Monday, March 27, 2017

John William Tristram

John William Tristram (1870-1938) was an Australian watercolor painter with a poetic sense of softness and atmosphere.



The forms seem veiled, and the values are relatively light in key, with just that dark tree mass anchoring the tones.


The values in this painting are high key, with the warm bank at left nearly the same tone as the cool cliff in the distance. The top of the blue cliff is lost in fog. This fog has a granular effect of sedimentary pigments in watercolor.


The tree masses are greatly softened, blending into the sky and ground, and they're composed of variegated hues that seem layered over each other. He eliminates any detail that's not essential.


I'm not sure exactly how he accomplished these effects. I'm guessing that there's a lot of big wet washes, maybe some scrubbing out. He may also have painted over a surface primed with white gouache. It's hard to tell without seeing the originals.

Does anyone have any insights into his method—or his bio? Please share them in the comments. I couldn't find out very much. 
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Online Resources
John William Tristram on Wikipedia

Books with related content:


23 comments:

Daroo said...

These are great.
Not sure exactly how it was done but I would guess the wetness of the paper is key. Here's a video of Kazuo Oga, a studio Ghibli BG artist, using poster paints (gouache?) He starts by completely wetting out the paper and then mixing white into the color to tint it out and keep it soft (instead of just using more water and less pigment).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4cCdw1D6w0

James Gurney said...

Daroo, thanks for the video. Huge revelation! It really shows the steps he used, and I can't wait to try some of them out.

Fabio Porta said...

I was actually fascinated by this one
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/End_of_the_day_%281918%29.jpg
The paper's texture kind of looks like canvas, I wonder what he's using? It seems like it's some kind of tinted paper, otherwise I would presume it could reveal the white in the pickout for the road

julia lundman said...

Has anyone here ever worked on watercolor paper primed with white gouache? Wouldn't the gouache lift up while you are working?

I'm wondering if he may have had a very tough, absorbent paper and lots of delicate washes. Perhaps more meticulous than it looks at first glance.

James Gurney said...

Julia, I know that Mike Mrak has done a lot with white gouache priming. Mike, any pointers? The idea, as I understand it, is to allow the priming to lift up a bit and add some atmospheric quality. I'll give it a try and play around with it.

shropshire climbing centre said...

Arthur Melville used chinese white as a base ground for his paintings to obtain atmospheric effect. I cant upload the URL unfortunately (perhaps someone with a PC can do this?) but Katherine Tyrell describes the process via a quote on her Art of the Landscape blog.

DamianJ said...

Here's a link to the Melville quote mentioned by shropshire climbing centre, the quote by Katherine Tyrell itself came from Bruce MacEvoy's Handprint site, so I've linked to that, it's the end of the 3rd-to-last block of text on this page : handprint

David Webb said...

I have a book, written in 1929, called 'Landscape Painting in Water-colour' by Oswald Garside, R.I.,R.C.A., R.B.C.
In it he describes a number of techniques that were used at the time, including this one... 'Another method is to paint on a groundwork of Chinese white. This should be left a long time to harden. It is not easy to paint water-colour over this, but alterations are simpler as the paint comes away easily. Experience has shown that, done by this method, the greatest permanence is secured, and it was used by the late J.W. North, a great advocate of the use of reliable material.'

Staffan Alsparr said...

Beautiful work, so atmospheric and sensitive, it really is poetry like you said! Thank you for sharing, and as was said earlier I also think it looks like it is worked over a chinese white underpainting, but at the same I am not sure you would get that granulating effect over that? Perhaps the white was only worked into select areas. I feel like giving this kind of method a go too! :)

James Gurney said...

David, thanks for that great clue! Actually I ran across John William Tristram while searching for John William NORTH, while trying to research this question of Chinese white grounds. Your clue helps a lot. I remember reading that the Pre-Raphaelite oil painters also used a live white ground, painting with glazes onto a thin layer of slightly wet white paint.

Shropshire, thanks for that link. I'll check it out.

Matt Dicke said...

