Boats and harbours

I find that a lot of people struggle with boats but by getting people to sketch rather than try a full-blown painting I have had some really good results. Because ‘it’s only a sketch’ people loosen up and forget their boat block, and often produce some loose and lively work. Boats and harbours offer a wealth of painting opportunities.

TAGE ONE I drew in the main features, buildings, boats and banks, and just a hint of where the reflections would be, with my F and S Pitt pens

 

STAGE SIX I removed the masking fluid and added ultramarine to my stone mixes to describe all the shadow areas in the buildings and the weir walls. I also extended some sunlit wall reflections into the water next to the left-hand boat, keeping it lighter in tone than the shadow reflections

The scene is constantly shifting – boats languidly rolling on their moorings are left high and dry when the tide goes out. I do love getting down into the harbour floor to look up at the jaunty angles of the boats and it’s easy to become engrossed and overlook the fact that the water is on it’s way in – I have got my feet wet a few times.

Depending on weather and the time of year, harbours can be rather chilly venues so I always pack a waterproof jacket and best double stroller for my kids, which also keeps out the wind. I also tend to weigh down my lightweight easel when painting in case sudden gusts of wind take my kit on flying lessons. There have been times when I have had to go on a fishing expedition to retrieve a piece of kit that has been blown over the edge into the water. It’s all part of the enjoyment of painting en plein air!

The importance of the sketchbook

STAGE SEVEN I pulled all the reflections together with a glaze of rose madder and cobalt blue plus some dilute orange under the foreground boat to give unity to the water area. I also added some shadow areas next to the left-hand boat and the lock wall

I tend to sketch in pen and watercolour wash, going straight in with the pen work and then overlaying a series of watercolour washes. I find this stops me from fiddling and also forces me to concentrate on the scene so that each mark is as accurate as possible. There’s no rubbing out an ink line once it’s down so careful observation is paramount. That’s not to say that I don’t get it wrong sometimes but so what – I put in the correct mark and then colour over the wrong one, it’s only a sketch after all.

Porlock Weir

I have been to Porlock Weir a few times and am always excited by the wealth of painting material. On this occasion I had taken a group for a day’s sketching; the tide was out but the lock gates and the … Read the rest

Shake-up your style with collage

During the course of a long career teaching painting and drawing I have spent a lot of time persuading students that the subject of still life can be as exciting as any other, with considerable advantages over many of them. It doesn’t move, the light source is usually constant, it can be as colourful as desired – or not, and it is personal to you and can have a story to tell.

STAGE ONE Pieces of patterned papers that had been both cut and torn to give a variety of shapes were stuck onto mountboard, arranged to follow the subject in an approximate way; this is not the time to get down to detail. Some of the papers have glitter in them, which will give an interesting surface if retained. Other areas that would be painted conventionally, such as the jug, have old watercolour paintings on them. White tissue paper gives areas without objects textural interest. This part of the painting is always fun and stress-free, almost like being a child again

In addition, it will teach you all you need to know about drawing shapes, perspective, texture and composition– what’s not to like?

STAGE TWO Using a pigment marker I drew the subject over the collage, some of which I aimed to retain in the final painting. This is a personal choice as I like the strength that it gives, but most will be covered by paint so it doesn’t matter if I get things wrong! I added an extra plum by the vase to take the eye to that part of the piece

 

STAGE THREE I started to paint by running thin washes of acrylic paint over the piece, trying to keep some semblance of local colour in the areas where I needed it, such as the flowers and the tinted drinking glass. Trying to keep paint this liquid under control is never easy so I let it have its own way, hoping for some nice surprises. I enjoy the feeling of being led by the paint, letting the paint talk to me, before I talk to the paint and tell it what to do

  Banish the block

STAGE FOUR I painted mostly in the negative spaces around the objects, using the appropriate colours tinted with titanium white or parchment, keeping the collage in areas such as the glass and the flowers but totally obliterating it where it was not needed. I also picked up the chequered pattern from the collage and placed similar shapes elsewhere, to give balance and interest where needed. The ruggedness of this surface made painting extremely interesting and my tendency to be a bit precious and tight was put firmly to one side. Whole areas of colour and texture required little intervention from me, such as the musical score in the window frame – I like the idea of the observer looking closely and trying to work out what the tune is

About 25 years ago I had a period of … Read the rest

Near versus far

At a recent workshop I was asked why my demonstration painting appeared to have a great amount of depth when I had used values that were darker in the background than in the foreground.

The person asking the question had always been told you had to make the distance pale and the foreground strong and that cool colours have to be used in the background. Distance is an illusion that is achieved through the use of aerial perspective and whilst colours are often cooler towards the horizon, they aren’t always. Likewise, they’re not always pale values either. The distance, like all other elements of a painting is relative to the focus you choose and, in turn, how you decide to treat it.

Exaggerating distance

You can make anything distant, even features in the middle ground. Distance is relative to your focus, so choose that first and decide where it is going to be in the painting.

Here the distance has been achieved traditionally, using diluted colour to allow more of the paper to show through

 

Following a similar approach, I used thinner colour but added opaque white paint to the mix. The result is a slightly more solid, duller finish

A focus is part of the painting that holds the viewer’s attention so it needs to be prominent and interesting. A focus can be anything from a figure or figures to trees, a splash of light, a building, a lake and so on. Once you have decided on your focus you may need to use a compositional grid to place it in an appropriate setting near or around two of the intersecting compositional lines. Features behind the focal point can be made to appear more distant than they might really be, which in turn puts more emphasis on the focus you have chosen and creates greater depth in your work.

I mixed some colour with thick white paint and applied it neat to the paper. Notice that the application has formed a ragged edge because only a tiny amount of water was added to the paint. With colour so thick, I was able to place it more precisely than thinner paint

There are a few techniques to use but the main intention is to use less detail and blur most of the hard edges. Use a large brush to suggest any would-be fine detail shapes to generate simpler marks and a more distant feel.

To blur edges, the wet-into-wet technique is an evocative way to create softness; alternatively, paint the shapes in a conventional hard-edged manner and allow them to dry. Take a fine spray bottle and lightly spray the area with water so that it is just damp, then follow up with a stiff brush and gently work the edge of the paint into a blur. Any feature in the background of your painting that has soft or blurry edges will automatically look distant whether they are dark or light. Don’t always concern yourself with values and rules, … Read the rest