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Painting 1: Watercolour by Stephen Taylor
Front cover: Views from Bowling Green, St Ives, 2000 by James Cowan. This course has been written by Stephen Taylor who is an OCA tutor. He studied Fine Art at the University of Leeds and did postgraduate work at Essex University. He is now a painter. He wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the many OCA tutors who have provided him with ideas and images. He says: ‘I would particularly like to thank: James Cowan, whose ideas and help are present in many parts of the book; Ian Simpson, who wrote much of the introduction to the course and whose own course texts acted as the model for much of what you see here; and David Davies without whose patience, good humour and experience as an editor this text might not have been written.’ Other OCA tutors who gave special help were: Pam Scott Wilkie, Jacqueline Watt, John Cartmel Crossley, Liz Elmhirst, Derrick Preston, Colin Allbrook, Liz Douglas, Alison Dunlop, Pam Simpson, Alan Saunders, Charles Hickson. James Willis contributed projects 7 and 8. The copyright of all pictures in this course remains with the artists or museums.
Views from Bowling Green, St Ives, 2000 (the three layers)
The picture by James Cowan on the front cover was created from the three watercolour paintings below. These were digitally scanned then each layer was manipulated independently and merged by computer to create the final picture. This picture can be run off as a print and at any size and on any paper. James has also based an oil painting on the merged layers.
Learning to paint You and your course
Histories of watercolour painting Uses of watercolour Characteristics of watercolour Basic materials required for watercolour painting Keeping sketchbooks Keeping a logbook Reading and books for the course Extending course projects Practicalities On completing the course
Aims and structure of the course
Course aims Course structure
Notes for students tutored by post
Assignments and tutorial reports A working pattern Student profile Your assignments
Project and tutorial plan
Making a start
Project 1: seeing what the paint can do Part 1: simple shapes – fish and leaves Part 2: happy accidents Part 3: options Part 4: washes Part 5: reserved shapes What have you achieved in project 1? Project 2: drawing and sketchbooks Part 1: drawing and watercolour Part 2: starting a sketchbook What have you achieved in project 2? The logbook and theoretical studies
Project 3: pictures in light, middle and dark tones Part 1: tones from a single layer Part 2: tones in several layers Part 3: lights and darks in a room of one’s own What have you achieved in project 3? Project 4: tone and composition Part 1: dramatic rooms Part 2: imaginary rooms Part 3: wet skies Part 4: imaginary skies What have you achieved in project 4? Theoretical studies Assignment 1
Looking at colour
An introduction to colour Project 5: some possibilities of colour Part 1: still life with colourful objects Part 2: colour with greys and browns
What have you achieved in project 5? Project 6: colour harmonies and colour invention Part 1: a green scene Part 2: six little pictures What have you achieved in project 6? Theoretical studies Project 7: buildings in a landscape Part 1: preparation Part 2: planning Part 3: painting What have you achieved in project 7? Assignment 2 Project 8: a portrait What have you achieved in project 8? Assignment 3
Working on the spot and from studies
Project 9: finishing on the spot What have you achieved in project 9? Project 10: using a diversity of source materials What have you achieved in project 10? Theoretical studies Assignment 4
Widening your options
Project 11: mixing media Part 1: coloured paper and opaque paint Part 2: altogether now What have you achieved in project 11? Project 12: watercolour and collage Part 1: papers and paint on paper Part 2: mixing views and mixing materials What have you achieved in project 12? Theoretical studies
Themes and series
Project 13: your own show What have you achieved in project 13? Theoretical studies and your logbook Assignment 5
Appendix 1: How paint works Appendix 2: Preparing paper Appendix 3: If you plan to submit your work for formal assessment
Project 2: drawing and sketchbooks
[16 hours] Part 1: drawing and watercolour pencil–inks–ink, pencil and paint Part 2: starting a sketchbook a series of studies Materials you will need for this project • • • • • • your usual paints and brushes an HB pencil your A4 sketchbook some black waterproof ink a nib pen with a medium standard nib a waterproof pen (there are many brands available and you can start with any of them).
Part 1: drawing and watercolour
[5 hours] We described earlier how English watercolour is said to have moved from tinted drawings in the eighteenth century to the ‘pure’ watercolour technique of Cotman and Turner at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The idea that Cotman's mature style is ‘pure’ depends not only on the fact that he used transparent washes with little or no body colour; it also implies a minimum of drawing in either pencil or ink; these play no visible role in the finished work. Some authors have made comparisons between this early nineteenth century English style and that of some traditional Chinese and Japanese watercolour, regarding their purity of means as an ideal in itself.
