Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Pure Watercolour Society Exhibition

    This weekend I had a very pleasant sojourn in the Cotswolds, invited to join in the exhibition of the Pure Watercolour Society at the Windrush Gallery situated in the delightful village of Windrush, just west of Burford. This was formerly the studio and home of James Fletcher-Watson who was passionate about traditional watercolour painting, and became the first President of the PWS in 1999. This exhibition marks James' centenary and includes a great many of his original paintings.

    The picture shows members of the PWS hard at work in a Cotswold farmyard. We were sketching the lovely old buildings, but what caught my eye was the wonderful collection of decaying rubbish hidden behind a barn: don't ignore those rusting old drums and bits of machinery half-hidden in the weeds. There was even an old anvil lying in the midst of it all. These little features can add so much to a painting.

    As well as James' paintings the artists represented include David Curtis, Trevor Chamberlain, David Howell, Winston Oh, Tony Taylor, Peter Cronin, Andrew Hucklesby, John Yardley, Philip L Hobbs and Ian Piper. The exhibition continues until 28th May and is open 11 am to 5 pm daily. Tel: 01451 844425 The exhibition launches a new book commemorating James' work, and in which several of us were privileged to include an example of our work. Try to get along and see the exhibition if you can, as it contains a wonderful variety of styles by a number of watercolour masters.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

And now for something different

    Now and then we get into one of those dreadful artistic ruts that leave us rudderless for periods, not quite knowing which direction to take, and finding little inspiration in anything. One great way of snapping out of these doldrums is to try a different medium, perhaps only slightly different, but enough to spur you on to greener pastures. Derwent are always bringing out exciting new ideas, and many of them are related to watercolour, which has the advantage of taking us into new areas of working, but ones which can also give our watercolours a new lift.

    I've just been trying out the new Derwent XL Graphite blocks - a set of six chunky watersoluble blocks, and as you can see in the picture on the left, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between these and watercolour. I began by laying olive green across the foliage areas, blending it in with a finger and then washing over it with a number 10 round brush with clean water. I had already laid more olive green on a piece of scrap paper and picked up a quite strong mix of this with a fine number 2 brush, drawing the tree trunks and branches into the wet wash, wet-in-wet style. Quickly I then applied more olive green strongly into the upper parts and directly with the block. Going on to a wet surface it produced a deeper tone which I then worked into with a brush to suggest the loose leaves and some of the ground cover. The paper was still wet enough for me to work in a soft grey colour with the number 10 brush to suggest the more distant rocks. I then drew burnt umber in with the block for the darker rocks, softening it off in places with a brush before completing the work with blue over the foreground. including a touch of green reflections here and there.

   Derwent have also come up with a really useful sprinkler tool - a small grid across which you rasp the XL Graphite block to create a spatter effect. I did this on a different composition, and the technique works deliciously when dropped onto a wet surface as here where I'm suggesting a bush. The branches were created with a fine rigger, picking up colour directly off the burnt umber block.

    These blocks can be used for many purposes, apart from creating paintings by themselves. They can be combined with normal watercolour, can be used to rescue a wayward watercolour, and are great for doing quick studio sketches in planning out a larger painting. Give them a try, they really are tremendous fun, and if you wish can be readily combined with the Graphitint pencils. The only problem I have now is that Jenny has just seen my work and has run off with my XL blocks........

Friday, 3 May 2013

Painting foliage in summer

    I recently ran a course in the Welsh lake district - the Elan Valley reservoirs, where there are many marvellous subjects to paint, including glorious river scenery. With this rather cold spring weather it was important to find locations where students could work out of doors in reasonable comfort, and as there are many sheltered spots in the Elan Valley area we were able to work quite happily.
The picture shows a part of a watercolour of the River Elan which I did a few years ago on site. It's a fairly rough watercolour, as I painted it while standing the middle of the river, using an easel. This was the optimum spot, and as it was painted to support the John Muir Trust, the Scottish-based charity that fights for the wild land of Britain, a photographer came along to record the event. Alas, after taking a few shots he fell into the river, but his camera was OK and all he got was a bit of a wetting.

Although it was mid-summer, I haven't used many greens in the painting, much of the foliage achieved with a deliberately dull blue-grey, created by mixing French ultramarine and yellow ochre, a rather opaque colour. This dullness helps to accentuate the bright yellow tree. With foliage, edges get lost easily, as they run into one another, and you can see how I've introduced light edges of foliage by painting the darker washes around the edge. It pays to look at the scene through half-closed eyes as this will eliminate much detail and allow you to pick out the more important aspects of the scene, both in terms of tone and detail. Please don't try jumping into rivers to get your paintings done - not only can it be costly in lost equipment, but it can also be rather dangerous in the wrong place!