A great day’s plein air painting with Brighton painting group

Saturday saw the November gathering of the Brighton Painting Group. The location was Brighton Marina which offered a couple of distinct choices. Many people chose to paint from the top of the cliffs that overlook the marina that offers great viewpoints along the coast looking either east or west. I was keen to paint lower down on the undercliff walk and already had a view in mind based on this painting I’d done some years ago:

Watercolour painting of an anvil cloud over Brighton marina and it's reflection in the water.
Anvil cloud over Brighton Marina, watercolour painting by John Haywood

When I found this painting, I was surprised to see that I’d painted it almost three years ago to the day of this year’s paint-out. The view was on the undercliff looking towards the boatyard at the end of Brighton Marina and I had it in mind to revisit this location.

We were blessed with the most beautiful weather, bright sunshine and a balmy 15 degrees which – when not worrying about the climate crisis – was such a treat! Even with this forecast, I was anticipating that it would probably take a long time for my paper to dry at this time of year. In view of this, I decided not to paint in my usual half or quarter sheets sizes of paper, but to paint smaller in the hope I might get a couple of studies done.

I’d also long been intending to try out something that I made up a while ago and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Some time ago I bought a gummed watercolour block of my favourite Saunders Waterford High White 300gsm rough paper. I had an idea for how I might attach this to an easel, because I always prefer to paint standing up if possible.

Here’s a little video that I put together during Saturday’s session that I hope shows clearly how I did it and how it worked!

How to attach your watercolour block or pad to a camera tripod

On the way to my planned location, I passed nearby the boatyard and was delighted to see some activity that really added some atmosphere!

The boatwash in action!

This seemed like too good and opportunity to miss so I set myself up opposite this view and got busy painting!

My painting and the view…

And here’s what the painting looked like close up:

Study 1

I didn’t have that long to find another location to do another painting and, as a different boat had now been hoisted into position, I decided to move my vantage point fractionally but stay with the same subject matter. Having become familiar with view from the first effort, I had hoped to capture this view even more freely, but somehow the opposite happened!

Study 2

What I was pleased with on both of these was how much I was able to simplify a really complex and busy scene and reduce it down to something that I could actually paint!

I did also consciously experiment with two different approaches to capturing the haze of the water spray. The first painting, I tried to capture the spray by leaving the surface of the paper barely touched by paint. For the second version, the haze was done by applying Chinese white (which is a transparent white) at the end of the process. I think of the two, I prefer the first version but would welcome anyone else’s thoughts on this.

While I was waiting for the paint to dry every now and then, I did also get some decent reference photos and I think that I might try to develop some larger paintings based on this view!

My Year of Brighton painting Group

It’s hard to believe but this session marked the first anniversary of the Brighton Painting Group! Sadly I haven’t been able to make as many of the meet-ups as I would have liked this past year, but it will always be a case of balancing out these meet-ups with other things that are going on in life! What I can say is that this group has led me to me do more plein-air painting in a single year than I’ve managed in the previous three, four or possibly even five years put together! I really have enjoyed every aspect of it and am so grateful to be part of it!

It seemed appropriate then, on this one-year anniversary to take a quick look back at some of my plein-air adventures with the group from the past 12 months:

Looking at this list, it seems like I managed seven out of a maximum potential 13 outings! Perhaps I’ll be able to improve on this figure over the next 12 months, but what feels great is that painting plein-air is becoming a much less daunting prospect. It’s also wonderful to have met some other artists, and some great individuals which is such a bonus.

It seems appropriate to sign off this week’s post with a rare photo of yours truly, just as I was just about to start my second painting. This was taken by a kind passer-by who stopped to have a chat and who took a photo, followed me on Instagram and sent me this. I still find it hard to believe that I was painting in a t-shirt in the middle of November!

A portrait of the artist in between painting!

Thoughts on A great day’s plein air painting with Brighton painting group

2 thoughts on “A great day’s plein air painting with Brighton painting group”

  1. You’re looking well, but I don’t think I’ll use it to paint a portrait… although….
    I am bound to say I prefer your first version where you haven’t applied (awful) opaque paint. Much more satisfactory. I also notice that you have telescope eyes; if I painted from that viewpoint I would either have included all the surroundings or painted a tiny picture of the boat cleaning itself. I don’t seem to be able to draw/paint at increased scale – only exactly what I can see. For you it has worked really well. I have long thought that Cezanne did a similar thing in that most of his landscapes have that flattened telephoto lens look about them which removed the 3D depth and produces a pattern of colour in 2 dimensions and hence a degree of abstraction. Totally irrelevant but I thought I’d say it anyway.

    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this! I wonder if Cezanne also used his mobile phone to zoom in on scene to help him isolate a sense and composition before starting to sketch it out!? I sometimes use one of those ‘viewfinders’ which I’ve also found helpful, but perhaps still not as helpful or versatile as my phone!

      Would I be correct in thinking that the old adage of ‘the end justifies the means’ doesn’t apply to the use of opaque paint in watercolours!?

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

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