Travelling paintings

Margaret and I have been travelling around over the last couple of weeks, first over to the Norfolk Broads and then more recently down to Wiltshire. But, in between those trips, I have still been busy with teaching groups and one-to-one. The life of a working artist!

painting of norfolk cottage in the style of edward seago
Norfolk Cottage near the Sea. After Edward Seago. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper 22ins x 15ins.
pen and wash painting of Pulteney bridge and weir bath
Pulteney bridge and weir, Bath. Pen and wash on Langton rough paper, 12ins x 9ins.

I would like to share a couple of recent paintings with you. Both painted en plein air, but in quite different ways. The view of a Norfolk cottage near the sea was painted at Ludham on the Broads, actually in the garden of Edward Seago’s old house, the Dutch House. The garden was open as part of Ludham Open Gardens, and a group of artists, including myself, were invited to paint in the village as part of the event. As you can imagine, it was quite a privilege to paint in the very spot where Seago’s own easel might have once stood! To make this watercolour I had to imagine a scene, as the only view actually available was of the house and garden. I used a large hake brush to work very quickly, hopefully emulating a little bit of Seago’s own loose technique. The composition is based very much on paintings of his that I’ve seen over the years. A bit of fun anyway and my thanks to Jane Seymour who currently owns the Dutch House for allowing me to paint in such a great location.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we are currently down in Wiltshire for a break – a change of scene. Today we went into Bath for a look round this historic city. It was very warm and busy with visitors, but we managed to find a bench in the shade along the bank of the Avon. From there I had an excellent view of Pulteney bridge and weir, so I soon pulled out my sketchbook. Travelling light, I’d only taken pen and wash equipment to Bath, but that’s the perfect medium for a subject like this. It took quite a bit of careful pen work to get the bridge and surrounding buildings established, and I tried hard not to put in too much but to simplify. A few washes completed the painting, applied with a medium size flat brush, yes only one brush, using my Daler-Rowney watercolour box. Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow were the colours used. A very enjoyable hour or so!

The Stages of a Pen and Wash

Pen drawing of Cley windmill
The initial pen drawing
The first stage of watercolour painting
A few simple washes go on, with a big brush
pen and wash painting of Cley-next-the-sea windmill, norfolk
The finished painting of Cley mill, Norfolk

I’ve been working on pen and wash as a medium with one of my students. It’s a lovely way of using watercolour and is ideal for outdoor sketching.

The first stage is to get out a waterproof ink pen, such as an Edding 1800, and sketch out the subject. You can put in as much or as little detail as you wish, but the drawing must be tolerably accurate, in other words nothing must actually look wrong! With a subject like this one, the iconic Norfolk landmark of Cley-next-the-sea Windmill, that takes a bit of care and patient working.

Once you are happy with the sketch it’s time to put some simple watercolour washes on. I use a limited palette of colours and try and apply them freely with quite big brushes. For this painting I used a 3/4 inch flat brush, a Daler-Rowney Sapphire (a sable and synthetic mix) and a number 8 round brush from the same Sapphire series. I’ve always found these to be excellent brushes at a reasonable price, but there are plenty of other good ones from the major manufacturers, such as Pro Arte series 101.

Using a biggish flat brush as much as possible stops most of the dreaded fiddling, and it’s surprising how accurate you can be using just the corner of the brush. The colours I used were French Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Light Red. Oh, and a tiny touch of Scarlet Lake for the tail-sail which has distinctive red flashes on its sails.

I try to leave bits of white paper here and there to give some life and sparkle to the painting and work everything very simply, relying on the pen drawing to hold it all together. Why not have a go, you will find it a quick and easy way of capturing quite detailed scenes.