Sollohub as tutor.  In outline, we spent two days developing sketchbook material, including work outside in the West Dean gardens, and then three days developing paintings in the studio.  The emphasis was not simply to develop observational drawings and then make paintings of that scene, but to create images which were also based on memory and sensory experience.  We aimed to find a personal response to the place, and discover ways of creating a visual expression of our experience.

On the first evening, we started with random mark making with ink on a one-page sheet, cut and folded to create a miniature sketchbook – mine is shown above.  Next day, we had guided walks in the gardens, where we could choose to make small sketches.  We were each given a concertina sketchbook in which to work.  These we also filled with random marks in various media including coloured inks.  Below are some of the sketchbooks spread out:

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There were several exercises to draw into these sketchbooks, both out of doors and in the studio.  Here are a selection of spreads from mine:

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We had drawing exercises where we were asked to make quick sketches of line, shape, texture, pattern and sound in the landscape.  There were meditations, including one where we did a series of drawings of memories, with closed eyes.  Here is one of mine:

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My studio paintings were done in acrylics.  The tutor had planned that we should work in acrylic or oil paint, as the course had a big emphasis on altering and developing the work, obliterating sections and painting over them; watercolour is really too transparent to work in this way.  My studio painting, below, is based on the charcoal drawing:

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We did a series of studio exercises to help us develop paintings, using the material we had gathered, and our response to the place.  These were intended to develop a more expressive and innovative response, which was based on more than simple observation.  For the one shown below, we each carried out six quick studies based on one of our paintings, following the directions of the tutor.  For example: simple mark making, using the image but changing the colour, moving or removing one element, working at a different scale, and so on.

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Here, below, are the other two more finished paintings I did, although I think the bottom one needs further work:

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Note added later: I have worked on the painting above, and here is the new version:

West Dean March 2020 three second version

I have so much to think about from this course.  Most of it relates to creating studio paintings rather than working entirely on location, which is what I tend to focus on.  For example:

  • developing works in series in order to explore visual ideas
  • doing very quick studies to help find ways forward with a painting
  • thinking about expression which goes beyond straightforward observation, such as how to use colour, composition, or style of marks and brushstrokes to express emotions and memories.

None of these ideas are new, it is putting them into practice which is harder.  Interesting problems.