Bikes and Canals: the Finished Painting


The finished painting of bicycles, canals and houseboats in one frame

Since the last post, there is not a lot to add. The bicycles have been finished from the sharpest detail retreating backwards. I find it easier to adapt the focus doing it that way, so that the perspective works out correctly. This was a real jumble of mechanical detail to sort out, but amusing nonetheless

This will go towards my exhibition in the spring, in the Guildford Institute. The theme is Waterways in Watercolour, which on the face of it is straightforward enough, but trying to think of a subject that I haven’t done before, does make me scratch my head

I need twelve pictures within the theme. I think I have five so far. Ah well, press on


Bikes and Canals : Work in Progress


Some work done over the last few days

The buildings on the far bank have received some colour, some pink and some violet and some a mix of the two, to establish as near as I need the local colour of the brickwork. So far I have added little detail to the windows and doors, as I want them to fade against a sharp foreground of bicycles. I have done a little work on the reflections of the buildings on the water but not much, and will go back to that

The houseboats have been rendered in sharper focus, without necessarily detailing them too much. The bright yellow I think has worked on the distant boats, giving them an illuminated effect from the light source on the horizon. The hulls have been darkened with indigo, as they are in deep shadow, and I have let this colour bleed down vertically to provide the reflections in the water

I have extended the canal to the left, which I quite like as it gives the composition some extra depth. The bikes will be in the sharp foreground, but if they weren’t exactly centre stage, I wouldn’t mind

I was looking forward to tackling a bicycle, just to get a better idea of the relationship between foreground and background. I have painted the first one. The colour of mud guards etc was yellow, and I have kept to that, and in fact have used Indian Yellow, which I think works well against the violet/pinks. Just my opinion

What to use for tyres, chain guard etc which are really black in the photograph, made me ponder, as I veer away from black generally if I can. I mixed some ultramarine blue with transparent brown and made a very dark grey. I went back in with the indigo, which worked, I think as dark highlights on tyres etc, and produced a nice blue-black on the chain guard and seat. Some more detailing still to be done on pedals and rear-lights but I have enough to work with at the moment

I feel there should be long shadows, and don’t know what to do about them. Too many lines will be confusing, but once laid cannot be removed. Such is watercolour. I may leave them out altogether and claim artistic immunity. We’ll see


Bikes and Canals: Base Coat

Bikes and Canals Base Coat

This is the first coat on the bikes drawing, which looks like grey in the photograph, but which isn’t really. The definition between all the colours just isn’t great enough to show on this photograph

One of the watercolour painters I admire is David Curtis, and I looked at one of his exercises and thought I might try the same method here. I didn’t see the point of sticking to local colours on this occasion. The photograph was flat, and if not careful, the painting could be the same

What he did in a crowded harbour scene was to wet the paper thoroughly, so that the colours moved and merged, but most importantly not mix into one muddy finish. Mine haven’t by the way, even though the photograph looks grey.

Following as closely as I could to his example, I selected four strong colours, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Violet and Cadmium Yellow. I then laid in, without much brushing, the four colours where I thought they would be most appropriate. I wanted the yellow in that misty background section and falling vertically. The pinks and violets falling on the buildings and the blue somewhere in between. Some control and some letting the colours find their own path.

I mix my colours on a large white dinner plate. I plant the pigment on the rim and as I add some water, the dilute pigment runs down into the centre of the plate. Sometimes that can be a nuisance but on this occasion, it was helpful as I also let some of the crimson mix with some of the violet which produced another shade for the buildings and also for the reflections

I have by now started to sharpen up some of the buildings and the houseboats. The whole thing is still looking a complete mess but hopefully will turn out well in the end. This one is a complete unknown. I can’t remember tackling such an awkward composition. You can’t get at the canal through the tangle of bikes, which with watercolour is very tricky. I thought about masking out but there is such a lot, so when the background is finished I shall lift paint off the bike frames and pray whilst I am doing it.

Could be a disaster but pleasing if it works

Bikes and Canals : Preliminary Sketch

Bikes and Canals Sketch Drawings

From the photograph on the last post, trying to make sense of the detail, some of which can be dispensed with, otherwise the composition will become a hopeless jumble

The bicycles, obviously need attention. I have left off the three at the back, as quite honestly, it is difficult to make out their shapes in the photograph, so a drawing would be difficult. I started with the bike in the foreground and have attempted some detail. I will probably go into more detail when I have transferred the image onto watercolour paper. The nice thing about bicycles in Amsterdam, is that they are simple, as bikes used to be. Handlebar with no gears that I can see, a bell which is welcome, a sit-up-and-beg frame and a parcel rack. Purely functional and fit for purpose. I can imagine a brisk trade in second-hand bikes, as I am told, several thousand have to be fished out of the canals every year

I will put in progressively less detail as I work through the pile.

Houseboats and reflections will help. I have extended the picture slightly to the right and have included an extra small boat. This takes the bicycles out of centre stage

The buildings at the rear of the picture, I think I will fade out slightly. Towards the left I have left a space for misty light which will work down the page. I will just have to make this up as I go along, and hope for the best. One should plan with watercolour, but sometimes you have to let instinct take control, and cross your fingers

The tedious part next, transferring the drawing and finishing it off onto watercolour paper. It has to be done


By way of a postscript, I don’t think that I have ever commented on the number of visits/views that I get each month. I don’t get an enormous traffic but certainly enough, and spread across all the continents, which is nice. This month I have had an amazing number of hits from Norway, which is nice. A staggering quantity, more than the UK and United States added together, which is just unprecedented. Thank you, Norway. I hope I continue to hold your interest

Bikes and Canals in Amsterdam


Amsterdam is a lovely city. I have been there many times, and have often thought I should try to paint it, with its canals and barges and its tall houses. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic references to speak of, so that has held me back, until now

As it happened, my son and daughter-in-law were there recently, only for a short while but managed to take a few pictures for me. I asked them to include, if they could, bikes, canals, tall buildings and houseboats. Well, they got all those in this one shot

Now it is down to me to make a painting out of it. Hmm, I do like a challenge.

Something has to be done with the composition. I don’t know what yet though. That barrier rail on the right-hand side will go, I’m sure. Thousands of bikes, literally, go into the canals every year, so a few more will make little difference

I have started to draw the bikes, and it is not easy to sort out, which handlebar belongs to which bicycle. Maybe there is a case for cutting down on some of the detail in that group of bikes, so that the image is less muddled. I will let that evolve as I go on, I think.

I will have to alter the light to make the picture more interesting, otherwise the scene is very grey and could appear tedious as a painting. Add some sunlight in the background perhaps and deepen shadows in the foreground, which should add to the depth of the picture, otherwise could be very flat indeed.

This one has possible disaster written all over it, so if successful, I will have cause to celebrate

We shall see