Trafalgar Square shadows watercolour

I can’t quite recall what possessed me to tackle this particular view, especially when my watercolour morale is at a low ebb!

The view is of London’s Trafalgar Square. The building in the background is the National Gallery which flanks an entire side of the square which is a constant bustle of people either sightseeing or going about their daily business or simply passing through to get from A to B.

I have been watching a variety of demonstrations on YouTube of late and I think one soundbite that has been ringing in my ears has been about breaking a view down to, big shape/s, medium shapes, small shapes. This view seemed to present an opportunity to focus on this. My aim was to treat the mass and grandeur of the National Gallery in the background as one shape and tackle it, if possible, in a single sweep, and then to focus on the figures and creating a sense of the bustle and crowds that are constantly moving through Trafalgar Square.

I know that many followers of this blog also follow the wonderful demonstrations by the American watercolourist Gary Tucker. If you don’t already follow him, I really would recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel and following his WordPress blog. I really enjoy his paintings and find his thoughtful explanations about his approach and considerations to be really helpful. One thing that I’ve observed is his approach to painting figures. He begins by placing his figures in the painting with just a simple brushstroke for the torso of each figure. Once he’s satisfied with the placement and positioning of the figures, he’s then able to revisit them whenever the time is right to add in the details such, heads, legs, gestures, the colour of clothes etc.

When commencing this painting I think these two considerations were at the forefront of my mind. Simplifying the shapes and trying a different approach to my figures.

Trafalgar Square shadows (take 1)

Sadly I didn’t manage to achieve what I’d hoped in one go with the background building, so had to return to it a few times to before I felt happy with it – by which time I’d overworked it and wasn’t happy with it!  While I’m not thrilled by the figures (with so many figures in one painting I think this was always going to be the case!) – I did find the approach, of placing the torso of the figures into the painting with a simple brushstroke that I could return to later really helpful.

The shadow and the highlights were the final elements to be added and these really helped to make the painting pop a little more!

Feeling marginally more encouraged than discouraged, I thought I would take some of what I’d learnt painting this and have another go at it:

Trafalgar Square shadows (take 2)

The background building was done in one single wet in wet passage with the columns lifted out with a damp brush. Some areas are perhaps a little too dark but nevertheless, I find them more satisfying than in the first painting. When it came to the floor area, I felt it was too light, so put in a darker wash to strengthen in. Foolishly, I did this when the light was really poor and ended up going too dark which left me kicking myself a little!

The figures were tackling in a similar way, but I tried to be more mindful of how groups of figures connected to each other.

All in all, I enjoyed painting this second one more but when I stood back from it, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the overall result. The light and the shadows just didn’t stack up!  In the first painting, the sky is much lighter in the top left than the top right, creating a sense of light and direction which then follows through to the shadows. In the second one, there’s no discernable source of light. The floor area is too dark and there’s no reason to show why the shadows are heading in the direction they are!

I’ve decided to write both of these off as disappointing days at the office! 

A short while ago, I went through a spell of being quite pleased with most of my paintings so I’m just going to take my current run of form on the chin and keep on painting. Hopefully, I’ll turn another corner soon!

In other news, my Frazer Price Palette Box video is gradually coming together albeit in a very rough and ready way. Even though it’s driving me to despair, I feel that I’m learning a lot, even though it probably won’t look like it when it’s finished! I’ll hopefully have it ready in the next week or two, which in a sense would be most timely as, at the end of July, I’ll be whisking my Frazer Price palette off to France for our annual camping trip which I’m most excited about!

Thoughts on Trafalgar Square shadows watercolour

22 thoughts on “Trafalgar Square shadows watercolour”

    1. Thanks so much for this Carsten. I still have it mind to revisit this with a different approach – but I may do some more figure studies first!

    1. Thanks so much for this Kerstin, really pleased you like it and thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it!

  1. Disappointing to you maybe but fabulous for me.

    This week I am in a workshop with Thomas Schaller. (I said Hi from you. He remembers you and says Hi back.)

