Sketching back to happiness…

As some readers may have noticed, in recent week’s my metaphorical painting head has dropped a little bit as I’ve struggled to find my form. My paintings have felt more like a struggle in which I’ve been battling against paint, paper and brushes rather than me working harmoniously with them.

As the last time I was feeling really upbeat about painting was about a month or so ago, with my holiday sketches, I thought that I’d spend a little more time sketching to see if this may help to lift my spirits. Another thing that I’ve been reflecting on over the past week or two is my choice of paper.

Quite some time ago I moved from Saunders Waterford rough to Arches rough – declaring at the time I seem to recall that I’d finally ‘found my perfect paper’. I suppose it must be almost a year on now and what’s interesting as I look back, is that the paintings I like most from the past 18 months, were actually painted on Saunders Waterford, not Arches. I’m thinking that I might order myself a new pack of Saunders Waterford and try out a few paintings in which I paint the same view twice, one on Saunders and one on Arches just so I can make a more like for like comparison.

f=””> A sheet of Saunders Waterford rough (top) and a sheet of Arches rough.[/capt
If anyone else has any thoughts or experience on these two papers, I’d love to hear them. Another part of me is also mindful that in these times of dissatisfaction with my painting, it’s sometimes easier to blame my tools than it is to blame myself!

This focus on paper has been heightened by my recent sketchbook work. Most recently, I’ve been buying my sketchbooks from the wonderful Abergavenny Art Shop (I bought a couple more when I visited Wales for the ‘washout weekend‘). The brand name is Arboreta but there’s precious little info about them on their website. I was discussing with one of the Abergavenny Art Shop team how much I like the sketchbooks and couldn’t understand why they were so much cheaper than comparable pads for Arches and Saunders etc. The explanation I was given is that the paper in the Arboreta sketchbooks I’ve been buying is made from wood pulp not cotton, as I believe Arches and Saunders is. This would explain the differences in both cost and behaviour. It also made me think that, if my memory serves me correctly, the Saunders Waterford behaves a little more like my sketchbook paper than the Arches does.

But enough talk of paper here’s how I got on in the sketchbook.

This view is in Brighton’s Wild Park, looking towards Clare’s Café. I was cycling past the entrance to the park the other day and something about the light really attracted me to have a closer look.

Watercolour sketch of Wild Park, Brighton, looking toward's Clare's cafe by John Haywood
Watercolour sketch of Wild Park, Brighton, looking toward’s Clare’s cafe

It’s only now as I’m writing this and getting the link to the café’s Facebook page that I see that my viewpoint for this painting is almost exactly the same as the photo in their profile shot. Anyway, this was painted quickly and freely and I was quite heartened by it.

This painting was followed by a scouring of my archives for some more subject matter. I came across this view, looking towards a small French town, in my photos from last year’s camping trip and the light catching the rooftops as the sun went down was really stunning.

Watercolour sketch of the sun going down on a small town in France by John Haywood
Watercolour sketch of the sun going down on a small town in France

Not sure I captured it entirely in this painting but again, I felt I was painting with a freedom and fluidity that’s been sorely missing. Feeling even more encouraged, next on my list was a much more challenging and detailed view looking across London’s Trafalgar Square:

Watercolour sketch, Trafalgar Square, London by John Haywood
Watercolour sketch, Trafalgar Square, London

I’m really pleased with this sketch. It’s far from perfect but it has a spirit about it! I managed in the main to keep it loose and to let the paint lead the way, and I managed to stop before I got too tight and picky! Considering it’s painted in an A4 sketchbook I think it conveys some of the scale and grandeur of the view and captures a particular atmosphere.

Compared to how I’ve been feeling about my efforts of late, these three sketches alone have helped to raise my spirits quite considerably. Who knows what might happen next!?

Now I’m sure that my more, erm, ‘established’ readers may have noticed by cunning play on words in the title of this post, so I hope you’ll also appreciate being reminded of the brilliance of Helen Shapiro’s  version of ‘Walking back to happiness’ – and for my less ‘well established’ readers, here’s a treat from the 60s.


