A watercolour smorgasbord

Finally, do not let painting become a dreary chore. It can and should be the most absorbing, exciting and rewarding activity yet devised.

Rowland Hilder, from his book, Starting with Watercolour

I came across this quote will leafing through a few books as I tried to decide on what holiday reading to take with me when we head to France next week. This is the final paragraph in Rowland Hilder’s wonderful book ‘Starting with Watercolour’. This really struck a chord with me because of how I’ve been feeling about my painting a little of late. While I wouldn’t necessarily so far as to call it a chore, I certainly don’t feel I’ve been approaching it with a sense of excitement and wonderment!

Perusing this book coincided with the arrival of a new and slightly random eBay purchase. I’ve picked up a folder of some 50 or so loose-leaf Rowland Hilder prints. They’re not ‘art prints’ but they are all roundabout A4 in size, so they’re all in the main larger than I can see them published in most of the reference books on Hilder that I have. I think that Hilder’s style and choice of subject have fallen out of favour in many quarters but I can’t deny being entranced by his work. One of the many things that I admire is his total understanding of watercolour and its unique qualities – how it behaves, how mixes, its transparency, how to layer and build up washes – I can look at his paintings for hours trying to work out each passage, how he planned them, in what order did he paint them. Each one is like a masterclass in its own right.

In his books, Hilder often talks about the joy of applying flat washes and of building up a scene with the considering application of overlapping washes. In my recent paintings, where I’ve often been working at pace, and usually wet in into wet, my results have often felt a little muddy. Looking at Hilder’s paintings made me yearn for the simple pleasure of laying a pure and simple wash. So it was that I selected an image from my new supply of Hilder images to try to re-acquaint myself with some of the finer qualities of watercolour. Here’s how I got on:

The River Swale at Queenborough, Kent – my homage to Rowland Hilder

I can’t deny that I really enjoyed painting this, and the outcome. There are some parts that probably have five or six washes on them, but I don’t this it has a heavy or muddy feel to it. This was painted on and off during the course of a day. Applying a thin wash, letting it dry thoroughly and returning to it again later. I really enjoyed some of the more meditative aspects. I’d often find myself spending four or five minutes mixing a colour, trying to get the colour, tone and consistency just right, just so that I could make a single brushstroke with it in a matter of seconds. All the while studying the source image, trying to figure out what colours were used, what order it was painted in, trying to decode each element and how and why it all works so well together.

Painting this really felt like time well spent, and I think cemented the inclusion of Rowland Hilder’s Starting with Watercolour in my holiday reading list!

Watercolour gifts

Even though I’m familiar with packing and sending paintings internationally, it’s still always a great relief to hear that they’ve arrived safe and sound and, even more so, that the buyer is happy. This is especially the case when a painting may previously only have been seen on the website. I’m delighted to report then that this Paris painting that I showed some time ago has arrived safely in its new home of Massachusetts where it’s destined to be given as a gift for an anniversary.

Cafe aux Tours de Notre Dame

In other gift news, I also received an inquiry out of the blue from someone that had seen my paintings back in 2017 when I participated in the Brunswick Art Fair. They had tracked me down to see if I still had one of my Barcelona Placa Reial paintings – which they’d remembered seeing at the fair and thought it would make the perfect gift for a friends birthday.

Here’s my Art Fair stand and, if you look closely, the framed painting on the right hand side is the painting that the inquirer recalled.

My ‘less is more’ display

Although that particular view did sell on the day of the fair, it’s a view that I’ve done a few different versions of and, fortunately, the version below was still available.

La Placa Reial, Barcelona, a watercolour painting by John Haywood
La Placa Reial, Barcelona

Now I don’t usually write up every sale, but on this occasion it really touched me. First that someone saw my work over two years ago and it stuck with them. Secondly that they had the tenacity to track me down and get in touch. I can’t deny that this really cheered me up this week!

Pintar Rapido Winners

As some will recall I took part in Pintar Rapido a month or so ago. At the time that I wrote up my experience, the organisers hadn’t yet published full details of all the winners but I promised that I’d do an update once they’d been published. So, here for your delectation is a link to the Pintar Rapido London 2019 prizewinners.

As a devout watercolour fan, it will come as no surprise that my picks of the bunch are Alison Hehir‘s ‘Albert Bridge’ and John Stevens‘ ‘Covent Garden’. Both of these are wonderful paintings, extremely accomplished, and to think that they were both done plein air, in ‘competition’ conditions, is quite remarkable; my cap is well and truly doffed in respect and admiration!

Thoughts on A watercolour smorgasbord

16 thoughts on “A watercolour smorgasbord”

  1. I share your enthusiasm for Rowland Hilder. When I started to paint in watercolour I had come into my possession a battered copy of one of his books, which taught me to look at skies in particular skies with movement
    I still have the book and still refer to it

    1. Thanks David – I think I probably have more Rowland Hilder books than anyone elses – to which I’ve just added yet another, a 1956 first edition of Sketching & Painting Indoors by Percy Bradshaw & Rowland Hilder! He really was an extraordinary draftsman and painter!

  2. Beautiful work! I particularly love your River Swale painting. The angles of the boat masks and the textures you have on the water just below the boats and on the buildings are a joys to look at.

    1. Hi Jo and thanks so much for this, so pleased you like this painting. Sadly I can’t take much credit for this one as Rowland Hilder did all of the hard work, I just tried to figure out how he did it! Really appreciate you taking the time to comment Jo, thank you!

