A busy watercolour week!

After last week’s painting of the view from the top of Firle Beacon, I was reminded of a painting that I’d seen looking towards Firle Beacon. This set me off in a little quest which fortunately didn’t take me too long to complete! I found in Peter Slade’s book on Edward Wesson, ‘Honesty in Art’ a view looking towards Firle Beacon.

Edward Wesson, Honesty in Art, by Peter Slade

I had hoped by some miraculous means that I’d be able to deduce the exact viewpoint so that I could go and paint the view on location sometime (preferably when the weather’s considerably warmer than it is now!).

Sadly this is beyond my knowledge of the area but leafing through the book did remind me of what a wonderful watercolour artist Wesson was. Here then is my quick take on the Wesson view that I’d been looking for:

View of Firle Beacon, after Edward Wesson, a watercolour painting by John Haywood
View of Firle Beacon, after Edward Wesson

I was quite pleased with this, but would have liked to have got some more life and variance into the sky. What I do love about Wesson’s work is its freshness of the spontaneity. As I was studying this painting, my eyes kept wandering to the painting on the facing page. This was a simply beautiful view of a floodwater near Guildford in Surrey. So there I was working on one painting while simultaneously working out how I’d go about tackling another painting.

I definitely felt it would work best as a half sheet and, the composition was pretty basic so sketching it out only took a few minutes to do.  I set myself up by mixing up some very generous washes that I felt I’d need to cover the entire sheet. I had one mix of Ultramarine, Cobalt and a touch of Burnt Sienna, and another of Cadmium Orange toned down with some Raw Sienna. 

I began by liberally spreading some clear water across the sky area being mindful not to cover the entire paper with water. I then applied the blue for the sky working really quickly and also making sure I left areas clear for where I knew I wanted to drop in the pale yellow/orange mix. This is what I dropped in next, trying to add this wash mainly onto the clear areas and then letting it run naturally into the blue wash.

I was at pains to try not to fiddle with anything too much once I’d put these washes in but I did have to tend to the odd hard edge here and there that I didn’t want, and I did also strengthen the sky on the right-hand side. At this point, the paper was still very wet and I even had time to pick the board up and move it around to get the paint to move across the surface of the paper, rather than just running down my angled board.

With sky done, I then focussed my attention on the bottom section of the painting. I used the same mixes as I had in the sky but worked from the paper being lightest on the horizon line, to becoming gradually stronger in the foreground.

This was, again, all done very quickly. At this stage, the entire sheet was still very damp. While it was drying out a little, I started to mix up the other colours that I needed for the trees. For those on the left, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber, for the most distant trees, some French Ultramarine, some Cobalt Violet and some Burnt Sienna, and for the paler trees on the right-hand side, some Raw Sienna with a touch of Light Red. Once the ‘sheen’ on the paper had gone, I started working my way across the page, from left to right.

As I completed one section of trees, I’d use the same mix to drop in the corresponding reflection into the still damp of the water. Again this was all done at considerable speed and fighting the urge to tamper with anything as I went along.  I did review each section as I went, strengthening the odd element here and there, and adding in a little more colour variation into the trees here and there too, but on the whole, 90% of the painting was all done in one go. Oh, the final thing I did was to take a damp brush and lift out just the odd streak across the reflections while the paint was still wet to suggest a little bit of movement in the water.

All I had to do next was let this all dry out completely.

Next came the last 10% – strengthening the odd area here and there, adding in the suggestion of some branches, a touch of dry brush for some variety in some of the trees. Sometimes at this stage of a painting, I get carried away and end up over-fiddling it! I already knew that I had the makings of a good painting so tried to be extra careful to only add in what was necessary and nothing more.

Hopefully, I got this balance right. Here’s the finished painting:

Floodwater, Nr Guildford, after Edward Wesson, a watercolour painting by John Haywood
Floodwater, Nr Guildford, after Edward Wesson

And the fun of my week didn’t stop here!

As many of you will know, before Christmas I took delivery of a new brass watercolour palette from The Little Brass Box Company. It’s already become one of my most treasured items hence my desire to keep it safe and look after it properly! So far, when not in use, it lives in an old fabric bag, the type you sometimes get for each shoe in a posh hotel.

For Christmas, I was royally treated with a voucher for a one day workshop with Wolfram Lohr in his Brighton leather workshop (well, Hove actually!). Wolfram makes beautiful leather goods and I’m fortunate to own a few smaller items such as an A6 notebook cover and my goes everywhere with me glasses case!

