How do you cope when you are presented with a complicated scene such as a harbour full of boats of all colours and sizes? Beat a hasty retreat and look for a simpler subject? I love painting and sketching boats, and there’s always a way round the problem: you can leave out craft that don’t appeal, reduce their number, enlarge one so that it hides two or three others, or perhaps cast a dark shadow over the ones further away.
This is a watercolour I did of Oare Creek in Kent, a place crammed with lots of lovely craft, and although there seem to be a lot in the composition I did leave many more out. This is one of those works that doesn’t have just one centre of interest – there is a whole line of them! I do this sometimes as it makes quite a change, and some buyers do enjoy a mass of detail, and to get a sense of the place you do need to suggest that many boats line the creek, especially if working to commission.
On occasion in scenes like this I lay shadow across many of the boats, simply suggesting them, and highlight the main ones – the focal point – with strong lighting. If you wish to subdue one or two off-centre then just paint them in silhouette as I have done with the boat on the extreme right background. The masts and gulls were rendered with white gouache when everything else had been completed. If need be I create dark areas deliberately so that white gulls can be placed there and stand out. This is at fairly low tide so much of the mud-banks are revealed. To avoid too much monotony I have made some lighter and on the right bank splashed in some cadmium red to add interest. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 140lb weight.
Now most of us are able to get outside do make the most of the summer days to find some new subjects. This is important not just from the point of view of finding new material to paint, but getting outdoors rejuvenates us and gets us away from the lethargic indoors syndrome that can deplete our enthusiasm for creating anything. There is nothing better than perching on a rock warmed by the sunshine, overlooking a stunning view while sipping a cappuccino as you sketch. I’ve been out there with my new Daniel Smith watercolour box of gorgeous half-pans lately, so it’s been a double pleasure!
I often find that when I’m testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away? This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it’s certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make themost astounding mess!
One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it’s vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp – a really ‘thirsty’ brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) – pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.
This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website ….and don’t forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!
It’s been almost impossible to do much painting or writing lately, thanks to a very happy event. On 22nd February my daughter Catherine gave birth to an absolutely gorgeous little daughter, so for the first time I am now a grandad. She goes by the name of Guinevere, and I can’t wait to paint her. She’s already had a trek across the mountains at around 10,000 feet in the Italian Dolomites, when Catherine was carrying her last July, and as you can see from the photograph she is obviously deep in artistic contemplation.
For my own contemplation I’m beginning to put together thoughts and images for my next book about coastal scenery, for which I have a whole host of new work from both the UK and abroad. My Arctic book will be coming out in June, so there will be more on that later on, but it’s important to keep thinking ahead when you work on various projects. The sea has always been one of my favourite subjects, and the coastal book will be the fourth and last in my current series of how-to-paint books.
Before I go, just a quick tip on painting those boaty things – you don’t always have to insert a complicated harbour background into the composition, or indeed any sort of complex background. In this watercolour sketch I have simply brought the atmospheric sky down to meet the sand, and left it at that. Just because something is there, you don’t have to include it!
And don’t forget – if you want to get views of a boat from all angles it pays to take along a pair of wellies before you dive into that lovely mud….
Jenny and I have just returned from running a watercolour course in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some fine blasts of wind that made the sea froth, heave and crash onto the rocky coastline in a truly dramatic fashion. In Solva habour, however, things were tranquil, with hardly a ripple disturbing the reflections. The place seemed to be crammed with boats, making it a marine-painter’s paradise.
Picking out a good composition with the more shapely boat or two takes some time when you’re wading through a veritable forest of masts. Any sensible artist would sport a pair of wellies and a suitable chair that keeps one well clear of the mud….and perhaps a small table for the water-pot and cappuccino, for then, if the tide rises during your painting you can gallantly continue even if your lower regions are below sea level.
Mud, as I have ruminated on before, is a particular favourite element in my paintings: easy to get right and you can stick it all over the place – well, in the foreground, anyway. You can also use it to hide any mistakes. In this photograph the muddy channels act as an excellent lead-in to the two main boats, and can be moved to suit the composition. The ropes and chains can also be employed in this way. Emphasise rusty red chains and green seaweed-draped ropes (there is a magnificent example in the centre right) to include some colour variation, and perhaps change a white buoy (as seen on the far left) to a more colourful orange or red. Reduce the number of masts and perhaps break up their reflections with a lump of mud or two in the water. If you would wish to include the background boats they should be painted in a far less distinct manner, otherwise the background becomes too cluttered and confusing.
There are still places available for my watercolour seminar on painting skies, light and atmosphere, at Pontypool on Saturday 27th – if you are interested please telephone Jenny on 01982 560237 The mixed exhibition at Barnabas Arts House in Newport Monmouthshire has been extended until the end of October. A percentage of the profits will go to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I had to re-supply them with new paintings. Telephone no. 01633 673739