DENIS NOBLE – WATERCOLOUR ARTIST
I’ve drawn for more than sixty years, on and off. My late mother used to claim that she had a picture of a trolley bus I’d drawn when I was less than 5 years old, but sadly she could never find the picture, and trolley buses have long gone.
As an architectural student in the 1960’s I learned some basic watercolour techniques including “If it’s not working, don’t try and fix it. Throw it away and start again.” Watercolour can be unforgiving until you understand it, and understanding comes gradually as you make more and more mistakes. Any worthwhile pursuit is the same. Watercolour’s a demanding mistress, giving very few second chances, unlike oils and acrylics.
As my wife and I had more family responsibilities, opportunities for drawing and painting had to be fitted in whenever there was a free space, and that was mostly on family holidays. Vee, Andrew and Jenny gave me plenty of space and I remember fondly sketching at places like Melrose, Wilmington, Quorn and Robe. At Robe on a pleasant summer’s day I was painting a picture of a cray-fishing boat hauled up on to the shore. Its owner was busy scraping and painting, and after a while his curiosity got the better of him and he strolled over for a look. He offered to buy the picture, but I refused, preferring a swap for five succulent crays; a good deal, I thought.
More recently Vee and I have had several overseas trips to places like Vietnam, Jordan, Turkey, France, England, New Zealand and the United States. In every country we found places demanding to be painted. Occasionally people stop and chat, which is great when we understand one another. Even when we don’t, a smile and a few gestures conveys enough, like the Turkish coffee shop proprietor who sent his lad across to me as I sketched, bearing a glass of apple tea, no charge.
From time-to-time I’ve been able to encourage a few with their drawing and painting skills. The reward for me has been to see, just now and again, a talent emerge that nobody knew was there.
I graduated into watercolour painting from a background of drawing. I believe firmly that drawing is the foundation of good art, unless it’s totally abstract. My drawings understandably, were of architectural subjects in the early days. Then, gradually I began adding a colour wash here and there, and this developed further until the drawing, although still there, became less dominant, finally receding behind the colour.
I used to prefer always painting “en plein air”, the painter’s term for “on-the-spot”. “Plein air” painting sometimes has a flavour that might sometimes be missing from a painting made from photographs. Occasionally I’ll do a sketch on site and later produce a painting from the sketch in the comfort of the studio, maybe using photographs as references.
People often ask “How long did it take you to do that one?” Usually I have no idea. I have written the starting time in the margin of the painting, and then lost track of time, forgetting to note the time when I pack up. A typical on-site painting however, might take anything from two to three hours, give or take an hour, or as long as the ageing body can bear to sit in one spot.