One sketch, four paintings, loads of fun!

So, after last week’s foray into the layered washes of Rowland Hilder, I thought I’d do a quick compare and contrast of techniques. Recently, Edo Hannema mentioned the name of Aubrey Phillips to me and he’d written a whole blog post about how much his eponymous book, ‘Watercolour Painting with Aubrey Phillips‘ had been an inspiration to him. I’d never heard of Aubrey Phillips but if he was good enough to inspire Edo, then I figured I should find out more about him and trotted off to eBay to pick myself up a copy of his book.

If you like the looser style of watercolours as epitomised by Wesson and Seago, then you’ll find much to like about the approach of Phillips. His work is similarly immediate, trying to capture the spirit of a moment rather than an accuracy of detail. So, with that in mind, I decided to follow one of his step by step demonstrations, but to try to put my own mark on it. In the book, he’d done a charcoal sketch of a moody coastal scene which he then did a painting of. The charcoal sketch was full of atmosphere but short on detail, but not so short that I couldn’t derive a quick pencil sketch from it. I say quick, but this did take me a while to complete and get to point that I felt I could use it as a basis for a painting.

Stormy sky breaking waves – sketch

I thought I’d best put a descriptive caption on this in case it wasn’t clear from the sketch quite what on earth it was! Anyway, sketch done I set about trying to follow the three or four steps as outlined by Phillips. The first was to work quickly and wash in as much of the painting as possible in the first go. I set about this task with great enthusiasm and gusto. I was trying to be mindful of the breaking waves, and to try to leave some white of the paper here and there but I found it difficult to achieve any form of ‘dry’ brush strokes whilst simultaneously laying on a wash with a heavily laden brush. The result was that I got very sharp edges. I also got depressed and despondent after step one and gave up on this effort, not even sure that I could return to this subject ever again!

Stormy sky, breaking waves – abandoned

After a short while away from the easel I thought I’d give it another go. On this occasion I worked quickly again but much wetter, constantly flooding in more and more colour. I intended to keep back some white for the foaming waves… but failed. This time however I didn’t mind as I liked what I was seeing so just kept going until I felt it was time to stop. Now even though this doesn’t resemble the sketch, I really like this painting.

Stormy sky breaking waves – 1

I think it’s mysteriously evocative – I’m not quite sure what of, but therein I think lies its attraction. It has a range of potential connotations, and scales too. It could be quite an intimate scene, or it could be a much grander vista. Either way, I thought this had a certain something that really pleased me.

Feeling slightly better, especially as this took hardly any time at all to do, I was all set for another bash. This time however I decided to work backwards. I thought that I may be able to save the white of the paper more effectively if I painted in the darks first, and then apply the washes afterwards.

Stormy sky breaking waves – 2

Oh, I should perhaps mention that none of these paintings had any preliminary sketching out. As I wasn’t looking for detail as much as I was atmosphere, and the composition only has a few elements, I didn’t think it was necessary. So, for this one I applied my darkest tones first. This enabled me to get some nice dry brush features that could suggest the foaming spray of breaking waves that I could then work around with the subsequent washes. This was much closer to the sketch and scene that I was seeking to capture, but I thought I’d gone in too heavy with the darks – that they were a little too dark, and that they deaden the image.

Once again, this didn’t take long to do and I was now having a whale of a time – so I couldn’t resist another go. This time I followed the same darkest tones first approach, but tried to vary the colour of the darkest tone more – to keep it a little lighter and more interesting in colour.

Stormy sky breaking waves – 3

I was largely pleased that this painting corrected some of the failings of the previous version, but I’d also lost some of the drama along the way. Fortunately, I still had the time and the inclination to have another crack at this. After all, I was having an absolute ball. I loved the wet into wet approach, seeing how the paint performs, how colours bleed and interact with each other – it’s pure magic, and surely what the essence of watercolour is about.

With this next painting I spent much more time on the sky, constantly flooding in more and more colour, and moving the wet paint about on the surface on the paper. A friend had commented on the original sketch that the sky had a real energy to it, and I was keen to try to capture this energy in the sky and thought that the brushstrokes might help convey this. Again, I started with dark tones first and then worked around them.

