Watercolour reflections

It’s been a funny watercolour week. The first part was mainly tying up some loose ends and admin from the Open House. At the weekend I delivered my ‘house portrait’ that I showed last week – and was delighted by its reception! I also felt a little embarrassed to learn that it will be sharing a room with a rather stunning Eric Ravilous.

This delivery took me to a really beautiful part of the countryside, about 40 minutes drive away from Brighton. Nearby the small village of Barcombe, you can find The Anchor pub. Situated on the river Ouse, you can hire boats and have a delightful paddle upstream. It’s a beautiful way to while away a few hours and I really love the perspective of surveying the landscape from a ‘worm’s eye view’. I was with my young daughter, which added a certain element of uncertainty to the adventure, despite her lifejacket. This delightful little jaunt was to prove the inspiration for this week’s post.

This first view is of some of the boats tethered up on the mirror flat river. This is a half sheet painting and I was particularly attracted to the calmness of this scene. I thought it would also be a great opportunity paint some expansive loose and wet passages. As I was painting this, I went through various stages of ‘it’s great’ / ‘it’s a disaster’. I originally saw the reflections as a particular challenge but, in actual fact, these worked out better than most other aspects of the painting. What really irks me looking at this now, is the boats. I always knew it was going to be tricky balancing out the need portray them with a degree of accuracy, and painting them with a degree of looseness and spontaneity. I fear that in my effort to strike this balance, I achieved neither! I’m also not usually one to blame my photos (so it probably is my painting) but I can’t shake the green hue that pervades this painting!

This painting took me a while to do (especially by my impatient standards) as I was constantly having to wait for passages to dry. On the one hand, this was a good thing as it allowed me time to plan each next stage. The flipside was that some aspects became terribly laboured.

Watercolour painting by John Hawyood
Lovely day for a paddle

Contrast this with the quick sketch below. This was done plein-air, just a few minutes walk from the view of the boats. After my daughter and I came back from our boating, we sat in the shade of a tree for a few minutes and I started this quick sketch.

In many ways this was quite a challenge for me –  having to paint just what was in front of me. I also knew that the time I had on this would be short (my daughter is even more impatient than I am!) and that this would be more about the doing than what it might end up like. The view was across a field with some seated figures and some walkers. I noted the barest essentials down in pencil and then started to paint quickly and freely.

A plein air watercolour sketch by John Haywood
Quick plein air sketch

I spent about ten minutes on this before my daughter got bored with the painting that she was doing and went awol – which necessitated a hasty pack up! Back at home, I added a touch of detail and the odd highlight here and there but in total, this took less than twenty minutes. It’s not a finished painting by any means, but it has an energy and vitality about it that’s sadly lacking in the larger more time-consuming picture.

It may also be worth noting that I did this sketch on a Daler Rowney ‘The Langton’ 140lb, 12in x 9in rough watercolour block. I’ve had this one lying around for a few years now and it was just closest to hand when I packed my bag. I have to say, it was a joy to paint on. Not least because the paper is gummed down, enabling the application of very wet paint with the minimum of cockling. In the hot weather too, everything dried out very quickly which only led to even greater haste.

Speaking of haste – how’s everyone getting on with the 30×30 challenge? I must confess that much to my surprise, I’m really enjoying it. I think this can mainly be attributed to setting my expectations extremely low at the outset, and devising a manageable and containable little project. So far I’ve managed to do a miniature sky study every day. Not necessarily something worthy of bragging about but, I’m really enjoying both the discipline and the immediacy. Here are my first six skies of June…

30x30 Direct Watercolor Challenge - 30 skies of June - a watercolour project by John Haywood
30×30 Direct Watercolor Challenge – 30 skies of June

…and a closer view of the three most interesting ones…

(Detail) 30x30 Direct Watercolor Challenge - 30 skies of June - a watercolour project by John Haywood
(Detail) 30×30 Direct Watercolor Challenge – 30 skies of June

Subject to whatever the weather throws at us over the rest of the month, and me maintaining my enthusiasm, I think this has the potential to develop into a nice little series!

After initially planning this post around the watercolour reflections of the first painting (one of the more successful elements in my opinion) the main thing I’ve been left to reflect on is the need to paint with more of the immediacy and economy of these the sky studies and sketch in particular, which took minutes.

Thoughts on Watercolour reflections

17 thoughts on “Watercolour reflections”

  1. I’m not as subtle as you think, John. I’ve got no problem with your blue skies; I was just worried that you might have to face 10 days in a row of blue sky and not know how to vary it!

