I did work really hard today, and what I forgot to do yesterday was scan an early stage of this piece which is a shame because it is interesting for me to see at what point I could have stopped and it would have been an acceptable, but fairly loose watercolour. Then there is the transition stage where it all looks so horrible, at this stage it is neither fish, flesh nor fowl. Hope begins to fade but you just have to plod on through. Then there is (hopefully) the last stage where you begin to see some sharper details. At this stage I am not sure if I like it or hate it. I can only see the mistakes and problems.
Finally, there is the impossible “when to stop” question. Without a real live tutor (one whose advice you respect) it is impossible to tell. The dreaded step by step books are 100% unhelpful and also it’s very often personal taste. I stop because I am fed up or don’t know what else to do….or just run out of time. This time it’s a bit of all three.
One huge pitfall for the watercolourist is the almost uncontrollable desire to “improve” this or that part. I have the ability to turn something passable into a complete dog’s breakfast in just two strokes of a brush or one unconsidered wash. Sometimes I wish someone would just come and prise the brush out of my hand and say “Enough!”. The very best advice is to put the wretched thing away, out of sight, lock it in a cupboard and give someone else the key, for at least a week.
So is it finished? As usual, I don’t know, but I am finished with it. Do I like it? Well it’s very traditional for me but this is a very traditional course. Time enough for strange and wonderful compositions and experiments when I have learnt the basics. Whatever the outcome I will always be fond of it because these little fruit are from the Gardens where I have spent my happiest days this year .. so good luck on your transatlantic journey, my “Small Fruit from Leu Gardens”.
Small Fruit from Leu Gardens
One big problem for me, with this kind of detailed work, is waiting for the paint to dry. There is just no use trying to hurry the process and putting more paint on while the coat underneath is wet. You will just get mud. I have to go away from the drawing board and make yet another cup of tea that I won’t drink. A dangerous tactic is to slide over to the computer as that can just end up with hours of “important” browsing. I have recently had to impose a new rule on myself. No Internet between nine and five.
However I have made some progress with the fruit today, but the peel is drying out and changing shape as I look at it. It is nothing like as fragile and annoying as the water plantain saga here though and at least I did not have to get wet feet trying to secure these models. Two of them are Barbados cherries, There are 3 plants in the garden I have found so far. One is a small tree and the other two are low bushy shrubs which are dwarf varieties. The flowers are very pretty small and pink, like tiny little wild roses. They are also called Acerola, or Antilles cherry, Maliphigia glabra.
Image from Texas digital flower project. here
They could easily be confused with the similar Surinam Cherry which I sketched and ate lots of back in April here. The Surinam cherries are a very attractive lantern shape whereas these are just cherry shaped but smaller. I also think the Surinam cherries were tastier.
I sketched these just to get the colours right. The dwarf variety is much darker crimson. I hope that if I work very hard tomorrow I will be able to finish the fruit piece… I hope I am getting quicker.
I decided to go down to the Gardens on this freezing cold morning just to think about fruit, if nothing else. I have been fretting about what to paint for this piece. There are only 5 days left before it has to be in the post. There is a supermarket full of fruit just down the road and I seem to have almost one of everything, lined up and staring at me from the kitchen table. For some reason the supermarket fruit, however beautiful and exotic, does not make me want to paint it. Their ranks of orderliness and perfection, however pleasing to the designer in me, feel impersonal. Something is missing.
We had some stormy weather at the weekend and walking around the orchard at Leu, seeing the fallen oranges and lemons, I realised I was really longing for some windfalls or overblown fruit to paint or something I have picked or had some connection with; big Bramley apples, bruised but still worthy of a pie, or a pomegranate split by nature not the knife with the seeds tumbling out. Neither of those are readily available to me but I do have a connection with all the trees at Leu and so my decision was suddenly more easy. Forget the exotic supermarket crowd-pleasers and just paint what I find in the garden today.
I am not sure how much of the emotion contained in paintings communicates to others. I suppose it depends how sympathetic your audience is to your own sensibilities, but there is a great case for the artist, or writer, to depict what they know well and have some emotional feeling for. Somehow that genuine feeling seems to communicate. I wonder if that is why I have such a problem with “realistic” works that are painted from photographs. They can be superficially very beautiful but often the sense of being engaged with the object or place is missing.
My affection for these fruits from Leu will not, unfortunately, guarantee a beautiful painting but it will, at least, be more of pleasure to do.
So, my decision made, I brought back a motley collection of “fruit” possibilities and spent the rest of the afternoon playing around with them for composition ideas. I collected a couple of satsumas, a little stripy orangequat, some small fallen starfruit, some acorns, a couple of pignut hickories, a lemon, some Barbados cherries, a couple of coco plums and even a sprig of yaupon holly berries.
They are an odd mixture and after much rearranging I decided to keep it simple and go with just the satsuma, the stripy unripe orangequat, and two varieties of the Barbados cherry.
Technique wise it’s all about achieving texture. I have shiny berries, the matt inside of the orange peel, the pitted surface of the peel itself and leaves which will no doubt be dried out by tomorrow. I am very unsure how to tackle the inside skin of the orange. I have looked at the books but, as usual, there is no help to be had there..!