Haida Gwaii Watercolor, Part II

This continues a much earlier post, Haida Gwaii Watercolor, Part I, when I first began exploring doing a watercolor painting of the North Beach area near Tow Hill on the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the west coast of British Columbia. (The Islands are known more and more by their Haida people’s name, Haida Gwaii.)

It’s taken me awhile. I’ve struggled with the watercolor medium, partly because I’m not painting as much as I used to, and I digressed to work on another painting or two, and because technically it always seemed to be just beyond my grasp.

The end result, as you will see below, is still not completely satisfactory, but it does give me the feeling of space and wildness I was working towards, in the kind of sketchy impressionistic manner I like. It will have to do…

P1020236Here are several of my aborted attempts. It pains me to show them but I learned one or two things from each abysmal failure — especially what not to do. The things that kept throwing me (you wouldn’t know from these outings that I’ve actually painted a few acceptable daubings of other subjects), were the sunlight in the trees and the mist or fog. OK, I was having trouble with the ocean, too… and the waves… and the figure on the beach…

P1020237Getting the mist should have been really simple. Work wet on wet, let the paint fade in the background and in the foggy area. But it never seemed quite right. I started to develop a complex about it. In the final version, I got the fade as much as possible and then clouded it up more with a tiny little bit of pthalo blue in chinese white, just enough to cool it, and that seemed to get closer to what I wanted.

Waves on the seashore were a new subject for me as well. I approximated more by suggestion and innuendo than by a convincing depiction, I think.

P1020235The sunlit portion of trees also gave me trouble. I studied my little reference photos a lot, trying to find the simple signs that would tell the viewer, if I could get them down, that these trees were lit by the sun. Again, the final version makes an attempt, but how successful I don’t know.

On separate sheets of paper, I tried to produce dry-brush figures that actually looked like some kind of person, and not a blob with blobby appendages, after choosing the size I wanted with a couple of pencil marks on the painting.

Finally I worked at getting the suggestion of a person walking the beach with a stick. With trepidation, I brushed something down on the actual painting.

He even seems to be wearing a hat… The dog was an afterthought, and turned out surprisingly well.

Pilgrim Seeking Where Raven Created Man Framed

I’ve settled on the slightly pretentious title, Pilgrim Seeking Where Raven Created Man, referring to the Haida creation myth at this location.

Since I like my little figures, here’s a close-up:

Pilgrim detail

Now I have to figure out what the next painting project should be… I’ve got some great subject matter to choose from, and I hope not so difficult to get to grips with.

Some wonderful pastels are standing by that I haven’t used at all yet. But I think I will stick with watercolor again… I’ve a new limited palette idea to try out, courtesy of John Lovett. That’s the thing about watercolor… there’s always something more to try.

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4 Comments on “Haida Gwaii Watercolor, Part II”


  1. Hi Fencer,
    I think that watercolour can be a very frustrating medium, especially because once you’ve put the colour in, it’s hard to fix things if you aren’t happy with them.
    My latest has taken me more than a month, so far, because I don’t want to ruin it. It’s not that I’ve had my paint brush in my hand all this time, but rather that I spent a lot of time contemplating where to go next with it.
    I find that if I put the painting away for a month or so, then when I come back to it, the frustration has gone and I see it with different eyes. Sometimes, then , I look at it and wonder how actually accomplished what I did! I like it, after all that time.
    I think you may find the same with this painting. You’ve actually accomplished quite a few different difficult things in one single painting, so don’t be so hard on yourself.
    I wasn’t up in the Charlottes very long – just something like 30 hours, but I had a whole different colour sense about the place. Even though we got clear skies for the first day, I still thought of the sky colour as more muted than you’ve given. And the predominant colours for me were greys and greens.
    I find the manganese too acidy in colour for sky and the pthalo too greenish. I like to use natural cerulean aka true cerulean as opposed to cerulean hue. If I want to push the colour in the sky for a bright clear sky, I’ll add French ultramarine blue – just a bit. You might like to try it.
    Of course, you never know if the person reading your blog and seeing your pictures actually sees the colours as you have painted them.
    I find that every time I sit at at different monitor and look at my pictures on someone else’s computer, the colours get skewed just a bit.
    Anyway, I’m glad to see you are painting and I like what you have done. Is this a full sheet size of watercolour paper?
    K

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    Thanks a lot for your comments…

    I must admit I pushed the colors just a smidgen more saturated in photoshop after I took the photo, so maybe that’s where that manganese blue perception comes in… And I have exaggerated and varied the sky to my own color feeling, in any case, so it probably wouldn’t look like a typical Queen Charlotte’s sky. Actually the blue was originally pthalo blue and ultramarine with some thin indian yellow at the bottom of the sky giving it the greenish cast.

    I like real cerulean a lot too… I’m not sure why I don’t use it more. Maybe it’s because it tends to be more opaque (?), and I prefer the transparency of other blues.

    I’m always searching around for a better, simpler palette. John Lovett has recommended in a magazine article permanent alizarin crimson, french ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, and quin gold or Indian yellow. No pure yellow, no pure red… That’s worth a try, I think. Trying to get that balance between the grand cohesiveness of a limited color range and the eye candy of just the right amount of some bright pigments.

    On that John Lovett web page cited in the post, he also adds burnt sienna to the list (along with a few other occasional colors) which might make a nice range of greens with the pthalo and the Indian yellow, I think.

    The painting was on a sheet of “bamboo” watercolor paper from an approx. 12 x 16 inch Hahnemulle block. Supposedly it’s a kind of mixed media paper for watercolor, acrylic or pastel. I think it really does have bamboo in it… it’s tough stuff, takes a beating.

    Regards

  3. forestrat Says:

    I like that the person is very small next to the trees and the water. It really gives a feeling of the vast wilderness. The mist effect could hint at the history of the creation myth – sort of lost in the mists of time.

    Very nice work.

    MDW

  4. fencer Says:

    Hey thanks forestrat!

    I like your take on the possible meaning of the mist effect. I hadn’t really thought of it in that connection… in my own mind I was more focussed on the glory of the sun in the trees.

    Regards


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