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Daniell, Roger

Address: 61 Wharemauku Road, Raumati Beach

Roger Daniell enjoys painting scenes from New Zealand life.

He was president of the society from 1991–93 when it was the Wellington Society of Watercolour Artists.

He has contributed paintings to the Splash exhibition each year.

The Salt Marsh Meadow and Mont Saint Michel by Roger Daniell

Winner of the Watercolour New Zealand Supreme Award at Splash-2019

When I heard that another former president of Watercolour New Zealand, well-known painter Vivian Manthel-French, would also be in the UK in August, I suggested we undertake a joint painting expedition – and why not make it a few days in Brittany? A picturesque corner of France painted by Monet/Gaugin, not forgetting our own Sydney Thompson and Frances Hodgkins.

We stayed near St Malo at a delightfully idiosyncratic chambres d’hôtes, le Manoir de Blanche Roche, loved the walled granite port of St Malo with its ancient fort, colourful gardens, children’s carousel and vast cream-coloured beaches. As for those delicious Breton crêpes – we seemed to encounter yet another crêperie around every corner.

On our second day we drove half an hour into nearby Normandy to visit the fairy-tale offshore island of Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage Site. Having parked our car in one of the 4000 parking places (discreetly hidden by 40,000 strategically planted trees!) we started our trek along the access road. Within minutes we had our first sighting of the Mount, still a good mile away, beyond a typical Normandy farm homestead with its grey roof and dormer windows. A truly jaw-dropping sight. Delighted, we scrambled over a stop-bank into a meadow that Monet
would have loved: burnt-gold, laced with the white flower-heads of wild chervil (chevreuil sauvage cow-parsley/Queen Anne’s lace). These first impressions were recorded with vigorous chalk pastels for colours, a fun if messy business, backed up by a photo on my iPad. When closer to the foot of the Mount, I used pen and ink to familiarise myself with the detail.

The final watercolour was completed in my home studio, with the preliminary sketches in pastel and pen for reference along with the iPad screen. I needed to do full justice to a powerful image, so chose a full sheet of Arches 640gsm rough along with my usual W&N watercolours.

Brush – a no. 12 sable with a rigger for detail. For composition I made use of the grassed-over ditch alongside the stop bank to lead the eye into the middle distance. This ended up well to the left but I was able to balance this with a left-to-right cloud movement. (Brittany receives westerlies straight off the Atlantic, just like we do from the Tasman Sea.) I liked the way this framed the trees, farm buildings and beyond, the Mount, as if arranged along the shaft of an arrow. I particularly enjoyed recording those coastal trees – they could only be French and a change from our macrocarpas and pines! The original pastel, eventually discarded, helped me remember the colour and energy of the wild plants in the meadow, and I planned in advance to indicate the white heads of the cow-parsley by resorting to masking fluid – not something I use very often.

As for framing, I asked expert Warren Ixer of Waikanae to follow a technique used by the late John Drawbridge: “floating” the paper so that the natural edge showed, with an internal fillet frame and mat to keep the glass clear of the paper. Expensive but I wanted to give the painting more “presence” and for good measure Warren suggested I use 70% UV glass to reduce fading and increase clarity.

Footnote: the French love the flavour of lamb raised on these salt marshes, or so we were told. We didn’t see a single sheep! Perhaps the flavour comes from the chervil, which, after all, is an essential component of “aux fines herbes”. And of course, those discerning French also claim to savour the hint of thyme that they detect in lamb raised on the tough hills ofProvence.

Roger Daniell