Here are the two paintings I made for this assignment.
19cm – watercolour on toned Khadi rag and fibre paper
29cm – watercolour and gouache on blue tinted rough cotton Aquarelle Arches 300gsm paper
Reflection on outcomes
Im happy with some aspects of my assignment tondos. I achieved a sense of light and the play of light and reflections in the composition. The final darkening of the curtains in the larger tondo brought the composition more alive suddenly, by creating stronger contrasts. I like the window and my treatment of the window frames, which is soft and not intrusive. I’d hoped for an outcome with a more ethereal atmosphere, I wanted to achieve Turner’s depiction of light rather than defined solid objects.
The two tondos are very different in atmosphere, the one dark with an almost thundery-day feeling, the other full of sunshine. The second really says more about our domestic life. Indoors we have hard, shiny surfaces, mirrors that reflect a vast, empty space, and chairs that are often empty while the outdoors beckons as a more comfortable place to spend our time.
Working within a circular shape seems to give me the opportunity to reflect and echo that circle within my composition, in this case the round edge of the table, the round bowl and the curved chair backs. In itself the circular frame pulls the focus inwards to the centre, and sets up a feel of symmetry and intimacy. Its limitation is perhaps that we can’t concentrate on either the horizontal or the vertical in creating a circular composition, it is a 360 degree view.
It would be interesting to experiment more with a wider range of ideas around composition within the circular format; I wonder whether the golden proportion, and the fibonacci spiral could be incorporated, to siucessfully shift the emphasis in the tondo from the centre. The spiral is particularly intriguing; I could imagine a series of accents in a composition leading the eye around the support.
What I did
Having already painted an interior area of my home in the exercises, and feeling my work for Part 5 may concentrate on the outside, my painting for this assignment represents a transition – inside, looking out. I looked to old sketchbooks and interpreting views from a window in new ways. I wanted my assignment piece to be not just a picture of an area of my home, but to express something additional – for example a certain atmosphere, an emotion, a response to light and dark, a memory or a feeling.
I wanted my painting to look fluid and fresh. As this is watercolour, one way I troed to achieve this was by working through options in my sketchbook – composition, tones, colours, layers and washes.
A view from a window can focus on the inside or the outside. There is usually a strong contrast in tonal value between the two areas, the window lighter and the interior relatively dark. I built the darks gradually, but trying not to be afraid of using thicker intense, dark washes – retaining translucency and avoid muddying hues by layering too many different colours. To start with I intended to create my lights by saving quite large areas of the white ground.
The view below is one I’ve sketched in the past. It appeals to me because of the dramatic contrast between the light flooding in through the window and the comparatively dark interior. I also like the reflections in the high gloss tabletop. My old sketch was successful on the level of looseness of execution and inventive colour; but the window looks like a picture on the wall; and there’s no depth to the scene, and not enough tonal contrast between inside and out.
I made some small sketches in round tondo format to start investigating composition and tone.
I drew a 19cm circle on a piece of unstretched 150gsm rag and fibre, light-neutral toned Indian Khadi paper and treated the paper to an initial water-soak and dry. I experimentally made a few random light coloured washes with a size 18 round watercolour brush to see how the ground would react. Even though quite lightweight it didn’t buckle much and the paper seemed to have just the right amount of absorbency. Encouraged, I drew my composition quickly in paint with the same brush, over the pale colour washes, using just indigo, and then continued developing and refining my indigo washes, applying and lifting paint as i observed and adjusted tones. Interestingly the background colours – which I think were sap green, cerulean blue and carmine or magenta – stained the paper and remained even when I applied some fairly strenuous lifting techniques on the indigo, which by contrast came away relatively easily. The paper stood up quite well to the rough treatment too. The gallery below shows the painting in early, mid and later stages.
I prefer the painting at the early stage where there is more light and forms are more sketchy. I like the dramatic contrasts of the final painting though, and I like the way the background colours appear as an impression of the outside garden through the window, and are then repeated as they peek through in reflections and undertones elsewhere. The overall tone is darker than I would like; though I used white acrylic ink for highlights, I want more dazzling light in my painting, so maybe I should use a white ground for my next attempt (note to self – where is the reflection of the jug in the table?).
Next morning I looked again as the sun shone directly through the window: the yellow sunlight creates interest on the left of the composition. There is a nice pool of light reflected in the bowl; overall tones are lighter and colours warmer and more evident in this early morning light.
Turner painted many interiors of stately homes, cathedrals and churches in watercolour, as studies of the effect of interlocking areas of light and dark. His treatment is rough and sketchy, but masterfully describes interior structures in extremely subtly differentiated washes. His 14x19cm, watercolour and gouache painting, At Petworth: Morning Light Through the Windows, 1827, appears flooded with soft, diffuse light despite the use of a blue ground; the tonal contrasts are less emphatic than mine, the forms just suggested as shimmering differences in light to medium tone, apart from the dramatic dark sepia sillouhette of the sketchy figure in the foreground. Daylight seems to be streaming in from what appears to be a window on the far right of the composition. The painting gives a wide view of the room, compared to my closeup, flattened composition.
At the Tate Britain exhibition I visited in 2015, Late Turner – Paintings Set Free, there was a contemporaneous exhibition of paintings by Olafur Eliasson in which the artist replicated the palette in individual Turner paintings, in a circular format like a giant CD. He tried to capture the ephemeral feel of Turner’s pallette, in order to understand how Turner captured atmosphere and de-materialised the elements of his compositions.
Looking at the painting above, I studied Turner’s colours, though they’re faded and altered with time. There are three main hues; yellow ochre (mixed with naples yellow for opacity?), mauve-grey (perhaps pale magenta watercolour washed over the blue ground) and sepia laid over the yellow. Around the edges the blue paper appears. I think the paler, opaque tints must be watercolour mixed with white gouache. Colours darker than the blue ground are done in translucent watercolour washes, modified by the colour of the ground. Here’s my attempt at replicating Turner’s palette using Ellasson’s approach, and on tinted paper:
This research has encouraged me to try to create the sort of light-filled painting I want, using a tinted ground with gouache and watercolour. Turner used a cool tinted ground (blue) for his warm hued painting (predominantly yellows). I decided to follow his example and create a blue tinted ground for my painting, which would also have a warm colour spectrum. I experimented with painting over an ink ground, but found the watercolour washes dried with hard outlines, where they’d recativated the ink. An acrylic ink ground didn’t reactivate, and retained the absorbency I wanted. Sepia added to blue gave a greenish tint; black added to blue gave a warmer tonal blue.
I opted for the warmer colour and mixed plenty of diluted acrylic ink, testing on scrap paper till i was satisfied with colour intensity; dampened two pieces of (Aquarelle Arches rough cotton 300gsm) white paper all over to help get a smooth wash, and quickly, methodically with a large flat brush tinted the 29cm tondo, going beyond the edges. When dry I Iightly pencilled in my composition on one, making some changes to improve its balance and interest.
On the other I did some trial painting; Ray Smith talks about opaque watercolour methods in which white gouache provides highlights and pale tones. Mixing opaque and transparent techniques ‘usually work best when they are dealt with in a balanced way’ he says (The Artist’s Handbook p127).
Smith also talks about the beauty of overlaying thin washes instead of just using’s one thickly applied wash (p134). I need to remember to build up my dark areas by overlaying washes in thin mid-to-light tone, whether I’m superimposing two or three colours, or just one.
I started painting slowly, thinking carefully about each step, adding body colour to the window area but otherwise using very thin transparent washes, and thinking about how these would be modified by the ground colour. Work in progress gallery is below.