J J Hilder is one of my favourite Australian water colourists. One of my students found a tiny reproduction of ‘Dry Lagoon’ in the catalogue of the Art Gallery of South Australia publication, ‘Creating Australia’. We wondered how Hilder went about painting this, so I decided to do my own version.
I began by wetting the paper, then adding a very pale wash of New Gamboge, to which I added Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine. As the wash began to dry, I added stronger washes of Ultramarine and New Gamboge to the foreground.
To establish the shapes of the trees, I drew lightly with water soluble pencil after the wash was completely dry, then wetted the area I was going to paint and dropped in Ultramarine, New Gamboge and a little Alizarin Crimson, letting them blend on the paper.
Next, I drew the silhouettes of the trees with a fine brush, using a mixture of Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson. I really like the way the New Gamboge lifted up from the background and bled into the tree on the left. I strengthened the foreground with New Gamboge tinted with Alizarin Crimson, and added dry brush strokes using different mixes of all three colours.
Next, I blurred the dry brush marks a little with another wash of New Gamboge and Yellow Ochre, and began to lift out the whites on the tree trunks and the cows, adding a little sepia to a mix of New Gamboge and Alizarin to achieve a warm brown on the cows and the edges of the tree trunks.
I added another layer of washes to the background, darkening the sky behind the trees. The trunks were further lightened by a thin layer of Zinc White Gouache.
Finally, I added a few more branches to the trees on the right – and inserted an extra tree, as they were looking too evenly spaced. Not quite an acceptable forgery, but I have learnt a lot from Mr Hilder about effective composition, keeping your subject simple, and limiting your colour scheme.