I found a picture of Littlehampton marina / harbour at dusk that I’ve been mulling over for a week or so. I liked the view, but i didn’t like the idea of trying to paint it! The detailing and the amount of visual information and clutter in such a view is mind boggling.
I challenged myself to find an approach that I could make work. In my mind’s eye, what I liked the idea of is a painting that had really carefully constructed passages of quite flat washes such as the sky and the water, contrasting with a mass of freely painted boats, done in the most economical way possible.
I had done something not dissimilar in a sketchbook a year or so ago, a view of the Marina at Dieppe that I felt captured bustling boaty-ness of a marina but without getting fussy. I did however want this painting to have a little more balance between control and freedom.
Here’s how I got on:
I purposefully tried to keep the sketch simple to help avoid getting too caught up in any detail. I was a little disappointed that the first wash dried as light as it did, so thought I’d best do something about it.
I was pleased with the strengthened sky, and also with the silhouette of the distant buildings. So far, I felt, not too bad!
I started to add the boats, starting with the most distant. I was only indicating the boats with simple dashes of the brush, certainly nothing that you could discern as a boat. The plan was to give the boats in the foreground sufficient definition and information to make the sense of all the implied brushstrokes of the more distant boats.
Before taking the boats any further, I thought I’d add in the water. This was done in one take, and then the odd reflection lifted out with a bit of kitchen towel. At first, I quite like this, and was impatient to move onto the masts of the boats, the verticals that I thought would break up the main horizontals.
As much as I enjoyed painting these, I was beginning to think that the sky and the water were out of kilter – the water too turquoise for the sky.
I applied another wash to try to deepen it, and also tried to add some indication of movement on the surface of the water. Sadly, neither of these interventions were particularly well executed and I was feeling increasingly despondent about this effort. I tried to cheer myself up by adding in the odd dash of colour in amongst the boats.
With nothing to lose, I put yet another wash over the water.
By this stage, I’d had quite enough of looking at this painting! After a short time, of looking at it, I wondered whether anything could be salvaged by exploring a few different crops.
I like elements of this crop, but I miss the hotch-potch of all the boats jostling about together in the marina.
I do prefer the balance of this crop to the full version, but the water still troubles me.
I think this final crop is probably my favourite. It has the least water in it, which I think you can probably tell by now, is my least favourite element. I think this crop focuses attention towards the mass of boats, the verticals of the masts and the sky.
This painting lay around for a while, taunting me with it’s not quite rightness! I decided that before I took the painting off its board, and with nothing to lose, I may as well just put a final wash over the water. Here’s what this final act of desperation looked like!
I’m not sure that this is an improvement – it certainly doesn’t rescue the view, even when seen in my preferred narrow crop!
I do still like the idea of combining controlled areas with purposefully loose areas, even though this effort fell a long way wide of the mark that I’d hoped for!
I’ll chalk this one down to experience. Yes it’s frustrating, but now there’s a little more time and distance between me and this painting, I feel I can see the painting and my feelings about it, a little more objectively. I used to feel a similar sense of despondent frustration with almost every painting. Now it’s just with most of them. That’s progress!
Fortunately, a blank sheet of paper, some water, paints and a new beginning are never far away!