    Yesterday (Tuesday) he talked about perspective and he mentioned something no one had told me before. That all heads, no matter how near or far are on the horizon line. Bingo! No wonder my paintings look wonky. (This is why I don’t like to do people.) Then today this blog post arrives in my e-mail and another lightbulb. This painting illustrates exactly what he was talking about. I SEE it now.

    What are you? Psychic or something?

    At any rate, start saving your pennies, go to his website often and wait for the announcement. He is having a plein air workshop in SICILY in September of 2020. I’m going. I’ve already decided to raid the tax sheltered annuity, charge the credit cards to the max and go. I was going to a different one in May but they are going to the other side of Sicily from where my relatives are plus will cost probably about double. (Two birds, one projectile, all that.) Schaller is going to be in Cefalú. That is just down the hill from Pollina where my relatives are! So I’m going to Sicily in Sept 2020 and, oh yeah, I’m attending a watercolor workshop with Thomas Schaller while I’m there.

    And yes. This workshop *is* amazing. Money well spent. As will my Sept. 2020 trip. I am offing multiple avians with very few small specimens of granite. Will see relatives in Germany and Sicily, stock up on painting supplies at Zecchi’s in Florence, see Lake Garda, Rome and Naples and, gee, Thomas Schaller in Cefalú. The stars are aligned.

    Now, if I could just win the lottery.

    1. Hi Mary and I just love the feeling of joy and excitement you’re experiencing at the moment! So very jealous that you’re getting some serious tuition from Thomas Schaller – he’s such a tremendous artist (and I can’t deny feeling a warm glow that he even remembers me!). Much as I’d love to join you in Sicily next year (what a treat that would be!) I already know that my family commitments will prevent me (that’s before I even get onto the money side of it!) but it sounds like you’ve already got a brilliant trip planned – and there’s still plenty of time to win that lottery! Many thanks Mary – hope you continue to enjoy this week’s workshop and I’d love to get news of any more pearls of wisdom from the great architect of light!

      1. That’s too bad. There is a lovely little beach in Cefalú for the kids and Schaller says the food is delicious and cheap. Monastery Stays has a monastery there for less than 50 euro a night but Schaller says they usually get apartments for the group for even less than that. I’ll bet you wouldn’t be the only one bringing family to a Sicilian vacation.

        But yeah, I know how it is. September means pulling kids out of school, then there is getting off work. Not to mention just the plane fare. Even if you went by train as far as Naples, then took the overnight boat it would be almost as much as airfare.

        Hard to do with a family, work and all.

        Plenty of time to win the lottery. Now I just have to buy a ticket. Any go through my notes to see if anything is legible enough to understand.

        1. This would be wonderful Mary – and I’m excited by your obvious excitement too (not to mention deeply jealous!)

          I’ve seen the demonstration paintings that Tom has been doing with you. They really are stunning. I can’t think of many artists that are able to use light against dark and dark against light so seamlessly, in so many places and passages within a single painting – it really is stunning! I’m sure you’re going to be buzzing for weeks after this!

