Monday, October 10, 2016

Alfred H. Cooper and the Overall Wash

Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929) was a Victorian painter of the Lake District known for his sensitive handling of landscape moods. He often keyed his watercolors with an overall color wash, also known as a "ghost wash."

Scafell Pike from Upper Eskdales by William Heaton Cooper
According to his son William, "He would choose what he painted by the colour of the day - for instance, today, the lightest part of the whole landscape is the clouds, they had this pinky glow, so Father would take a brush full of light red or cadmium and vermilion and take it over the whole of the paper so that it shone through - he would do it like a wash to start with, let it dry, then paint on top of it, then any blues that came on it would have this sort of warm blue, broken blue. In watercolours one gets this transparency which influences all the other colours that come on to it."

—from the book Alfred Heaton Cooper, Painter of Landscape
Previously: Ghost Wash
Keying a color scheme using the gamut method


John Fleck said...

This is similar to what I have seen in some of Nathan Fowkes watercolor demos:

Jim Douglas said...

I wish I could see one of Cooper's watercolor paintings in person to see the real effect of the "ghost wash." I'm sure my computer screen doesn't do it justice.

David Webb said...

I adopted this method of painting watercolour after reading the late Jack Merriott's book: Discovering Watercolour. If you appreciate the effects produced by this technique, it is worth looking up both David Curtis and Trevor Chamberlain. Both brilliant. Different styles, but similar way of building up the washes.
Incidentally, William Heaton Cooper was also a successful artist in his own right, as well as his father. Their work can be seen at:

Gavin said...

I've been lucky enough to view his paintings several times when in the Lake District (going back many years now), and own a book with his paintings. Heaton Cooper is in the quaint village of Grasmere, where the poet William Wordsworth lived.
Nice to see a brief description as to his technique.

Karl Smith said...

Two of my favourite artists- William's son Julian Cooper is also a superb artist, working in oils on a large scale. The picture of the scafells shown is actually by William Heaton Cooper, and in his autobiography "Mountain Painter" he describes the process of painting this - I will scan or photograph this and post it on here if that is acceptable and of interest to people. It is great to see a local artist mentioned in a blog from across the pond.

Yorky said...

You must visit the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere to see works by the whole Heaton Cooper dynasty.

David Webb said...

Yorky, it's on my 'to do' list.

James Gurney said...

John, thanks for mentioning Nathan Fowkes. He's is one of the best painters in gouache around today, and I love the way he uses an overall color underpainting to enliven a color scheme.

Yorky, I'd love to go back to the Lake District. It's been a while, and when we were there we didn't even make it to Beatrix Potter's farm.

Jim, me too. It's always hard to tell from a computer scan if a color mood was part of the original painting, or just an artifact of photography.

Gavin, the book I referenced at the end of the post has a lot more about Alfred's method from his son William's perspective.

Shropshire, thanks for that clarification. I have attributed the second image to William.

Unknown said...

Here is William Heaton Cooper's description from his book "Mountain Painter" of the process (slightly abridged):
"All day I had been climbing with two friends on Scafell. a thunderstorm had been brewing...clouds began to loiter against the peaks, smoky grey against a murky yellow sky.
..It was like a Chinese painting come to life. Simple colour, from the straw-coloured Sky into which the higher peaks melted, down through deepening shades of violet blue, among them the thin gold thread of a stream catching the light, culminating in the dark indigo double mass of esk buttress.
I had only a drew a few lines to remind me of the design.
The scene haunted me for several weeks until I took a. Piece of paper, flooded it very wet with cadmium yellow, quickly adding the paler wreaths of cloud in cobalt blue and vermillion while the paper was still wet, the more dark and definite slopes of cloud added in dry blue-violet paint before the original wash had time to dry, and with dry colour laid in the lower darker slopes, adding light red to the purples until the foreground slopes were painted with a touch of burnt sienna to bring them nearer. All this first stage.. Had to be done very rapidly before the first wash had time to dry, taking about 5 or 6 minutes.
When the paper was quite dry, I put in the dark esk buttress painting it in cobalt blue and vermillion, with a touch of Crimson, so that it was the bluest object of the painting , in contrast to the upward yellowing of the tones culminating in the sky.
The foreground rocks were painted in ultramarine- a neare colour than cobalt- and burnt and raw sienna in the lighter passages."
The book is, as far as I have seen, the only one of his where he describes the painting process , and as such is worth hunting down on Amazon if you enjoy his work.

James Gurney said...

Karl, thank you for the wonderfully descriptive quote from Mr Cooper's book.