I’ve had a full and enjoyable month, with some more new experiences, as ever in this, my first year as full time artist/tutor.
I was so pleased to be invited to run a workshop at Windrush in May (http://www.jamesfletcherwatson.com/courses.asp).
Encouragingly the course filled up last year, and I think the day went well as everyone seemed to enjoy it. We were very lucky with the weather, so spent most of the day painting along a stretch of the riverside soaking up the frankly idyllic Cotswold location, inspiring vibes of James Fletcher-Watson and rather a lot of sun. (For anyone watching Springwatch at the moment, we were just a few fields East of where they are based this year.)
A grand buffet lunch was provided by Jo Neil at Windrush House/Gallery. Delicious and probably too classy for me, but I’m learning! It was a privilege for me to lead a workshop at this special place, so I’m especially happy to have been invited back by Jo for next year (date TBA).
I managed to produce a painting I’m happy with this month too (at top of page). There’s a lot of luck involved with my general ‘method’, and with this one things came together as can sometimes occur (continual persistence does pay off!), with the necessary audacity combining with inspiration in the intended way. Others may not like it of course, but this one stays out of the bin. In fact I’ve sold it, so I might get a takeaway this evening (thanks so much, Anne!)
I’ve been on trains a few times again, with long but mainly pleasurable days visiting art groups around the south of England. Being fully immersed in these I almost always forget to take photos during the day, which is annoying for more than one reason.
I think you could say that I ‘paint close to the bin’. Yes, I like that expression. For about 4 years now I’ve mainly used St Cuthbert Mill’s Bockingford paper, at 200lb weight, and Not (Cold-pressed) surface. There are advantages and disadvantages to every different paper (all of which are different), and if you change either the weight or surface type even within the same brand then you’ll find various other characteristics changing with it.
I’m an advocate of sticking with your materials for a decent amount of time, since whatever they are, you’ll get the best of them by getting to know them well, which takes time and frequent use. Painting ‘regularly’ is important, but painting often more so.
From time to time I’ll change paper to keep things fresh, and I’ve done this recently, but yet again have gone ‘back to Bock’. I like the fact, for one thing, that it is contributing to the look of my work, helping to differentiate it in some ways from other watercolourists in the world – working within broadly the same tradition – who use papers that allow a longer working time.
When I use these cotton papers (such as Saunders Waterford, Arches, or Millford for example) I find various things, but particularly:
- My work is allowed more ‘fiddle’ time. 2. It starts to look too much like the work of some of these artists I could mention.
In some ways the extra working time that less absorbent papers like these permit definitely makes things easier. It’s obvious why many artists love them. Large unified washes can be obtained more easily, and transparency seems more easily retained too. Glazing is no problem, as underlying washes are not raised from the paper inadvertently.
However, I do find that the sizing on these papers means that I cannot move the brush very quickly at all without it resulting in dry-brush effect where I don’t want it. It’s almost like painting on a wax resist by comparison with Bockingford, and I find I have to slow down and press the brush into the paper, spending time just filling in flecks of white that I don’t want (this is on Not, never mind Rough).
Any painter’s ‘style’ and method develops in a way that is partly dependent on their choice of paper, and other materials. Bockingford 200lb Not encourages a direct approach, with glazing not a good option. The paper takes the paint off the brush easily even when you move the brush quickly. For me it allows for spontaneity – if not demands it – which is apt for my inspiration-driven and somewhat impatient approach to painting (and life). But if you don’t get it right, you haven’t a lot of time to push the paint around once it’s on the paper, and especially so en plein air if the sun or wind have anything to do with it. But this trains you in so many ways.
Many people will know of Joseph Zbukvic and perhaps his term ‘Mr. Bead’ (referring to the bead of water/paint at the base of a wash when your paper is tilted). With Bockingford 200lb Not Mr Bead doesn’t hang around for long. He doesn’t sit up there compliantly waiting for you to drag him about while you attend to squeezing out some more paint.
I find I’m often painting outwards in several directions at once, keeping an eye on the edges at each periphery, and usually, somewhere, there will be an unintended occurrance. Or nice surprise. But this is then worked into the ‘plan’, and over time, one’s method, and by extension becomes part of the resulting look of your work, or ‘style’.
When I try out those ‘longer working time’ papers I dislike how my work begins to look more like quite a few other contemporary artists in some ways. I know my artist influences are evident in my work, but I feel sticking with Bockingford is helping me to develop skills that depend on quick, instinctive, intuitive thinking, and minimal washes and brush strokes. You can paint this way on other papers, but Bockingford is more demanding of it than many.
But I also have to accept that it will always provide a harsh discipline and there’s a fine dividing line between a potential picture frame and the bin.
I quite recently did a few paintings for the first time with Saunders Waterford, 200lb Hot-pressed. I found to my surprise that at my usual working speed I obtained plenty of dry-brush effect on the fairly fine tooth of the paper. I guess it’s to do with the different material (cotton) and the sizing. I can see myself turning back to this paper for some situations in future.
New workshop date; December 13th 2017
I’ve now set a date for my next day workshop at Timsbury, Bath & Northeast Somerset) – south of Bristol and Bath. This is for a maximum of 8 participants. Please click here for full details, and let me know if you’d like any further information or to book a place.
Wells, and painting holiday 2018:
I managed to get out on a plein air jaunt with a couple of friends the other day. This is Wells cathedral from a nearby street of almshouses. I am booked to teach on a painting holiday next year based around the highly picturesque, mini city of Wells and surrounding villages of Somerset and the Mendip hills. More details will follow.
Next month I’ll be painting the lovely Wye Valley, on my painting holiday (also full!) with ‘Alpha Painting Holidays’. I’m really looking forward to it. Here’s a scene we may be venturing to:
Now, it’s raining outside so I must go and sit in the garden. Hope you have a good painting month.