Thursday, 9 October 2014

Monotone Sketches

I painted these two monotone sketches on a recent painting holiday, during one of our indoor sessions.
When I meet a new group of painters I always ask what they find most problematic with watercolour painting. I can honestly say that the most popular (or unpopular) sticking point is 'loosening up'. If they're used to painting in a very detailed style, it can be difficult to overcome. I think the problem is partly the way they are viewing a particular subject. 
For instance, the magnificent steam locomotive in Paignton (The Sir Nigel Gresley) is, at first glance, quite complicated, with it's giant steel wheels, the rivets, the curves, the buffers, the tracks it stands on and even the figure peering at the wheels. However, when I look at it, I simplify what I see into shapes and tones.
By reducing it to a monotone study, I can join shapes of similar tone to make bigger, simplified shapes. But areas where there are more contrast must be made use of. All that detail around the wheel area is in deep shadow so, even though I can see the spokes of the wheels when I'm there, I don't feel the need to paint these in. As a rule, I don't put detail in shadow areas.
However, the engineer, bending down and peering into the wheel area, is strongly lit and, although I've rendered him as a simple shape, he is clear enough to identify and stands out from the shaded background. I've used the same effect to make the light-toned water tower stand out from the darker trees in the distance.

This sketch of stone pillars, supporting the roof of Totnes Guild Hall, shows areas of both great shadow and strong light. The roof timbers were given a light toned wash first, before building up some darker washes on top. These dark areas create the negative shapes around the lighter toned beams.
Making these small sketches enables me to show students how I view potential painting subjects and simplify them. I sometimes make small monotone sketches like these if I'm confronted with a complicated scene. Once I've done it in monotone, I then have the confidence to do a large, loose colour version, which leaves something to the imagination of the viewer.