Pintar Rapido!

Speed painting in London this weekend, for the annual Pintar Rapido painting festival!  I joined the hundreds of artists out in London creating a painting in a day, for an exibition in Chelsea’s wonderful Old Town Hall today (12-5pm, Sun 17 July).

I was trialling a new plein-air set-up (built from a lightweight tripod, sketching board and sheet of plywood. You can just about see my painting, of Sloane Square, in progress.

My new plein air painting set-up

This was painting under pressure!  I’m normally trying to finish a watercolour before the sun moves round (or my friends get bored of waiting for me and order starters), but knowing the piece needs to be completed and framed for an exhibition that evening certainly quickens up your brush strokes.

This was my initial sketch, a quick tonal/colour study, and the finished painting.  From my vantage point on the north side of Sloane Square, I could see at least three other painters – the competition!

Sloane sketch

Pintar study 16006Sloane Square (Pintar Rapido 2016) - Jonathan Bray

The exhibition itself was probably the best Pintar Rapido yet.  A brilliant range of works, professional and amateur , and a good atmosphere in the stunning hall of Chelsea Old Town Hall.  My painting has gone to a good home, too. Bring on Pintar Rapido 2017!  In the meantime, there’s  always Pintar Rapido Amsterdam

Pintar Rapido Chelsea Old Town Hallhall 2016

 

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Return to Herengracht

What a difference 6 months makes.  Painting in Amsterdam last November, I was struggling to shelter my paper (and beer) from a violent thunderstorm.  Now the challenge was not to doze off in the balmy summer sunshine, having walked round and round the curious Canal Museum.

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Herengracht, Amsterdam

Herengracht is my favourite of Amsterdam’s canals, and in summer the trees throw blue shadows across the bright pavements. This painting began life as a quick sketch in watercolour and ink and a number of colour notes, which grew into the finished painting above.

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Herengracht, Amsterdam

Prep. Study – Line & Wash

This was the initial drawing.  This too would make a decent composition, but I wanted to show more reflections and the way that the buildings recede in the hazy sunlight.  This said, the bridge is the obvious centre of interest so it would need to remain the boldest shape in the bigger painting.

Herengracht summer - stage 1

Stage 1 – first washes

The first wash was slapped on with gay abandon:  a cobalt blue sky, taking on raw sienna and ochre half-way down and brought down oto the pavements.  While still wet, I added some more tone to the buildings and ultramarine shadows, then a few minutes later the distant trees.  The reflections then went on, dropping in lots of different wet colours for reflections, and lastly the bridge and dark canalside. Throughout, the aim is to keep varying the colour or tone to keep it interesting and avoid the look of an “illustration”.

Herengracht summer - stage 2

Stage 2 – Tone and texture

Here comes the detail. Or at least, enough texture and variation to make it look like there’s detail even though there isn’t.  The shadows are important as without them it will be impossible to give a sense of what shape the trees are.  Is this because I am rubbish at trees, or because I didn’t want to make them over detailed?  Hmmn.

Herengracht summer - stage 3

Stage 3 – Splash on the trees

By now the hard work of a watercolour is basically done, but it is still far too easy to spoil it.  Slightly apprehensive, on went the trees.  You absolutely must mix up large pools of colour for this, as any delay is fatal and leads to eye-catching “blooms”. More colour was dropped into the wet wash for variation (and you can see just how wet from the drips on the right).

At this point, I had a panic that I’d never be able to turn this splashy mess into anything approaching trees, and had to have a beer to console myself.

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Herengracht, Amsterdam

Finishing touches

Lastly, the real detail is added – bridge railings and people, lamps, tree trunks, bikes, near people. This order was deliberate, as the detail in the centre is essential, but I could stop if I felt the rest was beginning to pull focus.  I’m surprised quite how little it takes to turn the green splashes into trees. Only in the near tree on the right did I feel a bit of leaf detail was needed.  So all in all, I’m happy with it – time to look at more flights to Amsterdam.

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Borough High Street, London

Borough High Street - Jonathan Bray

Sketching on a grey Saturday, from a conveniently-placed Pret à Manger at the London Bridge end of Borough High Street.  Wandering about London, I am struck how often Pret have bagged all the best sketching spots – clearly they are sympathetic towards artists.

The was a fairly swift sketch, not least because it started to rain just as I was finishing: always a surefire way not to over-work a painting.

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Rue de Maubeuge Paris https://jonathanbrayart.com/gallery-london/

This was the first wash. I thought I had made the heavy shadow from the bridge too dark, but lo and behold it annoyingly faded away while drying, and later needed to be strengthened . I am reminded of a quote of Edward Wesson, one of the masters of twentieth-century British watercolour: “If it looks right when it’s wet, it’ll be wrong when it’s dry”.  I should have this tattooed on my brush-hand.

London Bridge photo

Here’s a photo of the view. Apart from demonstrating that even a good camera can’t record  nearly as wide a range of contrasts as the human eye, it shows that I’ve taken a few liberties with the traffic lights to avoid cluttering things up. Conversely, the picture would probably have benefitted from a few figures in the foreground to break it up – or some judicious cropping.  But still, I’m happy with it given the time constraints. Perhaps I’ll donate it to Pret?

