Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Art Masterclass   

                              May 2007

Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.      

Art masterclass  

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;

This month: an  'Artists  of the world' feature from the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.





The POWER of strong colour

Francis Bowyer describes the process he has evolved in watercolour for bold, atmospheric works, painted in sequences based on specific subjects


Francis Bowyer's distinctive, powerfully expressed work embraces an impressive range of subject matter and techniques, while his confident, often daring approach leads to results that are visually and emotionally very exciting.


Early Evening, Le Grand Colbert, watercolour and body colour, 231?4X231?4in. (60X60cm)


Francis is perhaps best known for his watercolours — he is a recent President of the Royal Watercolour Society — but he also regularly paints in oils and sometimes chooses to work in mixed media, using watercolour with pastel and body colour. His subjects range from beach scenes at Walberswick in Suffolk, which he visits each year, to sumptuous interiors of Parisian restaurants and caf?, his garden, his studio, and occasional still lifes.

Francis describes himself as someone who "likes to concentrate on specific subjects, get to understand them, and then, over a period of time, explore their potential in some depth. All my paintings are about atmosphere and colour, and invariably one theme influences another. With a sequence of paintings based on the corner of my studio, for example, I became very involved in looking at the essential shapes and patterns that were determined by the light effect. In turn, this approach has spilled over into the figure and landscape subjects that I paint at Walberswick, and the Parisian caf?interiors.

"At present there is a steady move towards abstraction in my painting, but I cannot say how far this will develop. Possibly, of course, it will lead nowhere and maybe eventually I will return to a more representational approach.

However, certainly at the moment, while I look for truth in colour and mood, I aim to convey that in a very personal way; for me, a successful painting is not necessarily about accuracy and representation.



The Ferryman, Walberswick, watercolour and body colour, 27X21in. (68.5X 53.2cm)

"The many paintings of caf? and restaurants were inspired initially by a visit to Chartier, a large, popular restaurant in rue Faubourg, Montmartre. Someone recommended it to me and I was very pleased that I took their advice. Chartier is a really beautiful place, with a wonderful atmosphere. I was particularly impressed with the clusters of globe lights, the huge, ornate mirrors on the walls, and the manner and professionalism of the waiters.

"Chartier inspired me so much that I decided to visit more caf? and restaurants. I spent hours in them, often sketching from mid-morning to numerous studies in pencil, pen and ink, and watercolour, gathering information about the interior, figures, and interesting features and details.

"Also, again discreetly, I took many reference photographs. I found so many exciting ideas that I knew I would have to return some time, and I have now made several trips to Paris for this purpose. The reference material has proved invaluable for the larger, resolved oils and watercolours that I like to make in the studio.



"As well as being an excellent medium for expressing light and mood, I like the immediacy of watercolour and the fact that, much more so than with oils, the approach is often quite intuitive. With watercolour you can impose a certain amount of control, but at the same time you must be sensitive to the particular nature of the medium, which is essentially fluid and unpredictable.

Usually a painting develops through a process of building with colour and then perhaps taking some of it away. I might also use pastel and gouache, which adds to the effects and decisions I can make."

Francis likes to paint positively and with passion.

Last Shrimp at Dusk, watercolour, 18x12in. (45.7x30.5cm)

There is always a risk element and the potential for failure, although he finds this happens much less now than when he first worked in watercolour. He doesn't mind this, because it is of paramount importance that the paintings have a sense of the moment and are expressed in a personal way.

"With experience you gain the confidence to be daring with the process," he explains. "For instance, there have been occasions, even when I have carefully planned a painting, when things have gone drastically wrong and I have decided that the only way forward is to do something really bold, such as
soaking the entire picture in water. Sometimes an adventurous approach like this will produce very exciting results."

For most watercolours Francis works on Saunders Waterford paper, which he now buys in 10-metre rolls, as this gives him the freedom to cut sheets of whatever size and shape he requires. He uses all three surfaces — HP, Not and Rough — generally choosing the 140lb (300gsm) weight, although preferring a heavier weight for outdoor work. The paper is usually stretched; he often stretches several small sheets on a board in preparation for painting on location. Additionally, he likes the RWS (Royal Watercolour Society) papers and also enjoys experimenting with other types.

"Naturally the paper influences how you work," he says, "and I like the challenge that this sometimes presents, when you have to find ways of overcoming the perceived limitations that the paper presents."

His paints are Artist quality colours, chosen to provide a limited palette based on the colour primaries. The main colours are cerulean blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre
and viridian. Depending on the subject matter he might also include indigo,
magenta, orange or other colours. The aim is for fresh, pure colour, and this is the main reason why he avoids most of the earth colours, which for him "can sometimes lead to dull, muddy-looking results".


In the studio Francis begins by sorting through the reference material and deciding on a subject. Then, as necessary, he makes further colour studies and sketches to clarify the composition. Once he is confident about the idea, he doesn't need to do much preliminary drawing on the watercolour paper and so can start straight away with a sequence of broad washes to indicate the basic shapes.

Friends on the Beach, watercolour and body colour, 20x20in. (50.8x50.8cm)

From there the process involves steadily resolving those shapes by adding colour over colour, initially working with light tones and then gradually creating contrast and intensity.

"When I begin a painting," Francis explains, "I try to have a clear understanding of what I want to express — not in specific detail, of course, because that would leave nothing to develop within the painting, but certainly regarding the mood, light, pattern and structure of the subject. If I seem not to be achieving the idea I have in mind, then I keep going back and restructuring and recomposing, although always conscious that there is a limit as to how much this can be done.

"Sometimes, if a shape is unsatisfactory then I might block it out with white gouache and repaint it. I also might add some pastel to enhance areas if they are not quite right, usually working over dry paint. And I often use gouache to pick out highlights and accents of colour. In the same way that we might add a few herbs and spices when cooking, and then taste and assess the result, so in painting it is often a matter of trying something out and seeing how it looks.

"The best results in painting come from being brave and responding to your emotions. Obviously when we first start painting we need rules and a sense of structure to help us work effectively, but once we have learned our craft, the rules need not apply. With every painting the challenge is finding a way to express the idea that we have in our imagination. But we shouldn't think that we must be in control all the time!"




Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti