Tips

The temperature of colours matters hugely in mixing, so a warmer orange mixed with cool blue will make a duller green, for example, than a cooler orange mixed with the same blue. Transparent Orange mixed with Ultramarine Blue makes a fab black as they are opposite colours but mix it with Prussian Blue and it makes a gorgeous foliage green. Letting the colours mix on the paper makes a different green from mixing them together in the palette and overlaying each colour as wet on dry glazes makes it different again. There is just so much variety in colour mixing it is somewhat mind blowing but also sooo exciting!

You have probably noticed, if you view my work, that I love painting the shapes made by black suits, especially in movement. First I love the silhouette they make, second I love the slight tonal difference seen in the black as different angles of fabric receive light more and less. Inspired by a wedding I went to recently (and the Royal Wedding in May) I began a series of brush and ink paintings, contrasting the formal shape of the suit with the more ephemeral nature of the dress fabric, they have become rather romantic and strangely uplifting so I wanted to share them with you. Painting happy subjects actually uplifts the spirits, you will find yourself smiling as you paint. Here, painting just with black ink, I only had to concern myself with shape and tone so my mind and emotions could completely engage with the subject matter and were likewise lifted on the wings of love.

 

As an artist our eyes are probably the tool we value the most in painting. The long summer days of an English summer are wonderful for working outside and also extremely good for eyesight: as you look up from a watercolour, and then back down to the paper, changing your focus from far to close and back to far, over and over during the making of the painting, the muscles that work the lens are being exercised. Although the lens of the eye hardens as we get older, by keeping the muscles that shape it honed and toned, you help maintain your vision. Painting outside is not only the best way to learn to paint from life but has the added bonus of maintaining your eyesight! Long may the summer last!

 

The March issue of The Artist Magazine shows the second part of my series on light and shade in watercolour, "Game of Tones", this time it is about translating the tonal values onto paper and I use several African wildlife paintings to illustrate my points. The designer has laid the article out beautifully and I noticed that the 3 images on the first spread also displayed the main elements of watercolour painting: the linear brushstrokes of the Kalahari springbok mother and kid show the efficacy of LINE, the silhouettes of the wildebeest against the dawn dust show the strength of SHAPE, and the rounded bodies of the ambling elephants demonstrate how loosely FORM can be suggested. All three illustrate COLOUR & TONE. It is fun to find a 'lesson' in your paintings, take a look at some of your favourite watercolours and decide which element of painting is illustrated predominantly - line, shape, form, colour or tone?

The March issue of The Artist Magazine shows the second part of my series on light and shade in watercolour, "Game of Tones", this time it is about translating the tonal values onto paper and I use several African wildlife paintings to illustrate my points. The designer has laid the article out beautifully and I noticed that the 3 images on the first spread also displayed the main elements of watercolour painting: the linear brushstrokes of the Kalahari springbok mother and kid show the efficacy of LINE, the silhouettes of the wildebeest against the dawn dust show the strength of SHAPE, and the rounded bodies of the ambling elephants demonstrate how loosely FORM can be suggested. All three illustrate COLOUR & TONE. It is fun to find a 'lesson' in your paintings, take a look at some of your favourite watercolours and decide which element of painting is illustrated predominantly - line, shape, form, colour or tone?

While I am writing the new book on Light&Shade in Watercolour (publication 2019) I am constantly reminded how much freshness in watercolour relies on laying confident brushstrokes and washes. The source of light is our white paper, transparency is paramount for the light to get through the films of colour, and to be reflected back, so the least number of layers is a given. We all know this, and yet even I still find myself adding that ‘extra touch’ supposedly to ‘improve’ the watercolour! Sometimes this is because I am enjoying the painting so much I just don’t want it to end or can’t let go, other times it is because I think a tonal value needs adjustment. The latter reason is of course justifiable, but if I take a before-and-after photo, without and with the additional brushmark, oftentimes, in the small format of a phone screen, I can barely see a visible difference, so was the adjustment necessary? Probably not. Seems to me watercolour is so magical that its appearance matters more than being tonally correct. Wow, what a medium, it must wish we would all stop sooner!

It may not be a white Christmas where I am but white is always an important part of watercolour painting! So If you are blessed with a White Christmas this is the one time when using masking fluid definitely comes into its own. I found it invaluable to preserve the lights and snow and Santa's details in these Christmas card illustrations commissioned by The Ritz Club several years ago. The naturally 'blobby' nature of the masked marks lend themselves perfectly to the shapes of settled snow, Santa's trim and beard and to the myriad sparkling lights.

A natural sponge is a marvellous, and perhaps essential, addition to a basic set of watercolour painting materials. It is ideal for creating mottled or speckled textures, for the patina of granite rocks, fine foliage, or multiple flowerheads. To use, moisten the sponge in water to soften it and squeeze the water out fully. Mix up plenty of creamy paint on the palette (and I mean plenty because the sponge is greedy), and then dab the sponge in the paint and onto the paper, turning the sponge as you go to avoid any repetitive patterning. Colours can be applied in several layers both wet-into-wet or wet-on-dry. But even more useful is that the soft rubbing motion of a natural sponge can be used to lift and remove patches of paint more quickly and effectively than with a brush. On thick paper you can actually rub quite vigorously, I have lifted staining colours to quite an extent by allowing the paper to dry thoroughly in between repeated rubbing, and as soon surface of the paper shows signs of scuffing, I stop! Use a stencil to protect areas you do not wish to erase.

 

When I am travelling, if the light is flat or overcast and I cannot see anything that really excites me to paint, I go in search of people on the street, figures in motion, relaxing on park benches, standing in queues. The shapes people make are always interesting and can be simplified into a few pertinent brushstrokes. Look for poses with gaps made between arms and torso or head, the triangular spaces between striding legs, or the classic ‘taking-picture’ poses and the ‘texting’ pose. Crowds are good too as the gaps between individuals change as they move apart and together. Wet streets are great for reflections and umbrellas and shopping bags are excellent accessories for the artist to paint!

I am often asked what actual kit I use to make my watercolours out and about: I carry one bag, over my left shoulder: a flap top-opening bag, so my other hand is free to get the paints out in seconds. Inside is a palette of pans and some extra tubes (5ml), several brushes in a thin case, sketchblocks/books x 2 (so I can keep painting while previous watercolour is drying), 2 x 500ml plastic water bottles, (one to drink, one for painting), 3 small transparent plastic pots for water and cotton rag or kitchen towel. 

Also in the bag are scarf, pencils, blade, eraser, often a camera, and always a plastic bag (to sit on if wet, or to put over the bag if raining). I carry no stool, no easel. My bag can be ready in seconds (I have used the same bag for over 30 years, and repair it often!).

My check, as I leave home/hotel/tent/car, is: "Do I have: Paint, Brushes, Paper, Water, Pots, Rag. " If I say yes, I can go! When I see something to paint I can set up really quickly so I catch the exact light that has inspired me. There always seems to be somewhere to sit or lean, and with so few materials I can even stand and balance one water pot on my palette. I take up little space! This is why watercolour is such an ideal painting medium, it is SO practical. 

 

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