I was very fortunate when asked to do my most recent commission because the client simply wanted me to paint a watercolour from a photo he’d taken and when he emailed it to me I could see that the photo was large enough so I could easily zoom in on all the tiny details. It makes such a difference when the source material is so detailed. I printed it off as an A4 photo and started work on it last week.
The photo is taken by the side of the ancient stone bridge in Swarkestone, Derbyshire, which is a very important landmark in the area as it crosses over the River Trent south of Derby. But it wasn’t the bridge that was important in this photo, infact it doesn’t feature at all, which is a bit of a surprise as it absolutely dominates this part of Swarkestone. No, the important part was the fact that the client lives in one of the houses that is shown in the photograph, and he wanted a painting done to show the immediate area around his house rather than just the house itself. So his photo is taken as he stood by the bridge which is imediately to the left of this scene. I know the area very well as a friend of mine lives in another of the houses depicted here, and I’ve had very enjoyable hours socialising in her home . But the painting had to be about all of the area not just one bit of it.
I started by drawing the image out in pencil on the watercolour paper. The client wanted the painting to be 26 x 18 inches, so I drew it as 27 x 19 inches to give a bit of lee-way to the framer. The client didn’t want the vehicles drawn in, which I think was a very good decision as they always look messy in a landscape like this.
I decided to paint it as distinct areas to keep the detail within the picture. So starting with the sky I painted that in first with a mix of French Ultramarine, touches of Alizarin, raw sienna and cobalt blue, wetting the paper and working quickly to put the moody overcast clouds but keeping the white of the paper as the clouds and hints of cerulean blue behind them. Then I used masking fluid to mask off the areas that I knew would be white, the far tree trunks, the roadway on the far bank, windows, and the flowers on the nearside bank. Taking off the masking fluid as I worked my way through the painting.
Since there was no strong sunlight within the photo I didn’t need to consider shadows too much, except on the nearby houses.
Next was the greenery on the far bank, the shapes of the individual trees merging into the background, and flowing down into the reeds and rough river grasses. I used sap green with differing shades of windsor yellow, cobalt blue, french ultramine to give it more tones. But as it was the same green throughout the painting it added harmony to the picture.
Then the buildings on the far bank slotted in amongst the trees keeping the reds of the buildings muted so they didn’t look strident against the greens. Using alizarin, yellow ochre, raw sienna, french ultramarine.
Then the river itself which was difficult as the hint of movement had to be shown to show that it was a deep and flowing river, smooth reflections would have made it look like a lake or pond. If I’d painted deeper dips in the surface it would have looked like the sea with waves. I painted in the dark reflections knowing that I would go back to it later to add more surface variations in it.
Then starting with the tree on the right hand side of the picture I painted that in, and the nearside bank and the lovely curve of the cart track complete with puddles. I love those puddles, nice and delicate!
Then the bank of white flowers and the taller stems of the flowers in the right hand side foreground. Making sure that they all looked like flowers and foliage but weren’t too strong that you were looking at them instead of the buildings beyond. Creating depth in the froth of white was fun!
The last part which is always very time consuming but immensely important was adding definition, losing some sharp edges and redefining others. Making sure the water looks like it has movement in it, and the flowers have flickers of light and shadow amongst them.
Complete, I rang the client and said “It’s done!” and emailed my finished painting image over to him. And ten minutes later he rang back with a one word reply “Fantastic!” was the response, which is the best one as far as I am concerned. He came to collect it, and tells me that when its framed it will hang over the fireplace in his lovely home in this delightful setting. I’ve loved doing it, its a very happy picture with lots of lovely detail and a perfect landscape for painting in watercolour!