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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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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Too basic?

I almost gave up on this after the first wash, as it looked too boring! I had managed to head out sketching without any pencils, so as you can imagine there wasn’t much detail. Here I have started to add some detail on top with pencil as a framework for the next layer of paint. Turns out that this is quite a good fix if, like me, you have a tendency to drown your drawings in details.

Half-way house.