Watercolour painting of a sunny morning on Regent Street, London by John Haywood

At last – a WIP watercolour post!

After so many good but ultimately futile intentions to track a painting’s development – I finally remembered to take some work in progress (WIP) photos as I went along!

My subject also marks a departure from my recent plethora of Barcelona images, and a change of format too. I don’t know why but most of my paintings for some time now have been portrait format, so moving to a landscape format felt quite strange.

The view is looking up Regent Street in central London. I had to be London earlier this year for work so took the opportunity to arrive super early and take a stroll through the city centre in the hope I’d get some good photos (and to have a little reminisce of the fun I had during the decade or so I lived there!)

There was a strong morning light which created some wonderful shadows that really emphasised the beautiful grandeur and sweeping curves of Regent Street.

So without further delay – here’s how I got on!

WIP 1 – the outline sketch

This outline is a little more detailed than usual but I was keen to ensure that my perspective, and particularly the elliptical curves of the buildings and shadows were accurate.

WIP 2 the first wash

Early days I know but I was really pleased after this first wash!

WIP 3 – the second wash

Steady progress and still feeling okay. Notable too for my first take on not just one, but two London buses!

WIP 4 – shadow across the road

Strengthening the foreground and splashing on some water for a bit of texture.

WIP 5 adding some suggestion of architectural detail on the left hand side

Beginning now to add in some details to suggest the architecture.

WIP 6 adding the sky,  figures, and details like the lampost, traffic lights etc

Adding in the sky was felt like a dramatic game changer. I usually start paintings with the sky but I recalled watching a Herman Pekel dvd where he was suggesting that if it wasn’t ‘a sky painting’ – ie the sky wasn’t a major feature, that I could be washed in later to match the key elements. I’ve not really worked this way round but I think in worked on this occasion and I’ll definitely be asking myself in future what role the does sky play, how important is it and when would be the best time to tackle it?

At this stage I was still pretty happy with the overall feel, but thought that the foreground was a little too pale, especially near the figures on the left hand side.

WIP 7 – a wash too far? strengthening the foreground

After deciding to lay another deeper tone across the foreground, I think I slightly killed off some the painting’s vibrancy. I think this was either a wash too far, or just the wrong wash as it introduced a much more opaque, muddier feel to the foreground. It also signalled to me that it was time to stop, before I did anymore damage!

Sunny Morning on Regent Street, London

For a change of scene, I really enjoyed working on this painting. I felt that I was learning a lot as I went along, not perhaps in the grand scheme of things but in the ‘if I was doing this again…’ scheme of things. So much so that I’ve already started another take of this painting that I’ll hopefully show next week.

With my second effort, I’m trying to complete it more quickly, with fewer washes and to try to retain some of the colour and vibrancy of the underwash. I’ve done a first and second wash and am ready to start moving into some of the detail. Still plenty of time for it to go completely wrong and I’m hoping that previewing it in this way isn’t going to jinx it!

I’ve also been keeping some WIP photos of this one too so hopefully I’ll have something to compare and contrast in next week’s post!

Thoughts on At last – a WIP watercolour post!

19 thoughts on “At last – a WIP watercolour post!”

  1. Pingback: Another work in progress watercolour sequence –

  2. Hi John. My first response to one of your posts and I’m going to be controversial. I should say I’ve been painting watercolour for almost as long as I can remember – well, about two months, actually – so don’t pay too much attention to what I say.
    The drawing is really good with crisp flowing lines and good architectural detail and this is hugely enhanced by the first wash, which is a tremendous success. Here you’ve captured the bounce of bright light off the buildings opposite in that lovely golden glow where the dark meets the bright sun on the left-hand buildings. My advice is almost to stop there. As soon as you start adding further washes and splashing in texture you lose the great detailing you started with and in reality the eye does pick up that detail even when the area appears so dark compared to the sunlit parts. When you obfuscate everything it ends up like an old b & w photo where the shadow area is terribly underexposed and all the information disappears. I agree you need a different kind of light in that area but not no light at all. Got that off my chest. Now just to add that I really enjoy reading about your struggles with the medium. Thanks for the blog.

