Archive for November, 2012

Edward (Ted) Wesson and James Fletcher-Watson were professional friends and, I believe, sometimes painted together.  Their styles are somewhat the same, for example in depicting trees.  Wesson was best doing very simple work which probably were viewed as “sketches”  by the art world (and in this book Steve Hall acknowledges that Wesson “embraced and championed’ this form) , and Fletcher-Watson was best with more complicated work which were accepted as more finished  and more widely exhibited.  For example, there are windows in the Fletcher-Watson houses and bricks in the walls. In the above painting, Fletcher-Watson would have put dark lines in the foreground rocks to represent cracks.   His less complicated work does not reach the sublime as Wesson’s does, and vise versa.

Fletcher-Watson wrote several books, the best  that is readily available, in my opinion, is the Magic of Watercolor, and he has a three DVDs available.  However, he wrote a book (Water-Color Painting, Landscapes & Townscapes, Larousse & Co. Inc, New York, NY 1982) which has only 8 colored plates because it is in the old style of a real  book.  That is it is heavy on the textual side which makes it much more informative than modern books and light years ahead of DVD’s.  I probably got more out of reading it than any other book on watercolor.

Fletcher-Watson is more accessible because he lived to be 91 (1913-2004) 21 years longer than Wesson.  Wesson died in 1983  at 73 (1910-1983) without writing anything but an autobiography “(My Corner of the Field”)  and there are no DVD of him at work.  They both taught workshops frequently which were very popular I think because their work looked easy to do (which it is not).   It was in one of Fletcher-Watson’s workshops that the celebrated brass palette maker Craig Young offered to build him a replacement for his tin palette which had rusted (after 70 years or something like that.) However, the reaction of people, particularly to Wesson, was “I can do that” and they readily joined his workshops and stayed there. The senior author  (Steve Hall) of the Wesson book has taken over his mantle and tries to present workshops on how “Ted” Wesson would have done it.  He is very convincing and tries to get across the very appealing personality of the man.  Steve Hall has a lot published in print and video, and, if you like Wesson, you would do well to look at Steve Hall’s writings and videos (you could still take a workshop with him if there was room in it).

Here is Fletcher-Watson on Wesson:  “This subject (mud flats in Norfolk) is the type of thing an old painter friend of mine, Edward Wesson, would call ‘Bags of damn all’!  A wonderful wet-watercolour painter Edward was . . .”    Fletcher-Watson uses the term in one of his DVD’s without attribution to Wesson incidentally.  I think it means a non-discript collection of random things.  This is a revealing remark in other parts (“wet” watercolour”, what does that mean?)  Perhaps, he mostly did washes and didn’t go back for details.  In fact, according to Hall, he liked to do a passage in only one wash and not put another over it after it dried.)

Because Wesson is less accessible than Fletcher-Watson the  revising and reprinting of the unavailable  2004 book (it was reprinted in 2005 and that is unavailable also) on  Wesson, The watercolours of Edward Wesson by Steve Hall and Barry Miles, by a English press called Halstar or Halsgrove is very important.  See here.  It is not in Amazon.  You have to get it from the publisher at the moment. Warning: it is expensive.  But it is very well done with excellent reproduction to the point that you can see the bumps on the paper as you would if you were holding the picture in your hand.

Wesson used a limited palette of eight paints:  winsor blue, ultramarine, cobalt blue, burnt umber, burnt sienna, light red, raw sienna, and cadmium yellow or winsor yellow.  Winsor yellow is an arylide yellow (the same pigment is in the paint used to paint the yellow lines on the roads).  It’s a very intense yellow-orange.  Winsor blue is a phthalocyanine blue but it is made, now at least, in a green shade (GS) and red shade (RS), but it is not clearly in the book (or the books by Fletcher-Watson) which was used.  However, a little research on Wet Canvas brings up the point that, when Wesson and Fletcher-Watson were in their primes, Winsor Newton only had one Winsor Blue, phthalocyanine blue RS ( red shade) which will actually mute greens made with it (which, in my opinion, is a good idea because phthalo blue  (GS) can make a green that is very high chroma like brass that has turned green and would be out of synch with most of the other colors I use any way.)

Neither of these men had greens, violets, or oranges (secondary colors) on their palettes.  They had many blues, all the earth colors but the opaque yellow ochre, and not bright red (light red in Wesson case and light red and Indian red and rose madder genuine (not recommended.  It is  really fugitive.  Substitute quinacrodone rose).  Fletcher-watson had cadmium yellow and cadmium lemon.

Wesson (as well as Fletcher-Watson) championed Bockingford paper 140 or 200 lbs which is a very good paper that is made from wood pulp rather than cotton and, as a result, is much cheaper than, say, Arches (one of the most expensive and widely available watercolor paper.)  Bockingford is also made, in addition to white tinted for watercolor (e.g. tan, blue, etc.)  It’s hard to get in the U.S.

Wesson also holds his paper on an easel by using a “frame” cut from pressboard.  Here is a picture of one I made for myself by using a shop knife on a the thinnest pressboard I could find.  It’s hard to center the paper in it.  Fletcher-Watson taped his paper to a board. :

Wesson, according to Hall, introduced the mop brush which until he started using it was used to put shellac on furniture for what is called French polishing which is a mirror finish.  The shellac had to be “washed” on the furniture like watercolor on paper so there were no lines between washes, so his discovery of the brush was a big help to many artists.  Fletcher-Watson also started using it as well.

My problem with Hall’s choices of Wesson’s work is that he appears too dependent on his relationships with the family to be critical or to choose paintings critically.   There is a lot of his early ink and wash and not enough of the pure, simple, beautiful sketches like that which appears on the cover of the book.  Wesson himself is said in this book to feel that only one or four of his paintings “come off.”  That said there is not a painting in this book that’s not worth looking at in part, for example to study skies or trees, even when the whole painting doesn’t come off or it is an “ink and wash” type painting which I feel doesn’t belong in the same collection as a pure watercolor.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether a Google search of either of these men and then a click on “images” will give you enough in that low quality reproduction to meet your needs.  If not, this might be a good choice to study Wesson.

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