Of course pictures made with simple transparent paint alone can have a peculiar beauty. There are wonderful works made this way in many traditions, and watercolour is often used like this by modern artists. However drawing, or more generally line, can also play an active and visible role. Lines of all sorts can be vital to the success of a picture. For example look at p 81, 93, 121 & 168 of Reynolds. Rowlandson (p 81) used ink and watercolour lines throughout; looking at the stair handrail you could almost say the subject of the painting is a line. On the other hand, Bonington (p 93) carefully integrated coloured watercolour lines within coloured areas to bring out their shape and texture; notice the scratched lines probably done with a brush handle in the lower left-hand corner. Thick broken lines are used as part of an imaginative mixed technique in Samuel Palmer’s painting (p 121). And a similar equality of effect of line and colour can be seen in John Marin's cityscape (p 168). The illustrations in this course book provide other examples. In your own painting, be prepared to use drawing in any way you like to get the effect you want. It is only by experimenting that you can discover the potential of drawing for yourself.
Pencil [2 – 3 hours drawing and painting]
You may have already used pencil drawing as a guideline. In this exercise you consider two different approaches to painting over pencil drawing used as a ‘guide’. You need an A4 sketchbook, an HB pencil and your usual paints, brushes and water. 1: Simple solid objects Look around where you live for two pieces of
furniture next to or overlapping each other: a chair and a table perhaps, or a cupboard and an open door. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you have simple shapes and perhaps a bit of wall and floor. You will be using your objects for several sketches. The next two sketches show how little detail you need. On half a page of your sketchbook make a light outline drawing of the basic shapes of your objects. Keep it simple. If you haven’t done much drawing
before, don’t worry about ‘not being able to draw’. What matters is just to bring out the general shape. Don’t worry too much about getting the perspective precisely right either. Draw lightly and use a rubber if you wish. On the other half of the same page, make a second drawing of the same or very similar objects. When you have finished you should have two little groups of objects. Choose a colour. Then, with a small sable or similar brush, paint two pictures. Fill in one of your drawings slowly, carefully trying to work up to the outlines you have drawn. Take your time. Let each layer dry before you add the next. Use one colour to bring out the shape of one object and use a different colourdarker or lighter-for the other object. Try a third colour for the background. When you have finished you should have a small picture. Even if the detail of your objects is not ‘exact’ the overall shapes should be clearly described and reinforced by the painting. The next painting was done this way.
Paint over the second sketch very quickly, not bothering to fit paint carefully into the pencil outlines. Work as fast as you can. You should find that you can make a reasonable impression of the objects together, even though the paint is not fitted neatly to the lines you have drawn. As before indicate some colour differences. The next painting was done in this way.
When you have finished, compare your results. Under a heading of ‘Drawing and Watercolour’, make very brief notes in your notebook and include answers to the following questions: • The first more precise method of fitting wash into pencil outlines can be very useful for some subjects. What did it help to bring out in your drawing? Is the pencil concealed by your paint, or does it act as an accent to your painting? (Either can happen.) • In the second, looser approach, how would you describe the role of the pencil lines. Is there a sense in which the separateness of the pencil is of interest in itself? Would this effect be stronger if you had darker pencil marks? Two examples of paintings with visible drawing can be seen on p 139 and 175 of Reynolds. (We will be looking at combined effects of line and paint later in 1: Making a start.) 2: Complicated objects and textures Simple shapes are relatively easy to
follow with a brush. But of course many things you may want to paint will not be simple, for example, trees, crumpled textiles, effects of water. Sometimes it can help to draw such things beforehand, and sometimes drawing can get in the way; it can literally cramp your style. Finding the right approach is inevitably a matter of experiment and experience. However you can quickly get an idea of the issue by making two very different kinds of painting based on two different sorts of drawing. Find some objects with complex surfaces, like a pile of clothes or some bushy pot plants.
In your A4 sketchbook, quickly make a very rough sketch of the things you have chosen. The faster and rougher the better. Allow yourself 30 seconds– really! Put the drawing to one side. On a second page try a more detailed drawing of the same subject. Try to fill well over half the page. As before, if you are not used to drawing don’t worry about perfect accuracy. The point this time is to accumulate lots of little details. Once again, don’t worry about perspective. Allow yourself five to ten minutes at least. Now choose a single colour and varying the tone as you wish by appropriate dilution of the paint, carefully paint over your second detailed drawing using a sable brush. Try to be as precise as possible. After fifteen minutes or so stop painting and put it to one side. It doesn’t matter if you have not covered the entire drawing. Now turn to your first rapid sketch. Using the same colour use your sketch as a starting point to paint in the main elements of your object. Stop when you feel you have done enough to show the sort of texture or arrangement your subject makes. This should take no more than a few minutes. Look at the two pictures side by side and make brief notes in your notebook: • Did the detailed pencil drawing help you paint each object satisfactorily, or
did you feel you might sometimes produce better results by not following the drawn details so precisely? • • What are the advantages of the more careful method? What are the advantages of the quick method?
