Half-hearted watercolour paintings

I don’t mind confessing that I’m finding my painting a bit of a struggle at the moment. This isn’t something new. In fact it’s pretty much an annual occurrence at this time of year. I know that a significant factor is my work, which is almost all-consuming at the moment. I’m also craving a break as I feel like I’m running on empty at the moment.

I will be taking some time off in the second part of August which I’m really looking forward to but, in the meantime, I find myself in the position of painting because I feel I ought to more than I feel that I’m painting because I really want to.

So, with this context in mind, here are a couple of paintings that I think demonstrate a certain half-heartedness.

First up is a view along Brighton seafront and I can specifically remember the occassion! My reference photo for this was taken a few months ago, just after I’d had my the second dose of my Covid vaccination. I’d purposefully taken my camera as I’ve recently had a few enquiries about views of the seafront and thought that this might be a good opportunity to get a few reference photos.


Brighton seafront

While it’s not without the odd moment, I left walked away from this painting with an overall sense that I can only best describe as ‘meh’.

As I’d found it helpful the other week to paint something that I’d enjoyed painting before – I went throught some old photographs from our various trips to France. The funny thing is, I’m not quite sure why I settled on this particular image as, while I had painted it before, I didn’t recall enjoying the painting of this, or the finished results! Despite these early warning signs, I pressed on regardless!

Perigeuex, France

The last time I’d painted this scene was back in 2018. I’ve been back through the archives so that I can show my 2018 and 2021 versions side by side:

I think the warmth of the 2021 palette works better, as does a greater emphasis on joining up the different elements of the painting better, however, this aside it still feels like scant reward for another three years of regular painting!

As I was feeling quite flat about all of this, I picked up on of my favourite books on watercolour. It’s a relatively little known book, but it’s one that I’ve referred to often. Perhaps surprisngly, its also a book that’s easy to lay your hands on and at a very reasonable price.

The book is ‘The Artists Essential Guide to Watercolour by Gerald Green’. A dislike for Amazon prevents me from putting a link to its site but I’d recommend searching on Ebay where you can probably pick up a hardback copy for less than £10 including postage.

The Artists Essential Guide to Watercolour by Gerald Green

It’s a great book, packed with a wealth of advice and information that is all focussed on developing a ‘direct approach’ to watercolour painting (ie not using layers of washes to develop a painting). When I picked this book up the other day and was casually leafing through it’s pages, the following line caught my eye:

Since all paintings begin with thinking, having a positive mental attitude is always a worthwhile aim

Gerald Green

This really struck a chord with me as it’s exactly what I feel I’m missing at the moment, ‘a positive mental attitude’!

Hopefully, my forthcoming holiday will provide an opportunity to take a break and to recharge my batteries on all fronts! In the meantime, I shall endeavour to approach my painting – and everything else! – with as postive a mental attitude as I’m able to muster!

Thoughts on Half-hearted watercolour paintings

18 thoughts on “Half-hearted watercolour paintings”

  1. Pingback: Rejuvanating watercolour paintings

  2. Hmmm, not sure I agree that is “…supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing…” rather it is “…fraught and stressful…”! So “…why bother at all…”? Indeed if we bother at all, why on earth do we choose watercolour, a most fickle and difficult medium, always one stroke from disaster and disappointment? It’s probably because we simply have too. We all have difficult moments, feeling down about our art: mostly we know it won’t last; a painting will go well and were back focussed; we’ll see a play of light on the side of a building and think how to capture it in watercolour; we’ll see another’s art and think “I can do that”; we’ll have a holiday away and miss the studio (or the corner of the kitchen!) and can’t wait to get back to painting; we’ll read a blog and be inspired (thinks, me reading yours). We all know you’ll be back from the doldrums stronger than ever, John!,

    1. haha, yes Ray, I did question myself as I wrote ‘enjoyable and relaxing’ as that’s so rarely ever the case. It really does make one wonder whether ‘finding watercolour’ is a blessing or a curse! I do really appreciate your kind words and hope that I will soon be firing on all cylinders again! Many thanks Ray.

  3. I don’t have much to offer you other than I feel what you are going through. I am taking a break from posting as you probably well know. I think that all artists struggle with this. I have read quite a bit on Monet and he was quite moody and hard on myself ( I can be this way!) Monet would often destroy canvases and go into rages. Hahaha I can relate! I know that I am emphasis is more on the dramatic but being ambivalent can be a gateway to the extreme. Taking a break is integral for your sanity and peace. You’ll come back with new attitude and enthusiasm, I am sure of it!

