Aged 21, Robert Wade approached one of his painting heroes for advice. That was to paint six postcard-size watercolours a week for six months so as to become familiar with the properties of the medium. “I didn’t take it”, he adds candidly. Older and wiser, however, he says he has come to understand the value of what seems to me the equivalent of a musician practising scales and recommends it to all his students.
Just as listening to scales isn’t the most exciting thing you can do, watching an artist push paint around in random shapes can be quite remarkably like watching it dry. However, you’re inclined to stick with it initially because this is Robert Wade. This quickly develops into interest as random shapes and wet-in-wet happy accidents start to coalesce into recognisable forms. Oh look, there’s a line of trees against the horizon, and those are figures in a crowd. And all the time, of course, Robert is keeping up a fascinating and entertaining commentary. “It’s just playing with watercolour … it’s unhindered”, “What fun.”
The whole purpose is to become familiar with the technical aspects of painting so that, when you need a particular trick, it’s instinctive – “The important thing is you know what to expect … unless you’ve done these exercises, you’ll be afraid of not having control.”
After the exercises, Robert paints a series of simple images, including a landscape, a seascape and a sky – “The sky’s important. If you can paint a good sky, you can paint a good landscape.”
The final painting is a riverside scene worked up from an earlier painting. This brings all the techniques together in a time-approved fashion and shows how the composition can flow when you don’t have to stop and think about what to do next, or start trying to experiment on a finished work. Fascinating as it is, it can’t be ignored that, not being done plein air, this does lack a little of the spontaneity one might perhaps expect. It’s still an impressive effort, though.
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