  2. I prefer the 1st painting – and what is wrong with green ? I also like the sky studies – they look as if they were fun to do . Perhaps something I should try……

    1. Hi Rukshana and thanks for this. You’re quite right, there’s nothing wrong with green – I just thought it was like looking at a view through a green filter and, as I was painting it, thought it had a little more variation of colour. I’m pleased however to see that this is something that seems to bother me much more than it does others! As for the skies series, yes – great fun, I can highly recommend it (so far)!

  3. Me I prefer the 1st painting and also don’t see it as ‘too green’ ! The sky studies look really interesting and also as if they were fun to do . Perhaps something to try myself….

    1. Thanks Sarah – I did originally think that to keep it pure, I should take a picture at the same time of day every day, but there was no way I was ever going to manage that!

  4. I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying the challenge. There is nothing like getting out to paint en plein air. I really like the freshness of your painting. I like your boat painting. I like the design of the boats, something calming on looking at them. I agree with your first commenter, I don’t see a unatural green cast at all. Looking forward to seeing more of your challenge. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Margaret – reallly appreciate this – especially that you don’t see too much green in the first painting. There are parts of it that I really like but I can’t shake off the ‘green-ness’ now that it’s in my head!

  5. First, heartfelt congratulations on sharing a room with Eric Ravilious – perhaps my absolute favourite. I hope you were as happy with the final version as the customer seems to have been.
    I’d say you have succeeded in your aim to capture the peace and calm of that river bend. You’ve managed to lay off the reflections at the right stage, too, before they started looking over-worked. Very restrained. Very successful. (If you want criticism, then the tree reflections do seem to have drifted downstream slightly away from the strictly vertical). The boats are fine. I wonder if “looseness and spontaneity” aren’t things that take many years of slog to achieve. I cheat when I want to look spontaneous – rarely. I paint in some very careful guidelines with almost invisibly dilute neutral paint/water and a very dry brush (or pen) and then attack with a wet loaded brush and a spontaneous flourish – hoping to stay more or less within my painting-by-numbers outline. Laborious but sometimes successful. Your boats are fine, as I say, but might benefit from the addition of a few hints of rowlocks and ropes to break up the plain forms. But what do I know?
    The green cast… I can’t really see it. The fact is we live in a green and pleasant land. If you sit down in a wet part of it, you’re not going to avoid the fact that most things are green and the things that aren’t are heading that way given time and exposure to the elements. Human intervention is the only thing that can break it up: perhaps a brand new orange boat?
    Or some colourful plastic bottles floating by?
    The sketch is also highly commendable. You’ve achieved the looseness you seem to seek, no doubt because there are no elements here that you’re not used to painting so that you already have your colour/brush/water combinations ready without having to think them through and, since they are tried and tested, they work very well. Personally, I like a bit more bravery with the greens – like an American golf broadcast – but that muted look is part of your personality and it balances well. A great sketch!
    Your first 6 days have worked well. Let’s hope you don’t have too many number 2s in the coming days (if you’ll excuse the expression) but, if there’s a heat-wave, I’d like to see some subtle colour changes in your blue washes, too!
    Finally, sorry to go on so long but (a) I’m avoiding going back to my workshop to get on with my work (b) I like the sound of my own voice (c) I don’t get to talk to people about painting very often and (d) I thought some of it might be useful.

    1. Wow, Rob, you really were avoiding going back into the workshop! Thanks so much for such a detailed response – it really is appreciated. I’m glad that you don’t see too much green in the first painting – and I think that I’ll add that the ‘muted look is part of personality’ to my CV! I tried to achieve the loose spontaneous look by sketching the boats in in pencil quite thoroughly – but then I think I tried to stick to these lines far too slavishly. Nice in a way however that these things niggle me much more than others!
      With the sketch, agree with your take on it but think that fundamentally, it was approached with such a low level of expectation. As soon as I tape up a half sheet of Arches… my expectation levels of whatever I’m painting starts to rise – and I think this instantly leads to a more cautious and guarded approach to my painting.
      As for the skies, yep, quite agree the need for more subtlety in the blues. It’s also rare for me to wish for ‘moody’ skies in June but that’s what I’m finding myself having to do! I think I need to get a few early moring and sunsets in the mix too to help vary it, otherwise it could become quite a long and monotonous month! – thanks again for your interest and comments Rob – I really do appreciate it!

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