Flying Home, September Light: The Stages of a Watercolour Painting

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I completed this new watercolour painting very recently, and hand mounted or framed giclée prints and greetings cards are now available to buy in my Folksy shop.

The painting depicts a late afternoon scene at Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan in early September, which I photographed as an image sequence a couple of years ago. Because cameras typically produce a “contre jour” effect when photographing directly into the light (if you don’t use special settings or filters), the photos showed the sand dunes and Marram grass in the foreground silhouetted against the sea… which was not what the eye actually saw, though it adds an attractive mood and framing to the image. The camera always lies 🙂

The light effects and rays were visible, however, as well as the typical pool of light flickering to and fro on the surface of the water – a phenomenon which we see quite frequently in this part of the world. The bird, too, was flying exactly as shown here; in fact, I have a sequence of photos capturing its progress across the field of view, with different wing positions, but chose this one for the painting.

Although watercolour paintings are usually built up in stages from light to dark (unlike oil paintings),  I did not proceed in quite that way with this one, because I wanted to allow the blues and greys in the sky to bleed and blend into one another, and it was also necessary to wash out the rays of light with water at an early stage.

For that reason I did not start with the pale yellows in the sky as a background wash, or the yellow would have become blended with the blues and greys as I created the clouds and rays, resulting in a green sky… The first stage, therefore, was to paint the clouds and touches of blue in the sky, wet in wet, leaving areas clear for the brightest parts, and then quickly wash out the rays of light with a clean, wet brush and a light, fast stroke. This was deliberately done in a fairly rough and loose way, to capture something of the dynamic nature of the ever-changing light. (Although a painting is necessarily static, I like to try to convey a little of the energy and movement of  the real world.) By chance, after completing this painting, I saw a demonstration of a “watercolour eraser” on YouTube which also created rays by washing out areas of paint – but those were hard, white, regular rays, and bore no resemblance whatever to anything I have ever seen in real life!

I didn’t use masking fluid to cover the lower part of the painting, as it’s best to avoid it when possible, but I did protect it with a sheet of blotting paper  held carefully to the horizon of the sea, to “catch” the washed-out colour that brushed out of the rays, because I needed to keep the lower area clean:

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Once this first stage was completely dry, it was possible to add the warmer yellows to many of the lighter parts of the sky to make them glow with the light of the late afternoon sun, which was concealed behind those clouds. This had to be done with a very light touch, as most of the cloud colours in the sky were “lifting” colours – a deliberate choice, so that the rays could be created. This meant that the blues and greys would blend quite easily with the yellows and touches of red in an undesirable manner if I wasn’t very careful.

In the lower part of the painting, however, I did need a wash of pale gold to glow through the rest of the sea and foreground, so once I had touched in the yellows in all the appropriate parts of the sky I laid a light wash across the lowest third of the paper, with some added deeper golden tones on top of the paler wash when it was dry:

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It remained to provide the sea with some tonal effects and character, and to add the details of the foreground and the bird which would bring the whole image to life. With the exception of the larger dark masses of land and rocks, all of this stage of the painting had to be executed with extremely small brushes, intended for miniature paintings. First I added the shadows to the almost-calm sea with many tiny strokes of greys, and painted in the sand and larger areas of rock etc. Next came the bird, and finally the many stalks of Marram grass, each one a single stroke with a miniature paint brush. If you look at the right-hand side of the image below, you can see a size “00000” brush lying against the slate rest. The tip is so tiny that it is far smaller than the ferrule, and almost invisible. It’s not easy to work with a brush of this minute size, especially with long strokes – it tends to hold either too much paint, resulting in too thick a stroke, or too little, resulting in no stroke at all. I had to test it time and again on scrap paper to make sure it was loaded correctly, and even then there were some errors, which have mostly been concealed by further strokes 😀

This final image shows the Marram grass part-painted on either side, but not yet completed:

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The finished image (see top of page) is now available as a giclée print in a range of sizes, and as a landscape format greetings card. My online shop is now in development, but unfortunately it is not yet ready, so if you don’t live locally and would like to buy prints or cards of this or any other painting, please contact me.

This watercolour painting is of medium size, approximately 14″ x 11″ (requiring an A3 scanner to capture the whole image), and is painted with Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour paints on Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed watercolour paper.

Watercolour Painting: A Blue Day in May

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I’m afraid it has been a wee while since I posted anything on this blog – I’ve been so busy making new work and attending markets etc. during the busy summer tourist season.

But here at last is the completed watercolour studio sketch “A Blue Day in May” showing a view of the Small Isles (Muck in the centre, Eigg on the right, and Rum on the left) as seen from the rocks at Ardnamurchan lighthouse on a very blue day this May. In the far distance, just right of centre, you can see a misty outline of the peaks of the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye. My last blog post showed this work in progress

This is a modestly sized studio sketch made using my own reference photos and memory, painted in Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours on grainy Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb (300gsm) paper. It has a very restricted colour palette limited mainly to blues, to reflect the nature of the day and the experience I remember: Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Dark, French Ultramarine, the tiniest touch of Cerulean Blue, and a small amount of Indanthrene Blue in the sea, with a little Paynes Grey and a touch of Scarlet Lake for mixing shades and greys, plus a wee bit of Neutral Tint in the islands. I don’t much like using the strong, synthetic Indanthrene Blue, but the more natural blues did not quite have the strength or tint required for some of the darks.

We only see a few days like this each year on the west coast of Scotland, but it is one of the many different moods which characterize this remarkable area of sea and sky and rugged landscapes.

This image has already proved popular in reproduction, and is now available on landscape format greetings cards and in a range of sizes of giclée prints which I make myself (framed and unframed) in my Folksy shop.