  2. Margery Griffith

    “Jump off the merry-go-round and be less mercenary!” Words by Thos. Jefferson Kitts from Feb/Mar PleinAir Magazine. All artists have ‘low-ebb’ feelings, I’ve just been through one too and discovered what worked for me: a request for a WC portrait of my great granddaughter! Now I don’t DO WC portraits but am meeting the challenge! Done 4 so far and each has been a ‘learning experience’ at best, plus 2 charcoal drawings. I am so sick of this and hate being so tight that I decided to try YUPO for the 1st time knowing it’s impossible to ‘get tight’ on YUPO! I had such FUN! It’s plastic not paper, paint sits on top and moves around…fun is all I can say! Result not bad, either!
    Now, for another suggestion…anything to urge you away from dreary city-scapes!(yes I admire Gary Tucker) I urge you strongly, to buy Nancy Hillis’ new book, The Artist’s Journey ($20 US) Not a picture in it! There are a number of videos you can watch. Nancy is now an abstract painter so why should you buy it? She is also an Existential Psychiatrist and an extremely smart woman. She brings a lot of good literary references into her discussion making such great sense of what painting from your soul is all about. I’ve harped on this before, admonishing you for spending so much time copying others that YOUR soul has gotten lost! Nancy explains the dangers of always ‘entering endless shows’, a sign of needing acceptance rather than standing on your own. Always ‘painting for someone else’, guessing what that person, judge, buyer, wants rather than painting to express yourself, FOR yourself. Meaning, the YOU gets totally lost! You and your friends, will get so much out of this book…please consider buying it. Yes, Nancy is on line, replies graciously to your emails and questions: It’s so filled with wonderful info that I’ve read it 3 times! A lot to digest in just 123 pages! Try it, you’ll like it!

    1. Hi Margery and thanks so much for the recommendation – I think I have seen this book, or perhaps you may have recommended to me before? I’ll definitely have a look at it (I should probably pick up a new book for a little holiday reading!)
      I will, if it’s ok, take issue with the idea that I’m trying to please others. All I do is turn up and paint. I may practice by emulating others, but only to feed and develop my own practice. While I’m always interested into why someone likes one painting and not another, I don’t agonise over it or let it influence me much. When it comes to entering competitions, I just look at what I’ve got. If there’s anything I’m particularly pleased with, I may take a punt on entering – but I don’t try to second guess what others are looking for.
      You are right that at times I probably seek solace and security in trying to emulate work by other artists. But if the alternative this is not to paint until ‘I feel it’ again – then I fear I may quite easily stop painting altogether! Right, I’m off to check out Nancy Hills – Thanks so much Margery

    1. Thanks Kim – I’m with you on this one too! I think the contrasts in take one make much more sense of the light and make for a more dynamic image. Thanks so much.

  3. I see you’ve signed both pictures so you can’t be as disappointed as all that! I, too, much prefer the second one, mainly because of the grouping of the figures. I misread your mention of the “demonstrations” you’d been watching on-line and was looking for banners in the first version – and not a policeman in sight. I’m afraid, however, that I’m never so keen on your grey public buildings lowering menacingly in the background and long shadows; they suggest something of a Mayday parade. I’m a light-hearted colour-loving sort of chap. Whatever happened to your Potts period? BUT… Don’t let it bring you down; and remember: you’re always only one painting away from perfection – potentially, that is.

    1. Ah yes, the signatures! two reasons. First is that I was happier with each painting at first and signed each one as I finished it. It was only after the immediate afterglow of finishing had faded that the disappointment set in! I don’t think my Potts period has passed. I prefer to think of it as being part of my melting pot, simmering away. I have it in mind to do this view again (unfinished business!) but to treat it entirely differently to these two efforts, hopefully with a much greater lightness of tone, colour and touch – who knows, this next one might just be the perfect one!

  4. I really appreciate your artistic honesty! Thanks for sharing your journey and your resolve to keep painting 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, I really appreciate them and it makes the ‘keep on painting’ resolve all the more easy!

  5. A very honest and interesting analysis. Are you being a bit over critical of yourself? Your figures are always give such a sense of atmosphere and movement to your picture. I also get the full sense long evening shadows. As a non emotionally involved onlooker the bit I find distracting is the mid section of the buildings. If only I could do something half as good. I will look up Gary Tucker – thanks.

    1. Thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it. I’m rarely sure if I’m being overly critical of myself or not! Perhaps it’s sometimes more a way of vocalising how I feel about what my expectactions are versus what the end result is! Great that there are elements within these that you like, and I agree about the mid section of the buildings. I’m already thinking of trying this view again but in an entirely different way so will bear this mind! Hope you find Gary Tucker to your liking, and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    1. Had such a panic when I read your message! Fortunately is was my typing that was error which I’ve duly corrected! Many thanks for pointing it out!

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