Q&A with 2017 Exhibitor Paul Gadenne

Paul Gadenne’s paintings are defined by an element of narrative and the everyday – he is interested in the stories – often overlooked or brushed carelessly away – that make up the narrative fabric of day to day life.  His ability to see depth and potential in places that we might not necessarily look for it is embraced not only in his paintings but also through his role as a SAA Professional Art Teacher teaching ‘Art for Everyone’ – art lessons for adults of all abilities at venues in Dunkirk and Sandwich, Kent.  Ahead of the launch of the 2018 edition of The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, I spoke to Paul about his career background, his favoured painting techniques and the value of the supposedly unremarkable.

What was the first piece of artwork that you created that you were happy with?

No.3 Caisson, Chatham Dockyard

I find that as an artist I am very rarely 100% happy with any of my paintings. There always seems to be another level that I’m still trying to reach. However the painting that probably fits this best would be No.3 Caisson, Chatham Dockyard, a watercolour of a submarine in dry dock at Chatham Dockyard.

To what extent has your background in commercial Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design influenced your practice as an artist?

I was trained in a discipline that required accuracy both technically and in the manner in which information was illustrated and presented to a client. A client expects the finished product to look exactly the same as the presentation.

Voix du Nord, Lille

Designing for manufacture has left me with a fascination for the manmade and the built environment. This is often the subject of my work. I find this especially fascinating when expressed in watercolour with its softness and fragility.

In an article written for The Artist in September 2017, you advised watercolour artists to work on a sloping drawing board.  Why is this?

I always recommend using a sloping board so that the movement of the water on the paper has some controlled directional movement. To produce a perfectly flat wash, the best way is to simply continually feed into a puddle of watercolour as gravity takes it down the slope of the paper. The angle and direction of the board can be used to great advantage to generate denser pigment on the leading edge of a wash, or it can also be used to channel colour into linear marks or runs.

In the same article, you talk about the colours that you use when painting shadows.  Can you tell us more about this process, in particular, the somewhat paradoxical importance of capturing light in the depiction of shadows?

There is an old maxim that goes something like ‘you can’t paint light but you can paint shadow.’ I have always found that bluish colours work better for shadows than just a flat grey. All light has a colour cast whether it be artificial or natural. Generally speaking, tungsten has a yellowish cast, fluorescent greenish and natural light bluish. Our eyes have the ability to adjust for the changes in colour temperature, making the differences less noticeable, but a camera will often show these differences quite distinctly. We consider natural daylight to be white and in direct sunshine it is, though at sunset and sunrise we know that even this changes to warmer colours. Light wavelengths falling on an object will be absorbed by the object; however, some colour wavelengths will be reflected back and these are the colours we see. The shady side of an object in natural daylight will be exposed to blue sky which has a tendency to cast a faint bluish light that is then is reflected back in the shadow.

Canterbury Colossus

By adding some blue and violet to daylight shadow colours I find that, especially with warmer subjects such as buildings, the complimentary nature of the colours makes both the buildings and the shadows work particularly well together.

What is the most interesting story behind any painting that you have created during your career?

I have a bit of a fascination for painting buildings and objects that may be demolished or modernised. I try to capture these relics in paint before we lose them forever.

This was the case with the old gasometer in Canterbury. I drove around the city until I found a rare view with the gasometer at the end of a street. My wife laughed at the final result: “great painting but who will buy it?” I was prepared to add the work to my growing collection of paintings that like this one, were produced for non-commercial reasons.

Six months later, on its first showing, it sold on day one. It went to an elderly couple who came into the gallery to escape the rain. My painting of the gasometer was the view from the window in their first home when they were newly-married fifty years before.

Heaton Road

Why did you choose to enter The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2017?

I successfully entered the Competition in 2012 and was thrilled to find my work hanging on the same wall as two artists for whom I have always had enormous respect, namely Kurt Jackson and Nathan Ford. The fact that these two artists were selected told me everything I needed to know about the importance of the Competition.

Slipway (Competition 2012)

As I am now teaching art every week, I find this leaves little time for serious painting; however, I simply could not resist doing it again!

Define watercolour, or describe what it means to you, in one word.


To view further images of Paul’s work, please visit  The 2018 edition of The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition will be opening for entries in the Spring.  To keep up to date with all dates and news items, follow @STWatercolour on Twitter or @SundayTimesWatercolour on Facebook.

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