Royal Academy Summer Show

This is the second painting I submitted for the Summer show at the RA, the first being the portrait of of my uncle Peter.

A completely different kind of painting altogether, I wanted to explore pure colour, to find the clearest, strongest ways to show its true nature and behaviour in watercolour medium. Only three colours are used, cyan, magenta and yellow, employing juxtaposition, overlay and tone as well as wet and dry paper and re-wetting techniques. Each colour is laid on individually, not mixed.

As a jeweller my work is very much about control, my designs are geometric and ordered, serendipity is a rare and welcome component, usually appearing whilst pushing the limits of the material. This process follows through in the “Dots” series of paintings. I begin from a precise positioned grid of marks, working on wet and/or dry paper, overlaying in several passes following a strict order whilst allowing accidental or material based irregularities to occur. Colours are applied with droppers or with broad washes laid over dried dots, allowing the colours to soften and run at will. Langford - watercolour painting

This following painting uses another technique, I laid down intense drops of colour on dry paper and allowed them to dry out completely before brushing over them with clear water  and a large brush, spreading the colour and making the colours run.


The Photograph of Peter c. 1938

I had meant to post the photograph which inspired me to paint the watercolour of my uncle, who sadly I never met, or if i did meet him I was to young to be cognisant of the fact. Here in this tiny black and white poor quality print, he sits in the back of a boat perhaps somewhere off the devon coast with my mother and an unidentified relative.

Peter in a Hat
Peter in a Hat

Watercolour Challenge – A Portrait of Peter

I have a tiny black and white photo of my uncle Peter in a boat on a seaside day out with my mother perhaps before the war. I don’t recall ever meeting him as he died when I was very small but this image draws me in. He was an artist and studied at the Slade in the 1930’s, even winning a couple of prizes. I think it is his profile that I like so much, the slightly weak chin and mouth and the refined but quirky nose, it curves down right at the tip a bit more than I have managed to capture here. Then there is the hat, a black trilby not a straw boater, an odd choice of headgear for a boat trip, I suppose it was all he had with him and wanted to shade his eyes.

I have made very few watercolour portraits, I find the medium too challenging to accommodate the endless tiny changes I always seem to need to make before the likeness feel right. However, I have painted this now about 15 times and I have nearly got it right. I chose to restrict the palette to just Paynes Grey as I was working from a black and white image. The blue/grey becomes a rich dark blue when very strong as well as keeping its colour in the faintest washes. If or when I do it again, I will paint the sky differently, I was trying to capture the way the dark hat’s edge turns white in the bright sunlight as well as the tips of brow, nose and chin disappearing into the brightness. I haven’t got that quite right here. Also there is a line of shadow along his jawline which is too harsh. I must keep trying I guess.

Peter in watercolour

Double Portrait Painting

I am enjoying painting so much, I had forgotten how satisfying it is to capture an expression, a likeness. Two-thirds of the way through this painting, I have yet to complete the glazing and warming of the skins tones in the girl on the right and there are more tresses to add at the far left.  I may also add detail to the background if I have time. (only 4 or 5 painting days left before the deadline) The sitters, I am glad to report, seem genuinely pleased. They are sisters and each of them has remarked on how good the likeness is of her sister!My Deighbours' Daughters

Takao Tanabe

Today I visited an exhibition of the work on paper of this Japanese Canadian artist at the McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, Ontario.

I was absolutely in awe of his graphite drawings of the Prairies and water-colours  of Islands.

Here are some examples, photography was not allowed in the exhibition so I have borrowed the images from the internet. The photos do not really do justice to the artistry but I will try to explain what you can see whilst viewing the original works. I am somewhat qualified to do so having worked as a conservator of paintings for many years and also being an amateur water-colourist.

This drawing “Inside Passage” is on paper with a water-colour under-painting, I think just of Ultramarine Blue with maybe a touch of Indian Yellow added to lean it towards green. This under-painting is almost  continuous in the sky, though vague areas are left blank to represent clouds. The colour is continued through the area of distant hills and in the top third of the lake water below the dark hills. Tanabe must have used a large brush, possibly having wetted the paper first to achieve an even spread of the colour wash.

Afterwards, when the paper was completely dry, he has added layers of graphite powder using a soft brush and also using a graphic stick/pencil. In some areas, he may have erased areas again to achieve the lighter strokes in the sky. In the lake water, it looks as though he has repeatedly cross-hatched to represent deep, dark water.  Again the dark hills are hatched over and over to give the depth of dark forests and the skyline is rich with strokes representing the movement of branches and birds. Altogether it demonstrates consummate skill in both wet and dry media.Takao Tanabe - Inside Passage

In this drawing ” Foothills South of Pincher Creek”,  Tanabe uses a fine graphite pencil throughout and simply adjusts the angle, thickness, pressure and direction to portray the rain-soaked sky and stretched out  foothills. Another in this series shows that Tanabe has used the same blue/green as in the “Inside Passage” under-paintng wash just in the hills, it is very subtle, hardly noticeable but it lifts the land mass away from the sky and water.

Takao Tanabe - Foothills South of Pincher Creek

I saw another work, a small water-colour painting of the morning sun rising from the sea near a string of islands on the horizon. Sadly I could not find an image of it on the internet but it was a delight of restraint. The scene was depicted adroitly with probably just two colours, Yellow Ochre and Payne’s Grey. Yellow wash was applied over the whole paper, then when dry, an extremely thin wash of Payne’s Grey in the sky, carefully keeping above the horizon and allowing the wash to pool slightly in the rough texture of the paper.

Next, the lower part of the painting – all of the sea except the exact horizon, was wetted and a heavy and uneven wash of Payne’s Grey applied liberally and allowed to settle and the pigment separate in the hollows of the textured paper. (Having tried this out, I think Payne’s Grey  was too blue but adding Brown Madder hepled to make it closer to neutral)

Finally the islands were painted in with a fine brush, simply silhouetted against the sky.

In daylight I will take a photo of the image from the catalogue.