The Peace of Painting

By Paula Fowmes

FITV visited former Member of the Legislative Assembly, Richard Cockwell OBE who runs a Saturday Watercolour Workshop at Falklands College. Richard began his painting career quite late in life, and now in his eighties his paintings, along with his workshops, are very much in demand.

There are many mementos you can take from the Falkland Islands to remember your time there, but there is none so special as an original Richard Cockwell watercolour.

“One of the most difficult things is to know where to start,” Richard told us when we visited. He had a sketch of Port Howard set out on his kitchen table surrounded by various paintbrushes, a large pot of water, and a palette of paint with lumps of colour on it. He carefully selects a paintbrush and gently flicks his fingers on the bristles. “Once you have the first bit of paint on, it goes quite easily.”

Richard came to painting quite late on in his life. It was when he was a Councillor for the Falkland Islands and visiting the UK. He had a gap of two weeks with nothing to do between meetings, so he booked himself on a watercolour course holiday in France. For a long time he restricted himself to painting just small pictures, but gradually moved on to the sweeping landscapes of the Falklands.

As we chat about his painting career, Richard pulls out a painting of a stone cottage which he has been working on. “I don’t like it,” he tells me, “I spent too much time on the stone and not enough on the whole composition.” Then he picks up a brush and pats on some more paint. “One of the most important things is knowing when to stop,” he says with a smile, “and really, I think it’s time I stopped fiddling with this.”

A few years ago Richard started a watercolour workshop for local residents to learn the art. Watercolour paints and paper can be very expensive, so it is pleasing to know that Richard only uses about three or four colours in his paintings. “You should try and limit the amount of colours that you are using so that the picture all holds together.”

He begins the Port Howard painting by using a wide flat brush and scooping a large amount of French Ultramarine onto his mixing palette. “Always make sure you’ve got enough paint mixed. If you’re doing something like a sky, you need a considerable amount of paint.”

Starting at the top of the paper, he uses long sweeping movements to bring the sky to life, “I like Ultramarine,” Richard tells me, “It does all sorts of interesting things when you mix it with other colours.” He paints the sky darker at the top of the page to give the effect of perspective. “In the distance your blue sky is quite pale,” he observes.

To get a darker, more ominous tinge to the clouds, he adds in a hint of Burnt Sienna to the Ultramarine and creates a brown so dark it is almost a black. Watered down though, it makes the perfect colour for the dark clouds which can sit on the horizon. He sweeps some of the paint across the page and then blots most of it off with some kitchen roll. “I spend more on kitchen roll than I do on paint,” he says. The result is a perfect cloud; white on top and heavy with rain underneath.

This mix of colour seems to be so versatile it is used for everything from clouds to the black of the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse, which he has painted many times. “I’m quite well-known for my shipwrecks,” Richard says as he dabs the sky with kitchen roll once more. “And the lighthouse…I get more requests for pictures of the lighthouse than anything, I think.”

Whilst he waits for the sky to dry, he adds in a dot of Olive Green to the Ultramarine to get the colour of the water near the bottom of the picture. “You put the palest colour that you have down first.” Once again, some kitchen roll is produced and, with a quick swipe, there are shadows and waves. “Ideally you don’t want to paint whites, you want to put your whites in by leaving the white of your paper showing.”

The sky now dry, Richard starts on the distant hills. For this he uses a technique which can only be described as ‘magical’. With a loaded brush of a mix of the ever-versatile Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine, he traces over the top of the hills, then with a wet brush he drags the edge of the paint allowing it to pool out. With a dry brush, which Richard describes as ‘thirsty’, he takes out bits of the paint creating the shadows cast along the ridge. All of a sudden there sit the hills of Port Howard, kissed by a low sunlight.

He tells me that the painting is going to take a long time, and really, he’s at the point at which he needs to just look at it and plan the next stage. “I think I spend as much time thinking about what I’m doing than actually putting paint on the page.” He places his brush back in the pot and picks up his cup. And he sits there, peacefully sipping his coffee and contemplating the landscape in front of him.

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