Swings and Roundabouts 

After last week’s slightly underwhelming effort of this scene of the old Bathhouse (and now a café) on Barmouth Beach, I was keen to put all that I’d learned from the experience, and from your feedback, into a new painting. As a refresher, here’s my painting from last week:

Barmouth Bathhouse week 1 full image

And here’s what I had in mind when starting afresh:

  • Strip out some of the unnecessary detail
  • I liked the sky, the foreground sand, and some of the reflections – so try to bring these to fore again
  • The boat was overworked – too fussy
  • The boat was competing with the building, so try to resolve this…

With my new blank piece of paper, I started by drawing a grid of thirds to mark the golden rule (for my first painting, I just drew it all out free-hand). In doing this, I really noticed how much of the painting’s focal point falls within a narrow band across the middle of the painting – which probably explains why the long narrow crop was the most successful from last week:

Barmouth Bathhouse week 1 narrow crop

Using the guidelines, I made sure that the boat and the building were better positioned and in better proportion to each other, the boat more obviously in the foreground. I also lost all of the (to my mind) unnecessary clutter behind and to the left of the main building and brought all of the boats with their masts closer to the building as I liked these and their reflections. I also extended the amount of water in the foreground as I thought this would allow for more reflections, and might also prevent the painting being quite so ‘narrow’ across the middle. To the right of the building, I really extended out the harbour wall to help draw the eye across the painting.

Once I had everything in place, I erased the guidelines and waited until I knew I had a couple of hours that I might be able to devote to this. I was keen to avoid the pick and mix approach that I’d had to adopt last time.

When I started painting I tried to introduce a little more colour into the sky than I’d had previously – aiming for some heavy purple-ish grey rain clouds – but ending up with some rather too obvious bits of Alazirin Crimson! From this point on, everything else became a bit of a frenzied blur as I scuttled here and there across the paper – working on one element whilst another was drying, but trying to work as broadly as possible and not fiddle. The distant hills to the right went in much paler than in the previous attempt and I was keen to get a softer lost and found feeling across the hill tops. The darker hills to the left of the building were also done much lighter in tone that I had done previously.

Everything else built up okay – ish, and I tried not to go in too dark to soon anywhere. Eventually, when I could do no more, I downed brushes and took a step back (and here’s where it would perhaps have been useful to have taken a reference photo!).

It was looking okay… but the reflections were a little too perfect and looked a bit stilted, and the transition between the foreground water to the wet sand, and the sand itself wasn’t quite as successful as I wanted it to be – especially as it had been one of my favourite elements last time round.

After a bit of consideration, I decided to glaze over this whole area with a blue / brown / grey wash. This definitely helped with the reflections, simultaneously softening and darkening them (and allowing me to scrape out just a few suggestions of movement in water’s surface), but then I think I went in too heavy with the sand, which now looks more like dirty muddy sand, rather that wet golden sand. And here’s where I decided to leave it:

Barmouth Bathhouse week 2 full image

So, considering I thought that the sky and foreground sand were the most successful elements last week, I think they’re the weakest elements this week – hence the swings and roundabouts of the title! Overall however, I think this is a much better considered and realised image. I think the composition is much stronger and some elements, the buildings, reflections, boats and masts etc are quite successful. There’s also a much greater sense of depth and recession.

Even though I think I may come back to this another day, I feel happy enough for now to leave this alone and look for another subject to paint – even though it may be another of Barmouth Beach! I’m not sure how many paintings constitute a series, but I now have two of Barmouth Beach that I’m relatively content with and am sure I’ve another image that I think would work well somewhere!

Actually, on second thoughts, I will definitely try for something different; I can’t expect everyone to share my fondness for this view!

I’ll leave you with some comparisons to compare and contrast from the past two weeks and, as ever, I’d welcome any feedback and thoughts on these paintings.

Barmouth Bathhouse week 1 full image
Barmouth Bathhouse week 2 full image
Barmouth Bathhouse week 1 narrow crop
Barmouth Bathhouse week 2 narrow crop

Thoughts on Swings and Roundabouts 

13 thoughts on “Swings and Roundabouts ”

  1. This was so interesting hearing about your process. Your work is lovely. I have to say that I prefer the painting from week 1, cropped. I like the richer, warmer colors. The second one looks washed out to me. Most here seem to like the second better, so go with your gut. Either way, both lovely.

