Overcast day at beach, St.Ives

Overcast in St Ives

Toward the end of last week I was catching up on some blogs that I’ve missed of late and came across a new post from the great watercolor artist Edo Hannema. I really enjoy Edo’s posts, partly because I respect and admire his paintings, and partly because he’s so generous with his advice and wisdom that I can only assume has been gathered over many year’s of perseverance and trial and error.

Edo’s latest post featured some you tube videos that offered some wonderfully practical advice on how to mix a number of colours that are staples in my palette – grey, raw sienna and burnt sienna. Now these three colours form the basis of so many of my paintings, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that – call me lazy – I’ve always relied on buying the tube colours. (I usually buy the 37ml tubes of ready mixed colours from the Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours range whenever my regular suppliers have a sale on!)

Well, I found Edo’s tips on how to mix these colours from others that I also have in my palette quite a revelation! Edo explains that often when using the tube sienna’s or using paynes grey or neutral tint for greys, the outcome can often become quite muddy. When however you create these colours from a mix of blue, red and yellow – the colours are much more vibrant and transparent. The videos clearly demonstrate this difference – and Edo explains why this is the case – but I was keen to put his theories to the test!

Here are Edo’s videos so you don’t have to go scrabbling around YouTube for them (although I would recommend subscribing to Edo’s channel so you don’t miss out on any future gems!)

Mixing greys:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLrfhpd7meo&w=560&h=315]

Mixing Siennas:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Jk-If72ODo&w=560&h=315]

I came across some photos that I took a couple of years ago whilst on holiday in Cornwall that I’ve long been intending to paint but have put off for various reasons, the main one being the quality of light. The Cornish town of St.Ives may be famed for it’s unique quality of light that has attracted artists and art lovers throughout history – but it can also do a pretty good take on the drizzly, mizzly and overcast too! In addition to the poor light, was the subject matter and composition. I saw that it had potential, and particulary liked the criss crossing of the all the boat masts, but didn’t know how best to simplify the scene. I was also nervous about tackling the foreground beach area of wet pools of water and exposed areas of sand.

With Edo’s colour mixes playing in my mind though, this subject called out to me as the perfect testing ground.

Here’s my first interpretation of the scene, looking out to sea at low tide from St.Ives harbour:

Overcast day on the beach, St Ives
Overcast day on the beach, St Ives

First I washed in the sky (using a mix of ultramarine, winsor yellow and winsor red for the sky). I then quickly carried this wash down into the foreground areas, adding in the raw and burnt sienna mixes very wet into wet. I then added in more of the sienna mixes to strengthen the areas of sand. As this was drying (but before it was fixed) I splashed on droplets of water from a fan brush to create some texture and movement. Once this was all dry, I had to add some more of the burnt and raw sienna mix into the sand areas. This may sound all planned now, but as I was painting it, I was all over the place!

Once this was dry, I was able to put in the background hills, harbour walls, etc, working my way forward until tackling the foreground boats and their shadows and reflections. I liked that I’d managed to simplify a lot of the background details, the distant houses and the boats in Β front of the harbour wall etc, bit on completing this, I didn’t feel at all convinced by it as a painting. I was, however, increasingly convinced by the potential of the composition.

I decided to do the same scene again but this time with a slightly different approach. This time I altered the composition slightly, mainly to reduce the sky which I didn’t think was doing as much ‘work’ in the first version as the foreground was. Β I also wanted to try to paint it differently. On this occasion I started with thin strip of sea and then added in the sienna’s only for the foreground. Only when this was all dry did I then add in the sky and then foreground water / wet areas. Around this point, this version started to go astray! Although I quite like the background areas, I had to really battle the foreground. What I would say, is that creating my own greys and sienna’s seemed to allow me to really build up the foreground areas whilst retaining a sense of transparency.

Overcast day on St.Ives beach (take two)
Overcast day on St.Ives beach (take two)

Another major hiccup with this painting was the boat on the right. I placed it far too low in the painting, and originally had it far too small, so it really skewed the perspective of the whole painting. Sadly, I only realised this when I thought I’d finished it! This meant a lot of ‘post-production’ work to desperately try to rectify it! I had to increase the size of it considerably and it ended up being overworked.

