I am a keen admirer of Edward Wesson’s watercolours but he is a bad exemplar for amateur painters. Wesson developed a very personal loose way of working which is very popular and his style has spawned look-alikes of varying degrees of competence. Demonstrations by professional artists who paint in a loose Wesson manner are sure to captivate audiences at meetings of amateur painters.
The April meeting of Ludlow Art Society members enjoyed two watercolour demonstrations typical of the loosely handled genre. The first demonstration followed a predictable course. First a quick sky painted with fluid washes laid on with a Japanese hake – Wesson’s favourite tool for this job was a French Polisher’s mop. The hake was used again with stronger blues to create foreground shapes. At this point the demonstrator announced it would be a snow scene. The use of a hairdryer to dry off part of the sky area enabled the demonstrator to drybrush the outline of an oak tree with the side of a sign writer’s liner. The point of the liner was used with a dark pthalo blue/umber mix to flick in suggestions of branches. Finally purple blue/grey washes were used to suggest distant hills and create the outline of a farmhouse roof. After further use of the hairdryer a suggestion of the detail was added and the job was done – a finished watercolour in 35 minutes. Members were treated to a second slick performance after an interval. Two large water colours ready for framing in 90 minutes.
Over the years I have observed several demonstrations of this kind and they teach you very little. For the beginner they encourage the idea that loose direct handling is the key to success in water colour and little else. After each of these demonstrations I always return to Barry Miles book on Edward Wesson* to compare his work with that of his look-alikes. This kind of study is important if you want to appreciate him. A superficial awareness of Wesson’s work overlooks the fact that the loose brushwork of his small plein air landscapes are based on keen observation developed through drawing.
Wesson like his contemporaries Jack Merriot, Leonard Squirrel, and Claude Muncaster was a fine draughtsman. For me Wesson is seen at his best in his pen and wash watercolours. There is a fine example, St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol on the dustjacket of Barry Miles book. The clean loosely handled transparent washes are there to be enjoyed but they are supported by accurate, though understated, ink line drawing.
Wesson has so many disciples - John Yardley and Ron Ranson being the most widely known - that it is worth reflecting that Watercolour has a long tradition. It is important to visit public collections to discover how other artists have used the medium. Dear old Edward's watercolours are very seductive but it is best to avoid becoming enslaved by them.
* Edward Wesson 1910-1983: Barry Miles, Hallsgrove (1999)