Category Archives: Tutorials

Another Track to the Farm

Charcoal sketch of Norfolk barns
A charcoal planning sketch, to establish composition and tone before painting
Barns, Fields and Sky. A two colour palette using Ultramarine Blue and Brown Madder. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.
Barns, Fields and Sky. A two colour palette using Ultramarine Blue and Brown Madder. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.
If you find a good composition it can often serve well in many different ways. In my last post I showed a demonstration painting that I did at a watercolour workshop in Northwold. The composition was loosely based on a painting I found in one of my books about Rowland Hilder, and was called The Track to the Farm.

A few days later I was nearer home in the village of West Winch just outside King’s Lynn. I was demonstrating for the West Winch Art Group, known as the Wednesday Afternooners, as they meet on a Wednesday! I decided to reuse the Track to the Farm, but this time I gave it an entirely different treatment by changing the palette of colour from the cool Prussian Blue based hues at Northwold to a warmer French Ultramarine Blue based colour scheme. I also reduced the number of colours even more to give a very atmospheric feel. I used just one blue, French Ultramarine, and one red, Winsor & Newton’s Brown Madder. Brown Madder is one of the lesser know pigments, formulated these days from quinacridone. It is a warm, slightly purple red and only appears brown when used very strongly with little water. Diluted it is a soft pink which combines well with Ultramarine to give warm purple-greys.

Keeping to just two colours can give great atmosphere to a painting and it also makes you concentrate on tone, the light and dark values that are so important.

My thanks to all the Wednesday Afternooners for being a great group. Very attentive and asking lots of good questions. The only difficulty with demonstrating at West Winch is that the church hall, where the group meet, in on an incredibly busy main road, the A10, and getting out of the car park unscathed was a major job. But we made it!

Northwold watercolour workshop

Watercolour painting of Norfolk barns
The Track to the Farm – after Rowland Hilder. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a very pleasant afternoon in the village of Northwold, near the Norfolk and Suffolk border. I was running a workshop for Northwold Art Group and we had a theme of barns, fields and sky. You can see my painting here, which is loosely based on a composition from that master of 20th Century watercolour, Rowland Hilder.

A very limited palette of colours keeps a harmonious feel throughout the work. Prussian Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Raw Sienna were the main ones used.

The Northwold group were all lovely people and good painters so I really enjoyed the afternoon session. My thanks to group leader Patsy Hood for inviting me. See you again another time!

My watercolour demonstration at Brandon

I haven’t posted much on the blog lately because I seem to have been busy with other, non-arty, things. But earlier this week I was back in harness at Brandon Art Society, where I gave them an afternoon watercolour demonstration.

watercolour demonstration painting cley windmill 1
Don’t use a small brush like this . . .
watercolour demonstration cley windmill 2
. . . use a big one like this!

Thanks to Terry Kimpton for taking these photographs of me at the easel. The group were really nice people, with plenty of feedback, questions and comments, a pleasure to paint for. As you may be able to see from the photos, this was a ‘big brush’ painting of Cley Windmill, using just four colours. Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Yellow Pale.

Most of the painting was done with a 1 inch flat brush, a Pro Arte sable-synthetic mix, although I did drop down to a number 8 round for a few details near the end of the painting. Using a big brush like this is a great way of freeing up your work and keeping it nice and loose looking. The 1 inch flat is capable of quite detailed work if you use the corner of it or the sharp chisel edge. Why not get one and have a go, a cheap synthetic brush will be perfectly okay to start with and you may well find that you like it!

A Tuesday Watercolour

Every few weeks I run an afternoon watercolour group here at the studio, usually on a Tuesday. Obviously these groups had to take a break while we were travelling in Australia, but now they are back on track.

The first session of the year was yesterday afternoon, when we had some lovely sunshine on the studio. Not warm enough to work outside though! These session s are in “paint along with Steve” format, so I do a demonstration at the easel and the group paint along step by step. You can see my own painting here, the subject being a well known Norfolk landmark, Weybourne windmill. Weybourne is up on the North Norfolk coast, not far from Sheringham.

Watercolour painting of Weybourne Mill
Spring at Weybourne Mill. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough, 15ins x 11ins.

The key to any representational painting such as this can be summed up in one word – drawing. It doesn’t have to be absolutely accurate in terms of the exact size or shape of the objects, but what is so important is that nothing must look wrong. Another artist once said to me “don’t worry about everything being right, just make sure that nothing looks wrong”. Hopefully I managed to achieve this with the painting of the mill.

