More on the Great Wall

A couple of posts ago I showed a sketch that I made while walking on the Great Wall of China, during our trip there in April. Now, I have been busy in the studio and have been tackling a watercolour of the Great Wall, based on my sketches and photographs.

watercolour painting of the great wall of china
The Great Wall of China at Jinshaling. Watercolour 50cms x 30cms.

It’s quite a big painting, on a half-imperial (22ins. x 15ins.) sheet of Waterford 300lb rough paper. I completed it in one session, which is unusual for me, but this was one of those works that seemed to want to be painted, so it was a relatively easy couple of hours work. Great Wall of China near Jinshaling will be shown at my solo exhibition at King’s Lynn Arts Centre, starting on Saturday 7th June and continuing until the 21st June. I hope you can find the opportunity to call in and have a look at what I’ve been doing.

This weekend is Dersingham Open Gardens and the studio is open as part of the Dersingham Art Trail. Not a good day for the weather today, wet and very few visitors braving the elements, but that has given me the chance to do some painting. I’ve been working on some oil paintings today, and I will let you have a look at the results soon. Meanwhile you are very welcome at the studio during the remainder of the Bank Holiday weekend – see my contact page for the location.

A study of Seago

From time to time I have a group of painters who visit my studio, several of whom come over from the Dereham area of Norfolk. On their last visit, a few weeks ago, we decided to have a look at an architectural subject as a change from the big skies of Norfolk. Searching round for reference material I thought, where better to look for architecture than Venice, and who better to portray it in watercolour than Edward Seago.

A study of Seago
Joan’s study of Edward Seago’s Venetian palazzo. Watercolour 15ins x 11ins.

So, I found an image of one of Seago’s delightful Venice palazzo scenes. Just a simple building on a canal with a boat and a couple of figures to add interest, but to successfully capture that in paint is not quite as simple as it might look. Drawing is the key to it, as any error of perspective will be glaring in a subject like this. As for those pointy-top windows, they must all be the right size, with the sides vertical and the points all nice and symmetrical – it goes on. We spent a lot of time with a pencil getting everything looking right before any paint hit the paper.

It just goes to show that there is never a bad drawing underneath a good painting. Keep working at your drawing, thinking carefully about every line, and your painting will improve my leaps and bounds.

One of the group, Joan, kindly sent me a photo of her finished piece and I am very happy to share it with everyone. Well done Joan, you’ve succeeded in keeping the painting loose and fresh while maintaining accuracy of drawing, a trick that requires plenty of practice. Keep up the good work!

On the Great Wall of China

Margaret and I have been travelling in China over the past ten days, after she expressed a wish to “walk on the Great Wall of China on my birthday!” Her birthday was on the 25th April, so on the 24th we found ourselves aboard a British Airways flight to Beijing, with our boots, cameras and sketchbooks with us.

The Great Wall is around 5,000 kms. long, but actually most of the sections that are still intact are within a couple of hundred kilometres of the Chinese capital. There are quite a few myths about the Wall, one being that you can see it from space. You can’t, apparently, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the wonders of the world, built with sweat of millions of labourers over hundreds of years.

Over the course of our visit we walked on several sections of the Wall. Some were completely original, and often not much more that a pile of stones dotted with the ruins of watchtowers. Others had been totally restored, or maybe even over-restored, and looked a bit shiny and new. The best section we visited was probably at Jinshaling, where there has been some rebuilding but there’s still a lot of original stonework preserved.

Sketch of Great Wall of China 1
Nine watchtowers on the Great Wall of China. This section is between Jinshaling and Simatai. Ink on cartridge paper, A5 size.

Sketch of Great Wall watchtowers
Two of the watchtowers near Jinshaling. Ink on cartridge paper, A5 size.

Stephen Martyn sketching
With the sketchbook on my knees as the Wall snakes into the distance. A blue sky day near Jinshaling.

When you climb the steep path to the Wall for the first time it is a breathtaking sight. The stone pathway is wide enough for five horsemen to ride abreast, and it winds it’s way into the distance, peppered with huge fortified watchtowers every few hundred yards. At Jinshaling it is very hilly, so the wall plunges and soars over the landscape like a huge stone roller-coaster. There are many, many steps to climb when you walk the Wall, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. You must have good knees!

As is often the case on trips abroad, I didn’t find much free time for sketching, but I did manage a couple of quick ink drawings in my little A5 sketchbook. I will use them, together with photographs, as a reference for some larger works in the the next few days. Hopefully one or two of those will feature in my solo exhibition coming up in June. See the previous post for full details.

It was a great trip, and all the arrangements were very well handed by the trekking company Explore and their local leader Bobby Yang. However, after ten days of Chinese food for breakfast lunch and dinner, and the delights of some of the rather rustic hotels, we were quite glad to fly home!