sparse painting

I stood on the sea wall and looked at the morning sky reflected across the mudflats.

Previously I had shaped in charcoal, drawing into this with gouache.  Then the whites had been achieved by correcting though liberal application of opaque paint.

This time I set out to paint this same composition in watercolour, using just the white of the paper to reflect light through the paint. The sky, initially white, seemed blotched with faint greys and yellows.  The mud flats, at first pale monochrome, were cut by channels into billows shaped by glazes of ultramarine and raw sienna.  The painting seemed too white, like snow, and lacked texture.  The deeper tones then were applied through neutrals that could resolve into greens and pinks.  Now the drawing was overdone and too dark.   White was restored and granular texture gained by a blade scraping away the pigments.

I made several experiments before this piece.

20 responses to “sparse painting

  1. this worked really well, I like the forms in the mudflats, curves like muscles on the land, and the enormous morning sky, sparse pale images are difficult to capture this well

  2. Thanks. Enormous and expansive sky … That’s just how it looked. Curves
    like muscles – great imagery.
    As for seeing mud flats, looking is one thing but I don’t recommend walking on it. It looked dangerously like one might sink. This is in the estuary of the River Thames and its tributary, the Medway as they meet the sea.

  3. Firstly, thank you for all the Likes and comments on my life drawing blog…very much appreciated!

    I haven’t browsed your blog yet but I’d like to comment on this latest watercolour, if that’s ok.

    I remember these mudflats from childhood visits and I really like how you’ve captured that big sky and the brilliance of the glittering reflected light and that sense of infinite distance …and the birds are wonderful!

    Not being a water-colourist I can’t comment on your use of the medium as such, but I do see how you’ve increased the illusion of distance compared with your first charcoal and gouache sketch. I think what’s really worked well is simplifying the flight path of the birds, along with warming and darkening the sky towards the top of the composition, and in the stream in the foreground. I also like the diagonal movement of the sky crossing the diagonal of the birds and that lovely long snaking line right through the composition from lower left to top right. I think if you darkened the sky at the top a little, especially in the top right corner it would help to stop the eye from travelling up and out of the frame there and bring it back down along the clouds on the right to join the birds again and on out to the horizon, keeping the eye engaged within the picture.

    I wonder whether removing all of the darkish middle ground shapes at the sides has lost something…just a question really; without them you certainly get more width, and I love those timbers sticking out of the mud and giving just the right amount of interest there.

    I also wonder about the grasses in the foreground. I like the idea of intensifying and warming the colour here to bring it forward but to my eye the sudden straight line across the bottom of the composition, together with a lot of fine detail, acts as a border and a stop to the eye, so I’d prefer to see a break somewhere in there to give the viewer an inviting path to move through into the picture space. As it stands this area tends to fight for attention with the birds and the general movement into the distance, which I feel are your main focus.

    Finally (nearly finished!) if one of the two headlands were quite a bit paler and cooler than the other it would recede even further back towards the horizon and increase the sense of atmospheric perspective, and therefore distance.

    By coincidence I was sent a link this morning to a photo that illustrates some of these points, e.g. the blurred foreground leading the eye in, yet anchored just enough by that rock, and the way the sky appears to recede dramatically through variation in scale, temperature and tone; and where the brightest light is placed and emphasised by the areas around it being just a smidge darker…etc. I notice the horizon line is much higher in the photo, which has a different effect.

    It’s great that you’ve found a subject that’s inspired you to do various studies and experiment with it like this. It’s certainly paid off, and my words are intended to encourage you in that, so I sincerely hope they do : )

    I look forward to seeing more…


    • Thank you for your generosity. I really appreciate the time you have spent in critical appraisal of my painting. I am going to go through your comments systematically and look again at this composition.
      Interesting that you remember this place from your childhood. I was just visiting this time but years ago, I worked for 6 months semi-isolated in the Isle of Sheppey near there (one of three inexperienced doctors running a hospital). Fun times.
      With best wishes

      • I haven’t been back there for a long time… a beautiful place, wild and open with wonderful wildlife.
        It’s a pleasure to have a go at this kind of critiquing and it helps sharpen up my own senses and really look at a piece and try to do it justice.
        Hope it’s helpful!

  4. Superb, I like the composition, very much like what I try to do when taking photos. I don’t know why, but I’m realizing I have almost never drawn any landscape. That shall be fixed some day. Thank you.

    • I read this comment on kestrelart and my internal creative Zen voice said paint the landscape to create a mood. Draw if you want to accurately record whaat is there (or take a photo). Paint the feeling of being there. Only put in the “right” bits carefully where necessary.

  5. Lovely ethereal feel through use of delicate, transparent, watercolour wash.
    Your comment on Cyprus Rocks re the time to do this was interesting. People often ask me how long it takes to do a painting. In watercolour the better ones can take less than an hour but the ones you have to try too hard with can take ages and tend to look tired and overworked to me. They lose the transparancy achieved in your work. Oil painters who think watercolour will be easy are often the worst at overworking. (but I enjoy oils too). The other answer I give is about 20 years (as i have been practising tha long to be able to use this quick responsive medium!)

    • Twenty years well spent!
      It’s interesting. I’ve dabbled in painting for years but with no real change in what I do. Suddenly I feel a pressure of time. If I don’t now paint through the week and challenge my technique and re invent on each work, this will never happen. But each painting is a surprise. I dont know what the media can do until it happens. I’m looking at others’ work to see possible directions of travel.

  6. Pingback: quick sketches | kestrelart

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s