From a lightness of touch to a heaviness of hand

Riding on a bit of high after last week’s paintings, I was really excited at the prospect of seeing what might happen next.

As Edward Wesson had proved the inspiration for my last painting, he seemed the fitting starting point for my next. Leafing through Barry Miles’ book, Edward Wesson (1910 – 1983) I came across a view of an old chalk quarry near Lewes, a mere stone’s throw/30-minute drive from me.

I still really like the idea of being able to track down an actual Wesson viewpoint so that I can, as it were, stand in his footsteps.

This particular painting was painted in oil, so represented a particular set of challenges if I was to revisit it in watercolour, but I felt confident I could do it justice.

Here’s how I got on…

It’s interesting for me to see these sequential stages as it helps me discern where this painting started to go awry! Overall, I quite like it up until stage two. From this point on, however, it went rather rapidly downhill, gathering momentum as it went!

As much as I tried to treat this with a lightness of touch, I got sucked into more heavy applications of paint. I was consciously trying to avoid emulating an oil painting in watercolour but despite my best intentions, I applied more and more layers of paint as this painting gradually slipped further and further away from me!

Near Lewes, after Edward Wesson

Keen to move on from this disappointment as quickly as possible, I decided that I needed to move away from maestro Wesson and seek out my own inspiration.

I came across a photo that took many years ago whilst on a walk in The Witterings, a delightful area on the South East coast near Chichester. Once again, despite efforts to keep it light, I produced another heavy overworked painting.

The Witterings, Near Chichester

From a distance, this isn’t as disappointing as my first painting, but nor does it fill me with joy!

I can’t deny that this week’s painting lows, following on so quickly from last week’s high, have left me feeling a little bit out of sorts. Still, much like the old adage of falling off a horse (or is it a bike?) the sooner I pick myself up and get painting again, the quicker I’ll get over these watercolour tumbles!

From the archives

On a cheerier note, I came across a few images during a clear out the other day which made me smile and made me realise quite how long I’ve now been dabbling at this! I’ll be adding these to my ‘about‘ page but thought I’d share them here first.

Working out which ‘studio’ each of these was taken in made me realise that these were all taken just over seven years ago. It was nice to be reminded of my days ‘in the field’ and to reflect on a lot of watercolours under the proverbial bridge in the intervening years.

Thoughts on From a lightness of touch to a heaviness of hand

26 thoughts on “From a lightness of touch to a heaviness of hand”

    1. Hi James and many thanks for your comment – for me, it’s the sky. I know it’s supposed to be a heavily laden sky, but I think the sky is heavy in too many ways. I’d hoped to get the effect in a single wash, but this ended up being done in multiple washes and, on reflection, I don’t think I used the best combination of colours. The same could also be applied to some other areas of the painting too – where I ended up layering washes of paint on not out of any plan, but because I didn’t achieve what I was seeking with my first wash of paint – does this make sense?

      1. Thank you John!
        It does make sense.
        I too struggle with “over-working”
        and was interested in the details of your self-critique.
        Will you,or have you, tried to “salvage” this work or
        attempt it again?

        1. Hi James and thanks for this. To be honest, this is already stored out of the way somewhere! I tend to work quite quickly and try to finish a painting within a day of starting it at the most. When it comes to trying to salvage a painting, a. it’s rarely worked to any degree of satifaction and b. if I think the composition and view is strong enough, I’m much more likely to just start again from scratch and hopefully do a better job second/third/fourth time around! In this instance, I’m not sure that I feel sufficiently convinced by the subject to try it again (this is partly because I’m much more excited by some of the paintings that I expect to be working on over the next month or two!) – If you discover any top tips to avoid over-working, please do let me know! Many thanks James

  1. Pingback: Back to watercolour basics…

  2. There are certain subjects for me which never work in watercolour, and landscape is one of them. I cannot explain why, but if I don’t put something in the foreground, then I don’t have a painting

    1. Hi David and thanks for this. It’s funny how we all have our own idiosyncracies around composition. One of mine is that I often want to make the most distant points the focal point which can often lead to me floundering around in the foreground! I’m usually quite happy to have a ‘quiet’ foreground as a lead in to a focal point in the mid-distance, With this particular painting, the more I look at it, the more I dslike the overall composition,

    1. Thanks so much Al, and yes, if you’re not familiar with Wesson’s work, it’s definitely worth a look – particularly his watercolours which are delightfully fresh, light and spontaneous!

