I’ve been trying to sketch most days this year (I can’t believe it’s nearly June already). Here’s a selection of my little drawings from January. Since then I’ve started several different sketchbooks for watercolour, gouache and oil paint. Experimentation with style, media and subject is my current focus, and beyond that I’ll see what evolves. Allowing myself this time to try different things has certainly reawakened my motivation and I feel more inspired than I have for a while.
I have finally organised my photos and put them onto my computer, so I can hopefully catch up with uploading the bits and pieces that I’ve been experimenting with over the last few months. To get started, here’s a little study of some Cosmos from the garden that I painted last October, just as the flowers were finally going over after prolonged warm weather.
I have been busy with different media since painting this, and so this represents the last time I used oils – pretty much 6 months ago. It’ll be interesting to see how my experiments with other materials will affect my oil painting technique when I next go back to it.
I’ve been doing lots of sketching and painting since the New Year, so have quite a lot to organise and get online. In the meantime, here’s another gouache practise sketch that I painted a few weeks ago from a sketch and photo of the view up towards Piccadilly, complete with Christmas lights. Since working on this I’m starting to get a better feel for the kind of paper I prefer now, and also a method of putting down paint that is feeling more comfortable. I may revisit this at some point and see what improvements I have made.
I’m still playing around with gouache painting. It’s both incredibly difficult, but also really energising to be learning something new. To keep things a little more controllable I’m allowing myself some time away from life work and am experimenting with working up studio paintings based on quick on-site sketches and photos.
This actually kills two birds with one stone as I don’t really enjoy working from photos, finding it challenging to keep things loose and dynamic. It’s easy to get pulled into adding too much detail and copying too literally. I think used as one of a plethora of tools however, photography could have a place in my practice and my hope is that it will help me to experiment with different subject matter and creative viewpoints. My one rule is that I use my own photos, not found ones, and that ideally they will back-up quick sketches that may not be great in themselves, but mean that I have spent time really looking at my intended subject, mentally taking in the details and atmosphere that the camera misses. As I go along, gouache sketches that I think work well could form the basis for larger oil paintings. Each iteration moving further from the photo and becoming something new.
Here’s the first of this work. Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. I visited and made a couple of really quick drawings, finishing off with some iPhone pics of the same view. My painting is tighter than I was aiming for, but some of what I’m struggling with at the moment is understanding how the medium behaves. In time, I hope confidence will free things up.
A really enjoyable little project in gouache, undertaken back in August. I used a limited palette of yellow ochre, venetian red, ivory black, cobalt blue and burnt umber. I’m really pleased with the result. It’s a good likeness and the brushwork isn’t over blended, with each stroke serving a purpose. A couple of progress shots follow:
Following on from watercolour, I have also been experimenting with gouache. It is a medium that I have found to be unlike any other, with its own unique set of advantages and problems. I absolutely hated using it at first, but once I started to understand (theoretically if not practically) what it will and will not do, I began to enjoy it very much.
In particular I love the flat, opaque finish when it’s dry. You can also build up layers and reactivate it by wetting it, enabling further blending and movement of paint for as long as you like. Of course, this can become a drawback when it leads to overworking and results in sludge. In this respect I think gouache has elements in common with oil painting – albeit in an entirely different way – and will help me to develop how I use that medium too.
A huge advantage of course, is that gouache is odour free and water soluble. Very little mess and quick clean-up means experimentation is less daunting. I don’t feel constrained to using it in the studio only, so I’m hoping that it’ll help me to make compositional choices – working in more interior spaces for example – that I otherwise wouldn’t risk.
The copying of master works as an aid to learning is a centuries old tradition, although it’s not something I have done very much of (if anything at all). Looking for exercises to continue my experiments with watercolour, I thought a master copy (albeit of a painting in oil) would make for an interesting project.
I have a copy of the excellent book Velázquez: Complete Works published by Taschen, which is filled with quality colour plates to work from, and I chose this “Portrait of a Man” circa 1635-45 to copy. I stood the book upright and worked by eye, quite casually, on a watercolour pad laid flat on my dining room table. I wasn’t aiming for exactitude, focussing mostly on unifying my colour palette, losing edges, and simplifying shapes.
I think the value in undertaking projects like this is less about the results and more that it encourages really looking, really taking the time to study and consider the work in front of you. I’m sure I will do more of these copies. The difficulty will be in deciding which to tackle next – this is a huge book filled with the inspirational legacy of a genius.
A little watercolour interior. This is a lamp we bought after Nelly accidentally smashed its predecessor (which was something a lot more tasteful). It’s a pretty big table lamp, around 3′ high I would guess, and makes me think of luminous floating sea creatures. I enjoyed trying to capture that sense of the light glowing through the shade and reflecting on the glass base.
Although my output over the last few months has been pretty sparse (to say the least), I have been thinking a lot about different mediums and more experimentation. With this in mind I bought a starter set of watercolours and felt my way through a few plein air sketches with no aim other than to see what would happen. I don’t know how to use watercolours in a “technically correct” way, but I’m not at all concerned about that as I think in this case experience can be a good enough teacher to get you going.
I must admit that although the bag I packed to go out with is still pretty heavy, the process of painting outside with watercolours is much easier than with oils in terms of mess, clean-up and just generally keeping things under control. Now to find the discipline to get out there.