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.
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.
Mirepoix is a small town in southern France, south-west of Carcassonne. At the centre is a cathedral and a medieval town centre with a busy market place. I’ve visited and sketched there several times. Locked down in London, I have been looking through sketchbooks and decided to use some images to paint new versions of places I have been. Here is the sketchbook page, from July 2018:
I decided I wanted to simplify, and focus on the decorative facades of the buildings, and give a sense of strong light and heat. So the trees, for example, are excluded. The first new version is at the head of this post, and here is my second attempt:
My third version was done very quickly, and leaves out the nineteenth century (I’m guessing) covered market building on the right:
Here are some more of my watercolour experiments, working on the portrayal of light and shade. I am also interested in the contrast of defined and less defined shapes, and dropping in colour to wet areas of the painting sketched out with a brush. They are based, fairly roughly, on my own sketches, and the third one on a work by Marc Folly.
Yesterday Urban Sketchers London ran a ‘colour challenge’ art activity which I had devised. As a consequence of the pandemic, the group cannot meet and sketch. So this was an activity for people to do at home but post on line. The task was to choose a subject each individual could sketch safely, such as a view from a window, balcony or garden, prepare three different coloured backgrounds in any chosen medium, and paint or draw quick colour studies in different colour palettes. The colours were not intended to be realistic representations of the colour of the scene, but to give a different mood or effect. As you can see above, I painted in my garden a group of pots and a ceramic sculpture, with studies based on quinacridone gold, terracotta, and cobalt blue. Here, below, are the three colour sketches:
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.
I then experimented with two paintings based on a charcoal drawing of an arboretum I did last year.
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.
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.
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.
In February/March 2015, I went with a group on a painting trip to Tamil Nadu in southern India, and I have been reminded of that in the last couple of days.
The pandemic changes everything, in big ways and small. I am involved in setting up and running, with Urban Sketchers London, a Thirty Day Indoor Sketching Challenge – Day One was Thursday 19 March 2020, but you can start it any time. Link to information here.
My sketch above is on today’s theme of ‘work’ and I decided to interpret this broadly as I don’t work, I am retired. I had pulled out a bright cotton scarf to wear yesterday, and it is one I had bought at a small weaving workshop in the Chettinad area of Tamil Nadu. You could watch a weaver at work on a traditional loom – I drew this scene (very badly, but I think she was entertained by my eccentric behaviour).
After the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, much was revealed about the poor conditions of work in textile factories globally, and the ‘Who made your clothes?’ campaign started. It struck me that (apart from some family hand knitting) the scarf represents the only occasion I have drawn someone who made my clothes.
My sketch above shows the scarf and the sketchbook.