Watercolour comfort painting

With only nine days to go until the opening of our Park Gate Collective artists open house things are beginning to come together. The weekend was largely spent cutting yet more mounts, getting frames ready and whitewashing walls.

I took the measurements for ‘my’ wall and did a quick 1:100 scale mock-up of the space and the obstacles that I need to navigate, such a light switch and wall lights. I also cut cards to the scaled size of the frames that I’ll be hanging which makes it really easy to move things around and try out different formations and groupings of works. I want to strike a balance between having enough works on display to do myself justice without overcrowding, erring on the side of a less is more approach. I also want to show a mix of sizes and a mix of landscape and portrait formats.

Now this could well rank as the dullest photograph on the internet but I thought I’d show it anyway as it’s an invaluable time saver.

The hanging plan

The dotted line across the middle is drawn at five feet five inches from the floor, which is (or was about 15 years ago when I worked in a major London gallery) the average UK eye line height. Where possible I’ve centred my paintings along the eye line. For two of the smaller works, there are light fittings above them, so I’ll have to show them lower than I’d ideally like.

I also made a ‘jig’ last week that will enable me to quickly mark out exactly where each hook needs to be to hang each painting on the centre line whatever its size and format. It’s one of those things that is again really dull, but should be a real time saver. It’s also even less photogenic than this scale mock-up, but maybe I’ll try to get a photo of it ‘in action’ to give it some context.

As long as my measurements are accurate, using my hanging plan and my hook jiggy-mi-thingy it should be pretty straightforward to get my works up when the time comes.

It terms of exactly what I’m going to hang, here’s my current thinking for the three smaller works (quarter imperial in 40cm x 50cm frames):

And for the three central larger works (half imperial in 50cm x 70cm frames):

I think that these six should work well together and they represent where I’ve enjoyed spending time recently: Brighton, London, Barcelona and Dieppe. I’m also pleased that they are all recent works, with the oldest one being from about six months ago, and the most recent only a week ago.

On top of these framed paintings, I’ll also have a browser or two with lots of other works (mounted but unframed) for people to leaf through at their leisure. There’s still lots to do, but with nine days still to go, it feels good to have my choice of works and hang almost set in my mind.

With so much going on outside of doing any actual painting, I sought refuge in some quick ‘comfort painting’. I’m not sure if this is a known term but, for me, it’s the painting equivalent of comfort food: something familiar, heart-warming and satisfying. I returned to one of my favourite views of Paris, a contre-jour view of the Pont Alexandre III. I’ve painted this a number of times before and, each time, the results have been distinctly different.

A watercolour painting of figures and shadows on the Pont Alexandre III Bridge, Paris, by John Haywood
Crossing Le Pont Alexandre III, Paris

I think it’s been a year or so since I last painted this view and I like to think that I’ve been able to bring some of the things that I’ve learnt about painting in that time to this scene. If I were to characterise the differences from my previous efforts, it would be a greater overall sensitivity of treatment – a lighter handling of tone and colour and more economical and delicate brushwork.

It felt nice to squeeze some time to paint in amongst all of the preparations, even if it was only comfort painting. And who knows, this one might yet make a late entry to the exhibition in some shape or form!

Thoughts on Watercolour comfort painting

18 thoughts on “Watercolour comfort painting”

  1. I just happened upon your site after putting “watercolor” into the WordPress ‘search’. So glad to have found it……..I LOVE your work!! I especially love that Paris painting……….the sky and your use of light there and the shadow of the 3 figures walking is fantastic! Very inspiring to someone like me who dabbles here and there with sketching and watercolors. 🙂

    1. Hi Teresa – I’m so pleased that you stumbled across my site and thanks so much for following and for your very kind comments about my work, I really appreciate it!

  2. Oh, that is fabulous. I absolutely love it.

    I am sitting here studying it, analyzing it to see exactly what you did to execute the effect.

    If I wasn’t half a world away and broke I would go to your show and buy that “comfort” painting.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind and generous comments – I’m delighted by your reaction to this one and only wish that you were nearer and richer (much as I often wish for myself to be honest!). This one is mounted and packaged ready for display in a browser so hopefully it’ll have the same effect on someone else too! Thanks so much – has made my day!

  3. Lovely work, John – Best wishes with your exhibition. I hope you get all the appreciation you deserve!! I hear you about ‘comfort painting’ It’s the best!! I think we all need to just get in ‘the zone’ for a while when other stuff is busily eating our art time! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Hilda and I’ll obviously let you know how the exhibition goes. So pleased that the comfort painting resonates with you too! Here’s to much more of it!

    1. Thanks so much for this – so pleased that the approach to hanging is helpful! So pleased too that you like the ‘comfort painting’!

  4. A frightening level of forethought and sensible planning! Well done! It can’t really fail… unless, of course, you get Japanese visitors; the Japanese can spot a ghost because it has no feet.

    1. Many thanks, Rob – although in my experience, no matter how good or well thought out the planning, there’s still plenty that can go wrong and I’m sure that this venture won’t be an exception! Appreciate too you comment about footless ghosts, gives me an idea about a completely untapped market for my work!

  5. I’m really impressed by your professionalism – I’ve exhibited for years and just hung/situated everything by eye ! Now that I’m doing more 2d I’ll take note of your techniques . I think your choice & spacing of works is also good . I’ve been in enough art spaces where large numbers of small works are crowded in together so that one can’t look properly .

    1. Hi Rukshana and thanks so much for your kind words, much appreciated and I hope that some of the hanging tips come in handy. To be honest, its really nice to be able to put into practice some of the things that I picked up a long time ago working in a gallery into my own personal endeavours! (I’m also always willing to take on new ideas and advice so please do let me know if you have any tips of your own!)

  6. Hi John,

    I like the subjects you have selected. Rather John Yardley like.

    If I could make a comment without causing offence I see a lot of your pictures tend to have a lot of greys which can make things look a bit flat. I wonder if you are using Paynes Grey, which I know is recommended by one well known author but his pictures always look a bit flat to me. You don’t see much grey in Yardley or Wesson pictures. Hope this comment is helpful. If not just ignore it!


    1. Hi Mike and many thanks for your comments. Really pleased that you like the choice of images for the hang, and thanks too for the observation about the greys. I did used to use paynes grey, again on the recommendation of someone that used it to much better effect than I ever managed! I then switched to neutral tint, which I much preferred (especially when mixed with cerulean blue), and more recently, I’ve been mixing my greys using a combination of blue, red and yellow. I really like making these mixes as I feel I’m learning a lot from making them. I do know what you mean about Yardley and Wesson though, their paintings are often characterised by a freshness and purity of colour. I think some of this comes down to personal choices – on this particular painting, my reference photo is quite monochromatic and I liked that the greys tied the painting together and give it a unity. I think if it does look flat, this could be down to my own limitations, rather than the grey itself. I also think that I’m still exploring so much about what my limited palette is really capable of. Lot’s to think about though! Thanks so much for your interest Mike, I really appreciate it and these thoughts will undoubtedly be ringing in my mind when I embark on my next painting!

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

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