Work in progress watercolour painting

I have in the past shared work-in-progress posts, but usually, it’s when I’ve been purposefully documenting a painting at various different stages, and I usually share the work-in-progress images only when I’ve finished the painting!

On this occasion, its not that I’ve been documenting the stages, but more that I just reached a point in a painting when I had to stop, and now I find myself in a dilemma about how to progress!

Here’s the most recent painting that I’ve been working on:

Work in progress watercolour painting

I usually work quite quickly and more often than not finish a painting in the same session or same day that I start it. With this painting however, I had a few interruptions and progress was a little more fragmented than usual. Even so, I’m pleased with what I’ve done so far. The only thing now is that I need to add the trees on the left of the lane.

My dilemma is that I like what I’ve done so far, and I really don’t want to ruin it, but nor do I feel confident about doing the best possible job of the trees. The trees in question will link the bottom half of the painting with the top half and without them, the painting looks obviously incomplete. The trees will most likely take up between a quarter and a third of the entire painting so it’s not as if they’re going to go unnoticed. (If you look closely you may be able to see some feint pencil lines that indicate the main branches.) I keep thinking about the best way of trying to portray the trees and so far, remain unconvinced by all my solutions. I know, I should probably have thought of this before I started but I had precious little idea that it was going to work out as it has or that I’d become so attached to it before I’d even started on the trees!

The trees are leafless and there’s a temptation to go tight and end up having to suggest every individual twig. An alternative might be to just try to loosely suggest the tree with a few drags of a mop brush, in a similar vein to Edward Wesson. Another approach might be to block out the mass of the tree with a very pale wash and, when this is dry, apply some dry brushstrokes over the surface to suggest the texture of the smaller twigs and branches. This is something I think of as being a little more Roland Hilder-esq in approach. There are probably numerous other ways that I could try to tackle this too, but the fact that I can’t decide which one might work best is quite disconcerting.

I think that whatever approach I take, I need to try to paint boldly and confidently – neither of which I yet feel capable of doing to see this painting through! I’m currently trying to tell myself that I have nothing to lose – that without the trees, the painting isn’t remotely finished. Sadly there’s so much that I already like about the painting that I can’t seem to summon up this level of carefree abandon!

What a conundrum! Any thoughts on how I should proceed – both practically and mentally – would be most welcome! I’ll be sure to share with you, whatever happens, next week – assuming that is that I get over my current state of paralysis!

Thoughts on Work in progress watercolour painting

14 thoughts on “Work in progress watercolour painting”

  1. John, know I’m weighing in when you have already reached a more than satisfactory conclusion! However, should you face a similar dilemma in future, one way to resolve it without wrecking the painting would be to get some of that transparent acetate sheet that used to be used for overhead projectors before the digital age and try out various solutions on that. The advantage being of course that you see the result in the context of the painting. Of course it is not particular conducive to watercolour paint, so maybe tracing paper would provide a better solution. Either way, it would give you some idea of the best way to resolve the problem. However, I should add that, like all good advice, I’ve never done this myself.

    1. Hi David and thanks so much for this. I can see how your solution would work in some instances but my main challenge in this case did involve needing to see how the paint, brushstrokes and paper would behave – none of which I’d be able to get from tracing paper or transparent acetate. Definitely worth considering for future applications however, I’m thinking about those instances of wondering whether to add in figure, and if so, what scale should the figure be. This would be a great way to test this before committing! Thanks so much David!

  2. The trees that exist at the moment are quite sufficient, IMHO. And as they currently are. There’s a combibation of loneliness and warmth. Like coming home, to a far away spot.

    1. Thanks so much for this Martin and I love your poetic interpretation of this! I also like how you feel that additional trees are unnecessary – especially because in many ways, I’d love to leave this as it is! I’ll share the reference photo next week (hopefully with the finished painting too!) as I think it may be easier to see why I feel committed to adding the trees. Your suggestion has thought already given me a bit of a get out! If I don’t like everything about the trees that I add, I’ll still have the option of cropping the painting down in size to edit them out – thanks so much!

