Painting Grey Street

Alan Reed
Shoppers, Grey Street

Grey Street in Newcastle has been described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the finest curved street in Europe. I never tire of sitting down to capture its fine sweeping curve and Georgian columns in all seasons. You can see a number of limited edition prints of Newcastle’s Grey Street including  Grey Street, Saturday Morning which was featured on the BBC’s “Show me the Monet”.

Newcastle is a very busy city so when painting Grey Street I find it great fun to bring life to the scene by adding in people for extra movement and interest. It’s even more fun painting Grey Street in winter because you have the extra challenge of resolving the reflections of the sky, buildings and figures in the wet pavement. Watercolour is the ideal medium for this but you need to know the sequence of washes and how to build up the colour.

You will notice that the gentle yellow colour that you can see just above the distant buildings is actually running throughout the entire painting (apart from the snow lying on the rooftops) and is particularly evident in the pavement in the centre of the foreground. When the wash of yellow dried, I wet the sheet of paper and introduced a very subtle hint of Rose Madder in the sky and foreground before introducing the slate grey for the sky and reflections.

After these washes had dried, it was simply a matter of adding detail to depict the architectural forms before finally painting the various figure. Over the years I’ve developed a “shorthand” painting technique to capture figures moving about. Photography can be a help but it’s also a very useful discipline to observe and sketch from life. That way you can’t get bogged down with detail. You have to pick out the main gesture and gender of the person and make sure that you have them positioned at the correct eye level.

Painting Grey Street outdoors is a real challenge and not for the faint hearted. As I’m writing this blog post, I’m getting tempted to get out there again! In the meantime however, my studio painting “Shoppers, Grey Street” can be seen online and at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

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