  3. Margery Griffith

    Thanks for your generous response. I hope you get as much out of Nancy’s book as I have; it has spurred a recent explosion of activity on my part after a lull similar to yours. NOT from copying her art work but from the exceedingly interesting philosophy between the covers of her book. I did not mean that I expect you to return from France with ‘bouquets of flowers’ but because people in France LOVE their flowers as you’ll see in any market! They also have huge fields of sunflowers and lavender… also grapes growing as well as pots of flowers on every doorstep and in their gardens so it’s impossible to ignore them! I just hope to see some COLOR in your paintings when you return…and a bit of ‘freedom’ as well instead of tight black and white copies of other artists’ work! At 88 I can’t get out as much as I’d like anymore and hate relying on my photos.
    I now have 5 out of 10 of my orchid plants blooming…and I find that boring in the summer, but I rely a lot on them to bloom in the winter when I am ‘house-bound’.
    As far as my critiques go, I hate when people who know nothing about art tell me ‘That’s wonderful” when they see my paintings because it only means that they see something they can recognize…not that they are qualified to critique my work! I LIKE it when someone can be really HELPFUL by pointing out something I had not seen! I realize that when you are up close to your painting you MUST step away to see what’s wrong or needs help and often then you can’t see it! I am my own harshest critique!
    Wish I had a way to send photos of MY work for YOU to criticize?
    Have a wonderful time in France and have a successful time painting…from your SOUL!

    1. Hi Margery and thanks for this. I’m looking forward to getting into Nancy’s book and have already been dipping my toe in. It’s not my usual type of book I have to say, but I’m going to throw myself into it! There are some things that I feel I must forewarn you on! I stand by my ‘copying’ of other artists, not because of them being crutches, but because I do it consciously, striving to learn from those that have many many more miles of brush strokes under their belt than I’ll ever achieve. Why wouldn’t I wish to learn from them! Yes, I need to do this alongside developing my own voice too – and I shall work on this too! Also, my humble advice back to you – if someone says your work is wonderful, accept it as the genuine compliment it most likely is. Personally I’ll happily accept the gut response of an honest viewer over that of some supposedly ‘qualified’ critic any time! As for my subject matters and colour choices, I look forward to seeing what France brings! Many thanks Margery!

      1. Hi Nathan and thanks for this, so pleased you like it. Can’t quite remember how long in total because I did it spread out during the course of a day. In total, probably about an hour and a half to two hours at the most – plus another 20 mins to half an hour to sketch it out which I did the night before I started to paint it. Hope this is of some help (but I think we all work at our own pace!)

  4. Margery Griffith

    As I said before, John, stop copying paintings by other people! You really’d benefit from Nancy Hillis’ book I mentioned. Not a picture in sight, just serious thoughts. While well executed, your paintings seem to be all about city scapes with no ‘soul’ and a lot of dreary ness, lack of COLOR! Hope you take those bright colors in your new palette seriously on your trip! Make shadows with colors, less if any black, cheer it up a bit! You treat other painters as CRUTCHES instead of finding yourself. Sorry to always be so critical but I keep looking for the real JOHN and just find copies! Let’s see some countryside, sunshine, flowers, anything but dreary cities from this trip!

    1. Hi Margery and many thanks for your continued chastening! I’m hope that you’ll be pleased to hear that, following your prompts, I’ve had a very pleasant exchange of messages with Nancy Hillis and have just received my copy of her book, just in time for me to pack to take away with me! I do look forward to exploring this. Whether you’ll notice a difference in me remains to be seen. As for my choice of subjects, I do tend to paint what I like, sometimes it’s countryside and landscapes, sometimes interiors. It’s usually what I’m influenced by and what I’m exposed to. Hopefully I’ll have lots of landscapes to paint in France! Rarely, if ever however, will you see flowers – I’m afraid they hold little interest for me! Thanks Margery, I’ll obviously be letting you know how I get on with Nancy’s book.

  5. (Hope you haven’t got this already but I’m on a new computer and had to log in again so the original comment was swallowed by the void but it said, more or less…)
    The painting is certainly not muddy – apart from, well, the mud. Lots of light flying around.
    Thanks for the link to the Pintar Rapido winners. It could be you next year if you can just find the right place/composition; there’s nothing too intimidating about the winners, though some are good.
    I can hear the tills ringing from here; congratulations on the sales – though of course it’s not about money…
    Have a good time in France. See if you can find something a bit gritty, something a bit decayed, something a bit run down, or a bit edgy to paint occasionally; it might suit your style, you know.

    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this – (I did get your original comment too). I’m not sure if Pintar Rapido is every year or every two years but I’ll definitely keep my eye out for when it next comes around. While there were undoubtedly some good artists participating, I also didn’t feel cowed by any of the work. Plus I’ve got plenty of painting to do over the next year to get even more practice in! I’ll be in a wonderfully picturesque part of France with lots of quintessentially French farm buildings, rolling landscapes and medeival towns so I’m hoping there’ll be plenty to keep me occupied! I’m only going to take sketchbooks with me so am hoping to try a little bit of experimentation too, just for fun!

  6. The painting is certainly not muddy – apart from, well, the mud. Lots of light on show.
    I can hear the tills ringing from here – though of course it’s not about the money. Congratulations on the sales.
    Thanks for the link to the Pintar Rapido winners. I’m sure you could win it next year if you pick the right composition; there’s nothing too intimidating about the winners though some are good.
    And have a good holiday.

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