Spring cleaning watercolour paintings

Spring cleaning

As is common at this time of year, I’ve been embarking on a little bit of spring cleaning. It’s a familiar story, a rather desperate attempt to free up some much needed space by jettisoning some old bits for flotsam and jetsam to make way for more recently acquired flotsam and jetsam.

This included going through a box of books that I found in a cupboard that I haven’t looked at for 7 or 8 years! I was pleased to be able to get put some books aside that no longer carry any practical or emotional attachment, but I also couldn’t help getting distracted by a few of my old watercolour books.

One in particular was ‘Working with Watercolour’, written by Leslie Worth and published back 1980 in London, New York and Sydney.

For a 32 page book, it’s rich with practical advice and demonstrations. The approach is in the vein of Rowland Hilder, whose work I admire greatly – and consists of gradually building up layers of transparent washes. The reason why this particular book stood out to me is that one of the demonstration exercises, titled ‘Sea and Sky’ featured a breaking wave. As last week’s post featured my attempt to capture breaking waves at Brighton pier – I couldn’t resist tackling this exercise:

Sky and sea

My spring cleaning continued with some long overdue sorting out of my paintings! First up was the need to trim the edges off all of the paper that I’ve used on my Ken Bromley perfect paper stretcher. This was mainly because they were taking up way too much space!

paintings and all the trimmings!

As I trimmed each painting down, I also sorted them into one of three piles. The pile on the left are my ‘keepers’ – ones that I’ll most likely mount and, should any opportunities arise, these are the ones I’ll most likely exhibit. The middle pile is my ‘maybe’ pile. These are paintings that I don’t think I can do much with, but nor do I feel I can scrap them just yet! The pile on the right is my ‘scrap’ pile. I’ll keep these so that I can turn them over and use the reverse of them for sketches, experiments and playing around with. Most of this pile will eventually end up in the paper recycling bin.

What was nice was to come across a few paintings that I’ve done that, after initially discarding them in disgust/desperation/despair (most usually a combination of all three!), after a little bit of cropping here and there, I now don’t feel quite so bad about them. Both of these were done quite recently. First up, a big sky painting:

Big sky

And secondly, a bar in Barcelona:

Barcelona bar

If this image looks remotely familiar, it’s an interior that I’ve painted before but from a different viewpoint. It’s funny because looking at this now, I can’t help but notice that the bartender’s arm looks more like leg of serrano ham that can often be found in bars in Spain and Italy than it does an arm!

Horsing around

In yet more spring cleaning, I came across an old sketchbook from 10 or 11 years or so ago! There wasn’t much of interest in this sketchbook aside from one line drawing I did of a horse that I’ve always been fond of! This sketch was done from life whilst I was sat in field on one of our many camping trips. I was sat at the top of the field, doing a bit of sketching and two horses gradually started grazing their way up the hill towards me. This is the quick line sketch I did of one of them:

On Friday, it was hard not to get caught up in the media coverage following the announcement of Prince Philip’s death at the age of 99.

Now I’m not a staunch royalist but there’s no doubting that he lived a remarkable life that was characterised by his devout service to Queen and country. As I watched the rolling coverage of his life story – I was slightly absent mindedly also looking for some sort of ‘royalty related’ subject matter.

When I came across the reference image for the painting below, it struck a chord with my horse sketch so I thought I’d give it a go!

A royal tribute

For a quick study of an unfamiliar subject, I was quite pleased with how this turned out.

And finally…

I’ve been managing to get a few walks in with my family down on the seafront over Easter. I’ve done quite a few paintings of the promenade here in Hove, very few of which I feel ever do it justice! I’m sad to say that this is another quick painting to fall into that category! I had it in mind to do something different with this painting – especially with the figures and their shadows. In the end however, it all went a bit wrong and ended up being a bit neither one thing or the other – though I do like the tones in the tarmac of the prom!

Promenading, Brighton Seafront.

I’ll come back to this subject again I daresay. I’d like to get at least one painting of this view that I’m happy with!

Thoughts on Spring cleaning watercolour paintings

21 thoughts on “Spring cleaning watercolour paintings”

  1. Hi John, nice post. That book by Leslie Worth looks intriguing. I notice he has a few other books too. Is it worth getting, do you think? I notice there are copies going on Abebooks. Seems he was a great one for washes. Right up my street!

    1. Hi David and thanks for this. I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel confident about recommending what people should spend their hard earned money on! I think it depends on how much of a collector you are of this type of watercolour ephemera! In terms of what you might learn from it, and if you like washes, (and let’s face it, who doesn’t!) I personally wouldn’t worry about getting any of these books until you’ve exhausted Rowland Hilder’s output! (unless the money isn’t too much of an issue – I think mine only cost a few pounds on ebay – and you have plenty of shelf space, in which case I’d say yes, jump in with both feet!)