Inks [2 hours drawing and painting]
Pencil is sometimes a visible element in watercolour, but ink is almost always visible. If you haven’t done so already, look through Reynolds and this course book for paintings with very visible inked lines, or strong lines added in
watercolour. In this exercise we will experiment with some of the many ways to use inks. 1: Painting over ink scrap paper. On an A4 page in your sketchbook draw one or two simplified pieces of furniture, like the ones you drew earlier in this project. If necessary, do your drawing in pencil first, correcting using a rubber, and then ink over your drawing. When the ink is dry freely paint over it to bring out the shapes. Use two or three colours if you like. Because ink creates such a strong impression you can use even quite dark paint very loosely without destroying the effect of the drawing beneath. If you wish, you can make very strong edges by making a change of tone or colour fall exactly along an ink line. Work quickly and see what kind of picture you can make. When you have done your ink drawings, it is a good idea to investigate using a brush to apply ink both undiluted and diluted with water to some areas of your drawing. Then in a moment you will be able to see what happens when you paint over an ink wash. • • How does your picture compare with your pencil-based drawings? Does the watercolour change the colour of the ink in any way? Inks can be used to strengthen or ‘accent’ a painting, as Take a pen and black waterproof ink or a waterproof pen. If you have never used inks before, practise for a minute or two on some
shown in the picture below.
A painting strengthened with ink by OCA tutor Liz Elmhirst
Draw a simple group of objects in pencil as before. Use watercolour to make a little picture with at least two or three colours. As the paint is drying draw some ink lines in one or two areas of your picture to strengthen shapes. As the paint is not completely dry this will probably produce a bleeding of ink into watercolour. Don’t worry about this, this is part of the investigation. When the picture is completely dry strengthen the shapes further with more ink lines. You now have two types of ink strengthening: ink-on-wet and inkon-dry.
Ink, pencil and paint together [2 hours drawing and painting]
Finally, in pencil on a fresh page in your A4 sketchbook or, if you prefer, A3 pad, draw an interior scene based on a view you can see in your home that has several larger objects in it. Include simple and quite complicated shapes, but don’t worry too much about perspective or quantities of detail; once again it is a general impression you're after. Fill the whole page. You are going to try out a range of methods.
When you have got something that looks reasonably like the room, ink in some lines. You may pick out a single object, or a series of patterns, anything you like. But don’t go over the whole picture with ink; leave areas to be developed in other ways. Next, using as many or as few colours as you like, paint in some of your scene. If the colours run into one another it doesn’t matter. You can always strengthen areas with ink or colour later on. Start to take the whole scene into account. Perhaps you can strengthen those areas where there is no ink as yet. Do you want to create some reserved shapes? If so, plan ahead and either paint round the area or use masking fluid to be removed later. If you put too much colour down, lift some off with a dry paper towel. If the paint is dry, lift it off with a damp paper towel. If you do lift off colour notice how tenacious the ink is. To create certain effects some artists put a part or even the whole of their picture under running water. If the painting has inks these will resist even this kind of treatment, allowing the picture to be worked on almost indefinitely. Let your picture dry and consider how best to go forward. You are using this picture to try out what you have learnt so far. You are also using ink and colour, so your picture is likely to be quite strong and colourful. Feel free to use any method you like, just to see what happens. Do you need more ink in some areas? Or what about Conté crayons or any other kind of drawing material that you have? If you feel you need more paint add that too. Keep going until the whole page is full. When you have done as much as you can, let the picture dry and consider your results.
Look back at the earlier exercises in this project to remind yourself of the different methods you have tried. Then make brief notes in your notebook on the following points: • Some of your work may look good because the layers have worked well together. Which parts of your pictures best show this kind of coordination at work? • How much dark ink line is concealed in your last painting? Could you have predicted which areas of ink would show most clearly and which would eventually be concealed at the start of the picture? • Some parts of your work may look a bit overloaded. Specify two areas and say how you think you might avoid this if you painted a similar picture a second time. • These last exercises were experiments with mixed media. Look through the illustrations in this book and jot down two examples of work that show mixed media techniques; we will return to mixed media in 5: Widening your options.
Part 2: starting a sketchbook
[10 hours] On p 132 of Reynolds is a page reproduced from a sketchbook used by Eugène Delacroix in Morocco in 1832. Delacroix was 34 at the time. He was a sophisticated metropolitan who had lived in Paris for most of his life, with a independent and modern approach to art. Like Turner and other North European artists Delacroix’s visit to a Mediterranean country provided him with ideas which inspired his work for many years afterwards. Delacroix chose Morocco partly because of an interest in Oriental culture common in nineteenth-century Europe. Like many contemporaries he expected to find a land of extremes, an ancient theatre of the passions of the kind imagined in the epics of Byron. He quickly realised, partly through his sketchbook recording, that the daily life of Arab society in North Africa bore little resemblance to the Arab world of fashionable Parisian imagination.