    1. Hi Deborah and thanks so much for this. As you might have gathered, I feel I learn a great deal from tackling the same subject a few times over. Each time I seem to correct some mistakes, and make entirely new mistakes. The outcome is usually that I end up with similar, but very different paintings and there are usually elements in each that I like – and these paintings are no exception. I feel like I’m striving toowards a balance in one single painting between what I’m currently achieving across two paintings. This is usually a freedom and spontaneity in the first effort, with a greater sense of control and refinement in the second effort – which often comes at the expense of the freedom and spontaneity! I’m really looking forward to the day when I do one painting, and am sufficiently satisfied with it (I know I’ll never by totally happy with a painting!) to leave it at that and move straight on to another subject!

      1. I’m glad to hear that. I’ve been wanting to repaint some of mine too. It’s good to know that other artists find the practice worthwhile. Do you ever copy other artists, just to see if you can create the same effects they do? I know the old masters all started off like that, or so I’ve heard, copying the masterworks of their time. Maybe all artist do that. I’ve been creating what I call “studies” of painters/paintings I admire. Not exact copies but trying to capture something of the flavor and technique. Most of them have been oils, so it’s been interesting to see if I can create similar effects with watercolor that they do with oil. Anyway, I’m finding all this so fascinating as a new painter, and it’s great to hook up with others who have been doing this longer and with so much success.

        1. I’m biased but yes – for me revisiting the same subject a few times feels like it’s really paid dividends. As for using other artists for inspiration – absolutely! I started my journey trying to emulate those that I most admired – particularly Edward Seago, Edward Wesson and Rowland Hilder. I considered studying and emulating their works as a sort of apprenticeship and have only recently been pursuing my own path.

  2. I agree with you on the sand and sky, preferring the 1st over the 2nd. But I find the second composition more powerful in its simplicity. I might not crop it as the foreground sand has a distancing effect that to me compels you to look further into the painting. Well done!

    1. Thanks so much for this! I’m really pleased that you prefer the composition of the second one. As for the sand, I’m still kicking myself for going in so heavily with this! Part of me wants to have another go to see if I can bring all of the elements together in a third time lucky effort – and another part of me wants to leave it all behind me and move on! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  3. Hi John. There is a very contemporary starkness to the week 2 painting… I don’t know if this is brought about by the more muddied sand and less warmth in general but I really like it. Can’t decide between cropping or not which is unusual. Both work really well but I think my vote eventually would be week 2 cropped.

    1. Hi Sarah and thanks for this. I think you’re right on both counts. There’s something I like about the muted palette, even if I am still kicking myself about muddying the sand so much. I wonder if a brightly coloured bouy with a bit of a reflection in the foreground water might give it a welcome pop of colour? (I’m not going to try this by the way – far too risky at this stage!) Like you, I’m also a bit ambivalent about the crops, I think either could work once it had a mount round it but the narrower version would probably be the most dynamic. Thanks so much for taking the time to look and comment, I really appreciate it!

  4. Somehow I missed your post from last week….. I like how you enabled us to compare the two sets. I prefer the cropped painting, the pared down elements though I do miss that warmth in the sand. I like the subtlety of reflection in the 2nd image of the 2nd week…..but it calls for some pop and I more towards the complexity of the reflection with the warm sand because it imparts more interest. You have more patience than I because I don’t approach my painting as thoughtful as you do, I get in there and see what happens and a lot of times, it is not successful. I admire your steadfastness, that is for sure. Looking forward to the next series 🙂

    1. Thanks Margaret – I think you’re spot on with the second attempt needing a bit of pop! As for my patience and steadfastness – I’m not sure those are attributes I’m usually renowned for (unless they equate to stubborn and slightly obsessive!). When I look at the second image in it’s own, I can sort of live with it – which is much more than I can say about this first version. On that rather flimsy comparison, I suppose I have to count that as progress! It’ll be a relief to try something new for next week!

        1. Haha – what a deeply foreboding thought Margaret! Hopefully I can post something next week to elicit more cheerful thoughts! Happy painting in the meantime!

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