    1. Thanks so much Margaret. I’ve always admired your annual abstention from posting. I fear that if I stop posting (at least on my blog), I’ll also stop painting! I’m not sure I’d equate myself with Monet’s moodiness but there are times when I wonder if forcing myself to paint, even when I really don’t feel in the mood for it, is worth it or not as it often ends in disappointment! Hope that you return from your mini exile feeling refreshed and reinvigorated! As for me, I have a few weeks to wait for my vacation but I’m determined to make the most of it when it arrives! Take care Margaret!

    1. Ah, so pleased there’s another fan of this book too! It’s great, isn’t it! I particularly like just being able to dip into it anywhere and always find something of interest!

  4. Morning John. Gosh you are hard on yourself! I’m sure we all go through this phase of not feeling so positive about our painting, but after this probably necessary lull, the sun will shine again for you I’m sure. I personally look forward to your Wednesday blog and always look out for it. You are a wonderful painter so just have a good break, possibly with no painting, and come back refreshed and raring to go again. Enjoy your break.😁

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this which is all really kind and supportive! I like the expression of it being a ‘necessary lull’ as I do think that’s quite right. I feel like this is all part of a familiar cycle that seems to repeat itself annually, almost like clockwork! Your kind words about the blog (and my painting!) are a real tonic and I’ll try to keep them in mind when I embark on my next painting! Thanks so much Carole

  5. John, that little book is my favorite amongst my collection!

    It is a gem, especially for starting out artists! Mine is dog eared and highlighted and scribbled in!

    Enjoy your break! Get some rest, we’ll all be here waiting for ya!

    1. HI Ang and thanks so much for this! I’m so delighted to meet another fan of this book! For all my much more rare and expensive watercolour books, this, along with few Rowland Hilder books, is the one that I probably return to most! Thanks so much Ang, really appreciate your kind and supportive words!

  6. Hi John, it’s wonderful to see your post. I am sad that you are having a tough time, especially with your painting. I think pretty much all artists go through these patches; I know I have. Sometimes I will look at some of my photos, and think, “Dude you know better; why would you waste time putting out that garbage?”

    I hope what I say will cheer you up a bit. I love your work and your posts. I love that you put so much or yourself in the posts and that you are so honest with yourself and your readers. You are really talented, and seeing your posts always make me happier.

    We have all been through a really hellacious year. Go have an awesome and relaxing holiday, but know that a lot of us just look forward to seeing what John’s been up to lately. When you let yourself relax and get some mental rest and recharge, the painting will take care of itself.

    And by the way, I liked both paintings in this post. Don’t beat yourself up; give yourself permission to relax and recharge.

    Wishing you all the best my friend,

    1. Oh Tim, thanks so much, your kind, supportive and encouraging words certainly do cheer me up and they’re so appreciated. As you mentioned, we’ve all been enduring for a long time now and I think the accumulation (not helped in the UK by rapidly rising case numbers again!) is taking its toll.
      I’m sure you have similar experiences with your photography, when the what’s supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing actually becomes fraught and stressful and you end up questioning ‘why bother at all!’
      I shall do my best to take on board your advice Tim, and thanks again, I really appreciate it! All the best to you too

      1. Thanks John. Yes, things are much the same here and with me. It’s hard to stay inspired when you can’t get out to find new material. Fortunately, the US lockdown was not nearly as strict as the UK. At least here in Utah, we could travel around somewhat. So I was able to at least take day trips and make a few photos. But the COVID era is definitely getting old.

        1. haha yes, Tim, I like that about the Covid era getting old (just like me!). For the break I’m taking soon I’ll be staying local and going camping to a spot that I’ve not been to before in the next county. It’s well situated for some good landscapes so I’ll be taking my camera and hope that I’ll manage to get a few snaps that might inspire the odd painting or two. I think more exotic travels abroad will be off the cards for me until sometime next year.

  7. If it’s any help, you’re doing a lot better than me, John. I haven’t finished a painting for a few months now! I’m very relieved to be going to a life-drawing session on Friday which, I hope, will spur me into some kind of action. Am I worried? Well, no. After all, I don’t have a blog to produce every Wednesday come what may. Considering everything, you are doing a fantastic job and I’m sure it’ll all settle down once you’ve had a bit of a break. I would suggest you stop doing the blog but that would leave me and many others with a big gap in their week and we wouldn’t want that!

    1. Hi Rob and many thanks for this. Sorry to hear that you’re also struggling to muster the necessary motivation and I hope that the life drawing class helps to re-invigorate. I think you’re right about taking a break from the blog… but my fear is that once I do that, I can pretty much kiss my painting farewell for good. In many ways, the blog is the habit that’s kept me painting so regularly that it’s now part of my body clock! I’ve been here before – and usually end up immersing myself in a few books and doing more sketchbook work so that could be my plan now until I go away in about 3 weeks time. Hope that you’re also able to get some form of respite too!

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