Watercolours along the Thames

I uncovered this series whilst clearing out a cupboard this week.

In August 2005 I did a one week course in watercolours. Each day a group of about ten of us worked our way along the Thames from Putney to Eel Pie Island- five locations in five days. So we would be painting for about five hours outdoors with a break for a pub lunch.  Five consecutive days of intense painting. The key questions were, would there be any perceivable improvement as a result and – as this was London in August – how wet and cold would we get.

I have posted these in the order that were done, starting with a view from Putney of Putney Bridge and All Saints Church:

River 1 Putney

I suppose we are following the route of the Boat Race initially, so next is Hammersmith Bridge, painted from a jetty outside the Blue Anchor Pub. So this is a view I must have stared at for many hours over the years whilst nursing a pint; it’s a favourite meeting place for friends in the summer:

River Hammersmith Bridge

Next along, geographically, is Barnes Bridge. This was an interesting day. I was encountering a common problem that I always used to hit with watercolours. I usually start off drawing the scene before moving to watercolours and spend so long on that stage and getting every last detail in place, that the colour stage seems to be a step backwards. I saw a Sky Arts programme last year in which celebs did a painting with a teacher – a bit more upmarket than Splash! –  and Bill Bailey did exactly the same thing, spending ages drawing the gothic towers on  the Palace of Westminster and running out of time to spend much time painting.

In my case the teacher had picked up on this by day three and,  on observing the following detailed pencil layout, suggested instead that I discard it and then attempt to paint the same scene without any pencil stage at all – much as I do with oil and acrylics now.

So here is the pencil version. I was really happy with the diminishing perspective of the riverfront buildings and the steps down to the river from the bridge, but was forced to let it go..

River Barnes 1

..and here below is the paint-only version. You can’t rub out and start again, so I had to go for it.

I do quite like it, but as a result of the inability to go back, the perspective on those buildings on the right is completely off. Nonetheless it was quite a liberating thing to do…

River Barnes 2

So, the next day as we reached Richmond, I decided to stick with this approach, as you can see in this picture of Richmond Bridge. I think the teacher asked us to do it monochrome and, for me, blue is the colour:

River Richmond 4

Certainly Richmond seems to have been the most productive day, with four paintings/ drawings in total. I think that this was actually the nicest day weather-wise, so I stayed on into the evening.

I kept my hands of my pencils for one more attempt at paint-only, less successful than the previous two I feel. Again the perspective, this time on the left hand boat, is problematic..

River Richmond

So I compromised – back to the pencil, but only in moderation Here we have a painting of a barge further along the river. Back to a pencil start point, but trying not to get too bogged down in detail:

River Richmond Boat

And finally as the sun was setting, a (deliberately) detailed pencil drawing as I knew I wouldn’t have time to apply paint. Looking across the river from the South side…

River Richmond 2

On Friday we got to Eel Pie island, and a couple of pictures done in the rain, the first of the pedestrian bridge from Twickenham – on the right – to the island on the left.

River Eel Pie Island 1

Finally, and somewhat anti-climactically, a sketch of a boat house across the Thames. It shows that, largely, I am fine with perspective and laying out architecture but this one in particular is too close to technical drawing.

This is why more recently I have moved towards acrylics, oil and charcoal in an attempt to loosen up, rather than just slavishly replicate what I see.

River Eel Pie 2

So, looking back on these nine years later, I think I can see an improvement through the week, with Richmond probably the day I was most in my stride.  I would definitely recommend a one week summer course like this, run by Putney School of Art and Design, assuming they do them this year..

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