I can’t deny that my usual painting style is very tight and controlled. Sometimes, though, I wish it wasn’t. For this painting, “Camden Conversation”, I really tried to adopt a much looser style. Clearly, it ended up only a tad looser than normal, but at least I did succeed in reducing some of the detail. I was happy with the result, anyway. Let me put a lot of bright reds into a painting and I’m happy! Red has always been my favourite colour.
Here’s the back story. During a week spent sightseeing in London, my wife and I visited the Seven Dials area. Leaving there, we entered the neighbouring Borough of Camden. Two young men who looked like students passed us, having a casual conversation as they went. Without putting much thought into the idea, I took a single snapshot of them just as a London double-decker bus happened to cruise slowly by. The timing was purely fortuitous; I couldn’t have planned it.
Later, looking at the photo, I knew straightaway I had the makings of a decent composition. I worked up some ‘thumbnail sketches’. (These are small pencil sketches to try out different compositional ideas.) In the end I opened up a bit more space between the boys. The one on the left got a new red jacket instead of the tan jacket he’d worn in real life. This helped me to set up a pleasing rhythm of red and black shapes right across the painting.
Disagree if you like, but I feel that this is one of the best paintings I’ve ever done. It’s only a mundane scene, two students chatting as a bus passes, but I think it has a strength given it by the composition and those vivid reds.
Unframed watercolour painting
Painting size: 8.3 x 11.6 inches / 21 x 30 centimetres