Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Prabal and Brighton

Busy Brighton

A couple of weeks back, my wife and I went on a coach trip to Brighton on the south coast of England. The journey would normally have taken us around three hours, allowing for a break on the way, but the sun decided to do its best for us and it turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day – perfect. Maybe not so perfect though, as it was a Sunday, and anyone in England will tell you that if it is a warm, sunny day on a Sunday, chances are that half of London will decide to descend on Brighton, and this day they certainly did! This meant that the traffic jams while trying to enter the town added another hour to our journey. Never mind though, we still had around four hours to explore this seaside town.

I had never been to Brighton before, and I was little bit worried that it might turn out to be one of those tacky coastal towns with shops full of cheap, oriental tat aimed at the mass tourist fraternity, and a beach washed up with muddy looking seawater. Well, I have to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised. OK, there was a fair amount of tat about, and the beach was mostly pebbles making walking difficult, but the sea was at least clean and the atmosphere was fantastic. The pier, disputed to be the longest in the world, was full of interest, with shops and little seafood places along its length, and a fun fair at the end.

The seafood looked so inviting that we purchased a tray of freshly caught prawns, and boy did they taste good! I did however have a bit of a shock while eating them. We had little cocktail sticks to eat them with, and as I was lifting one into my mouth, a huge common gull appeared from nowhere, and grabbed the prawn as quick as a flash before the prawn even touched my lips! I’ve seen these birds do this before on TV, but you don’t realise how big they are, and how strong and agile too. There were hundreds of them, all soaring, weaving in and out of people, looking for some poor unsuspecting soul to grab food from.

At lunchtime, we decided to eat inside! It was at this little beachside café that we had the most gorgeous line-caught cod with chips that I have ever tasted in my life. Fish so fresh, and batter so light; mouth-watering.

There were rows of scooters on the sea front
Brighton, on Bank holidays in the 1960’s was a favourite target for mods and rockers. Rockers would wear leather gear and ride motorcycles, while the mods wore fashionable clothing and parkas, riding scooters adorned with lots of mirrors and spotlights. I must confess, that I fell into the latter, but never made it to Brighton, and just as well, as whenever the two sides met, fighting and chasing would inevitably break out between the two rival factors, causing headlines in the papers and riotous scenes on the TV next day.

Brighton Pavillion
The thing about Brighton is that it’s not just about the sea front. For those who would venture more into the town, there are some lovely parks, and the jewel in the crown is that famous pavilion. We caught a glimpse of it on the way in, but you have to be up close to appreciate the scale of this building, with its oriental architecture. My only regret is that we just didn’t have enough time to see inside – that will be an excuse to visit this lovely town again sometime.

Well, it’s about time I talked about the painting. Here I’ve done a sketch of a little part of the town that caught my eye. This is a pre-painting. It was Prabal who convinced me that a pre-painting was a good idea to practice before doing a painting for real. I have never thought of doing this, but it looks like a good idea, because now I know what works in this painting and what is not so good. The abnormality in this work is the fact that a pre-painting is normally smaller than the proper painting will be. This is the largest painting I have ever done, being A2, and is done on smooth, white cartridge paper. The work proper will be A3 simply because I don’t possess any watercolour paper in size A2! Being cartridge paper, it doesn’t hold the paint as well as knot 300gsm, and of course, the paper buckles.

Brighton Beach (before the crowds descended!)
It was my intention to keep the background buildings light so that the foreground figures will stand out well, and I think it’s worked pretty well here, and I like this part of the painting best of all. The sky isn’t at all correct though. It should be darker above and much lighter down towards the horizon. I’ve used French ultramarine here, blending in yellow ochre lower down, but too strongly.  The figures are a little out of scale, as a couple of their heads on the right are too large. I love the guy in yellow in the centre though, and the lady on the left. I think that I will need to do some squaring up when I do the painting for real, and improve the perspective a bit on the road.

This is also the first time I’ve used a ruler to guide me with those tall lamps and building columns. If you look at the sketch, you can see that I have not put too much detail in the buildings either, especially the windows. I’ve read that putting the detail in with the brush speeds up the drawing stage, and keeps the work looking loose. The time taken to do this work is 90 minutes sketching, followed by two more 90 minutes sessions adding the paint. So overall, around five hours, which for a painting this large and this detailed is pretty good.


