Watercolour painting of the harbour front at Dieppe in Normandy by John Haywood

Cropping a watercolour from the jaws of disaster!

After last week’s effort, I was keen to tackle the same view again but to iron out some of the creases while replicating all of my favourite elements:

Watercolour painting of the harbour front at Dieppe by John Haywood
Last week week’s effort of the harbour front at Dieppe, Normandy

My main aim was to introduce a little more subtlety, in particular to the buildings on the right. When I started to draw this out again, I also tweaked the proportions of the key elements, such as the size of the fountain in relation to the buildings etc. Once I’d sketched it all out, I put in the first wash over the entire sheet, reserving just a few whites of paper for the fountain and a few highlights here and there.

The second wash started at the rooftops, gradually working along the main building behind the fountain, being careful to leave plenty of space for the trees and the fountain, before moving onto the buildings on the right-hand side.

Once this was done, I put a wash in across the entire foreground, weak at the top and getting stronger towards the bottom of the painting.

For all of this, painting so far, I used a very large size 18 Escoda synthetic mop brush. I’ve been really enjoying using this brush as it allows me to establish all of the main shapes quickly without fuss and with lots of water and pigment into which I can then continue dropping in more localised spots of colour whilst everything is still wet.

For the next steps, when I started working on smaller individual elements such as the background trees and I downsized to smaller brushes. Still using my preferred mop brushes but now sizes in sizes 4 and, in some instances, a size 2.

For the dry brush work in and around the fountain, I changed brushes again, this time to a size 8 sable. The sable is stiffer than the mop brush and, combined with the roughness of paper, makes it much easier to achieve the broken edges and dry brushstrokes that I was looking for to try to capture the sense of the fountain. I also used the sable brush for all of the figure work too – again for the control it provides on these more detailed elements.

Standing back, I felt that the main background building was too blue, so I washed in a grey over the rooftops, and diluted this as it ran down over the front of the building area. This did, I think, help to neutralise the blue which had previously been a little overpowering (even though it doesn’t show up particularly well in these photos!)

With the painting almost complete, and in my mind progressing quite well – I decided to strengthen the tone in the foreground area, before finishing off with the shadows that I hoped would really help bring the sense of light to life.

Based on the reference photos I was working from, the sun was high in the sky, and quite central too, so the shadows were quite short and radiated outwards. Often, I’m painting with the sun lower in the sky, and perhaps to one side, or directly behind a subject, so the shadows are longer and tend to all be in a similar direction. Ultimately, the very first shadow I painted was far too long and the more I tried to create the sense of shadows radiating out from a single source of light – the more they appeared to be heading off in all sorts of different directions!  As these were, supposedly my final brushstrokes – I was feeling pretty disheartened and dejected that I’d fallen at the final hurdle!

After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity, it was actually my partner who – obviously sensing my mounting despair – suggested looking for a crop within the painting. After trying a couple of options, I finally settled on cropping out the main foreground shadows. These were the most dominant shadows that seemed most out of kilter with the other shadows, which although still incorrect, were passable at a glance. Fortuitously, I actually think that this ‘rescue’ crop creates a much more pleasing horizontal composition that suits this painting much better than what I’d originally intended. It also meant that I didn’t have to tear out what little hair I have left in sheer frustration of wasted time and effort! To my tremendous relief, and with some hope salvaged, I finished off with just a couple of highlights of white gouache on a few of the figures and a tiny amount on of the fountain too.

Watercolour painting of the harbour front at Dieppe in Normandy by John Haywood
The harbour front, Dieppe, Normandy

So although not necessarily a roaring success, it turned out better than it might have at one stage! The fountain turned out okay again, and I prefer some of the right-hand background buildings (although not the main background building!) than in my first effort. I’m a little disappointed with some of the figures and think I’ll need to do some dedicated figure studies over the coming weeks and months to raise this aspect of my painting.

In other news…

As a slight aside, the first week of the new year also marked the passing of another minor milestone when my Instagram page racked up its 1,000th follower!

The moment of the 1k Instagram followers milestone

It doesn’t seem like that long ago since I put my first post on Instagram even though it was in May 2015! With only 91 posts to my name, I’m far from prolific on Instagram – or anywhere else for that matter – but I do enjoy its immediacy and I’ve found it really helpful as a means of broadening my watercolour horizons and to see the work of so many other painters. Most importantly, I also find it really valuable for getting comments and feedback on my work. As I say on my homepage, while I can be found on various other platforms, this brushes with watercolour site is where I call home – and where I share much more about my work, thoughts and processes, my faltering steps forwards and my stumbling steps backwards. Passing the 1K threshold however just seemed like one of those milestones that I shouldn’t let pass without some form of mention! So, upwards and onwards, next step – 1,001 followers and hopefully, a disaster-free next painting!

Thoughts on Cropping a watercolour from the jaws of disaster!

9 thoughts on “Cropping a watercolour from the jaws of disaster!”

  1. Pingback: Bad watercolour news. Good watercolour news. –

    1. Thanks Al – i do usually spend quite a bit of time thinking about the composition ahead of drawing out – so that I’m not cropping at the end – however on this occasion the last minute edit was definitely a painting saver! Maybe I should try looking at alternative crops after I’ve finished every painting!?

    1. Thanks so much Hugo – sometimes I remember to take photos as I go, other times I just get too excited and carried away! I’d gladly swap my detailed descriptions for just a little of your draughtsmanship skills! All the best for 2018 – I look forward to following your adventures again!

    1. haha, yes – thanks Evelyn – it was a good idea! I think it was partly born out of self-interest as I think she could foresee me being in gloomy mood for the rest of the weekend unless I was able to salvage something from the venture!

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