GUEST ARTIST: “100 Watercolor Paintings Of City Scenes” by Gareth Naylor

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

Hi, I’m Gareth. I’m a watercolor artist from England living and painting in Japan. I love to wander around the rural part of Japan I live in looking for beautiful scenes to paint.  Perhaps I’m nuts, but this year I felt like a challenge and that’s how the idea for 100 watercolor paintings of city scenes came about. I often work in a series. Two of my favorites are one of rickshaws and another of a beautiful place called Sasebo in Japan where there are over 200 islands.

But I’ve never done more than about 20 to 30 finished paintings in any one series. Doing 50 paintings would have been more sensible but that number just doesn’t sound as exciting as 100 – so it had to be 100.

I feel fairly confident though that I can paint 100 pictures of the city as I have been painting cityscapes for over 10 years now and it has become a very familiar subject for me. Below is one of my early efforts from about 10 years ago and very unlike my paintings today.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

Nowadays, I am interested in the effect of light and shadow. In Japan, the light is often intense. And like alchemy, this intense light transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. For instance, the painting below shows just a few ordinary buildings, but in the right light they become extraordinarily beautiful.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

The light is so intense in Japan that I have to wear sunglasses – even in winter on occasion. The intensity of the light creates dramatic, you can even say harsh, contrasts of light and shadow which I love to paint. They can, as in the painting below, almost be black and white images.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

Through shadows the ordinary becomes more distorted into an abstract pattern of shapes and lines. Such as in the picture below where I painted the shadow of an elevated railway as the foreground but also as another frame within the picture itself.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

In the shadows, cars and people become partially dissolved, almost spectral. I especially like to have the cars become just lights and a windscreen. In the painting below, the familiar every day evening rush hour becomes I hope more of a ghostly and mysterious moment – and with that beautiful sky in the background, somewhat romantic.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - DoodlewashRecently I was called Mr. Shadows. This title surprised me because I always see myself as a painter of light. And then I realized you can’t have one without the other and it is getting the shadows right that creates the brilliance of the light.

Sometimes I wonder though if I don’t go too dark – especially for a medium like watercolor – as in the painting to the right. I do tend to be a little heavy handed I think.

But now and again I do manage to create a more delicate piece – such as the one below.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

A lot of my paintings are of evening scenes. As the sun goes down, I find it spell binding to see the lengthening shadows of objects. Everything becomes beautifully exaggerated and distorted and blends together. It’s a change from the real to something more surreal – in other words, it’s a magical period.

I often paint looking into the sun – with my sunglasses on, of course. When the sun descends so that it is just above buildings then these shapes begin to glow with warmth – they look like molten gold or a red hot poker in the fire.

The sun also seems to slice into buildings. In the painting below I had the sun cutting through the building.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

As well as looking up, I’m also looking at the ground a lot. I have a fascination for surfaces. Roads are so beautiful with their rough appearance, cracks, skid marks and white lines. And the scattering of light upon the surface of the road attracts my eye. Often it is just a small rough patch of dazzling light in the middle of the road that nobody really notices but in a painting it can become the main piece.

I spent some time using the dry brush technique when painting seas and I used the same technique to capture these dazzling patches. Later, I thought of having this dazzling patch of light on a crossroads. It then becomes a mix of rough texture, dazzling light and sharp white man made lines – beautiful. It’s also an ideal spot to put a cyclist or a pedestrian.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

The surface of the road becomes magical in the rain. The way the light from the cars scatters across the surface of the road and contrasts with the dark reflections of the cars is beautiful and dramatic. I sometimes walk by the streets in the rain taking photos for future paintings. Below is one of my favorite paintings of a road in the rain.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

Another wonderful find related to water was a waterjet feature near my local train station. This circular feature shoots out jets of water, produces mist and at night has lights. Watching children, including my own daughter, running through the mist and laughing will always be a source of enchantment and happy memories for me. It took a while though before I had the courage to paint this scene. I knew it could make for a fantastic painting, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

So you know that even though I’m painting city scenes what I’m really painting is the light. And this series called really be entitled 100 paintings of light. But it is not simply depicting the light that I hope for. What I really hope for in my paintings is a feeling of atmosphere, otherwise it’s just paint on paper. And whenever anybody tells me they can feel something then I feel a sense of success – although it doesn’t come as often as I would like.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - DoodlewashIf I were to give tips to inspire other artists then it would be firstly and mostly importantly to get out more. I really value studio work but if you are just a stay at home artist then I think you are missing out on a great source of inspiration.

It is so vital, in my opinion, to get out and to be looking and training your eye to find visually arresting scenes. And to paint outdoors is even better – and it’s so fun. My bicycle is like a mobile studio. I roam about the city looking for scenes to paint with my easel and equipment in the basket of my bicycle.