  3. It looks great so far; I suppose I would do the trees in roughly the same style as the left bushes that are in the foreground, but maybe a little less detailed. So maybe something approximating the detail of the other bushes that are the same distance away?

    1. Thanks so much Nathan, really appreciate this! I realise now that it would have been useful if I’d have shared my reference photo for this painting! I’ll definitely do this next week. In response to your suggestion, I realise that what I’m finding difficult to overcome, is how to maintain the transparency of the tree (because there are no leaves, you can see the sky through all the branches and twigs) I’m increasingly thinking that a very thin transparent wash might do the trick. A few poeple have suggested that I do some practice trees using different approaches to see which might work best in this situation, so I think that’s what I’ll have a go at! Thanks so much Nathan!

  4. What a fascinating problem, John, and on such a superb painting, too! I was wondering – could you practice the tree in question on a separate sheet using any or all of the approaches you mentioned? And when you hit on an approach that excites you you switch to the painting?

    1. Thanks so much for this wonderfully straightforward and practical suggestion Antje! I think my usual lack of patience was leading me to just decide on an approach and to just go for it! Your idea is really appealing though and I’ll definitly be adopting this approach! I’ll share my practice trees and (hopefully!) the final pice next week!

    2. That is exactly what I thought would be the best approach. Your painting is too good to risk spoiling and I completely understand why you have become ‘stuck’. You will be so much more relaxed experimenting on a separate sheet – giving your brain, hand and heart more chance of creating what it is you are searching for.

      1. Thanks so much for this June and yes, this was exactly the right decision! (And quite rare for me to heed advice, so there’s a lesson in this too!) – I’ve finished this painting now and will share it next week so hopefully you’ll be able to see if worked out (or not!)

  5. I have often felt that way about various pictures. Only suggestion I have, something that works for me, is to make a second version and try some of the ideas out on the other one. Making another version sometimes becomes itself a form of invention (creating a series). I draw a lot too, could be with pencil or even with color media and “rehearse” the ideas, similar to the way a musician practices difficult parts of music separately to understand them better.

    I can certainly see why you feel as you do. It’s very beautiful. Perhaps you have to have confidence that the same skill and intuition that brought you here will carry you forward — and also respect that your mind needs a breathing space for that confidence to fully appear. Bon courage.

    1. Thanks so much Aletha, this is really helpful, especially that advice and encouragement of your second paragraph! I’ll definitely take this on board. On your practical suggestions, they do make perfect sense – though I think I’m far too impatient to make a second version! It does make me think however that I should just have a little play around on some scraps of paper or the backs of failed paintings to see if I can conjure up something tree like without the pressure of it potentially ruining my work so far! Thanks so much for taking the time to pass your advice, I really appreciate it and will hopefully be able to share the rewards of it next week!

  6. No idea, John! Is this entirely from your imagination or are you working from a photo? If the latter, I would be asking what it was about the trees against the sky that inspired me to start the painting and try to go for that effect. If the former, then I’d probably starting looking at other people’s paintings to see if anything already done would inspire me. I’m a firm believer in the idea that, if there’s something in the painting that absolutely stumps you, you need to make sure that in the finished work it’s the one thing that stands out as a tour de force rather than an afterthought. How you do that… I have no idea. Good luck… I look forward to next Wednesday!

    1. Hi Rob and thanks so much for this! Had I thought about it more/been in less of a rush I like to think that I’d have inlcuded my reference photo as it would probably have made my dilemma all the clearer! I’ll be sure to share it next week but… your message made me realise that despite it’s dominance, the tree isn’t what attracted me to the view! It was the brightness/contrast of the puddles that really drew me in. What I do like (even if it is a bit intimidating!) is your suggestion that I need to turn my doubts and uncertainties into a tour de force. I still think the puddles, being the strongest contrast will be the focal point – so even this is helpful in determining that the trees should be secondary, and not try to steal the show from the puddles! Thanks so much Rob

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