Constructive watercolour criticism

I felt increasingly disappointed about my most recent efforts after posting last week’s blog post. I did, however, receive some well-considered, constructive and encouraging comments that really stuck with me. Initially, all I wanted to do was to move on and forget this subject. The more I mulled over the comments I’d received though, the more I felt compelled to stay with this a little longer. As a reminder, here are the efforts from last week’s post:

Version 1
Version 2

My conclusion was that the composition of this painting was its weak spot and that it lacked any real focal point. I knew that the flower stand should be the main focus, but the church provided the sense of place. After considering the comments, I decided to try this view again, honing in a little more on the flower stand, but without losing the sense of the church. I also introduced some figures for a little more interest and scale.

Watercolour painting of The Flower Stand at St. John the Baptist Church, Palmeira Square, Hove, by John Haywood
The Flower Stand

The figures are my partner and our daughter, based on some other reference photos I had of this view – although I appreciate it’d be hard to pick them out of a line up based on this painting!

I painted this pretty quickly and intuitively. After an initial loose under wash that covered the entire quarter sheet, I started adding in the darkest tones under the awnings before gradually working my way clockwise around the rest of the scene. It wasn’t planned, but it felt just right at the time, and quite exciting too.

I appreciate that it’s not one of my finest efforts, but I do like some of its qualities. There are a lot of loose wet into wet passages that allowed the pigments to really run and mix on the paper. I also softened the left-hand side of the painting where the church ends and the background buildings begin. I was also pleased to retain a looseness and not tighten up despite it being a more close up view (and being conscious of trying to take on board some of the comments).

I’m not sure that I was able to take on board every suggestion but I would like to thank everyone for their feedback and encouragement. Not just on last week’s paintings,  but for all of the comments that I’ve received about my work. It really does mean a great deal and constantly spurs me on to keep on painting.


Thoughts on Constructive watercolour criticism

19 thoughts on “Constructive watercolour criticism”

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment and yes – it did feel good to eventually arrive at a satisfactory conclusion! (Certainly not always the case!)

    1. Wow – what a wonderfully enthusiastic and flattering comment – receiving this has most certainly made my day! Thank you thank you for such kind and generous words!

  1. I can see we’ll have to watch what we say in future since you seem to have taken our comments to heart. Luckily, I think it’s produced a much better composition and a much better painting. (Now all you need is to add the tracery in the windows and pick out each flint in the wall and the nice blue clock and the the telephone box – oh, yes, and what about the flowers?!!)

    1. Haha – yes, quite so Rob – I’ll thank you watch the content of your comments in future! Seriously though it was the comments that made me stick with this so I am really grateful. I hope you’ll forgive me however for stopping short of the tracery in the windows, the flint, the blue clock, telephone box… but I do agree that some colourful flowers would be a great ‘lift’ to this but, it may have to wait until next time! Thanks again Rob – all much appreciated!

  2. Oh, this third one is definitely my favorite of the three.

    The fading out on the left balances the right, and you’ve captured the stone in the building.

    Looking at version 1 and 3, I think of 1 as being early in the morning right after setting up the flower stand and 3 as a bit later in the day when people have started to shop.

    The only thing that bothers me is the the shadows. The ones for the figures don’t seem to be at the same angle as the ones for the umbrellas. But I could be off. I know sometimes shadows in reality don’t do what I think they should even though I study a photo and that’s the way it really is.

    1. Thanks so much for this! So pleased you like this third version and it’s a great spot on the shadows – I think that they are slightly ‘off’! I painted the shadows of the people after having doing the shadows of the awnings and, in my efforts to keep them loose, I didn’t quite pay sufficient notice to how they’d work with the other shadows I’d already put in! I suppose it’d be boring if it was all really easy! – Thanks again, really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. Yeah, the last version is much more to my liking with a bit going on. I think you could make it more interesting – what about some splashes of colour – it is after all a flower stall and perhaps a few more people ( did the flowerseller slip out for a cuppa? )focused on one area if you like? I feel you need something for the viewer to engage with. How about your partner holding flowers and receiving change from the seller?

    1. Thanks so much Graham – quite agree that a bit more colour and human interest might help this even more. I think I was staying quite true to my reference photos and, in those, there was no visible colour from the flowers, and only the most vague suggestion of anyone under the canopies – the shade was just too dark to make anything out. In some ways this played in my favour – so there weren’t loads of details to get caught up in, but in other ways, it obviously limited the areas of interest. I think I need to feel a bit more confident about not just trying to represent my source photos, but to use a little more artistic licence to improve the composition or to tell a story better. Thanks for taking the time to comment Graham, and with such good advice and suggestions – all much appreciated!

  4. So interesting to see your three versions, John! I like the way you painted the people… different from before (or at least from a few months ago)… shorter legs and great colour choices and beautiful yet minimal details. The sense of sunlight in the third version is wonderful and creates a perfect mood for a flower stand. I like how you painted the church in the first version – the colours and the way they blend- but it makes me wonder how it would look in a nighttime or rainy scene… more gloomy… gothic. Always a pleasure to see your beautiful paintings and read about your explorations. 😊

    1. Hi Myriam and thanks so much for this. Really interesting that you should notice a difference in the people! I think if I’m ‘making people up’, I tend to default to a particular type of figure and posture. The figures in this painting were based on a photo, so are perhaps a little truer to life? Really pleased that you like this version though and like your thoughts on how this might look at other times of the day/night. I pass by here quite often so shall try to keep an open mind on other possibilities that this view might offer. Thanks again Myriam – really appreciate your comments!

  5. I looked back at your last weeks blog and I think that this zooming in on the flower stand and the addition of people are indeed a big improvement, John! Well Done, People are definitely a strength, for you and I agree with whoever said it looked rather unnatural when it was deserted….mind you, I love to put in people (and animals) wherever I can in my paintings, so, I may be a bit biased! I admire you for keeping going with this one, sounds like it was a great learning experience! 🙂

    1. Hi Hilda and thanks so much for this. Particularly pleased about your comment about people being a strength for me as I’ve been having a bit of a dip in confidence with painting people! I’m going to go back to the drawing board a little and spend some time just doing little doodles and studies of people to help me get more comfortable, and hopefully a little more adventurous with them! You’re quite right though, I did learn a lot from sticking with this subject – though I’m looking forward to trying something different next!

      1. It’s funny, isn’t it, how we feel bad about some aspect of our art and then, out of the blue, someone says something that totally contradicts what we thought! People are a bit of a ‘thing’ with me, I love to see the human element in artwork – I do quite a bit of portrait and figurative work, myself, so I am also quite familiar with the difficulties involved too! Can’t wait to see what you do next! 🙂

        1. Haha – well we’re notoriously our own worst critics so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by such contradicting opinions! I admire you being able to tackle portraiture – I still feel that my brushtrokes are still far too broad to be able to conjure up a specific likeness! Thanks again Hilda

    1. Hi Doug and thanks so much for this. I really appreciate it and am delighted you like this latest effort, (and yes, I’m pleased I stuck with it, even though it wasn’t what I necessarily felt like doing!)

  6. Hi John, I had just finished watching a Nick Wilton video and then opened your mail about the flower stall and your new take on the flower stall backed everything that was in Nicks video to quote “strong design comes from differences “.
    Nicholas is running a series of free videos this week about design,value and colour I think they are going to be very useful.
    I really like your work you have a great understanding of watercolour.

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

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