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Working on it and through it to capture the enigmatic magical moments

A couple of weeks ago I started work on the new painting that I’ve been wanting to do for the last eighteen months.. ever since I stayed in St Flour whilst travelling down the length of France and saw the magical sunlight as it set over those ancient rooftops, over the valley, down through the hills and up to the soaring heavens above, I wanted to paint that picture. I fell in love with it. I loved the way the roofs fell away down in the valley, I loved the way the dark shadows fell among the tall buildings and the way the sunlight caught the diverse roof tiles, I loved the way the horizon faded off into the distance and the way the final rays of sunshine caught a village about 5 miles away on the top of another hill, I loved the way I couldn’t see exactly where the distance was, and where the volcanic mountains of the Avergne started and the clouds above them started. I loved the feeling of space and time, and mans puny endeavours against the glory of millions of years of weather that had carved and formed that land. I loved it all and wanted to capture it. 

I had taken loads of photos of that village in the few hours whilst I stayed there, from late afternoon to mid morning the next day before we continued our journey. I had lots to chose from, and found one in particular that captured all I wanted within it. 

Since I knew I wanted to do it in watercolour, and on the largest sheet of watercolour paper I had – about 28 x 20 inches, I stretched a piece of the paper on a board and left it overnight to dry. The following day I started drawing out the design freehand. I didn’t need a ruler, all those wonky roofs and ancient walls weren’t straight and it added to the artistic input to draw them like they were! It took me a couple of days to fine tune the drawing, and when I was happy it looked right, I could start of the fun bit – painting the sky. 

And of course I was also using my new watercolour easel as it was ideal for me to do this picture on, and the whole point of buying it for pictures like this one! 

I knew I wanted the sky to show as it faded from cobalt blue to pinky blue, to orange, to pale lemon in the far distance. Easy enough to do a wash of that and I painted it on one quick go. 

But the next day when I went to see it, it wasn’t the exact way I had remembered it and went over it again to make more depth of colour, 


But after it had dried it still didn’t look right, so I decided to leave it and work on the background hills as they merged down into the valley. By then I was so fired up

 with it, I wanted to paint the trees and fields on the opposite side of the valley. 

When I looked at it the next day (because watercolours can only be viewed correctly in daylight, in artificial light they read wrong and can quickly get overworked and dry too dark) and again wasn’t happy with the way it looked, it could be better, it could be less obvious. But, lets wait and see what it looks like when the rest of the picture is painted in, the important part of the town itself. I started work on that, and worked the next day on it too, since again I was so fired up with it. 

By the following day I knew that I had to make an important decision, and that was it didn’t matter how many hours work I had put into it, it didn’t matter how much I wanted to paint that picture, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t doing the place and my memory of it justice. It was a mediocre painting, not a good one. It needed to be thought out better. So that day it became the “working painting” which means it doesn’t matter how much I paint over bits, or work out whether some bits should be more purply, or more ochre, or more terracotta, it will help me to plan properly and fully for doing it all again. 

And when I do it again it will look a million times better!

Cos this is a large piece of paper, and its capturing so much distance, as much as anything else. And then I will be happy to show it to you!