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Rue de Maubeuge

Ah, la nostalgie…  This was the view a few minutes from our Paris flat on Rue  Rodier:

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Rue de Maubeuge Paris

My aim here was to be quite precise with the outline shapes – but totally out of control with everything else.  (Well, I managed the second bit.)  I like the balance between formality/looseness and want to develop this further in some larger paintings.

Phase 1: Far buildings

After the light sky wash (forgetting as normal to retain enough highlights) the buildings went on.  A few different colour mixes went into this – but it needs to be WET, so mix enough paint before you start. Thicker (but not too much darker) paint was used at the base.  Look how much lighter it has dried by stage 2.

Maubeuge - stage 1

Stage 2: Near buildings

Not really a separate stage at all, just rolling on a big wash and splashing on new colours with the board tilted steeply to creat flow effects. (See I failed to follow my own advice and let the paint dry too much on the far right side, leading to a slight bloom.)

Maubeuge - stage 2

Stage 3: Road

Not much going on here: but it was quite difficult to keep this wash light enough in the distance, and strong enough in the foreground. I scraped some lines in the drying paint with a clean, dry brush.

Maubeuge - stage 3

Stage 4: Finish

I took a deep breath, and brushed on soppingly wet colour for the hotel on the left, running it straight down into the shadow. Some even darker paint was then dropped into the middle of the wash to flow down into the shadow wash (and, yeah, all over the table)  A few last details were then painted in – the sign, the balcony – being careful to join into the main wsah while still wet.

Watercolour painting on paper by Jonathan Bray of Rue de Maubeuge Paris

 

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Simplicity is…

…technique + luck. Sometimes a painting feels like it “paints itself “. But this only happens when you are confident enough in your technique that you can anticipate most of the happy accidents of watercolour – granulation, back-runs, texture – and turn the to your advantage.

This was one of those paintings. I started about 7:30am in Queen Square in Bath, feeling freezing and wondering if watercolour had made me slightly crazy. But it was a beautiful sunrise, the sun streaming past St. Michael’s church leaving the Georgian buildings in bold silhouette.

The painting has 4 layers: sky, shadows, trees and detail. Each was applied quite simply, using a single main effect.

Bath-stage-onetwo.jpg

Stages 1 and 2 – Base wash and shadows: This wash is about granulation.  Applied fairly wetly on rough paper, the Ultramarine + Burnt Umber + Raw Sienna wash breaks down into a fantastic granulated texture.

Stage 3 – Trees:  These trees were painted using (almost) controlled back-runs.  I applied big splashes for the foliage, then joined these with quick strokes of a darker tone for the branches. This allows the water to run into the branches, creating a nice variation and avoiding a “stuck-on” silhouette look.  The railings were quickly sketched in with the same wash, increasing the strength of the mixture in the foreground.

 Stage 4 – Detail:  The finishing touches were added (including a Raw Sienna / Ultramarine wash for the grass, which I’d completely forgotten).  A little goes a long way at this stage, so I limited myself to defining a few stronger branches, to give the trees more depth, and emphasising the bench, which had got a bit lost.

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Too much snow in Alagna, Valsesia

We had a couple of meters of snow in the Italian Alps last week… so much snow that the ski lifts opened late some mornings, while the mountain patrol bashed the pistes into shape.

Still, every cloud… These are the sketches I did over cappuccino and cornetto from the great café next to the ski lift, and the final studio painting.  They are a good example of developing an image over several iterations (hopefully without getting totally bored of it).

Alagna - sketch - Jonathan Bray

This was the view from my café table (graphite on paper with a little ink added at the end). It’s a great scene but I decided that I wanted more mountains in it, so the composition was more about the village cradled by the dramatic wooded slopes, than the village itself. The car in the foreground also dominates a bit.

Alagna - plein air

Alagna, Valsesia, plein air 30 x 20 cm

This was painted a couple of days later (standing outside the café in my ski gear, looking mildly deranged) while killing a couple of hours until the lifts opened. You can see I have pulled back the composition a bit – helped by the fact that the cloud was no longer hanging low in the valley and hiding the mountains.

This was the half-way point:

Alagna - half way

Notice that the painting was almost entirely monocrome until this stage. It also looked pretty flat. The problem is that there’s no difference in tone or  hue between foreground and background.  I find it far too easy to get absorbed in painting individual details and literally ignore the bigger picture. To fix it, I brought a wash of Cobalt Blue down from the sky to the tops of the houses, pushing back the tones (and the blue adding a bit of aerial perspective). Adding more Neutral Tint, I joined this with the shadows in the foreground. Lastly, I brought in some richer darks in the foreground buildings so they catch the eye more.  Take another look at the two images together – did it work?

Later, back at home, I produced the larger painting below. By now I was fairly happy with the tones and colours but wanted to broaden the view even more to show the grand sweep of the mountains.

Alagna - studio - Jonathan Bray

Alagna, Valsesia  38 x 21 cm

Other than the wider format, it’s also obvious that I had much more time to build up textures and detail in this one (something to do with not standing out in the cold?)  I think the near building works better being closer, too, as it is now more clearly separated from the other buildings, and echoes the line of the mountain above it and leads the eye into the center of the picture.  Next year’s Christmas card, perhaps?

Eventually, the slopes opened and the sun came out.  So much for painting.

Alagna slopes bw

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