  3. Is it sacrilegious to say that the Wesson isn’t very good? At least, not in the reproductions I’ve seen on line. There’s not really a composition as such – just a few horizontal bands – and those trees are very perfunctory. Strange because it’s in oils, too, which suggests he was prepared to spend time on it unlike most of his watercolours, which look as if they took him all of five minutes to complete. So there must have been something else he wanted us to see in this picture. Maybe the yawning space between the trees and the chalk-face? Maybe the brightness of the sky just behind the top of one of the trees? Whatever it was, I think you’re asking quite a lot of yourself to inject it with new life. So, in the words of the old joke, “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”

    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this and, I’m going to stick my neck out with you that this isn’t one of his best! I think I was far more caught up in the idea of tracing the exact viewpoint that this was painted from. The more that I studied this painted, the more I became aware of the same flaws that you’ve identified. In his oil painting, and in fairness, there is a great deal more texture and richness in the foreground area than I managed to achieve in my effort. Thanks for your sacrilegious comment as I took great comfort from it!

  4. Well I am sure we each of us experiences this and I do agree very much with Margaret that the more one tries the worse it gets…we have all been there I’m sure. The positive side of this is that it means you’re on the way back up again in the very near future! Yes, thank you for showing us your less successful paintings….I’m sure we all relate.
    I didn’t get around to commenting last week but I just want to say that I think the leather case you made for your precious new palette was amazing! Interestingly when I had mine made 5 years ago it arrived in a lovely orange candy striped bag with a putt tie to keep it in. John must have found it a bit pricey to keep doing I expect.
    Keep at it…you should have a fantastic week next!

    Keep warm!

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this and yes, I quite agree, the harder I try, the poorer the results! So pleased you like the case I made. I did contact John about the case and he explained that his wife used to make a lot of his cases and, although this fell by the wayside for a while, it’s something that they may be re-introduce again soon.
      I write this as snow’s falling outside, so I’m hoping that I might get some ‘wintery’ references for future paintings!

  5. By the way I still think your Near Lewes can be saved the trees need some depth and forground need some focus.
    Have you seen any of Richard Thorns work? It has a heavy use of colour but somehow works.

    1. Hi Warren and thanks for this and I’ll definitely look up Richard Thorn as he’s not an artist that I’m familiar with. As for this particular painting, I already feel too dispirited by it to revisit it, and think that I’d much rather move on to something new, if this makes sense?

  6. It’s always good to push in new directions and try things out even though they don’t always work. Thanks for sharing the failures as well as some of those excellent painting’s you create, it’s good to be reminded that we all have ups and downs.

    1. Hi Warren and thanks so much for this. I suppose it’s the downs that help us appreciate the ups all the more. And if I take a step back and think about the past few years, my hit to miss ration is gradually tipping towards more hits than misses!

  7. I know of the watercolor painting lows that you speak of. Truthfully I have noticed for myself is that when I have managed to get a painting”right”, I try to follow up with more of the same but unfortunately it seems to go awry. I have a theory of sorts, the harder I try the worse seems to show up. I truly feel that watercolor is the most spontaneous of mediums. There is a statement by Chinese American, Cheng Khee Chee who studied with Edgar Whitney who says that watercolor is the most spiritual of mediums. From watching his painting videos, he demonstrates how working open ended and yet controlled he allows both aspects to work together. What I am getting at is that I feel watercolor is best (for me) when you set up the bones (tools, drawing, etc) and then operate from a purely right brain creative stance. Unfortunately for me that is difficult at the best of times. I think that is why I throw myself into my painting. When I approach it in the means to an end I get heavy handed or tight. It is a continual struggle and I have to remind myself to let go, and that I have nothing to lose. Sorry for the length of this, haha! Have you thought of doing several timed painting sessions? I have found that helps. Be encouraged, it will come easier and easier, that path may be obscured but it’s there! Cheers and happy painting!

    1. Thanks so much for this Margaret and this is so entirely spot on for me! The more I try to force a painting, to somehow bend it to my will, the further away it gets from me. I shall try to look up Cheng Khee Chee, not an artist that I’ve heard of or am familiar with. It is without a doubt, all part of the struggle that makes it so challenging and so interesting! I think that because I don’t have as much time as I’d often like to devote to my painting, then the time I do have becomes even more pressured – which in itself is a poor starting point for ‘letting go’! Thanks so much Margaret, this was really helpful!

      1. So good to hear! Sometimes I am afraid to step on toes or project my own feelings or attitude. So glad that I helped. Time is a state of mind, pretend that you have all the time in the world. Even if you have just an hour, don’t rush it, enjoy those moments. There I go again! Anyway, have a wonderful weekend!

        1. Have no fear about ever stepping on my toes Margaret – I always value your thoughts and comments and feel that they only ever come from a very good place! As for time being a state of mind, I’ll try to practice some mindfulness alongside my next painting outing! Many thanks Margaret – all the best for the weekend!

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