Stormy sky breaking waves – 4

I have to confess that whilst it still only bears a fleeting resemblance to the original sketch, I’m really pleased with this final version. I’m not sure it says breaking waves – but I’m definitely getting a stormy sky. The contrast between the darkest rocks against the lightest areas of the sky helps with the drama and provides a strong focal point. I also like the economy of the foreground and the richness of the colours.

It was great to finish this little session of painting with something that I really like. Looking at the four together, my stand out favourites, for completely different reasons, are number 4, and number 1. As ever, I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of these and whether there’s any consensus of opinion. All in all though, I had a great time doing these, so thanks very much to Edo for the introduction to Aubrey Phillips.




Thoughts on One sketch, four paintings, loads of fun!

23 thoughts on “One sketch, four paintings, loads of fun!”

  1. Hello John,
    I enjoy the mood of these works – “Tonalist”?
    I also succumed to the temptation of purchasing the Aubrey Phillips book.
    Just received it today.
    I am thoroughly enjoying your website.

    1. Hi James and thanks so much for this – reminds me that I should probably revisit my Aubrey Phillips book as I haven’t dipped into it for quite some time now – hope you find it useful, and I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the website!

  2. Pingback: Aubrey Phillips – Edo Hannema Watercolor Art

  3. John, sorry I missed your postings, busy days lately! I am so happy you liked the book! And do so much work on and from it! Love your sketches, and I must confess I never done a sketch from him, but I am eager to try one! I loved this blog post! So nice to share and learn a lot from each other! have a great weekend! And thanks for mentioning my name. I saw it was way busier on my website! but now I know who to thanks!
    Kind Regards Edo

    1. Hi Edo and thanks for this. I’m testing the waters with my pencil sketches at the moment. (I like that fact that I can rub thinks out very much!) I also like the process of sketching whilst thinking about what colours and brushtrokes I’d use on different parts when I come to paint it. I’m hoping that this planning will help me avoid trying to ‘solve’ any issues on the paper whilst I’m painting which invariably leads me to either overworking an area. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but I’m enjoying the process so far! Glad you liked this post and thanks again for the introduction and your engagement – it’s all much appreciated.

  4. I love your paintings! So, my favorites are exactly the same as yours. On the first painting I really love the sky and atmosphere on the sky and headlands, especially that drippy look on top of the land forms…..and the fourth the swirling stormy sky and the light is wonderful. On the third painting that light is alluring but it doesn’t have the same atmospheric looseness of the 4th. I will have to look at the paintings of Aubrey Phillips again. Sounds like you had a blast painting!

    1. So glad you like them Margaret, and that we agree. Not sure how I’ll carry this across into my landscapes but I really enjoyed the wet in wet immediacy of this approach – even though it challenges many of my instincts as you have to relinquish so much control! I suppose there may just be more chaff than wheat in this approach!

      1. I struggle with that need to control as well, boy do I! I am learning that it is great way to allow watercolor to teach me a few things about releasing that need for control and to paint from the right brain, it can be an adventure. :)

        1. Haha – isn’t there a saying along the lines of ‘if you love something, set it free’? – maybe that’s where we are with our watercolours!?

  5. The first and the last are my favorites. If I had to choose one, it would be the first. And while reading this post, I had to tab over to Amazon, and a copy of “Watercolor Painting with Aubrey Phillips” is now on its way to me. :) Thanks for sharing this painting session. Quite enjoyable!

    1. Glad you enjoyed this and hope you enjoy the book even more (I’m already feeling slightly responsible!). Interesting that the first version got your vote. I think that one leaves much more to the imagination and is, I suppose, much less figurative. Thanks for commenting – much appreciated

      1. I like the colors in the first, and yes, I think it is more evocative. It was quite interesting to see your approach and the results you achieved.

      2. Just wanted to let you know I’m enjoying my Aubrey Phillips book. I’m reading it eagerly and letting his ideas influence me in my own paintings. I’m pleased. Thanks for introducing me to this artist. Next, I think I’m going to get his book on pastels.

        1. This is great news Judith, so pleased you’re finding it useful and I really appreciate you letting me know – feel a great sense of relief! Good luck with his book on pastels – I’m afraid that I find watercolour quite challenging enough without trying my hand at anything else!

    1. Thanks Susan – and yes, it was great to have fun doing these – definitely prefer this approach to the more patient approach but am sure there’s a happy mid-ground to be found!

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