Delacroix had drawn and painted from life for many years. Using sketchbooks to record and respond to things had become a natural thing for him to do. By doing this he not only helped himself to change his vision of North Africa, he also made a source book for future work back in Paris. You can see that Delacroix worked at speed, catching colours and basic relationships with both pen and ink and watercolour. He also added notes and reactions. He collected objects as well as pictures. He took back with him a range of clothes, weapons and everyday items to remind him of what he had seen and to use as elements in his pictures. If you also consider that he wrote many letters about his journey and, when at home, kept a regular journal, you can see that Delacroix's activity as an artist was many-sided-he would use any source available that would develop his art. (Later in his career Delacroix kept a photograph album which he used as a direct source for painting. In 1850 he published an essay on photography and painting.) The following pictures are examples from more recent sketchbooks. The first three are pages from the sketchbooks of Nelson Rands; the last one is from the sketchbook of Nick Jones.
Collecting and sketching today
Collecting material for your art is as important as ever. And there are so many new sources to use. I will look at how you can use some of these sources later.
(Photography, for example, is introduced in 4: Working on the spot and from studies.) I want you to start this process now by beginning to use your sketchbooks on a regular basis, if you don’t already. Think of your sketchbooks as part of a wider activity of collecting and exploration. Collect all kinds of material; anything that will help your development as an artist. Often it is just a hunch that sends an artist off in a new direction; it can be a sound or a memory, just as well as a view or an object. And it can take any number of steps for an initial idea to evolve into a finished work. For example, the British pop artist Peter Blake recently described making an early collage of his, called ‘On The Balcony’: ‘I painted a group of children sitting on a bench surrounded by and holding all the versions I could put together of ‘on the balcony’ so there is the Manet, and there were photographs, there was a Picture Post cover of the royal family on the balcony, and I just collected everything I could on the subject... [this] would have been 1955 [and] I then worked on it again in 1957.’ (Interview in Modern Painters, Summer 2000) Just before this collage he had painted two pictures of children reading comics. These paintings were based on a childhood memory, perhaps sparked off by something he had seen more recently, but the collage came out of these pictures. Once he had started, the new work accumulated through a process of collecting, assembly, reflection and painting again. This sequence of events is typical and shows the very open approach of the artist to his material. He obviously has an intention, but he lets new things happen all the time. And, for him, collecting things is an important part of this process. The great thing for any artist is to keep an open mind. Actively look for new things-on a daily basis if you possibly can.
Looking around you
Some people undervalue sketchbook work because they feel they don’t see that many things ‘that would make a picture’. There is a prejudice against drawing and painting things on the grounds of a pre-existing idea of what paintings ‘should’ be. No wonder they have empty sketchbooks! A more creative attitude is to be open to new observations which, almost by definition, cannot be ‘seen as a picture’ in the first place. The exercises which follow help you kick-start an open sketchbook approach.
A series of studies
Over a period of at least a week make a series of paintings in your A4 sketchbook of some uninteresting things. Make at least five studies. Ideally you should work in your sketchbook every day for fifteen minutes to half an hour if you have the time. Work anywhere you like but try to choose at least two quite different locations. (There is advice in 4: Working on the spot and from studies which you could look at now if you choose to work out-of-doors.) Here are some suggestions for subjects. Of course if you can think of less interesting things, do those instead. • • • • • • • • a plug in a socket inside a wastepaper bin broken crockery the exhaust pipe of a car garages behind the shed the underneath of a phone somebody else's holiday photograph • • • • • • • a sticking plaster a cardboard box a bus shelter a bit of packaging the pavement an electricity bill a door handle
Use any methods you like but try to combine watercolour with pen and ink in some of your studies. This is an opportunity just to try things out.
Do not make perfect detailed drawings, but try to make informative ones. The aim is to observe and provide yourself with information; this means that notes might be almost as valuable as what you draw and paint. Add detail where you feel it is important to the character of what you see, not as an end in itself. Correct or change anything, at any point. See if you can supplement some of your studies with additional information: perhaps a photo, or even a bit of the object itself if this is practical. Stick this information next to your study. Try painting from one of your photos if you like. There is no fixed format for a useful sketchbook. Remember your sketchbooks should represent you. This project is just a way to help you start out without preconceptions. Later in the course you will need personal work to refer to all the time. Now is a good time to re-read what we said about sketchbooks in You and your course. Your sketchbooks should be a kind of ‘visual diary’. As they develop they should show your interests, your obsessions, your discoveries...
This is a sample from Painting 1: Watercolour. The full course contains 12 Projects and 5 tutor-assessed Assignments.
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