Posted on Sun 12 Oct 2008
Winning with watercolour
Hazel Soan recommends watercolour as the perfect medium for a painting break, and urges you to paint simple scenes
Have you ever gone away for a few days to paint, buoyed with the pleasant anticipation of uninterrupted painting time, eager to improve your watercolour skills, experiment with a new brush, squeeze a new colour – yet returned home having painted virtually nothing at all, daunted by the view, uninspired by the subject matter, irritated by the watching people, or foiled by inclement weather? Usually it is just lack of confidence that thwarts purpose. Watercolour can be scary, but that is what is so exciting about it, why it creates such an adrenalin rush. It is a challenging medium, but it is also kind and the most likely to reward. It is also practical for a weekend away as it is lightweight to carry and quick to execute. The pigments require only water to coax them into radiant blends of colour, if handled with dexterity the brushes offer vitality in every stroke and the unblemished creamy white papers provide texture and clarity for every wash. It only needs you to be brave though to have a go for the magic to happen.
So how do you gain the confidence to paint in the face of complicated subject matter, distracting circumstance, lack of time or wet weather? The answer isquite simply that you have a go. All you stand to lose is a few sheets of paper or a few grains of pigment. Once you start the momentum will grow, and you won’t want to stop. Start simply; the secret of painting without anxiety is to find your pleasure in the painting process itself rather than in the finished product. Of course you want the end result to look good, but it probably has a better chance of doing so if you enjoy the journey.
I have always been a lover of the quick wet-in-wet sketch, of putting watercolour straight onto white paper. A visit to Cromer Pier furnished me with one of my favourite subjects – people. I had plenty of time to make quick colourful sketches of the shapes of the people as they walked the length of the pier; lively brushmarks prevent them becoming static.
The animal sanctuary at Hillside, in Sheringham, is wonderfully peaceful and I couldn’t resist painting the animals. I painted their shapes, working straight onto the white paper without drawing, which is the best approach. Use the largest brush you can manage. I painted the bodies in as few strokes as possible, then immediately added drier pigment for the shadows and markings, allowing the colour to spread into the damp wash. I then used the tip of the brush to make the leg strokes, offering direction and length but letting the brush create random widths to suggest movement.
At Sheringham Station I had time to paint just one trunk before the train arrived. I used overlaying tints and washes of yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to build up the threedimensional form of the trunk. I then mixed the blue and burnt sienna together to paint the black, touching undiluted colour into the damp wash for the shadows under the lid. The station got busier and busier as I laid tinted washes to build up the tones. There was a constant stream of people who kept apologising for blocking my view and ventured back and forth to view the progress of the painting.
I know some painters find an uninvited audience very disconcerting and avoid busy thoroughfares but there is no need to be embarrassed. Far from judging your work, people are entertained by a painter’s presence and usually wish they could be doing the same. Try painting in a public place, somewhere no one knows you – you will be surprised how enjoyable and uplifting it can be. You could, perhaps, even place a couple of photocopies of finished paintings nearby to assure the viewer of your ability!
151/2x 233⁄4in (40 60cm).
The scene was multi-layered and complex so I selected some houses and some boats and left out the rest. My main interest was the monolithic warehouse, its odd war-of-the-worlds-type projectile and the reflection in the water. The rest of the painting supported that focus. The sky was a mixture of white, blue and grey and
mid-tide water level mirrored the uniformly pale light. I simplified the line houses and limited the colours to just six: a cool and warm version of each of the three primaries, yellow ochre and aureolin, ultramarine blue and Prussian blue, cadmium red and alizarin crimson.
This short extract was taken from an article by Hazel Soan, The Artist November 2008 issue.