  1. Love Brighton and the Pavilion - but not the crowds on a Sunday!

    Interesting to see you make a pre-painting. That's not something I'd thought of before either. Small painted sketches after thumbnails was what the college course drummed into us. It will be interesting to see how the painting comes out, with the benefit of making a "pre"

    Did you draw your sketch straight on the cartridge paper, or did you draw it on tracing paper, so that you could use it for both the pre and the painting?

    Will you tell us when you have finished, what you thought of the whole process - and if you are happier with the end piece because of the invested work?

    The pre- painting has atmosphere and life in it. I am really looking forward to seeing the finished piece.

  2. Hey - You would have only been 40 minutes from where I live! I have family who live in Brighton and was only there the other day myself. The best place to shop is 'The Lanes' which is full of unusual shops and bistro's. You must go there too next time you visit!
    The Seagull story made me chuckle because I have had several such incidences with them myself - the last one being when one stole a sizzling sausage from the barbeque last year, whilst I was turning them!!! They are very mischievous creatures! You shouldn't point out your mistakes Frank; Art is an elusive thing and the main thing is that you are doing it! Besides, isn't that the purpose of a pre-painting? To figure out any necassary changes before the real thing? :0)

  3. Frank , I like this painting just the way it is.. so the guys' head is a little big, but I would not have concentrated at all on that.. what I find interesting is that you do a fairly detailed sketch , but your painting is just loose enough to be so interesting..
    When I do too much drawing, I tend to 'stay inside the lines' and that's not the look I'm after.. I like a looser painting but one that still tells the story .. you accomplished that with this one... I also like your treatment of the buildings. BJ

  4. Frank,
    When I read your story about "Gull and the prawns' I was immediately thinking of Sandra. She also has had a similar experience before, which she had mentioned in one of her posts.

    I can see your sketch, but unfortunately I cant see the pre painting. I guess I'll try a different computer later on. The sketch looks very good though.

    And I dont always do a pre painting. And that is mostly due to laziness. I wish I was not this lazy. Pre painting helps as a warm up. You can compare it to stretching athletes do before they actually play. It just helps your hands and mind to be completely ready before you put the first brush stroke on paper.

    In fact masters like Charles Reid would do a tonal study using paynes grey, then a color study and then would do the final painting even while painting outdoors...

  5. Pat, no, I didn't use tracing paper, as the final painting is to be smaller than the pre-painting. I know it sounds a bit odd to do a larger pre-painting than the final version - it should have been the other way round, but I have had this A2 pad for months, and it seemed a waste not to fill the paper!
    I will definitely let you know if all the extra work was worth it.
    Sandra, Wow, we could have passed in the street without realising it! I can just imagine that seagull stealing your sausage after losing a prawn to one, and I can tell you that when I ate an icecream near the beach, I kept my cone covered with one hand when not in my mouth!
    The logic behind pointing out your own mistakes is that it gets them out of the way before others pick up on them. I think that I will have to do the proper painting fairly soon, or I may forget the mistakes I made in the first one, which would be a combination of age and failing grey matter rather than lack of skill!
    Barbra, I am with you with the line thing and I end up hating myself for sticking within them, that's why (despite you mentioning that my sketch is detailed), I didn't add anywhere near as much detail as I usually do at the sketching stage. When I do the final, hopefully there will be far fewer lines to hold me back.
    Prabal, images not showing seems to be a regular occurance with blogger just lately for some reason.
    If you say that a pre-painting is a way of warming up before painting proper, then I have already failed, as I will be starting from cold when I do the painting for real! Think I will go with the general consensus that a pre-painting is to iron out any potential mistakes that would spoil the finished work relulting in wasted effort.

  6. I enjoyed reading about your day and I really like the painting. As you know, I'm the champion at pointing out my mistakes. In my case I don't want other people thinking I haven't noticed them. LOL.

  7. I agree with Barbara, I find it fascinating that your sketch is so detailed yet your pre painting has a lot of looseness and vitality to it. And I LOVED the story about the gulls, I was thiniking of Sandra too! I'll be interested to see the finished piece and hear what you thought of the process.

  8. Thanks John, it seems that we both have something in common re mistakes!
    Crystal, I find it a little strange that both you and Barbra think the sketch is detailed, as I left a lot of detail out that I would normally put in.
    I have done most of the sketch for the 'real' piece - just hope I can keep enough looseness for the painting stage!