Painting Big!

Over the past few months I have been indulging myself with some huge sheets of watercolour paper, slopping and splashing the colour about like a wild thing. It’s very therapeutic after working at small scale on the illustrations.

The Turkish Vase is one of them, now complete, and which I’m entering for the RA Summer Exhibition. Handing in day is Tuesday 29th March. All fingers and toes crossed as this is something I haven’t done before.

The Scottish Castle – Castle Leod – now revealed (see post “More Watercolours at Last” below). It looks good on the packaging of the Dalmore Whiskey. When I went to see the castle I had visions of turrets emerging ghost-like from the Scottish mist – a scene of Gothic drama. The reality was bright sunshine and neatly trimmed lawns; it was August, after all. So in the final painting I had to be quite inventive and worked quite hard to give the painting some impact. The final work was well received, and the painting, I believe, should now be hanging in the visitors centre at The Dalmore distillery.

Castle Leod-watercolour-Keith Hornblower
Castle Leod-watercolour-Keith Hornblower
Ayot St Lawrence - The Palladian Church - Hornblower watercolour
Ayot St Lawrence - The Palladian Church - Hornblower watercolour


Irmis-roses-watercolour-Keith Hornblower
Irmis-roses-watercolour-Keith Hornblower


Turkish Vase - hornblower final watercolour
Turkish Vase - hornblower final watercolour

12 thoughts on “Painting Big!

    1. Gosh – thank you Sheila! I’m not really a rose painting person either; I wanted a new challenge so that’s why I did it. It’s a very large painting for a watercolour – a full sheet of 2 Rivers paper. I had to paint it vertically on my studio easel. I like the drips and runs you get from painting that way.
      Regards to Simon; will we be seeing you in Tuscany? 🙂


  1. I think I have already posted something about stretching paper, but the technique is basically the same whether you do it before or after the painting is finished. The advantage of stretching beforehand is that the paper is always flat, no matter how wet it gets.

    So here’s my technique for stretching a finished painting:
    Lay the painting face down on clean paper on a flat surface and moisten the back using a sponge. It’s important not to let water run under the edges as this could ruin the work, so easy on the water. Repeat the process once or twice more until the paper has absorbed a reasonable amount, flip it over after 10-15 minutes (being careful not to disturb the paint surface!) and tape it to a board using gummed brown paper tape. Leave it to dry out naturally.

    For my large paintings, I try to use a paper that’s thick enough in the first place not to buckle too much to avoid the need for stretching, but if the need arises (I once painted a watercolour nearly 4 feet across on 90lb paper) then tape on it’s own will probably not be enough to hold. I use pva glue around the edges and then use a staple gun, stapling at 2-3″ intervals all round. Then, for good measure, I tape it too! The nail-biting part is cutting it out when it’s dry – there is a big risk of tearing as the tension in the paper can be considerable, so best not to wet it too much in the first place.

    I have also had a large watercolour dry-mounted (by a specialist) onto board and this seemed to work well. But be careful if you have large build-ups of pigment on the paper, e.g. thick gouache, as the intense heat will melt/burn it. Best avoid dry-mounting in this case.


    1. Interesting!

      It’s the same stretching principle used in chinese mounting!
      Only that in chinese mounting the duck tape is replaced by simply glueing the edges of the paper onto a board.

      Actualy, they place the painting face down, they moist it, they apply glue (wheat flour based or PVA) on the entire back, they moist another sheet of paper (larger than the painting) and they place it over the glue-coated painting doubleing it. Then, a thin line of the same glue is layed along the edges of the up-faceing side of the backing paper and the whole thing is glued onto a board with the painting faceing up. When it dries, they cut of the glued edges extracting the now-backed painting. They do need the backing as chinese painting is oftenly done on quite thin paper.
      Now I realize I can stretch paper without backing it! And I would never have imagined it can be made beforehand without it buckleing again.

      Thank you for teaching! Here’s how simple knowledge can make a lot of difference in the final look of a painting. A stretched watercolour always has that striking elegant, monumental feel about it.


  2. Interesting!
    That is stretching BEFORE working I guess.

    There’s an interesting stretching technique appliable when the work is finished (and wrinkly) that I managed to pick up on the internet. You can get a grasp of it if you search for “chinese mounting” on YouTube. The down sides are the fact that it is a wet technique and the fact that if you overdo it with the weting it stretches so much that the paper can tear (but only if the paper is too thin). Nice to try (no tests on something important of course!)

    About sizes, I always felt that there’s something monumental about watercolour painting, despite the simplicity and all. Something that would make it appropriate for LARGE formats (as in close to mural).

    With your permission, I hope to post something of my work on your blog soon.

    Thank you and sorry for all the literature,


  3. Hello Mr. Hornblower!

    The watercolours are beautiful and they give us much to learn.
    I like Castle Leod best.
    About sizes…it would be nice if you posted the actual size of your work so people would get a clearer picture of your effort.
    I wish you good health and strength so you do as much work as possible!

    Salutations from Bucharest, Romania!


    1. Hi Tiberiu

      You make a very valid point; here I am talking about painting big and I’m giving no clues as to HOW big the paintings are! I shall, in future, state picture sizes. This particular batch were painted mainly on full sheets of Two Rivers paper which are 22.5×31 inches (57x79cm). Castle Leod is a little bigger, painted on a large sheet of 260lb Saunders Waterford. Both papers are heavy enough not to need stretching, although they do buckle a little due to the amount of water I splash around.

      Regards, Lefty


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s