Thursday, August 24, 2006

I’ve Been Out Sketching Today

I happened to be in Worcester with an hour to spare, it was a warm sunny afternoon so I found a quiet spot in the cathedral close and had an absorbing 45 minutes drawing a bit of medieval ruin near the west doorway. Drawing en plein air is an activity I’ve neglected of late. Nowadays I work mostly from old sketchbooks or I rework paintings by transforming them into a different medium – so a pastel subject is revived and taken in a different direction through the medium of watercolour.

That’s a convenient way of working and when looking through old work there are always discoveries to be made. I could have happily kept working in this way reworking things in Pastel, Acrylic or watercolour except events have a way of taking over. The Ince exhibition nudged me towards taking pure watercolour seriously again and his sketchbooks displayed a degree of finish which I’d never attempted.

Then I bought ‘Light and Mood in Watercolour’ - David Curtis most recent book which prompted me to take another hard look at his work. His early training as a draughtsman shows in all his watercolours – very noticeably so in his larger ones. This was reason enough to go back to basics and work on my own draughtsmanship.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In Watercolour Small is Beautiful

J. M. Ince’s watercolours in Hereford have set me off on a series of small watercolours. Ince’s paintings in the bicentenary exhibition were around 10in x 14in or 7in x 10in. To me watercolour accommodates these small dimensions far better than oil – the medium is ideal when working on a small intimate scale. I can understand why artists frequently submit large half imperial watercolours to open exhibitions anything smaller gets lost in a massive show.

So I’m following the Cox/Ince route and adopting the small scale watercolour mode – not to imitate their technique or method but at least to try and capture the charm of their small works.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Celebrating 60 Years

Celebrating 60 Years Of Achievement

Ludlow Art Society’s Summer Exhibition which opens on the 19th August marks the Society’s 60th Anniversary. As a small celebration of the occasion we are showing work by former members - sadly most of them have died. When details of the former members paintings were received, pleasant memories were revived of people who were active in the Society when I first joined 20 years ago now.

Although I only managed to assemble a small and rather arbitrary selection of former members work it confirms the impression – held by those of us who’ve been associated with the Society for many years – that the standard has remained consistently high. The Society’s exhibitions have always been an interesting, varied mixture of amateur and professional work. Long may it continue – for another 60 years and more.

There is more information on the Society’s website :

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Painter of Presteigne

The Hereford Art Gallery and Museum is curently showing an exhibition of Watercolours by Joseph Murray Ince 1806-1851 to celebrate his bicentenary. Although born in London he was brought up in Presteign. He was a fine watercolourist who studied for three years with David Cox in Hereford before finally establishing himself as a painter in London. The link goes to the Powys On-line History Project that gives more information about him and contains an illustration of his work.
Follow the link - Joseph Murray Ince

Seeing an exhibition of largely topographical watercolours by a single 19th Century artist is a striking reminder of how the best work of that period was underpinned by really sound draughtsmanship. This is a quality that often missing in modern watercolour due to the prevalent fashion for 'loooseness.' The quality of Ince's mastery of drawing can be seen in his sketchbook studies in the exhibition. These are fine examples of firmly controlled linework done mostly in pencil – simple means but wonderful artistry.

In Ince's day painters had to be content with a few simple colours – the modern synthetic colours and those made from coal tar derivatives like Alizarin and French Ultramarine did not arrive until some time later. Ince's palette was made up of Cobalt blue, a few earth colours and white. Greens were made from black, yellow ochre, with a touch of cobalt. Cobalt and yellow ochre were used for skies and occasionally light red.

With these simple colours they often fell back on well-tried strategies. Blues were kept for distances and foregrounds were laid in over a warm background wash of yellow ochre or light red. Foreground incidentals frequently contained a touch of vermilion used for a farm labourer's waistcoat or a skirt.

As a student with David Cox Ince probably learned by copying his tutor's sketches and paintings. It was the standard method of teaching and has much to commend it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A struggle with ‘The Friars’

The gothic west front of I Frari in Venice dominates a little campo so that you have to tilt the head backwards to view its full height. Constantly moving the head when drawing creates all sorts of problems – the task is far easier when both the subject and the drawing are held within the field of vision. Nevertheless with the colourful pair of gondolas as a foreground motif I thought it would be a good subject. Working from a rather inadequate pen drawing dashed off in a hurry and photographs the painting became a struggle.

Buildings with dominant verticals always seem to present a problem so in the under drawing I used a t-square to lay in the lines of the shallow buttresses on the façade. Gradually these got lost as the painting progressed and had to be restated using the t-square – but the mechanically drawn lines laid on a loosely handled paint surface didn’t work.

After much agonising I looked afresh at the sketch and the photographs and realised there wasn’t a vertical line anywhere! Furthermore although In the sketch the buttresses were drawn with strong pen lines, in the photograph they only appeared as subtle tonal differences. The way forward then was to to think like a painter rather than an architectural draughtsman – concentrate on the colour and texture in the brickwork of the façade and offer merely a suggestion of the buttresses. This might convey the atmosphere of the place without needing precise accuracy.

This little campo is a favoured location for artists but usually they have the sense to turn their backs to I Frari and choose a subject looking down the canal from the far side. There is a shot of John Yardley in an APV Films video at his easel doing just that. Trevor Chamberlain also shows a nice little watercolour in one of his books of the view looking along the canal from the bridge in my picture. He made his picture from a few simple elements, a bridge and two or three boats moored on the canal. The buildings were cropped below first floor level – no head tilting needed for that approach. It was enough to capture the spirit of the place.

With hindsight I realised that the west doorway of I Frari held sufficient visual interest in itself to make an attractive picture. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by keeping to simple things!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Preview and a First Night

Last week I was at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre for the first night of Michael Bogdanov’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. My wife always gets a hug from Bogdanov - she got to know him when he directed the Shakespeare play at the Ludlow Festival for three years. This year – following a true Ukranian custom I got one too.

The Arts Centre also puts on some interesting exhibitions and while waiting of the performance I wandered towards the sound of people chatting and unexpectedly gate crashed a preview. The Exhibition was called ’40 Part Motet’ by Janet Cardiff. It was an installation of 40 hi fi loudspeakers mounted at shoulder level and arranged in a circle. Each speaker presumably playing one of the 40 parts. The curious thing was that nobody seemed to be listening to a single note.

In the theatre at least the audience were listening and enjoying the music.