Thoughts on Sketching back to happiness…

21 thoughts on “Sketching back to happiness…”

  1. Like paint and brushes, paper is an individual thing. You can’t explain feel. Often you can’t explain preference, just that you like this one more than that.

    Like paint and brushes sometimes you have to experiment with different paper until you find your fit. I think Saunders rough is yours. For me, it’s Arches. So much so that I make my own sketchbooks out of it so that there is no different feel or behavior between my sketchbooks and my paintings. I don’t have to adjust for anything.

    I started with my childhood Pelikan paints which I still like as they are familiar to me having used them for decades. I tried Schmincke half pans, which were OK. I also have a set of Winsor and Newton half and whole pans, which are also OK. I lovelovelove their giant large pans, the ones in ceramic that are discontinued. I have some artist grade Rowney in the small pocket palette that I like as well. But I use Daniel Smith almost exclusively. I make my own pans as I prefer to rewet rather than use straight from the tube. For brushes, I have some Arches mops I love. They are sadly discontinued. I love my Tintorettos. I have some Cheap Joe’s Legend I am just starting to use. I have synthetic Connoisseur that were my first and I still like them for certain things. I also just picked up some Richeson Quiller synthetic brushes that are pretty nice. I love my Rosemary and don’t care much for Isabey.

    To each their own. There are no rules. I’ve tried Fabriano and Stonehenge papers on recommendations from workshop artists and didn’t care for either. I keep coming back to Arches and I do like the white. I have rough, cold pressed and hot pressed and I usually work in cold. It’s the one I am most familiar with.

    You’ve found your paper in Saunders. But you know the Arches well enough that if the need arises to use it for some purpose, you know how it behaves.

    I recently saw Saunders offered online and looked into it but the shipping is quite pricey. I still might give it a try.

    All three of your sketches are really nice this week. I really can’t decide which one I like best. The fields in the first two are wonderful, but I also like the people in Trafalgar square.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks so much for this – I think there’s a few morals that can be taken for our combined experiences! There isn’t ever only one paper, one brush, one manufacturer of paints that is best for everyone! We all have to try things out and experiment a little to work out what’s best for each of us to carry with us on our adventures! Great that you’ve found your paper in Arches (If we didn’t live so far away, I’d send you over what I’ve got left!)

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  3. I don’t know if it helps but John Yardley, in his book, comments that when switching from Bockingford to Arches paper he had a period when his paintings did not work until he adjusted the strength of the paint.

    Personally I find Saunders Waterford more to my liking than Arches. I think the quality of the two is not very different but Saunders Waterford is produced in Britain which I regard as a plus point. I also like ‘The Langton’ paper although this is not a 100% cotton paper.

    1. Hi Michael and many thanks for this which is really interesting. Do you know if John Yardley favours one over the other? When I first switched to the Arches it was the surface, which to me seemed to have a slightly rougher surface, and the brightness of the paper that really attracted me to it. I think however that the sizing on the papers is quite different and I seem to recall that my paint stayed ‘alive’ on the Saunders for a little longer than on the Arches. I’ve just received a new batch of Saunders Waterford, and this time I’ve ordered the ‘high white’ version which I’ve not used before. Hopefully being able to try the two papers out side by side will be helpful! Many thanks for getting in touch Michael, I really appreciate it (and if you have any tips on emulating the greatness of John Yardley, please do let me know!)

  4. I am so glad to hear that you are feeling better about your art. That is so wonderful. John, you have a gift, so just keep enjoying. I liked all three sketches, but for me to the last London sketch really seemed to evoke a warm, happy spirit.

    However, I must say that I am only seeing your work via the photographs you take of your paintings. I can only imagine the feel of your originals.

    Thanks for sharing your new sketches. And again I am so happy that you are happy with your work.