You also have to be an opportunist always on the lookout for an inspiring scene. One day, while taking my daughter to nursery school by bicycle, I saw the beautiful scene below of a temple gate. It was early morning which is often an inspiring time of the day. As soon as I returned home, I grabbed my materials, jumped on my bike and went to paint this scene.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - DoodlewashAnother example of being on the lookout for inspiring things to paint is the watercolor sketch to the left. This piece came from seeing a figure in the rain holding a white umbrella and carrying a plastic bag. At the time, I was unable to sketch this figure as I was in the car but I couldn’t forget how white and bright the umbrella and bag looked and what an exciting image it was. When I got home I had a go at trying to capture that image. I’ve not used it in a painting yet – but one day.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - DoodlewashYou also have to be patient and hopeful that inspiration will come. The painting to the right is of a castle wall which is in shadow. For a long time, I disliked the short, squat concrete wall next to the moat of the castle wall itself.

And I painted many pictures of this concrete wall that all failed. Then one day I was looking at it from an oblique angle and could see a beautiful pattern of light and shadow that led the viewer into the picture in an enticing way – it was a eureka moment. It also led to a miniseries of 5 paintings of this wall.

Inspiration also comes from spontaneous doodles. It’s essential to be open to ideas from your own mind and to act upon them immediately so that your action happens under the influence of the idea and within the freshness of it – it’s hard to describe but it’s a very living thing and it has a very short life. These ideas just seem to pop out of their own accord.

I’ve become sensitive and respectful of them and to quickly pick up my brush and try to realize them on the paper while they are appearing in the mind. One idea was to try and capture the warm and cool colors of the sky in the windows of a building which led to the painting below.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

And finally, inspiration can come by accident – which is my favorite source of inspiration. Sometimes for economical reasons I paint over old paintings for practice and by chance it can lead to unexpected creations where the underpainting and the new one dramatically work together.

One example was a road painting over a sea scene. When I did the new painting however I had turned the paper so that the waves of the sea were at a 90 degrees angle to the city scene that I was painting and this led to the idea of a vertical sky. Below is an experimental attempt at having a vertical sky. It’s not natural and I know someone on social media will give me a hard time about it, but it just looks great – perhaps because it emphasizes the vertical-ness of the city blocks.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

I’m presently working on painting number 7 in my series – so I have a long way to go yet. Below is number 6. I’m still at the exciting point of embarking on an adventure. I’m not even sure myself if I can finish it. Last year, I intended to do a really big series on rickshaws but after about 15 finished paintings I got distracted by other subjects.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

It’s always nice to have some support and feedback so if you wish to follow me (or just wish to see if I actually finish) then please sign up on my website. You’ll get the chance to the see the sketches and the finished works as they are done and the chance to give me some feedback.

And you might have some suggestions with my final problem. I hope to do an exhibition of this series, but how am I going to frame them all? It’s always these little practical things that come between a dream and its realization.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Painting by Gareth Naylor - Doodlewash

I hope from reading this you have realized how painting in a series can greatly improve your own work and lead to more satisfying and enjoyable results. Please also remember the importance of getting out there, always looking for scenes to paint, doodling, and happy accidents.

Happy Painting.

Gareth Naylor
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Doodlewash

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!

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42 Comments
  1. Pooja Mohanty 2 months ago

    These are so beautiful. I also paint so I know how difficult water colour is to handle. These are so far the best ones I’ve seen.

  2. Melissa 2 months ago

    Gareth, these are so moody and beautiful! Your use of color is inspired, and I particularly love the ones where the light shines through, like the trees before the temple gate, and the mist rising from the water feature. Good luck on your 100 paintings—I know you can do it.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you very much Melissa. It’s really nice when someone tells you what they like in particular. I realized that within my series I can do a mini or micro series where I focus on one particular quality such as mist – which I will do. I was so happy when I saw that jet feature with the mist as I knew it would make for some great paintings. As for the trees – that was a very lucky day and it just worked out a treat. Thank you for your confidence in me … I will keep at it.

  3. Lyn 2 months ago

    Your work is wonderful! I love the mood and light you create! You will get to a hundred and have wonderful work to share!

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Lyn I really appreciate that. Yes, mood and light, I love it. Thanks for the confidence in me … it’s made me more determined than ever to reach 100. I just have to be careful not to get distracted by other subject matter … the will is strong but the heart is another matter and a beautiful sea scene or such can be irresistible.

  4. Fantine Ponter 2 months ago

    Beautiful paintings. Thanks for the tips and the inspiration to go and capture onto paper, what really matters!

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Fantine. And you are very welcome. I hope you are inspired – it’s so important and shows in the work.

  5. Janneke Booister 2 months ago

    Your paintings are beautiful! You really do get thd light and shadows to create magic. 100 paintings is a lot! I think you will have solved the framing problem by the time you finished them.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Janneke. Yes, light and shadow … I have to have them in order to paint … they just help create drama. I’m so glad you believe I will solve the framing problem by the time I finish – I hope you are right. I do actually have a few ideas now … they are more like little trick solutions … but it’s a start.

  6. Pamela Smith 2 months ago

    Wow,,you certainly know how to capture light…nice work

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Pamela. Yes, I really try hard to capture light in a dramatic way.