  2. Hi John, I’m looking at some of your paintings here and wondering how you might have tackled them when considering your recent Alvaro workshops (and I’ve been inspired by your writings to watch a few of his videos too). Would Alvaro make more use of that glorious red colour of the horseguards, change the weather to be wet so the reds can be reflected lower down all over the foreground to become the dominant colour, he’d probably add a flag somewhere too…would Alvaro lose some of the left side of Brighton Seafront as the shadow works on its own without the wall and railing, put more colour variation in the central group and make them the focus of the painting, raise the height of the buildings and make the right hand figures less evenly spaced…would he lose the detail behind the bartender with the Serrano ham arm (!), darken the side of the bar and add highlights to the two central figures, make more of that wonderful shape of the chandelier…

    I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of Alvaro’s paintings, but some things he has said in the videos has stuck with me. Simplify (shape and colour); the end justifies the means (e.g. in the use of paint straight from the tube); ensure there is a mix of hard and soft edges (don’t have too many continuous hard edges); the colour doesn’t matter, it’s the values (and in one video he quoted Picasso – “if I run out of blue I’ll use red” – or at least it was something similar); warm against cool as well as dark against light; under-paint a cool wash with a warm wash first (his first wash being opposite in temperature to the end result in many of his background buildings); be a lion not a pussycat; don’t over mix on the palette; only have detail in the focal point; let your painting tell a story. That’s quite a lot, and there was a ton more…ha ha, maybe I like him more than I thought!! Anyway, for me you do pretty well with all of them! I wish I did.

    1. Hi Ray and thanks for this! I think your comments just go to show that even though you may not necessarily like a particular artist’s work – that there’s still a great deal we can learn from them. I think that seeing you’re precis of points that have stuck with you (to which I’d like to add one that I often struggle with, ‘to keep on connecting shapes and elements within the painting’) – you’ve covered pretty much a lifetime’s learnings! The challenge I find however is putting all of this into practice simultaneously!

      Your comments about ‘what would Alvaro have done’ also raise one of my great dilemmas – which is trying to learn from him without wishing to mimic him. I think that I have a tendency to sometimes paint views that I’m not even convinced by at the outset – without making or considering the necessary changes that will make it work. The more I see of those really established painters at work – the more I’m convinced that so much of what they’re able to achieve is from the confidence they have in composition and in application that – as much as they can try to pass on, can only really be achieved through hard graft and practice! It’s funny that you should mention the chandelier in the Barcelona painting because this wasn’t in the original reference image, it’s something that I added in to make the ceiling area a bit more interesting… hopefully every little thing like this is another step in the right direction.

      Thanks so much for such a considered and thought provoking response Ray – it’s certainly got my grey matter churning quite a few things over and I’m tempted to write out a little list of ‘painting commandments’ to have at my side at all times as a little aide memoire!

      1. I agree about the hard graft.  We don’t see the thousands of hours that Alvaro has put in to get to his level (or of any other of the great watercolourists).   I do note that Alvaro draws – a lot.  Mainly charcoal I believe, and he’s very good.  All part of his practice to be better, and charcoal is a good medium for quick loose drawing.    I think I read that Alvaro started painting at age 12 , soon working with others considered masters, taking years to refine a style that worked for him.   So any thought that attending a workshop will in itself miraculously make anyone a better painter is rather doomed I think – workshops are not a short cut to living through the experience.  I do think though that the workshops can give you some of the tools to help you, but you have to learn to handle those tools properly (to master the understanding and technique, if you will) and then that frees you from worrying about how and why the tools work, they become second nature, then you can really develop your unique style.

        But that needs practice; practice, practice, practice…and then practice some more.  Draw often.  Paint often.  Discover for oneself why (in Alvaro’s case) the four pillars work, apply such thinking, even retrospectively, to your painting.  Be prepared for the reject pile to grow far faster than any other.

        It strikes me that this is the approach you are taking – and have been taking for ages – with great success, to develop your own style.  I absolutely agree about not being a mimic: that’s not being honest to one’s own artistic merit and will never satisfy – who wants to paint an inferior version of an Alvaro all the time (or of anyone else) unless it’s for learning (despite having said that, there are many who do just that).

        1. Hi Ray and yes – I agree with all of this (aside from my ‘great success’!) though it does put into stark contrast the mountain that still needs to be climbed in terms of hours at the easel! It’s just as well we do this for the love of it because on a standard ‘Return on Investment’ analysis – I’d have been well advised to pack this in after a year or so!

    1. Great post John,
      Strangely I’ve too have been trying to
      Re-home all those bits ‘n pieces that
      we’re going to turn me into an “artist”!
      I liked the Hove study, I used to work in
      Hove and think you’ve captured the skyline
      Perfectly, very evocative of the walk along
      the front.

      1. Hi Drew and many thanks for this! There’s obviously ‘something in the air’ that’s making us all want to exert some control over the mess that surrounds us! So pleased you like the Hove study. It’s a bit frustrating because I can sort of picture something in my mind… but I can’t recreate it on paper! (At least not yet anyway!)

    2. They’re great aren’t they! I keep wracking my brains to think of something useful/fun/interesting to do with them but am still waiting for that ‘eureka’ moment!

    1. Ah, thanks so much Carol – so pleased you like that ‘Royal’ one – it was an interest challenge to paint something so completely different to my usual fare! As for inspiring the spring cleaning – good luck – and remember: it always gets a whole lot worse before it starts to get better again!

    1. Ah, thanks David, I think that foreground tarmac area is done all in one wet and wet go, beginning with burnt sienna, then some cobalt blue, a bit of ultramarine and a touch of alazarin crimson. After that, sit back with fingers crossed and hope that it dries to a tone that approximates what you’re after!

  3. Hi John, wanted to take this opportunity for your Likes on Instagram and to say how much I love the horse drawing. Share your love of Roland.

    1. Hi David and many thanks for this – it’s great to be able see your work on Instagram. As for Rowland Hilder – yes, terrific painter and I often feel torn between his layered approach to the more direct approach!

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

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