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Artist Wilfred Fairclough at Work

Posted on Thu 11 Apr 2013

A work of art is the visible result of an artist's imagination brought into being  by  his  special knowledge and technical skill.

There are various manifestations of imagination ranging from the Sistine Chapel ceiling to the work of art created from painting a loaf of bread, a knife and a glass of wine or a group of apples on a white cloth; the test being that the ordinary, passing through the artist's mind, should emerge as something extra-ordinary and reording something which had not been seen before.

Wilfred Fairclough displays a few of his latest water colours.
The paintings have been 'laid down 'with paste on smooth hand made paper

In most drawings there is a sense of urgency and intimacy which is a great part of their attraction for collectors and domestic decoration. These qualities are sometimes less easily seen in larger and more technically complicated works.

Many years ago it made sense to use only the best available drawing materials. If then the drawings I made fell short of expectations, it was through no fault in the materials. As years have gone by there is the added reason that works sold should have a quality of permanence which the purchaser can rely upon.

In practice I use a very limited palette and this I find serves me well enough for most things I want to do. There are other colours in reserve for special occasions. It is better, in my experience, really to get to know a few colours than to be bewildered by too many.

In addition to the colourman's watercolours I use to a limited extent Chinese Ink (black) which is pure carbon and also Chinese Vermilion which is a product of mercury. These two inks are only used in drawings made in the studio.

A spacious well-lit studio. When drawings are made indoors two Chinese inks black and vermilion are added to the small range of watercolours


Over the years I have developed two main methods of working:

1. The drawings done outside on the spot, where all the important movements of the design in tone and colour are set down in front of the subject. Some additional work is continued on this base in the studio, but not more than is sufficient to make adjustments and to bring the subject together.

2. The second method is to work in the studio from studies made from the subject. The drawings are built up in a considered way both in design and technical resource. These drawings can take a very long time to do and are different in character from the works made outdoors.

In both kinds of drawing the same basic palette is used. There is a tendency to use additional colours in the studio works to serve the more complicated technical methods employed.

Fairclough demonstrates his method of using the hands as a view finder


This is decided by looking through a simple frame made with the angles of the sides of my hands and thumbs (see illustration above) . This I find more convenient than card frames. With my hands I can vary the shape and proportion of the aperture to suit the subject

Stage 1

Having decided the design. it is lightly drawn in pencil (H.B.H) main shapes only. as a broad guide for the colour. It must be remembered that this is water colour drawing-not a tinted pencil drawing

Stage 2

The larger movements of dark toned colours are washed in.setting up from the beginning the major dispositions of colour and tone. In this stage all the solid parts of the design are firmly established.

Stage 3

Further reinforcement and adjustments to stage 2. The river was developed to a more advanced condition. When the drawing is judged to be coming along together the sky is introduced and the whole design can be seen. Further adjustments are made to the drawing.

Stage 4

At this stage the drawing is "laid down"  on hand-made paper (white) and all final minor adjustments are made. By this stage the adjustments are very small.


In method one I am currently using very old paper, mostly Whatman (early 19th century) which I bought some years ago. It is excellent material, rather ••soft" the size having matured over the years. It has to be worked rather rapidly and with confidence. There is little or no margin for ••washing out" and other adjustments of that nature.
The drawings are begun with the paper unstrained and simply clipped to the board with box clips. Towards the completion of the work the drawing is "laid down•• with paste on to a piece of smooth hand-made paper. This operation does two things. It makes the drawing lie flat for the final adjustments and also it resizes the paper and restores it to a ''harder" nature.

In method two,the studio drawings are generally made on strained Whatman paper of modern manufacture. I prefer the softer sized papers (toned or white) normally used for the printing of etchings. Whatman have ceased manufacture but other paper makers are producing similar kinds of paper. This paper will stand up to very strong handling of washing out and reworking and will usually remain in good condition until the completion   of the work On  the occasions  where  I  find  it necessary to use a heavier paper I usually soak it or give it a vigorous sponging to take away some of the surface size and to give it "softer handling".


I use no colours below a colourman's "A" grading for permanence and durability


Pure red sables. The smallest size I use is No. 7 but for most work I use larger sizes,8, 9, 10.
These are expensive but if well-kept and the colour thoroughly cleaned from the ferrule end of the bristles they retain their point and give long service. For "washing out" I use a stiff hog brush or for larger areas a sponge.

Other equipment

I have no relish for great physical exertions and I therefore pare all my equipment down to the most light and slender proportions. This is not only less tiring to carry but is also much cheaper when travelling by air.
The "board" I use outdoors consists of two pieces of white card hinged with Sellotape X.   This carries a small stock of paper whilst the piece of paper in use is held with four small box clips. This I find gives adequate and confident support whilst the work is going on. Most    colour    boxes,    I   find,   are unnecessarily heavy and recently I have constructed  one  to  my  own  design using as a base a very light tin box marketed for the use of children. This now contains all the colours I need and gives serviceable room to work. It is also small and light enough to be slipped unobtrusively into a pocket. The sable brushes I use outdoors are double ended "pocket" brushes which can be carried in a pocket without damage to the working bristles. They are also very light in weight.

The finished painting in its traditional mount.
Title: Isola Tiberina-Ponte Cestio e Pont e Fabricio

As will be seen from the materials used, my method of working is simple and straightforward. If one thing does not produce the effect I am looking for I try something else and go on in this way until I begin to realise what I have in mind.

In working from nature it is usually some particular place which sets a drawing in motion. The place is only the beginning of the adventure and it is always my intention to do something more than mere description of the initial scene. The creation of a mood is more important to me than a literal record of a place.
I have said that my methods are simple and straightforward, this does perhaps need a small qualification. In my youth all the books I read on watercolour painting gave a general instruction that the artists should proceed from light to dark. These instructions and demonstrations I dutifully followed for a long time getting more and more impatient with having to wait until the lower edge of the sky had dried out until the painting could proceed.

In practice I now completely reverse this order of working. The sky is always the last thing to go in. The first thing I do is to establish a good solid dark in the body of the drawing. This procedure establishes early a full range of tone from dark to light and the sky coming last can be pitched in tone and colour to complete the design.

The end always justifies the means and all is fair in love and war, and art.

This article by Wilfred Fairclough is taken from the Spring 1969 issue of Leisure Painter

The cost of an issue was 3/6 and a subscription to the then quarterly magazine was 17/6

Below are some advertisements taken from the same issue.
Does anyone remeber these shops? Or did you take a holiday with Galleon? If so, please drop us a line, and we will include your memories on the site.

Artist Wilfred Fairclough at Work


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  • Pleasant to look back at the styles. It would be better if you showed the paints as well. Certainly more please.

    Posted by Richard Griffin on Thu 25 Apr 11:52:21
  • I'd rather watch you paint four thirty minutes and it be complete garbage than watch you paint in time laps you work hard on tor paintings don't fast forward through them. recommend my favorite artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frida Kahlo, Roberto Matta Gabino amaya cacho and Pablo Picasso. Thank you for your nice comment on my work too.

    Posted by Victoria apel on Wed 20 Sep 02:37:09