James and all. I have tried using zinc white gouache as a primer for some of my watercolor gouache paintings. IF you want an atmospheric quality then once dry to the touch get to work. Yes the white will lift but it will mix with the colors softening them without chalking them up. It also does aid in lifting the pigment if that is something you or your followers like. If lifting and making alterations is desired over the ghosting atmosphere, It helps to put it on thinly and yes let it throughly dry ( maybe even over night) before working on it. I learned this from Burt Silverman when I corresponded with him about his watercolor lifting technique. Fun way of working. I still haven't found the ideal surface yet. While I like the strathmore illustration board and plate Bristols, they are missing something in the handling. Would be curious if other watercolor or gouache artists here have a preferred paper.

Matt Dicke said...

As for John William Tristram I think he did a lot of thin controlled washes. It is a very time consuming and slow layering process. His work reminds me of Eric Fortune with his thin veils of washes.

Daniele Guadagnolo said...

Painting on a white or tinted gouache ground can give a similar effect; Zinc white is the key to achieve soft tones and subtle transitions.

@Fabio
If you're looking for that kind of texture on watercolor paper (which i find very pleasant too), you can use hand made 100% cotton watercolor paper. Khadi (Indian brand) makes excellent paper sold worldwide. Otherwise you can try local art stores; Poggi in Rome sells some wonderful handmade paper.

Norm said...

I like to paint in similar approach (https://www.facebook.com/norman.choo/media_set?set=a.10153700112472097.1073741864.690812096&type=3) and www.normanchoo.com (shameless plug for dicsussion), IMHO, I do not think white was used in his paintings.

Jennifer Branch said...

Really interesting technique. I wonder how the white gouache ground would compare with the current clay coated boards?
I think maybe layers of tinted washes with gouache floated on top might also be a possibility.
I love the video, Daroo!
Thank you so much for bringing us another fascinating artist and different technique. I love your blog!

Gayle said...

Wonderful discovery - as usual James, thanks for unearthing artists I'd not hear about, and thank you to all those who commented and provided further interesting details links! And wow! surprised to see what can be achieved with poster paints (Kazuo Oga video).I found a more extensive bio: https://www.daao.org.au/bio/john-w-tristram/biography/. I learned he was also a musician and a poet - The muse certainly knows no boundaries!

Glenn Tait said...

Australian Art Auctin Records has 321 listings (not all with images) of Tristram's paintings.
http://www.artrecord.com/index.cfm/artist/6784-tristram-john-william/medium/2-works-on-paper/?page=1

jeff said...

For those interested in Burt Silverman's work and his technique his book is still available. The price is now absurdly low, about $5 for a used copy on Amazon.
Well worth it.

He uses watercolor in a very unconventional way. So does David Levine which is where I think Silverman kind of got the idea to use watercolor in the way he does. The both use plate illustration board, 3 and 4 ply.



https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Rules-Watercolor-Burt-Silverman/dp/0823005232/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490685644&sr=8-1&keywords=burt+silverman

James Gurney said...

Jeff, glad you reminded me of that one. Great book. He talks about lifting off a lot, too.

I've added links to the Handprint page and to some of the books you've mentioned, plus a couple others. The Littlejohn book has a whole chapter on gouache grounds, and the Victorian book has some good discussion about J.W. North and others in England pursuing bodycolor techniques.

Matt Dicke said...

Burt Silverman also released a DVD on the technique and IMO more helpful then the book. I have both though as the book has a ton or info about how he came to eh process and about his supplies. Here is a preview https://youtu.be/bOiAyf_K_xg

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Matt. I've added the link to the Burt Silverman video at the end of the post. I've seen one of his demo videos and it's amazing how he draws so accurately with the brush. I like the look of the pale darks that he gets with the white gouache underpainting method. It reminds me of a lot of the illustrators of the '60s and '70s, like Bernie Fuchs, who I know you like too.

GJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Tait said...

I have a1978 copy of the Richmond and Littlejohns "Fundamentals of Watercolor Painting" which is "revised and enlarged" from the original 1970 book. This edition has three chapters on working with opaque watercolour (Chinese white and gouache). Chapter 14 deals with coloured grounds and using thin, medium and thick opaque watercolor. Chapter 15 looks at various ways to mix opaque white with watercolour for washes, alternating opaque and transparent washes, sponging out from opaques, etc. Chapter 16 is about opaque watercolor and working with soaked paper.

It is quite an informative book overall covering topics I'd never heard of in regards to watercolour like working with paste, made from flour or painting with dry pigment. Besides demos and samples by the authors there are examples by Andrew Wyeth, Harry Anderson, John Pike, and Walter Biggs among others.