Keeping it clean to make it muddy

On my recent watercolour week with artist Steve Hall, I painted the image below at Dell Quay near Chichester:

Painting at Dell Quay, near Chichester
The painting didn’t do the scene any justice at all, but it did raise a few points that I thought were worthy of note, and of returning to. I greatly simplified the image above, but not necessarily in a good way! The two boats, while both from life, are not particularly well placed or observed and don’t do much to help the composition. The mud was my interpretation of what was actually a vivid acid green weed of some sort, left on the surface  of the mud by a fast retreating tide. I thought that this colour, whilst undoubtedly real, was quite unbelievable – so I toned it down and tried to convey a muddy estuary bank. Quite naturally in my view, I tried to do this with some pretty muddy looking mixes of paint. At that time, I thought this looked okay for a sketch.

Back at home though I sought out some other works by Edward Wesson to see how he handled similar subject matter and came across a painting ‘Itchenor, Near Chichester; in Ron Ranson’s great book, ‘Watercolour Impressionists‘  (well worth a look if you like this approach to painiting):

Watercolour Impressionists, Ron Ranson
Watercolour Impressionists, Ron Ranson
As Itchenor is very close by to Dell Quay, it seemed particularly appropriate for me to do my own take based on Wesson’s original.

Now there’s a lot about this that I’m not happy with in this – too much in fact to even begin to critique it, but what I do like is how it’s possible to convey glistening mud banks, with very clean transparent applications of watercolour. Armed with this new found enlightenment, I returned to my plein air original:

Another attempt based on my original plein air at Dell Quay, near Chichester
This painting was done super quick – I had to get dinner on the go – and, aside from my usual impatience, leading undesirable to wet into damp runs etc, I quite liked the looseness of this (although not the water… nor the nearest spit of land on the right hand side!) but I thought the foreground mudbank was, with the use of cleaner and lighter washes, much more evocative of a mudbank than my darker, muddier original.

After a couple of days off, and once again, with only a little time available, I returned once again to the Ted Wesson work:

I painted this on a half imperial sheet, almost entirely with a very large squirrel mop brush that I was conscious to hold high up the handle. I think this helped to create a much looser and more direct approach and application of paint. Hopefully, what I gain in expression, feeling and spontaneity, overrides what I lose in detail and accuracy – but perhaps anyone looking at this sketch would probably be a better judge of that than I am – so please do let me know!

Ron Ranson’s caption for this image in the book reads:

“This is a really loose painting, Ted has captured the wet mud with immense vigour and dash. The main object of interest is the dark blue yacht, which is placed to form a direct contrast with the patch of light water above. Overall, a very exciting picture.”

I don’t think I quite matched Wesson’s ‘excitement’ and, as ever, there’s a great deal that I don’t like about this interpretation – particularly the mast from a man of war ship that seems to have found it’s way rather implausibly onto the foreground boat! This was one of the last brushstrokes on the painting and resulted in a considerable barrage of blaspheming and self admonishment. Putting these elements in are often make or break moments; sadly in my experience, the breaks are still outweighing the makes but I’m sure I’ll turn the corner one day!  There are also lots of other annoying runs and bleeds as a result of my impatience / bad planning as I worked my way around the painting but, nevertheless I like the general direction the tones, the energy of the brush strokes and that I’m managing to keep my colours simpler and cleaner – even when it’s mud I’m trying to paint!



Thoughts on Keeping it clean to make it muddy

5 thoughts on “Keeping it clean to make it muddy”

  1. I like that you put a lot of effort in the mud, I noticed when I paint mud it must be light with dark accents works the best for me. Wessons mud is probably his magic last colour “filth!” we are never able to mix that! 😉 the book you mentioned is a great book! many good painters here. I like that Ranson says about Yardley a upcoming artist that is gonna make it!
    Well we know that this is true.
    He said also something about my work like this! so I cross my fingers haha!

    Somewhere next week I receive the missing book from rowland Hilder Sketches. thanks for the tip!

    have a good weekend!

  2. I enjoyed the artwork as well as reading about the process. On the last painting, the reflection of the dark blue boat is most compelling. Nicely done! I am on the lookout for learning more about the “how” of watercolors – just placed an order for the Roy Ranson book. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much Vidya, I really appreciate your kind comments! Hope you like the Ron Ranson book. It’s not so much of an instructional how to book but it introduced me to lots of artists and approaches that continue to be a source of inspiration for me. Hope you’ll let me know what you think of it when it arrives!

  3. Oh definitely the expression and spontaneity shows foremost and I see just a hint of wanting to control the painting but it is probably where you wanted it…I suppose. Keeping loose and yet controlled enough to bring in detail and keeping the mishaps at bay is an art form in itself, let me tell you! lol I experienced that just today! Your colors are looking more lively and I love that shore line….

    1. Thanks so much Margaret! I distinctly recall throwing caution to the wind during this painting as I thought I’d reached an unretrievable point of no return – after which I began to relax as I’d already written it off. Funny how as we go on – our endeavours become less about the eye and hand and more about the mind.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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