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.
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.
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?
Or at least, extreme weather. I braved the elements on a (relatively) sheltered café terrace as the storm raged across the canals. With frequent gusts sending rain spitting across my paper, a tight painting was never using to happen. So instead I ordered a generous beer and dropped a load of colour onto the damp paper. What made it harder was the strong orange glare of the street lamps which made it impossible to judge colour accurately.
This was the base wash that would later become the windows and reserved highlights. I honestly never thought it was going to dry. The wind was pushing the pigment around on the paper and the spray creating a nice mottled texture… but the paper was getting damper by the second. I painted in the sky with a fairly strong mix of light red and cobalt, then retreated inside the café.
Next came the beautiful canalside buildings of Keizersgracht – visible through the rain as a low dark mass. This was painted as a single varied wash: light red, ultramarine, burnt sienna – whatever was to hand. Once this was sort-olf dry, a bit of loose wet detail came in, toghether with the canal’s choppy reflections and the foreground.
Here’s the finished painting. I had fun with the trees and bikes, slopping on rough shapes of wheels and branches in a weak wash, then adding stronger, more precise details. The final touch was a fair bit of highlight detail in various opaque shades of titanium-white, which I also used to recover a few windows I’d accidentally painted over in my earlier exuberance. Arguably this should be a bit finer, but as the shapes merge together it doesn’t jar too much.
Looking at the final painting, I think it needs a rain-swept figure or two, desperately trying to keep their umbrella from blowing inside out. Still, next time…