    1. Hi Rob and many thanks for this – I really appreciate you taking the time to comment! I think you’re quite right about that first wash stage – it has a certain quality about it that gets eroded with each subsequent wash! I’m actually beginning to think that there are two different approaches to this view that could both be successful – one leaving it at the first wash stage as you suggest, the other carrying on and building up more strength, but just doing a better job of it than I have here! (I must confess to a bias on this second approach because I’ve already tried it out and shall be posting it out here tomorrow so hope you’ll be able to check back in and have a look. I fear it may still be too dark for your preference compared to the ‘first wash’ stage, but I think it’s definitely an improvement. Sadly, knowing when to stop tinkering is a skill that I’m still grappling to come to terms with! Thanks so much for your comment, and hope you’re able to pop back sometime to see the next installment on this one!

  3. Great to see your WIP, John – really interesting. And I think you did a great job with this really tricky motive. I like the dark shades on the left adding some “mystery”. It would be interesting to know the size of your watercolor.

    1. Thanks Carsten – this is relatively small at a quarter sheet size (can’t remember the exact dimensions but am sure you know what I mean!). If the next one that I’m working on now works out, I might try to upsize this view to a half sheet.

      1. I just wanted to get an idea about the size. Do you prefer painting smaller sizes, John? I like both – painting small formats and full-sheets, but mostly I like my results better in the smaller sizes. It depends on practice I guess.

        1. I think I’ve just become used to painting quarter sheets. I think at the back of my mind is also that I feel these smaller ones are more viable in terms of selling. A generously mounted and framed half sheet still seems like a big commitment for someone to purchase! On another level, I can’t help but think that I’m less bothered when a smaller painting goes totally wrong than a larger one! Silly really and even writing this makes me think that whatever I paint next, it needs to be bigger! Thanks for the nudge Carsten – I really appreciate it!

          1. Oh, I never thought of selling terms when painting … but it is probably right that a quarter sheet seems more affordable to some people. On the other hand most shows here do not accept artwork smaller than a half-sheet. Not too long ago I did only paint into cheap sketchbooks because I was afraid to mess up some expensive paper, but now after a while I don´t care anymore because when I think I could fail I will fail. This is probably the most important thing I learned about painting watercolors. I am looking forward to see some “big ones” from you, John! Happy painting!

          2. Thanks for this Carsten and your comment on preferred size for exhibitions is really interesting. I’m thinking of submitting more work to competitions in the year ahead so will bear this in mind! Much more of my work is on quarter sheet but this is based less of cost of paper etc, but more on the sense that a framed half sheet takes up a lot of space, often requiring an entire wall – so I alway think it’s such a big investment on behalf of the buyer! I will however try to balance out things out a bit more between the quarter and half sheet sizes so thanks very much for the prompt – I’ll hopefully have something bigger to show soon!

          3. You are welcome, John! Can´t wait to see a larger format artwork from you. I am thinking about painting a piece for the Fabriano 2018. I am not sure if I feel good enough for submitting my work for exhibitions already… on the other hand: there is nothing to loose. Happy painting! 🙂

          4. Ooh, I’m not familiar with the Fabriano 2018? There are a few primarily UK competitions that have accompanying exhibitions. Like you, I’m not sure if my work is entirely there yet but I’ve also got nothing to lose! I’ve already done a new half sheet that I enjoyed painting and am hoping to have time to do another improved version over the weekend. Thanks so much for the prompt to work larger – I’m really enjoying breaking out my big brushes!

          5. Thanks so much Carsten – I’ll take a look at this later! I’m already feeling a bit daunted by the ‘international’ aspect! Sounds like there’ll be huge competition but, as you say, we have nothing to lose! 😁

    1. Hi Evelyn and many thanks for this. Like you I also get a lot from seeing how others create their work, what order they do things in etc so it’s nice to be able to share my own process once in a while (though I don’t consider this any masterpiece!) thanks so much Evelyn – much appreciated

  4. Well done, I like Herman’s advise on the sky. I know how you feel about that last wash across the bottom, have done it many times. Must remember those famous words at the end of the painting “I’ll just do one more thing”.

    1. Haha thanks Joe and yes – the old ‘I’ll just do one more…. arrrggghhh what have I done’ moments that has been my downfall so many times! Hopefully I’ve got the washes right first time round on the version I’m working on now (still no guarantee that I won’t ruin it in some other way though!) – thanks Joe – much appreciated

  5. I really enjoyed readig this post! It was interesting to follow the work as it went along. Look forward to see another paniting from the same street.
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Randi and many thanks for this – really pleased that you like the work in progress photos and I look forward to sharing the next one (especially if I’m able to improve on this version!) – Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s much appreciated!

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