Steam flowing with watercolour

Tonight we have a very special guest blog post from a fantastic artist, Stephen Bedser.  Stephen has previously written for LocoYard about how he became an artist who specialises in heritage scenes (click here) and he has now kindly agreed to write a mini series looking at how he does his paintings. I would strongly recommend you visit to see more of his fantastic works.  Stephen can also be found on twitter (click here), Facebook (click here) and has a wordpress blog (click here).  Without further ado, please read on!

image1Steam flowing with watercolour

If you read my previous entry here on LocoYard you would have learnt how I plan my paintings and make those tentative, and yes still sometimes nervous, steps to capturing a scene on paper.

Once I’ve sketched and initially inked the picture there’s a little more preparation before I start mixing the colours. And to me it’s a rather important part of the process.

Although my style is such that much of the paper shows through as my brush dances across the painting there are some details than need to be retained, details than are very specific to each loco I paint. I’m talking of course about those intricate highlights that shine out, defining every beautiful curve and each carefully engineered line. Those details are what transform my more creative and sometimes abstract style into a very specific subject.

From the straight lines of the connecting rods to the curving edge of the smoke box door I take great care to keep these highlights clean and bright.

But how do I do this you might ask? Well it’s my old friend the masking fluid that saves the day here. Once my initial inking has been completed I take an old brush dipped into the fluid and carefully define those lines and fine curves. It’s probably the last time in the process that I’m this specific and those who know me know that it’s the time when my concentrating tongue comes out!

initial-watercolour-washes-stephen-bedserThe beauty of the fluid is that once the painting is complete a gentle rub with a finger reveals the clean, crisp paper underneath. It’s also a very therapeutic end to a painting!

Other than the lines and curves there is one other use for the fluid. You may notice that many of my paintings don’t portray static engines. At the very least they are taking the strain as they pull away. As we all know there ain’t no effort without smoke and steam, and dark smoke at that! I love to show small particles within this dramatic outburst so with the help of an old brush I eagerly splatter masking fluid across the page.

Okay, I can no longer avoid it. It’s on to the painting stage!

Firstly I need to define the overall colours in the scene. I tend to start with the sky first as it sets the mood and with the inclusion of smoke it can be quite a engaging start to the painting that has quite quick results and that keeps me motivated!

The key here is to keep the colours flowing and it can be quite a challenge that requires a little planning as one colour flows into the next. It’s perhaps the area that scares many artists tackling watercolours but the thing to remember is take your time, though not too long, and above all relax.

Having defined the key areas already with light ink work my skies flow into the smoke bellowing from the engine’s chimney. From sky blues and the yellow ochres of sulphur through to the first hints of dark coal shades, all these initial colours flow into one. Being such a fluid motion I let the paint and water do a lot of the work

And then on to the engine itself.

The most challenging part here is capturing the blacks, and there are many areas as such. I never use black, absolutely not, so mixing the correct colours is a must. Again one shade will flow into another giving a kaleidoscope of dark shades from the smoke box to the darker areas of the loco.

My paint palette tends to be simple, in fact I only use my field set even for my studio pieces. Cadmium Yellow, Crimson Alizarin, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Sap Green are pretty much all I use. The rest is down to mixing.

It’s easy to get bogged down with details here but at this stage it’s all about flowing colours across the paper. Imagine looking at an engine through squinted eyes. You loose the detail but see the colours. It’s also important not to overwork the colours at this point. If you rush the colour becomes dull and muddy.

And here on it’s about layers and details… and one for my final part in this series.

For my most up to date activity please visit my pages on both Facebook and Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Steam flowing with watercolour

  1. Enjoyed your little tips, Stephen, I,m a learner “painter”,they mostly turn out as disasters! hanging on the wall in front of me is a magnificent painting by “coulson” of MALLARD that i drove over the Settle carlisle line,(i,m “tales of an engine driver”on loco blog) john.


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