After my attempts at atmospheric painting based on the wonderful work of Maurice Sapiro, I thought I would take a look at some of JMW Turner’s paintings. When I see Turner’s and Sapiro’s works, I don’t think of them as paintings, but rather am transported to a state of mind imparted by the subtle combinations of colors.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed the Great Western Railroad really caught my eye. I don’t like to post works of others on my page, so please go to the link and look at this painting. The title ties in two visible attributes of the literal atmosphere: rain and steam, and uses the locomotive as the symbol for speed.

What struck me first about the painting was the sky. There were puffs of working clouds, clouds that were spilling their contents. Reddish blue was showing through, and yellowish tufts crowned their tops. The foreground consists of a river and two bridges. Sunlight is beaming through the near trestle on which the train is speeding. The far bridge could also be a trestle, but there is no evidence of a train. The middle section of the foreground contains the river. Having not seen the original painting in person, I am certain there is much I am missing. But it appears that there are some golden trees near the trestle, and the shore line runs to the other bridge.

Here is my attempt:

Watercolor: copy of Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed

Rain, Steam and Speed, After Turner… Way After
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I started with a turquoise for the sky, but realized that ultramarine has the reddish hue that I was seeking. Although I wet the upper half of the paper, I did not wash the color in, but rather used brush strokes where I saw blue in the original in the corresponding area on my paper. I used a color called buff titanium to form the shape of the clouds, and used a sponge to dab in some burnt sienna. (Later I reworked it with a bit of Indian yellow and raw sienna, as I recall.)

For the lower half of the frame I mostly used the earth colors: warm sepia, burn umber, burnt sienna. I am used to washing and letting the watercolors flow, but I found myself actually using a brush as it was intended – to make brushstrokes. I found this particularly useful on the train trestle. Carefully looking at the original image, I could see how Turner achieved the impression of rain. The fabric of the bridge became one with this weather.

Initially, my clouded sky did not come down to the horizon, where it should have been mixed with the steam, as in Turner’s painting. I re-adjusted this by removing some of the blue with my elephant ear sponge and stroking the area with a sponge loaded with buff titanium.

The river was difficult to paint. I could get the approximate the splotches of paint in the appropriate area, but without knowing what I was painting, I didn’t understand what I was doing. I ended up glazing this area with lemon yellow to unify the forms that I painted in.


Actually, I was fairly happy with this study until I took it outside to photograph. It was so disappointing to see it in the light of day. Perhaps the warmish inside light made it look better.  There are several things I am unhappy with. The sky is one of them; I overworked the clouds and the blue should have been more muted. I should have done more brushwork on the sky.  Another failed part of this composition is the middle foreground, where the river is indistinct. However I do like the bridge.

I think I will have to work out the best way to use watercolors as watercolors to achieve an atmospheric mood similar to the work of Turner and Sapiro.

2 thoughts on “Copy

  1. I didn’t know that meaning of trestle before – the only context I knew it in previously was trestle table (a rather flimsy affair). I had to look it up. Thank you 🙂 I enjoyed your reflections on process, as ever…


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