New watercolour paints, new sketchbook, new subject matter!

New michael harding watercolour paints

Well, after all my deliberations last week, I took the plunge and ordered myself a supply of some of my key colours from the new Michael Harding range of watercolour paints. I had been considering just buying a single tube of colour and comparing it with it’s Windsor and Newton equivalent however, buoyed by the sale of a painting last week, I decided to use some of money to buy a range of my most commonly used colours.

You can see them here which are, left to right: Yellow Ochre; Ultramarine Blue; Neutral Tint; Cobalt Blue; Alizarin Crimson; Burnt Sienna and Cerulean Blue.

I was keen to see how an individual colour might behave in comparison, but I was also really keen to see how colour mixes might differ. Hopefully this selection will give me a good opportunity to find out! I haven’t opened any of these yet as they’ve only just arrived but I’ll try to share some swatches next week.

I’ve already prepared myself to be disappointed with these paints! I’ve already concluded that these new paints won’t make me a better painter. They might, however, make my paintings better, and I do think that there might be a subtle but relevant distinction here, or I could just be clutching at straws to justify me splashing out on some new paints that will make little or no difference to my paintings!

I think that the jury will be out on this for the next few months while I play around with these new paints!

New sketchbook

I’ve spoken before about my love for the range of sketchbooks from King and McGaw made from 300gsm Saunders Waterford rough paper. In the past I’ve only used the A5 sketchbooks but I recently decided to upsize and try an A4 one.

Now some may recall that I’ve recently been trying to work on my representation of figures and faces and that this has lead to a number of studies where the figures are perhaps larger and more dominant in the composition that in my usual fare. Here are some examples:

Well my first few pages of the new sketchbook seem to be pursing this line of investigation even further!

I can’t recall ever focusing so closely on faces so I’m finding it quite an interesting exercise. Most of these are far too heavy-handed and overworked for my liking but, they are all recognisably faces – which is a start! I have been referring a little to a book that I got some time ago: Portraits and Figures in Watercolour by Charles Reid that has been helpful in terms of basic colour mixes for flesh tones, but I’ve been striving to work with my existing palette and not to introduce any new colours.

It’s also been good to just play around in the sketchbook without there being any expectation of producing ‘a painting’ (which based on these results, is just as well!). I think I’ve found the discipline of studying the faces and trying to get proportions correct has been really valuable. As I do more of these, I’m hoping they will become more loose and gestural, but this may be some way off just yet!

latest painting

I don’t really have too much to say about this one. I had high hopes for it at the outset, but these hopes dwindled as the painting went on!

This is a half sheet and I did really enjoy working with some of my largest mop brushes and lots of paint and pigment. There are some moments in here that I do like, such as the building in the background, but overall, it left me feeling pretty underwhelmed. Probably best not to dwell on this too long and to move on to something different!

And finally…

Who’s up for the 2023 Royal Institute of Painters exhibition 2023!?

I received notification that submissions have opened and that people have until the 6th of January 2023 to submit their work. Once again I find myself in the familiar situation of wanting to submit, but not having anything that immediately springs to mind as being suitable to submit! This gives me almost two months to rustle something up, or else I’ll be delving into the archive of whatever I’ve got left over from the past year. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few paintings that might be worth considering, but even those are likely to be complete outsiders.

This Call for Entries reminded me of the conversation that I had with Rosa Sepple, the outgoing chair of the Royal Institute for Watercolour Painters when I visited this year’s exhibition. Rosa was explaining to me that the society has taken significant steps to broaden out the range of work selected in recent years. The society is keen to highlight and showcase the huge diversity of approaches – and this also means that if someone’s work is very similar in style or approach to one of the existing RI members – then it may also be less likely to be selected.

I think my work could easily be seen as similar to some of the existing members of the RI (though admittedly rarely as accomplished!). Straight away this presented me with a bit of a dilemma. I could either carry on my current path, or I could ‘try to paint differently’. This second option really doesn’t appeal to me as it feels as though I’d be trying to paint differently for difference’s sake.

I decided to carry on with what I’m doing and to carry on submitting. This is still one of my favourite exhibitions that I really enjoy and, one day, I would love to be part of it. I’ll just have to keep on painting and keep persevering with my submissions. Who knows, this could be my lucky year!

Thoughts on New watercolour paints, new sketchbook, new subject matter!

6 thoughts on “New watercolour paints, new sketchbook, new subject matter!”

  1. You’re a brave man, John. I know how uncomfortable you must feel doing portraits AND putting up for everyone to see. Well done! There are some convincing faces here. Beyond that all I would say is to start with an accurate light drawing so that you don’t have to worry about likeness from that point on; it’s just painting by numbers after that and you can make it as wet & loose or and dry & tight as you desire – not forgetting to retain some sparkly bits – usually on the eyes, nose and mouth – just to make it come to life. But what do I know? Fell at the first hurdle!

    1. Hi Rob and thanks so much for this! A person of your skills and experience in this field has probably noticed that I’m purposefully avoiding eyes at the moment! I think that they might take quite some building up to. I think the telling phrase in your advice is ‘accurate’! I am doing light drawings to map things out, with the intention of painting loosely over them, but I’ve been applying wash after wash (not my preferred style as you know!) to build things up but then I keep changing proportions as I’m going along! PS. Is your appearance on the Portrait Artist of the Year available on catch up? After missing your appearance I went out and bought a brand new TV! (still can’t seem to figure out quite how to use it but if there’s a way of watching on catch up I’d still love to see your ‘performance’!)

      1. My “performance” should be available on NowTV, which is their catch up channel. Unfortunately, I think you have to pay for it but I was told that you can get it for one month only if you’re really desperate! I’d concentrate on painting if I were you…

        1. Ah, I see, thanks for letting me know this Rob – I think I might have to take your advice and concentrate on the painting – but I’m still sorry to have missed seeing you in action!

    1. Thanks so much for this Patricia, I’m sure I’ve got some Naples yellow in the collection somewhere, but not sure about Potters Pink! I’ve been trying to use what I usually carry in my palette. I think the most successful combination I’ve found with the colours available is yellow ochre and pyrrol red with some cerulean blue for shadows! It’s all quite a steep learning curve but I’m enjoying playing around at the moment!

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

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