Bad days at the easel

I’m familiar with having ‘bad days at the office’, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that I also have bad days at the easel. This week has been just such an example. I’ve started quite a few paintings and even some sketches to join in the World Watercolour Month celebrations and they’ve all, bar none, been atrocious.

Not the most auspicious of beginnings for my long awaited and much anticipated painting course that begins this week. By the time most of you read this, I’ll be on day two or three of this course and, based on my recent experiences, boy do I need it! The photo that heads this post was taken on a rare outdoors painting opportunity that I did in preparation for those that lie ahead this week. A beautiful balmy summer’s day but I just made a complete pig’s ear of two paintings. I suppose it’s progress that I can identify why I think it was such a disastrous day at the easel:

Poor composition (I was mainly drawn to the silhouette of the castle in the distance) but that made the focal point too small and too distant. There was also way too much green for my liking so I tried to lower the horizon and make the sky as captivating as I could…  but applying a mix of quite bright purple wasn’t quite the captivating I was aiming for.

Badly drawn with insufficient consideration as to how I was going to describe elements (especially large groups of trees), not to mention getting the perspective wrong on the castle!

Poorly planned with too much reliance on winging it as I went along – which has rarely worked for me and even less so when it’s a scene that contains lots of elements that I already find challenging.

Impatience that somehow leads me to start galloping through the painting throwing paint at the paper in increasing levels of frustration and desperation.

On the plus side, it was great to be out on what felt like the first sunny day in ages and I was pleased that, instead of keep flogging a dead painting, I stopped mid-stroke, downed brushes, took this photo and packed up.

I cheered myself up with a swim in an nearby lido that I’ve never visited before which was deliciously therapeutic! If you’re ever in the vicinity of Lewes in East Sussex and like a dip, I commend you to visit Pells Pool. At over 150 years old, it’s the UKs oldest documented outdoor freshwater pool and, at 46metres x 23 metres, fed by crisp, crystal clear water – it’s an absolute joy to swim in.

A particularly unexpected surprise and pleasure of this visit was bumping into Tanya Shadrick, who I first met in a work capacity some year’s ago but who has now forged ahead with her passion for writing and community engagement and is currently Pells Pool’s first writer/artist in residence. If anyone’s interested in writing, or especically writing AND swimming, you really should check out her project and website.

So. Feeling suitably refreshed and energised – let’s talk some more about painting. As, however, as mine’s been so shoddy of late, I thought it might be better to share the work of an artist that I’ve admired for some time now: Jem Bowden. It’s particularly apposite to  mention Jem as, in my opinion, he’s a natural modern day successor to Edward Wesson and, as I found out after making contact with him, some years ago he did a one day workshop with Steve Hall. The very same Steve Hall that will be my expert tutor this week – so it all ties in rather nicely.

You can learn so much from watching a great artist at work so I hope that you’ll enjoy watching Jem’s mastery of watercolour in this video as much as I have.


Hopefully, I’ll be back next week with tales of watercolour joy and wonderment from this week’s course. But no pressure of course!

Thoughts on Bad days at the easel

8 thoughts on “Bad days at the easel”

  1. Sounds like you have completed an honest self-diagnosis, and identified faults that we are all guilty of. I set a lot of store in starting with a successful drawing and avoiding too much green, which are both problems that you have quite rightly pointed out. For what it is worth, i always make a point of finishing a painting, despite it looking as though it is going pear-shaped. Sometimes when I have put in the finishing detail, I get a pleasant surprise as it suddenly comes together. I like that last painting, by Jem Bowden, whom I do not know. Again a Hilderesque look about it, which I have always admired

    1. Thanks David and yes, I’m sure you’re right about the preliminary drawing to help sort out any problems and give you that little extra thinking and planning time. As for the ‘too much green’ – I’m now finished day two of my course and you wouldn’t believe how much green we’ve had to cope with! It’s not that it can’t be done – but I’ve got some way to go before I can tackle it with aplomb! Still haven’t done anything that I’m especially satisfied with but as I sit back and look at my efforts – I can see that I’m learning lots and – perhaps even more importantly – I’m really enjoying my painting and the experience of painting on location.

  2. I feel your pain and I only pull out the word “atrocious” when I mean….really bad! I get a feeling that you are harder on yourself than I am because you strive for more excellence than I do….who knows maybe I do but keep it hid to avoid depression. I am hoping that your watercolor course goes well and you learn loads and grown. At least you some positive experiences after painting, that is always a booster.

    1. Hi Margaret and thanks for your empathy, it’s much appreciated! I’m not so sure about me striving for more excellence but, now that I’m day two into my course, I’m realising that my approach of emulating/copying my idols is fine on the one hand, but gives you a distorted view of your abilities once you’re left to your own devices!

      1. exactly! I also feel that we have our own artistic vision and voice and it is important to pursue that, though after spending time studying renowned watercolorists, which is very valuable. I am hoping to write a post on these thoughts. I want to be sensitive without stepping on toes. 🙂

        1. Well don’t worry about my toes Margaret – they can take it! I think that’s what I’m enjoying about the experience on the course – I’m not trying to ‘see’ as me heroes see – but to paint as simply and as honestly as I’m able – which is both liberating in some ways, and frustrating in others!

  3. Oh man! your list of reasons you think you went wrong reads like the four stages of grief I go through with most paintings 🙂

    1. Haha yes – I don’t suppose these are particular to me but I can’t help but take it all so personally! Here’s to emerging Phoenix like from the despair to produce our next masterpiece!

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