I’d already contacted Wolfram in advance of the workshop to see whether it would be possible to make a bespoke case for my palette on one of his one-day workshops and he’d said that we should be able to manage it on one of his ‘clutch-bag’ making courses. I was one of only three people so there was lots of time for Wolfram’s personal attention. I didn’t do any preparation in advance and, after a brief introduction to the day and some basic design principles – we all set about coming up with a design and making a cardboard pattern to test and work from.

This was followed by thinking about fastenings, choosing our leather, marking it, cutting out the component pieces and then, bit by bit, glueing, punching, poking, prodding and hand-stitching it all together before a final bit of polishing, chamfering the corners of the seams and sealing all of the edges.

I had a great time doing all of this. It was great to be working with my hands and I loved being in Wolfram’s workshop. From the smell of the leather to being surrounded by so many fabulous tools and machines, some modern, but mostly old and the type that has been used in the manufacture of leather goods for many many years was wonderful.  Here’re a few pictures from my day:

If you can discern any blemishes on the leather, they’re not blemishes – they’re bloodstains! I did have a minor slip with a very sharp ‘awl’ but Wolfram was quickly on hand with his supply of plasters before too much damage was done. It was also at this point that I was especially grateful that Wolfram had talked me out of going for a yellow leather for the entire case rather than just for some detailing!

I feel that I now have a case that really complements my palette. To know that I made it from scratch with my own fair hands and that it turned out more of a success than a disaster makes me really happy.

And the week’s activities didn’t stop there.

I also made some modifications to my plein air set up so that I’ll now be able to paint half sheets and, finally (I promise!) my blog passed a significant milestone. Apparently, and most gratifyingly, Brushes with Watercolour now has over 2,000 followers – thank you all so much for your interest – I’m feeling quite humbled!

Just passing the 2k milestone!

All in all, quite a busy and eventful week one way or another!

Thoughts on A busy watercolour week!

11 thoughts on “A busy watercolour week!”

  1. Pingback: From a lightness of touch to a heaviness of hand

  2. Great minds and all that.

    My Dad taught me leathercraft, the western kind that was popular in the U.S. in the 40s and 50s. He learned in the army and I learned at the kitchen table while he made a holster. I’m talking tooling and hand stitching with fancy lace.

    Recently I’ve come back to it, acquired some tools and have been mentally planning some sort of portfolio to hold a journal, plus a case or two for my favorite palettes. I’ll be using slightly thicker leather and tooling it, then lacing the edges. When I eventually get around to it. I’m house training a new puppy right now and she’s only 3 months and still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it. So at least another six months down the road.

    You are going to treasure that case even more than the palette because you made it. That makes it priceless. And every time you feel the case or smell the leather, it will bring you back to that workshop day.

    I think that new palette has definitely influenced your work for the better. These watercolors are wonderful. I especially like your painting of the Floodwater. It’s both beautifully loose and intentional. Your painting makes it look so easy and effortless. Those of us who paint know exactly how false an assumption that is.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks so much for this. What a wonderful skill to have learnt from your father. I don’t doubt that will add an even greater layer of meaning and attachment to any of the items that you end up making! I’m already enjoying my case for all of the reasons that you mentioned. My only niggle, and this is really minor, is that with my new palette, I’m working with much wetter pigments than ever before. I’m putting in tube colour, but then spraying in water and mixing the two, so that I’m working with sort of liquid pigment. I think this is what’s really benefitted my recent paintings. The downside is that I always need to keep my palette flat. Any time I turn it over or tilt it too far, the colours go absolutely everywhere! After taking the palette to the workshop where I made the case, where it was tilted in every direction in order to make the case properly, I had to wash and clean out the entire palette and refill all of the pans! It’ll be a real challenge to keep it flat when travelling anywhere to use on any plein air adventures! Still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a nice problem to have! Good luck with the house training, and I hope you’ll share the leather work once you’ve been abel to do it – I’d love to see what you make!

    1. Thanks so much Veronica and you are so kind and generous with your comments! I must confess that if I wasn’t so invested in my passion for watercolour, I think a sideline in leather craft would be an appealing option! Thanks so much!

  3. Margery Griffith

    Wonderful work…alll of it! Both paintings deserve WOWs! …and the case is wonderful! Blood and all! I can imagine your pleasure having done all three…good jobs all! Now can we have a peek inside the new palette?

    1. Hi Margery and thanks so much for your very kind comments – I’m so pleased that you like the results of this week’s endeavours! As for a peek inside the palette – I have done a post dedicated to the palette that you can see here: https://wp.me/p1XmzP-1Uy – hope that this link works for you!

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

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