The first in a series of posts written by guest bloggers, all of whom will be exhibiting as part of The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018, on display from 18 – 23 September at Mall Galleries. First up is painter Robin Pearce, whose melancholic work Down by the Seaside is also laced with a pervasive sense of foreboding.
As an exhibitor in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018 I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post giving some insight into my creative process and the techniques employed in relation to my selected work, Down by the Seaside. I’d like to focus in particular on a technique I relied on when using acrylic paint, a technique which is typically associated with watercolour rather than acrylic, but without which the painting could not have been realised.
My inspiration generally comes from a variety of sources and is usually experienced as a sudden visualisation of either a basic or more fully-formed composition. However, even with a well-formed initial composition it is rare that this is what emerges in the final work. My sources of inspiration can be as diverse as a piece of music, a shape in the natural environment, a passage in a book or, as in Down by the Seaside, a fleeting shot of a man sitting on an upturned boat in an old black and white film. This inspiration is then developed, first via a quick sketch grabbed as soon as the image is visualised, and then again as it is transferred into a rough drawing on the painting surface. During these initial processes the image is further fleshed-out with elements added either for compositional balance or to elucidate any early ideas of meaning. It was at this stage that the concept of the wall in Down by the Seaside developed from being simply a background to the composition to being the key element in the final work.
I allow meaning and ambiguity to develop together but neither are predetermined. The creative process being, for me, one of ongoing discovery rather than a planned final result which is then technically executed. This makes my experience of the process exciting, surprising and in some ways meditational. It is an experience of the work being created as much as an experience of my creation of the work.
Once I have the basic concept fleshed-out I turn to the choice of palette. For Down by the Seaside I have used two basic colours – apart from in one small detail – for the whole work: Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue. These two colours in the Winsor and Newton Professional Acrylic range neutralise each other completely, providing me with the darkest tones and the coloured greys of the wall. I chose this highly restricted pallet – with both colours being used at different levels of neutralisation – to give the finished work its overall atmosphere.
I chose acrylics not only to help me create the atmosphere that I wanted, but also because this particular range allowed me to break one of the ‘rules’ of acrylic painting by using the paint – at times – more like watercolour than acrylic. I added water to the acrylic paint, diluting it until it resembled a typical watercolour wash – this cannot normally be done with acrylics as the resultant paint surface would be unstable. This heavily diluted paint was used to produce the dark streaks on the wall which are possibly the most vital element of the final work.
A little more detail… The paint was diluted in a container and then what is essentially pigment in water was brushed onto the surface of the painting. Applying this layer was a delicate operation as brushing water onto the previously painted surface with even a mild amount of pressure can remove said surface. However, it had to be done, as for the wash to work it had to be applied with a brush as opposed to simply being allowed to flow. This was particular true with Down by the Seaside where I was covering such large areas of the work, as the shape of the wash would inevitably have a major impact on the painting’s overall compositional balance.
For me, an understanding of a work progresses throughout its composition and ends with the person viewing the work. Writing this blog post has given me space to revisit Down by the Seaside and has granted me greater insight into it as I try to see it afresh from a viewer’s perspective. My reaction to the work brings to the surface the darker side of the seaside experience: that of locals scraping a living, in stark contrast to, and unseen by the visitors enjoying the idealised experience of beach, ice-cream and fish and chips.