Watercolour painting based on a black and white photograph by Fan Ho titled 'Mystic Alley' by artist John Haywood

Fan Ho watercolour painting

This week’s post is inspired by the brilliant photography of Fan Ho (1931-2016).

If you haven’t already heard of Fan Ho, it’s still highly likely that you may be familiar with some of his images. Personally, I always like it when you get to see and hear an artist, so below is a brief video featuring Fan Ho talking about his work:

There are some wonderful phrases and quotes in this video and I think he exudes such humility.

As his images speak far more eloquently than any words that I could use, here’s a quick selection of Fan Ho photographs that I’ve pulled together onto a Pinterest board:

I think that these all have such an incredible painterly quality to them. I love that they’re all black and white too – it really plays to my preferences of a muted palette!

What I love is how ‘complete’ they are as images. The composition, lighting, contrast and rhythm – each photograph seems to have everything. I could easily see how I could use these images to really hone my painting, from studying all of these elements to considering what brushstrokes to use, what edges I need to create to make the painting work and how best to manage tone.

So this is my watercolour painting based on a Fan Ho black and white photograph titled ‘Mystic Alley’ (which you can see on the pinterest board)

Watercolour painting based on a black and white photograph by Fan Ho titled 'Mystic Alley' by artist John Haywood
Watercolour painting based on a black and white photograph by Fan Ho titled ‘Mystic Alley’

Following last week’s post, and in particular so many people’s enthusiasm for quinacridone gold – I began this painting with a subtle underwash, in particular on the left hand buildings, of quinacridone gold and added in wet in to wet, some light red, some burnt sienna and some brown madder (another one of my non-standard tubes of paint!)

The aim was to put in a warm underwash over the top of which I could apply some shadows. I don’t really think that anyone would be able to discern the presence of the quinacridone gold or the brown madder but, for the record, they’re both in there!

Once this wash had dried, I started to apply some more shadow based washes. One mix that I’m particularly enjoying at the moment is a grey made up from lavender (which is from Holbein and my only non-winsor and newton paint), cobalt blue and light red. If you have these colours, or their approximates, (and of course like the colour grey!) I’d encourage you to have a play around with them!

I applied this grey over much of the painting. The dark right hand side also started out with the warm underwash, over which went a much darker mix of french ultramarine and burnt sienna.

Throughout the painting, I tried to be mindful of the edges. In the original photo there’s a lot of diffused light and smoke / steam, so there’s a lot of soft edges. I tried to emulate much of this in the painting.

Once the buildings on the left hand side had dried, I did a little bit of dry brush work, just to imply the odd bit of architectural detail on the building.

Finally came the figure which I tried not to overwork, and similarly a few details at the far end of the alley to show the light catching on some bits and bobs (and a figure) which were done with some touches of titanium white.

All in all I was pretty pleased with how this turned out. I think the colours are sympathetic to the original black and white image. I do still have a slight niggle about the sky – which was painted with raw sienna with cobalt blue bleeding into it. At the end, this sky didn’t seem to match the shadows. To match the sky, the shadows would have had to be much crisper. To try to correct this, I applied a muted glaze over the top to calm the sky down a little. This did improve it, but I don’t think it totally corrected it!

I’m already feeling a little torn now between throwing myself into the wonderful and enticing world of Fan Ho or trying to tear myself away to find something entirely different!

Thoughts on Fan Ho watercolour painting

20 thoughts on “Fan Ho watercolour painting”

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    1. Hi Shaima – thanks so much for visiting and for your kind words. Looking at your wonderful work leaves me feeling a little inadequate – I certainly couldn’t do/achieve anything remotely similar – really amazing! 👏👏

      1. Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. I’m not sure about that, your style is certainly different than mine and likewise hard to achieve on my end as well. What I’m poorly trying to say is, you’re skilled and keep up the great work! 😆👏

        1. Hi Shaima and thanks so much for this and apologies for not replying sooner. I think I was trying to say the some to you! I look forward to seeing more of your great work!

  4. The warmth shines through. This particular combination of colors in the wash brings a new liveliness to thIs painting that I feel is lacking in much of your previous work. And, the figure stands out in stark contrast to the hazy effect. He’s little, but mighty. Wonderful painting.

    1. Hi Carol and many thanks for this. Really pleased you like this and appreciate the positive comments about the liveliness from the colours. Shall try to carry this forward to whatever I tackle next!

    1. Thanks so much for this. So pleased you the painting and the video. I really love hearing him talk about his work. He sounds both incredibly humble but also exudes a steely conviction of purpose. Seeing the video made me admire and respect his photographs even more than I already did!

  5. A very nice painting, John. Fan Ho seems to be right up your alleyway, so to speak.
    Another top photographer is Martin Parr; you should base something on one of his pictures!

    1. Thanks for this Rob. I’m actually more familiar with Martin Parr’s work than I am with Fan Ho’s photographs. I’m not sure that I’m as immediately struck by them as potential painting subjects as I am with Fan Ho’s work – where the lighting and contrast is so stark. I’ll have another look though! Thanks Rob

      1. I’m afraid my suggestion was slightly tongue in cheek, John. I can’t imagine anything more diametrically opposite in terms of lighting, colour or composition. Sorry about that!

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

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