For all the rhetoricians rules Teach nothing but to name his tools - Samuel Butler
The text-books say that the great advantage of water-colour for field use is its simplicity and portableness. I shall never forget the sight of a small landscape painter whom I met on a lonely mountain trail; a figure quite as extraordinary as Alice's White Knight. He sat on a despondent horse, and both were draped and enveloped with a vast assortment of things - an easel, an umbrella, blanket, overcoat, stool, a huge canvas, and a number of bags and boxes. And he could scarcely do with less, for he was engaged upon a large oil painting in the open. A large water-colour would require a correspondingly large amount of equipment. I prefer water-colour for other and better reasons than its portability.
My own burden was a light bag, made of water-proof canvas, which was slung over my shoulder, and a three legged stool, which folds into a bar. The bag contained all that was necessary for sketching; a water-bottle, a palette, brushes, sponge, pencils, sketch-book, paper, a paper stretcher, a leather seat for the stool, and some sandwiches.
All these things, except the sandwiches, are listed and illustrated in the colourman's catalogue. The water-bottle is fitted with a cup made to clip on the palette. The latter is made of enamelled metal, twelve inches square, more or less, to suit individual needs, and is hinged in the middle. It has a hole for the thumb, so that it may be held comfortably, and little compartments at one end to accommodate colour squeezed from tubes. Palettes were formerly made to fit boxes, or, worse still masqueraded as the lid of the box, so that a complete stock of colours had to be supported on the thumb. I use tube colours, though I never carry they in my bag. Before setting out to sketch I set may palette; I clean it and renew from the tubes the colours that need renewing.
The brushes are of sable; one is size twelve, and the others are smaller, though none is smaller than size six. The pencil is soft, two, three, or four B, and with it is a fountain or stylo graphic pen, filled with water-proof ink. To test a brush, it should be dipped in water, and shaken. If the bristles settle in a good point, that is as it should be; it is not necessary to suck it. you can give a point to any brush, even to a corn-broom, that way.
I like Newman's tube colours, but I use Cambridge and other reputable makes.
The colours I use habitually are:
Deep Cadmium, Cadmium red, Cyanine Blue,
Lemon or extra pale cadmium, Light red, Cobalt,
Yellow ochre, Rose madder, French Blue,
Raw and Burnt Umber, Burnt sienna, Viridian
To these I sometimes add:
Aureolin, Alizarin, Crimson, Purple Madder,
Chinese White, Ivory Black
Every colourman now publishes a comparative list, naming the fugitive colours, the permanent ones, and those that come between.
It should be a point of honour with a professional painter to use only the best and the most durable materials. The sale of original colour-prints was damaged greatly in one part of the world because artists used fugitive inks for printing. The purchasers, who were justified in the assumption that their pictures would be a lasting source of pleasure, were incensed when they saw signs of gradual dematerialization.
The blues, mostly Prussian blue and Indigo, in the water-colour paper has come out in unsightly spots of mildew every time I have used it, which is about six times in twenty years.
Though I choose my materials carefully, I do not want my work to last forever, Heaven forbid! There are few paintings worthy of that. But the fact is that almost every lapse is discovered in a comparatively short time, in two or three years at most. Mildew measles comes out in a rash in a day or two. Evanescent colours soon evanesce. Once I had a lovely pan of orange vermilion. I paid a lot for it. At the end of a year I discovered that it was as fleeting as hope, for where I had painted masses of orange only white paper remained. Where the pigment went was a mystery. I was obliged to recall all the water-colours and prints I could trace in order to substitute a permanent colour for the one that never failed to discover the true vanishing point.
The matter of mounting paper is serious. Unless it is stretched it cockles unpleasantly when wetted. For this reason sketchbooks and sketch-blocks are unsuitable for anything but note-taking in water-colour. For some years I have used a double frame. Its construction must be accurate, and the two frames must fit loosely so that there is room for the paper. The drawing will give a better idea of the thing than any number of words.
The paper is expanded by brushing water over it, or by immersion. It should be left for some minutes, and then laid on the inner frame, and its corners cut away. Finally the outer frame is clamped down. Cutting the corners is very necessary, to prevent the paper from breaking ther3e, when it dries and contracts.
Perhaps a better method is one I use now. Instead of the frame, I sometimes carry a piecd of three-ply board, which is much lighter. Paper is fastened down on this with strips of gum-paper, such as tradesmen use instead of twine for binding parcels. The paper is expanded by damping as before, and laid flat on the board, and fixed thereon with the gumpaper, half attached to the paper and half to the board.
My habit has been to reduce the burden as much as possible. For that reason I never use an umbrella nor an easel in the field. I should use both if someone else would carry them, or I might carry them myself should I ever decide to paint another big picture out of doors. As it is I have learned to dispense with them, ans sometimes now I abandon my stool, whose loyalty, forbearance, and endurance, I purchased in Pretoria twenty-five years ago for a paltry five shillings.
I hold the frame or board between my knees as I sit. I try to eliminate the glare of the sun on the white paper by utilizing local shadows, failing which I use my won. But I take the stool, unless there is a good prospect of a natural seat - a rock or a fallen tree. Even then only a large experience will ensure comfort without a cushion.
The most reliable paper I know of is Arnold's water colour paper, which is make in many weights, and with three surfaces - rough, medium, and smooth. It has never failed me. O.W.S. paper is reliable too. Cox, or Cattermole paper has been described elsewhere - I use a certain amount of it.
Mr Fred Brigden explores forgotten rivers, and wild, remote, regions for subjects, and finds it necessary in the summer months to include a bottle of "McCurdy's" in his equipment. He smears his hands and wrists, neck and face with this potion, as some protection against mosquitoes and other insect pests, and he claims to get relief. On one occasion the lack of a compass almost caused his undoing. He wandered for a day and a night in the forest, tortured by insects, and hunger, and wearied to the extremity of endurance by the toughness of the ground over which he passed, and the thickness of the tangled undergrowth.
The advantage of carrying a piece of three-ply wood, and loose sheets of paper to fasten to it is that it imposes no restriction as to size or shape. A frame, on the other hand, limits the sketch in these particulars; it discourages adventure in shapes. Whether you like it or not, you are bound to conform to the shape you admired when you ordered the frame, though in the meantime, your taste has changed. It is therefore important to consider this matter carefully.
Perhaps the rectangle that we see most frequently is the page of a book, whose long side is about three-fifths longer than the short side. While utilitarian considerations might reasonably be expected to govern its proportions, they are actually those that please the eye, and conform to the rule determined by the ancient Greeks, that of the Golden Mean.
The walls of any gallery display a vast variety of panel shapes, from ovals to vertical and horizontal strips. The artist is tempted at one time or another to adventure with every one of them. The long use of a horizontal panel is apt to cramp his invention in arrangement; his compositions become conventional, and I landscape display the resurgent monotony of the classical style. It creates a desire to use the square, for the problems in arrangement presented by the other as they recur cease to exercise his ingenuity. But it is a great mistake to use a frame that is too odd in proportion for landscape. Reactionary efforts should be made on three-ply wood.
One apparent advantage in the use of a standard size and shape is that standard matts and frames may be used also, this limiting the appalling cost of preparing pictures for exhibitions.
I have seen a water-colour by Peter De Wint of an extraordinary shape - five and three-quarter inches by twenty-five. It is a view of Whitby Abbey and lighthouse.