    1. Hi Tim and thanks so much for this. I imagine these little lulls affect any of us that are pursueing creative goals or endeavours (I just wish they wouldn’t come around so frequently!). The good thing is that I’m increasingly able to see them for what they are, in a way, they’re an essential part of the process. At one point, they may have stopped me in my tracks, but now I feel I have enough momentum to keep on painting through them until I come out of other side! Thanks so much Tim

      1. I get the same type of things regarding my photography. Sometimes I take these photos, and I think they’ll be awesome. Then I get back and start tearing into them in my photo processing software (darkrooms no more), and I think, “What were you even trying to get here?”

        My workaround is just trying to stay relaxed and enjoy my subject matter. Like you, I am trying to convey some quality in a scene, so if I just relax and let myself be absorbed into my subject, things usually work out. For me, taking time to just “be in the moment” (which is much easier said than done) really helps the creative vision. The longer I am at a place, the better my works becomes. So if I don’t have a lot of time, I just see what I get. Sometimes good things; sometimes not. But we learn from our mistakes.

  5. I really like your sketches, the last two in particular and I am leaning towards the square as a favorite. Though when I look at the French town, I am torn. I am wondering if your sketches are freer because of the idea of the lack of paper quality. I work on at least 5 different brands of paper and they all have their appeal depending what I am after. Though of late I have been working more with Arches. I have yet to chose my favorite. Anyway, I am surrounded that you will find your way. If it helps, I have found that it is a struggle but it gets better every day. By the way, your video didn’t work for me. Cheers!

    1. Hi Margaret and thanks for this – I don’t know how you can keep up with so many different types of paper! It seems to take me ages to ‘get comfortable’ with a paper. My new pack of Saunders Waterford arrived today so I’ll looking foward to trying out a closer comparison with the Arches. I think we both know that it is, and probably always will be a struggle (maybe that’s half of the attraction) and sometimes I need to take a step or two back and not look at paintings from the past weeks or months, but look at them over the past years, which really help to reveal the growth and the direction of travel! Oh, sorry about the video, shows up and seems to work fine on everything I’ve tried it on so far (desktop, laptop, iphone and ipad) but I’ll try to have a look into it. Thanks again Margaret!

    1. Thanks Rob, I’m not sure whether your ‘Whoo-pah-oh-yeah-yeah’ was just joining in with Helen or a reaction to any of the paintngs – but I really liked seeing it written out like that, definitely a first for me!

      1. Just joining in, I’m afraid… but, now you mention it, I liked your T Square very much – looking even vaster here than it does in real life – something to do with the number of floors there appear to be in the curved building in the background. Anyway, very nice blue cast over everything, lovely curve on the building and superbly bold stroke for the column – no shaking hands there, obviously. I also liked the cafe in the park sketch, though obviously I’d like you to have expanded on that bottom right foreground – but that’s me. The French field… Well, you know by now how I feel about big blank foregrounds with splashes. (God, I can be rude and disspiriting sometimes, can’t I?!) As for your painting angst… Have you thought of turning to drink?

        1. Haha, thanks Rob – your distaste for large expansive foregrounds with splashes (one I my strengths I thought!) has been duly noted! I’ll need to go back to reference material for the Trafalgar Square painting but you’re probably right, I may well have unintentially introduced a little bit of artistic licence on the number of floors! Sadly, I’m not sure that turning to drink will cure my painting angst, if anything I fear my enjoyment of the odd glass or two may even be contributing to my angst!

  6. I like your painting style very much. The use of imagery that is not striking yet conveys a deeper feeling or observation is for me that mark of true art. You achieve that wonderfully. Cheers, Marcus.

    1. Marcus – thank you so very much for such kind, generous and, for me, really insightful comments. Reading them really did make my heart soar!

  7. It probably sounds a little dull, but, again, I don’t see any reason why you should feel disheartened by your recent work. It’s lovely ☺ I recognize the frustrations of an unfulfilling period of painting though ☺

    1. Thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it and suppose that my minor malaise just goes to prove that we’re often our own worst/harshest critics!

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

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