‘Every picture tells a story don’t it’ ‘A Perfect Beach’ watercolour 340mm x 247mm
Some watercolour painters rarely include a human figure in their compositions and then only to provide scale to the real subject- usually a magnificent landscape or a dominating city scene. Others concentrate solely on the figure usually in the form of an ‘alla prima’ type virtuoso study. Here the figure may be a nude or a character- a beauty, an eccentric, someone with their life experiences ‘written’ on their features ready to be set down. Others still paint to demonstrate a facility, a technique, for showing how dramatic light falls across a group or an individual and the depth and intricacy of counter shadow that is formed.
This watercolour, ‘A Perfect Beach’ started as an exercise to extend my painting technique to ‘handle’ a foreground figure. Using a magazine clipping for reference I laid in the main figure in two simple flat washes: one for her basic shape and the second to indicate broadly her areas of shadow.
Wanting something more I laid in the horizontal wash for the sea horizon as some sort of balance against the upright figure of the young woman.
Now I really had a problem. Being an illustrator by inclination I now felt that in order to continue this exercise with any sort of conviction I needed answers to the questions I had unwittingly provoked in my own mind. What was she doing there by the sea? Where actually was she? I needed a story. Or else abandon it.
It seemed that if a story was ever to emerge that would fit this start, then more figures were needed. Interaction was required. So in went the couple at the shoreline and the lapping waters in which they stand. Simple almost ambiguous strokes were the order here. At this stage, these two were only the other half of a pictorial argument I had yet to stir up.
Still without any clear storyline, I switched to developing the ‘where’. To match the lapping blue waters I put in the headland with the hints of rocky shoreline and ‘Aegean’ pines in groups. I lifted out streaks of the sea around the rocks and extended the sea horizon upwards, all to integrate the ‘new’ headland into the composition. Staying with ‘where’, the terrace wall, chair and table went in. The table was nearly a disaster. The combination of lack of paper at the picture perimeter and a deckle edge to the sheet caused the dark wash to bleed ‘inside’ the paper sucking it up towards the main figure. Furious tilting and blotting followed! I’d broken the first rule of watercolour. I’d started without a clear plan.
Nevertheless these moves had been crucial- two key gestures within the story were now evident. The foreground figure was either getting up from the chair, startled, or sitting down horrified. And the beach couple were in dispute. Either she was pulling him back or he was dragging her away.
Using more of the same flesh and shadow tones, deepened and warmed, I laid in more overlapping washes developing the foreground figure and allowing each to dry before continuing. I lifted out parts of the earlier washes to give her a swimsuit- only partially successfully around the shoulder straps. Fine drawn shadow areas similarly brought out the shore couple together with appropriate splashes of ‘costume’ colour.
I decided to stop- the second golden rule of watercolour. I liked what I now had even though it was still not settled in my head- what was going on! The title I gave it, which really only works when you say it out loud, reflects this uncertainty. Anyway, which one is the ‘bitch’?
Fine art limited edition prints of this painting are now available. Please go to the main site via the ‘home’ link opposite and click on ‘landscapes’ in the right-hand menu.