Hardest lesson to learn (@ Corsham High Street and church)

Corsham High Street. For sale

Corsham High Street.

A slightly strange day weather-wise.  The forecast was pretty good, but early mist hung around, the sun never showed, it was humid and by halfway through my morning painting (Corsham High Street) it started spotting with rain.  The spotting continued and gradually got worse until it was properly raining and we had to pack up.

My painting was on Saunders Waterford, which I’ve not used much for a long time.  It was, as usual, an interesting experience using a different paper, but Saunders doesn’t help with drying time in the humidity. I sometimes like these cotton surfaces for the extra working time they allow in heat – good for big washes like the shadowed area on the left in this painting. But I picked the wrong day and the rain can just about be seen as a subtle snow effect of miniature cauliflowers.  Not a problem in a painting that was a bit experimental in other ways (consciously being a bit more ‘colourful’ than usual) and which never got properly finished.  Incidentally, the shadows on the left and elsewhere were completely made up in the end.


Corsham church. For sale

Corsham church.


After lunch the rain had stopped and bits of blue sky were appearing.  Unfortunately they didn’t last long and shadows were largely undetectable again for the next couple of hours.
As I drew out the main shapes of the churchyard in pencil the paper seemed damp just from humidity and buckled slightly.  This was Bockingford (200lb), which is quite absorbant and probably just soaked up the moist air.
Amazingly, as per the last time I was painting a churchyard, the peace was ruined by grasscutters for the duration of my visit.  Three of ‘em this time, and in fact I had to pack up and move in the end just before they were upon me.  Merciless.
A staple mantra in my tuition is that ‘you need to keep faith in a painting until the end’.  
I learned a long time ago that if you can manage that then a painting has a far better chance than if you basically give in because of the odd slip up.  However, this is one of those things where knowing it doesn’t make it much easier to do!  
Every brush stroke seemed to be going amiss during this, all the marks I made seemed off and the noise, dampness and lack of shadows was frustrating.  The painting looked terrible to me, right up until the last five minutes, where it came together a bit.  Not a complete disaster in the end, but I really made hard work of it.

So many practical watercolour books are published each year, with most focussing in a familiar way on techniques, within a publisher’s tried and trusted template.  But how many discuss the attitude or philosophy needed of an aspiring watercolourist? (Please do let me know if you know any.)  This is at least as important – and to me more – than learning how to do a ‘smooth gradated wash’, and it is the type of book I hope to write one day myself.
A few years ago I found a book in (the renowned) Art reference collection of Bristol Central Library (and subsequently bought from second-hand bookseller www.abebooks.co.uk)
‘On the mastery of watercolour painting’ by Adrian Hill.  Published in the 1940s this is the best book on watercolour I’ve come across.  Although it is essentially ‘instructional’ in nature I’m not sure if any technique is described at all.  They weren’t just scratching at the surface in those days.  
Adrian Hill was relatively young, and ‘serious’ when he wrote this, though some may know him for presenting an art TV programme for children in his later years.  
I’ve always had a few quotations from the book on my website, if you’d like to sample a flavour.  Scroll to the bottom of my ‘About’ page.  There are also plenty of sage words from Sir Alfred East and others here.  Click on a quotation to stop it and read:

– Oh, almost forgot – I’m fortunate to have been featured this week as a ‘guest blogger’ on Doodlewash (www.doodlewash.com) where I discuss the subject of ‘Plein air vs. The Studio’.
Here’s a link to the page:

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