Tips

It is the interaction of colours within a painting that makes it appear more colourful, not the number of different colours employed. Too many colours can in fact dull a painting - the mixing of pigments leads to dark browns, greys and blacks (as shown by earth and the oil below the surface) and consequently, mixtures employing too many pigments become dull. I aim to use three colours to make most of my paintings (versions of RYB), adding more only if I cannot reach the desired colour combination with three. The limited palette does not mean you cannot use several, or even many, colours in a painting, but in colour mixing a limit on the number of pigments helps protect the mixtures from becoming muddy and dull.

Shadows very much belong to the objects that cast them. Insofar as is possible they should be painted at the same time as the figure/table/chair/building that owns them, painted as an extension of the colour used for the shady side of the object, since it is from this side that the shadow extends. The proximity shadow, the area where object and shadow meet, is usually the darkest part. Often I wonder if the shadow owns the object rather than the other way around, as shadow areas act as an excellent link between objects and their patterns reinforce the abstract two dimensional composition of figurative painting.

The New Year is well underway but I am not one for New Year resolutions, in fact chasing change for change’s sake means less time consolidating that which is good. I am talking painting here, and talking particularly about colours: there are SO many lovely watercolour colours and it is SO tempting to keep adding more to one’s palette, but the end result does not necessarily make better paintings, in fact more often than not it creates confusion. We coax various reds, yellows and blues into stimulating and attractive patterns, encouraging them to ‘show us their true colours’, and then along comes a new turquoise and the lure is too tempting to resist! New colours ARE exciting in themselves, but fundamentally painting is all about combinations: red, yellow and blue and how they come together to make all the other colours. The pans and tubes you squeeze dry, are the colours you are using, their properties (temperature, transparency, opacity etc) are why you are using them, keep these characteristics in mind when a tempting hue seductively seeks to join your palette!

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.

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