  7. vikinggipsie 2 months ago

    Lots of talent here, would love to see your version of a MOUNTAIN TROLL for Aviking By Hoof’s Mountain Troll Art Contest. Artwork is going to be transformed into actual costumes for our Mountain Troll Festival in NL

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you. Mmmm … mountain troll. Sadly, I haven’t painted any mountain trolls so I’m not sure I could do such a good job of that. But thanks for the suggestion.

  8. May Klisch 2 months ago

    Truly inspirational! What an eye.

  9. Judy Salleh 2 months ago

    Lovely watercolours, enjoyed looking at them!

  10. Sharon Nolfi 2 months ago

    Very lovely work! I think doing a series is an excellent idea. Good luck with your 100!

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Sharon. One thing I do know is that I’ll be better at painting city scenes after this series.

  11. Jyotsna 2 months ago

    You inspire me to take a series and start. So far I paint what just inspires me but then I could be jumping from cityscape to landscape. Also haven’t gathered courage to paint outside studio. Will do one day…. your paintings are great and you have amazing talent for lights and shadows.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Jyotsna. I also jump about a lot too. You can combine both though so one day work on your series and the other day just do what you fancy. With the painting outside I strongly recommend it. It is so fun and it really makes you improve quicker. Perhaps try the countryside first where nobody is around. I love to wander off into the Japanese countryside looking for places to paint. Some places are really empty. it’s lovely to stand in a rice field with the sun shining and look up at the blue mountains … it’s like heaven. In Japan we get a lot of blue skies – it helps. But the studio also is important.

  12. Marianne Hornbuckle 2 months ago

    Gareth, your watercolors are absolutely wonderful – fresh and loose and simple and interesting – congratulations! I started as a watercolorist many years ago, now a abstract painter and figurative sculptor. I have almost never seen work of your caliber recently – have you entered AWS shows at all? I’ll be watching for you!

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Marianne for your wonderful comments. And thanks for telling me about your own journey. I haven’t entered any AWS shows … to be honest I don’t know too much about that area. For quite a few years I was a recluse … just wandering off into the Japanese countryside and painting (I can imagine that you know how long it takes to get good and the challenges) and then I got involved in making a website and all that business … but I haven’t really looked at AWS shows … but I know I should … thank you for recommending that. I will start. If you have any tips it would be much appreciated.

  13. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 2 months ago

    Gareth, I find your art absolutely enchanting. Long before I read in your article that you consider yourself a painter of light, I came to the same conclusion. The glimmers and streaks and snippets of light transform what might be ordinary into scenes that are both subtly nuanced and breathtaking. Thank you for describing your journey of taking chances with your art, being willing to try many times to get the image you want. It takes masterful control to be able to place your strokes where you want them and make them look as if the paint planted itself on your paper.

    You asked about framing. I’m no expert but I like a frame that supports a painting without overwhelming it. Perhaps try wide mats of neutral color and thin wood frames that project your painting forward, with UV protective glass of course.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Sharon I really appreciate your comments … it’s really nice and helpful when people make thoughtful comments about my work as it gives me insight too. Yes, it’s all about taking chances … I have to keep reminding myself of that. And thank you for the advice on the frames. One of the biggest problems though is the number I will need … it’s going to be expensive. That’s why I might make some smaller paintings … or some giant ones on paper that is just on a big board. Mmmm … need to think about this.

  14. Jill Gustavis 2 months ago

    Beautiful! You have a delicate grasp on how the light influences the scene and capture the depth and mood so well!

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you very much Jill. It’s so nice to receive these wonderful comments. The influence of light … I love that phrase.

  15. Sandra Strait 2 months ago

    Gareth, I wouldn’t call you heavy-handed at all. Contrast is necessary and some scenes would call for a dominance of dark. Whether it’s dark or delicate you definitely capture the atmosphere. I’ve joined your website and already watched one of the five minute videos. I know my own work is going to improve by watching them.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Sandra … you are the second person to say I am not heavy handed … it’s nice to hear that. Watercolor is such a delicate medium that sometimes I wonder. I love to paint dark though lol. Thank you so much for joining my website. I will be contacting you and several others soon and my mission is to help you improve your paintings – and have some fun.

  16. Beverly Wong-Kleinjan 2 months ago

    Wow, you sure know your lighting! Beautiful work! Enjoyed your feature very much…thanks so much for sharing your story and artwork with us.

  17. Delores Azary 2 months ago

    Gareth, I really enjoyed seeing your paintings! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Beverly Dyer 2 months ago

    I really enjoyed seeing your work Gareth! Your capture of gestural and atmospheric movement inspires me.

    • Gareth Naylor 2 months ago

      Thank you Beverly. Yes, it’s all about creating atmosphere right.

  19. MMcBuck 2 months ago

    Thanks so much for your beautiful work and inspiration.

  20. SeemaMisra 2 months ago

    I enjoyed going through the paintings … so many moods of urban landscapes. Love the way you have captured light and shade.

  21. […] here is an article I wrote on Doodlewash about this project. I hope you like […]

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