Posts Tagged ‘watercolour boot camp’

Watercolour Boot Camp at DVSA!

07/05/2019

The watercolour world is a very diverse one. Many watercolour teachers impart their personal ‘style’ and not necessarily the basics of the medium. Even those who teach beginners go about it in vastly different manners. Some use exercises out of how-to books. Some base their lessons on play and craft; using salt, saran wrap and credit cards. Is there a right or wrong way? Individual adult students may well respond to one approach with more enthusiasm and understanding than another. Is there a satisfying balance to strike? How much can a beginner learn in 20-30 hours?

I’ve always tried, as best I can, to teach the fundamentals of painting in watercolour. Over the years, I’ve taught a lot of dedicated beginner classes but almost all of my classes now are designed for the intermediate or more advanced student. Recently, I had an urge to return to the basics from my teaching point of view. I proposed a one-day workshop at the Dundas Valley School of Art and I was pleased that if filled up quickly. Last Thursday was the big day!

The workshop was designed for those with prior watercolour experience who hadn’t painted for a while and also students who felt they needed more training in the fundamentals. I promised a series of exercises based on the key traditional watercolour techniques which include brush-handling, mixing and applying even and graded washes, creating soft edges and more. Have you ever watched an entertaining watercolour demonstration video, tried to do it yourself and realized that a lot of very basic elements weren’t discussed. Why did you keep getting blossoms? Why did you have so much trouble mixing darks? Why did everything run together (but not in a good way)? What is perfectly obvious to the experienced artist/teacher is often neglected when delivering a lesson or demonstration.

I attempted to address those little things that can make a big difference. It won’t be possible to describe everything in this post but I’ll give you an overview of our day.

We started with a discussion about materials and mechanics. I had requested absorbent, cold press watercolour in the material list such as Arches or an equivalent. Not Canson or Strathmore. The paper had to be suitable for the techniques I’d be presenting. Mechanics is the term we use to describe how we organize our tools and materials and work space. I’m right-handed and my palette and water container and paper towel are on my right side. I can’t imagine having my water to my left, reaching and possibly dripping all over my painting as I go back and forth from the container to my palette. I see students do it, though. I see students who’ve formed a lot of bad habits and it holds them back.

Finally, we applied paint to paper. Our first goal was to create an even wash without streaks or blossoms and it takes practice and thought. Watercolour is a thinking medium that does not reward dabbling. It’s also much more physical than folks realize. How do those tiny grains of pigment and binder behave when mixed with water and touched to paper?

We practiced and kept it simple. On the first sheet, I also discussed  mixing greys and blacks with only primary colours. I don’t have grey or black in my palette. I mix them. As a matter of fact, we stuck to our primaries for most of the day and it’s the best way to learn about colour and the potential of your palette. I use Da Vinci paints and my primaries are Aureolin (Mixture), Rose Madder Quinacridone and Cobalt Blue. I also discussed brush-handling and lifting excess paint with a ‘thirsty’ brush. I pointed out a few ‘what not to dos’, as well.

Our next exercise involved creating a small painting based on my diagram and on even washes. The colour theme was cools and warms. We tried to paint even, unvaried washes in each shape and one shape wasn’t supposed to run into another. Kind of like a colouring book or stained glass window.

A real building block technique of watercolour painting is the soft edge that is created when wet touches wet. Wet in wet painting is often taught on a grand scale. The entire sheet is soaked first and colour is added into the water. I don’t start beginners off with that. We worked on a small scale and ‘injected’ darker colours and values into lighter areas, while wet. Again, it takes planning, practice and, very important, timing! The students made swatches on one side of their sheet and worked on a small image, based on rectangles, on the other side. They attempted a wet in wet, soft edge transition in each rectangle without letting the rectangles run into each other. Patience!

Later in the afternoon, I talked about mixing whites. I don’t have white, an opaque colour, in my palette. I use the white of the paper and very light tints on it to create cool and warm whites and off-whites.

Many aspiring watercolour painters hope to work ‘en plein air’ one day. With that in mind, I also discussed greens and how to mix a variety of greens starting with primary blue and yellow. It’s easy to start with a green right out of the tube like Pthalo but it’s important to know how to vary your greens. I have Pthalo Green in my palette and generally use it to add intensity to greens I’ve created from yellow and blue.

It was a long day and everyone applied themselves with energy and thoughtfulness. There was a nice buzz in the studio as we wrapped up, which was gratifying, and the feedback was good. Still, there were several things I didn’t touch on. We ran out of time and didn’t deal with graded washes over a larger area. Maybe, this fall I’ll have to offer a part two?

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