As I was doing this, I felt the painting generally lacked a certain bit of oomph, so I went in much stronger in the foreground area as a way of leading into the painting, and to creating a much greater sense of ‘wet’. This seemed to really helped to pull it all together.

The funny thing is that by doing the second one, it made me appreciate the first one all the more!

Whilst there are elements I like in both paintings, the first one is, to me, the stronger of the two. I now really like the texture in the foreground that seems to reflect a movement in the sky. I think that each of them is successful and that it’s primarily because of the vibrancy and transparency of the washes that have been used. I’m sure that, had I used the equivalent tube colours, the whole painting would have felt much muddier.

I really encourage any other painters out there to check out Edo’s videos and then to try them out for themselves! Personally speaking, I think that these two short videos will have a quite profound impact on my paintings so, thanks very much Edo!



Thoughts on Overcast in St Ives

15 thoughts on “Overcast in St Ives”

  1. Ahhh… St Ives??? πŸ™‚ Trencrome and Rosewall Hills above the town have been two of my favourite photography locations! Now looking at my own images and seeing the possibilities as locations to sketch and paint! πŸ™‚ Once again, beautiful work, John! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks so much Russell – if you live anywhere in that part of the world you’re spoilt for subject matter! I only wish I’d have experienced a bit more of the light for which St Ives is renowned for!

      1. Hi John. I am not that fortunate to live in that area… yet! πŸ™‚ Each time my wife and I come to choose somewhere to go for our holiday, we seem to always choose Cornwall. I will definitely be looking as a location now to attempt some alternative image making? πŸ™‚

        1. I can quite understand why you and your wife keep being drawn back to Cornwall, it’s a very beautiful part of the world – and quite rightly a desirable place to live too!

  2. Pingback: Shades of Grey

  3. I love both of these paintings. My favourite to date. I like the foreground texture of the first but there is a glowing warmth in the second. I’d be happy with either of these versions.

    1. Wow, thanks Sarah, really pleased that you like both of them! I think the second one is growing on me, especially the foreground area. I daresay one or both of these will make it into the Knoyle House pile of possibilities! Don’t know about you but it’s suddenly beginning to feel quite close now!?

  4. John, thank you so much John. So happy to see you are experimenting with colors this way.
    Its true I like to share what I know and learned along the way, sometimes this are just little things you never thought off cause they are so simple and obvious, and sometimes you just have to know and give trough. My luck was I found a teacher, a Dutch watercolor master that gave me some wonderful advice. I could paint all ready in 2010, but from there I began to realize what I have to do to make a painting successful. Well you know the blog of Kess van Aalst, and his lessons, also Kees is very generous with his knowledge.
    Thank you so much for this article I very much enjoyed it!

    1. Thanks so much for this Edo, really pleased you enjoyed this! I do also follow Kees’ blog and find his advice and comments really helpful too – how lucky you were to have had him as teacher! I’m already considering what my next subject will be but am really excited at the prospect of continuing to develop these colour mixes and becoming more fluent and fluid with them!!

  5. I think I’ve told you this before, but I really like learning about how your mind works when you are painting. I can see how valuable the mixing would be for you, especially when you’re working with subtle colors and want to avoid the muddiness. I was glad when I got to the part where you said the second one was your favorite. I felt instantly that I liked it better, though I don’t know why. It’s just a feel. Maybe it’s the sky and foreground. And I, too, like the masts. Thanks so much for taking me through the work that yielded these.

    1. Thanks so much for this Kathy. I also find it really helpful to write these posts as it makes me reflect on each painting, what I like, what I don’t like, what I think I’ve learnt etc, and it’s a tremendous bonus (not to mention a lift to the spirits!) if someone else also gets something from them! Thanks so much for taking the time to read, and comment – I really appreciate it.

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

Shopping Basket

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.