Sunshine and Smiles

After the downbeat tone of the first post of 2017, I’m a bit shame-faced to be bringing you good news, sunshine and smiles! But, since the country seems to have been thrust back into murky cloud and fog, maybe a bit of brightness will be welcome.

First of all, a finished painting! I found this watercolour commission a bit daunting at first. The subject was the site of a proposal – a romantic pondside setting. There are few things as restful or romantic as sitting by the side of a pond, but they don’t often communicate as well in paint. Ponds don’t have the scale and reflective properties of deep lakes, nor the power and majesty of the sea, nor the animation of a river. In addition, I was I trying to capture the significance of a spot where two good friends had decided to spend their life together…

To begin with, my plan was to try and capture the moment itself – on bended knee etc. But the reference photos and my preliminary sketches persuaded me this wouldn’t work – it was transparent to me that I was drawing a re-enactment. If I remember my own engagement, I’m sure an onlooker would have seen intense emotion and excitement written all over my body language – you can’t recreate that. My initial reference photos also seemed too explanatory, with the sun coming in from behind and creating a very pleasing, but uninteresting photo. I asked for more reference photos and received an apologetic reply with some pictures taken at sunrise, with the sun blinding the camera and obscuring much detail.

But so often, in life as well as art, it is what you can’t see clearly which is captivating, not that which is laid out. From that point, the whole project came alive for me. The real focus of the scene are the benches, where the proposal took place. Despite the fact that they are in the centre of the composition, with a gleaming path leading towards them, I love that fact that they are all but obscured – both in shade and with sunlight streaming in front of them. The title ‘Into the Sun’, extends this metaphor a bit. When you commit to marriage it is quite like walking into the sun – there is so much ahead that you cannot see and yet it’s a beautiful and exciting sensation.

More prosaically, I had forgotten how challenging watercolour can be – it requires such decisive action and yet whatever actions you make are all but impossible to undo. I used masking fluid to protect the benches, bulrushes and tufts of grass on the bank to the left, but removed it too early in the course of the painting. I managed to recover these crisp highlights by scraping out with a blade, but it had me worried for a while! The question of balancing light was also tricky. Since the overall impression is so clearly of light, I was nervous, at first, of painting in the darks. However, perversely, the more depth I added, the lighter the painting became, because the contrast of the glaring sun became more pronounced. The bank in shadow was so much fun, because it responded to layers and layers of subtle colours – infused in, blotted out – to capture the prismatic light over subtle shadow.

I can’t wait to deliver it to its new home.

In other, very unexpected news, I opened an email from the international art competition, Renoartio, at the weekend to find this ‘Bonnie Smile’ at the top of it:

You could probably hear my squeal in neighbouring houses. Only the day before, my husband and I had been looking at the high calibre of entries for the December open art competition, and were doubtfully hoping that I would improve upon my position of 18th place in the November competition. To come top was completely beyond my expectations. You can see what impressive and varied artworks are submitted to Renoartio here, https://www.renoartio.com/past-winners/, and I’m chuffed that ‘Bonnie Smile’ will soon be among them. Of course, it’s a huge confidence boost for me and my art, but I think it also shows that no one can resist a golden retriever smile!

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