About BAD Portraits

A bit of back story…

A few years ago I did a job I loved until an unexpected health issue meant I was forced to retire. I was devastated. There I was, in my prime and loving life when suddenly I was stuck inside, unable to do much of anything, depression brewing. I was trapped, and being an outside person, it was really affecting me badly. I was simply unable to do the things I love and so, after many months of brooding, I decided to find new things to love, new things that I could still do. One of those new things was watercolour painting.

I had always loved art, well, the looking at it part, and I particularly loved the magic that can be found in an exceptional watercolour painting, so I decided to become a watercolour artist. Easy. I watched a few YouTube videos, read a handful of books and bought myself a small set of White Nights watercolours, an expensive pad of Bockingford watercolour paper (little did I know…) and a handful of second hand Escoda brushes from ebay. £30 it cost me, all in.

(It is at this point I should point out that the reason for mentioning these brands is because watercolour painters love to know what products other painters use. As well as using the White Nights, for the paintings in this book I also used a very nice set of Schmincke Horadam Watercolours as well as Moleskine and Hahnemuhle watercolour notebooks. The brushes, or rather brush I used for all these paintings was one of the original ebay specials: a size 8 Escoda Prado. The reason for showing the initial cost is to show you that if you too fancy trying your hand at watercolour painting, then it isn’t expensive to get started and you can pick up some great quality paints, paper and brushes by buying in sales or looking for second hand clear-outs. I should however point out, and provide you with a bit of a public health warning, that if you do find that you do like watercolour painting then you may find yourself spending far more money because watercolour paints and palettes seem to be an, as yet, unclassed addictive drug. I should also point out that I am not sponsored by any of the aforementioned brands, I am sure they prefer being associated with good artists)

Back to the back story…

So, I had the gear, I had the knowledge, now I just needed to get started. As so I did. I painted the view from my window. I painted my bookshelf. I painted a donut. None of these paintings looked anything like the things they were supposed to be. I was terrible at watercolour painting. The paint wouldn’t do as it was told and even if it did I was fairly certain I was telling it to do the wrong things. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get my paintings to turn out to be anything other than a right muddy mess. That is when I found a local watercolour painting course that I could attend. I decided to take the plunge and booked myself in for a taster. It was midweek, during the day and I was the youngest attendee by about thirty years. The teacher was a lovely, quiet lady in her seventies. Everyone was welcoming and it was clear from how they were interacting, that most of them had been attending these classes for years.

The class began. An hours demonstration followed by an hour of copying the teacher’s painting. Simple enough. The subject matter was a tree. An autumnal tree in a park filled with dark shade and light beams. I took my seat. Drew a brief sketch and mixed my colours as instructed. I then started painting. After about fifty minutes I had a rather respectable attempt sitting on the desk in front of me. I have to admit, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. Sure, there was a LOT of pigment on the paper and sure, the darks were VERY dark and sure, there weren’t very many of the bright light beams. In fact there were none. But, the thing is, it really did look a bit like a painting of a tree in a shady park. Or an exploding volcano, depending which side of the desk you were viewing it from. The thing was, IT was, for me at least, good. A few moments later, the lovely, lovely teacher came round and looked at all the students’ work, saving me for last. When she stopped at me she looked at my magnificent tree/volcano and simply said “Well.”. She picked up my masterpiece and headed towards the front of the class. She beckoned me to follow her, and I did. My mind racing as to what she was doing. It then struck me exactly what she was doing and I felt my cheeks began to redden. She was heading to the front so that she could hold up my painting in front of everybody and announce just how well I had done, it being my first lesson and all, and what a marvellous painting I had created. Stopping in front of the class, I waited for her to start speaking. But, speak she did not. Instead, she turned her back to the class and directed my attention to the sink that was now directly in front of her. My painting in her hand she opened her mouth…

“Simon, the wonderful thing about watercolour is that you can do this when it turns out bad.”

She then turned on the tap and proceeded to hold my masterpiece under the gushing water until all the pigment had been removed from it. Once she was happy, she turned off the tap and handed me back the now grey, sodden sheet of paper. I would love to say that I never returned to another class however that is untrue, I attended another and if we get to a second Bad Portraits book I shall share that story too!

Roll on a year or two and I still love watercolour painting. I have a much larger collection of paints and palettes and I try and paint at least once a week. I would be inaccurate to say that I have improved, I haven’t. I am still a terrible watercolour artist.

Anyway, on to Bad Portraits. As the lockdowns of 2020 came into force, I thought back to my feelings when being last locked inside for weeks on end and I knew many of my friends and family would find it just as tough as I had a few years before. I decided I needed to do something to help brighten their day and so I originally planned to paint portraits of my Facebook friends and posting them so that people could try and guess which friend I had painted. I painted one friend and my mother and then decided that I really didn’t want to offend my friends further by doing bad portraits of them, rather I would pick on the famous. Not that I intend to offend, I intend to make a masterful likeness, they just don’t turn out that way. The first round of ‘Simon, you really are sh*t at painting’ lasted 100 hundred portraits and the title of the game was taken from a comment made by my aunt. I post a painting each day (at the time of writing we are currently nearing the end of a second round) and my friends and family try to guess who it is I have painted. They get points if they get it right and I get abuse when they get it wrong, but it has kept many of us entertained over the last six months as well as giving me an excuse to try to get through some of the stockpile of paints I have amassed.

Having completed so many celebrity portraits and not at all improving I decided that there might be more people in the world who may like to join in the game who are not on my friends list and so, Bad Portraits has been born. Please note that I and most of my friends live in Great Britain and so many of the portraits are of famous people they would likely know so if you do not live in Britain or have not seen much British television or news then don’t feel too bad if you have no idea at all who some of the portraits are, even if they are good ones. I really hope you have fun trying to guess who it is that I have painted and that it helps brighten your day as much as painting them does mine.

Simon Garlick Oct. 2020