Apainting may be about figures, or it may be about a place populated with figures. To capture figures in movement, we artists have to detach ourselves from the knowledge of what we are painting and concentrate instead on the shapes that we are making.

When I look around I see a lot of abstract shape and colour rather than detail, unless I consciously focus on a specific area, in which case I notice that the area in clear focus is actually very small. So, most of the time I am aware of objects that I don’t see clearly, unless I focus on them in the small area in the centre of my field of vision. Focusing in this way is useful when it comes to capturing the essence or gesture of the figure.

I am a painter of light and movement and to do this I like to paint the shadows, connecting shapes wherever possible and making use of a variety of marks to create interesting hard and soft edges. I like to make use of simple slabs of colour to depict the shape of people close to me, and those further in the distance. I am more interested in the way the figures interlock as shapes than I am in showing facial detail or hands and feet. Study One (below) concentrates on overall shapes but also takes into account the shadow shapes; in this way I can give the viewer more information but still only imply rather than overstate. Notice how the different shadow shapes connect on the paper to create a tonal pathway that simplifies the image into lost-and-found edges.

Study One, watercolour on Arches 140lb Rough, (25x25cm).

Painting figures by painting the shadows reveals the lights

DEMONSTRATION - The Cricket Match


Having sketched the scene in pencil I dashed in a cobalt blue sky, leaving unpainted a little summer cloud. Once this was dry I started with the main large tree using the side of the brush to lightly scrub down the mass shape of the foliage. I wetted a few areas first to encourage soft edges in places. It was important to get this tree right because the rest of the distance was much simpler and abstract. The main purpose of the dark trees was to reveal the lighter shapes in front.


Next I painted the cricket pitch in muted warm summer greens, almost brown-green in places, and I was careful not to mix too much of a bright processed green for this. As this was a large area in the picture I broke up the shape in the foreground, leaving an area unpainted.


Once this was dry I painted a dark shadow in the foreground. I wanted the shape to enhance the summer feel by creating a little dappled light through the shadow shape of a nearby tree.


The Cricket Match, watercolour on Arches 140lb (300gsm) Rough, (25x47cm).

Lastly I added the figures and the background buildings. The shadow tones on the players had to be treated carefully – I wanted them darker than the pitch but lighter than the background trees.

Jake’s work can be seen in various galleries including The Wykeham Gallery in Stockbridge, Hampshire.

Jake uses the Luxartis range of kolinsky sable brushes, available from www.luxartis.biz.

His book Light and Movement in Watercolour is available from Batsford Books and he has a range of instructional DVDs available from Town House Films.


This demonstration is an extract from Jake's article in the summer 2018 issue of The Artist

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