The actual painting itself is simple, with a limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Yellow Pale. The sky is a graduated wash of Ultramarine fading to Raw Sienna near the horizon. While it was still damp I lifted out some clouds with a scrunched up piece of paper towel, using a rolling motion.

If you would like to join me for one of these session just get in touch using the details on my Contact page. The next two will be on Tuesday 24th March and Tuesday 14th April. Early booking is essential as I can only take six participants per session. The cost is £20 per person.

An Evening at Horncastle

On Friday 6th March We drove up to Horncastle in Lincolnshire, where I was booked to do a watercolour demonstration for the Horncastle Art Group. And what a nice evening we had, with around thirty group members gathered around me at the easel while I painted and talked about the working methods of well known East Anglian artist Edward Seago.

Fishing Village Norfolk in the style of Edward Seago
Fishing Village Norfolk after Edward Seago. Watercolour 22ins x 15ins. on Arches 140lb rough.

There’s so much that can be learnt from studying the work of the masters, and Seago was certainly one of those. Although probably best known as an oil painter, he was a highly skilled in watercolour, with an amazing freshness and deceptive simplicity to his paintings. Somehow I managed to fit in two demonstration paintings during the evening and you can see them here. I obviously felt encouraged by my audience and by the subject, so I went at a fairly rapid pace!

The first painting of a Norfolk Fishing Village is very typical of many such scenes that Seago painted. A very limited palette of just two colours, French Ultramarine and Light Red, help the atmosphere, and the composition carries the eye effortlessly through the work.

Tree study in the style of Edward Seago
A Seago style tree painting. Watercolour 22ins x 15ins. Waterford 140lb rough.

The second painting, a simple study of a sky, some fields and a tree, is again very typical of many Seago Norfolk landscapes. It’s all about atmosphere and the use of tone to draw the eye to the focal point of the work, the large tree. Again the palette of colours was confined to Ultramarine and Light Red, with the addition of a little Cadmium Yellow Pale to make the greens.

Thanks to Peter Smith and all at Horncastle Art Group for making Margaret and me so welcome. We hope to see you again at some time in the future!

Playing with colours

At my recent exhibition in King’s Lynn Arts Centre, one visitor turned out to be an American watercolour artist, Greg Forde. We had an interesting chat, particularly about different manufacturer’s paints, and Greg kindly suggested that I might like to try some of the Daniel Smith colours that he has been using. For those of you not familiar with the brand, Daniel Smith watercolours are quite new to the UK, but are now stocked by several on-line art shops.

As a result of our chat, Greg came over to my studio yesterday and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours just playing with colours. For both of us it was a nice opportunity to just be in the studio, not feeling that we had to create “a painting” but just trying out different pigments. Great fun, all artists should spend some time just playing!

Greg has quite a collection of Daniel Smith watercolours, and a fair few Schmincke ones too (a well known German brand). I had a good try out of both, and found it fascinating the subtle differences between the same pigment from different manufacturers. There were also some new pigments to try, some with such exotic names as Tiger Eye (a rather disappointing muddy brown). There are around 240 different colours in the Daniel Smith range, so this was only a taster session.

Daniel Smith watercolour test painting
Playing with Colours. Daniel Smith watercolours on Arches 140lb HP paper. 14ins x 10ins.

Overall, I found the Daniel Smith range to be of excellent quality, with colours probably slightly more vibrant than traditional British manufacturers such as Winsor and Newton. Would I use them? Well, maybe a few colours – I particularly liked Indanthrone Blue, for example. Why not try them for yourself, you can get tester cards of the colours, where you get a “dot” of each pigment to try out. Several suppliers sell them, including Ken Bromley Art Supplies and the SAA. Have a look through the range on the Daniel Smith website too.

During my studio session with Greg, I produced this “playing with colours” landscape painting, which included Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue in the sky. I am very grateful to Greg for bringing his art-box over to the studio and just letting me loose with his paints. Thanks Greg!

Pen & Wash Demonstration

If you look back to my last post you’ll see that I recently ran an ink workshop at West Norfolk Arts Centre, Castle Rising. One of the participants on the course, Fay, very kindly sent me some photos of my demonstrations during the weekend, some of which you can see here.

I always appreciate it when people take photos or even video of my demonstrations, because I can’t, being at the coal face with brush in hand!

Pen & Wash Demonstration 1
Here you can see the inkwork before any colour goes on. I did this with a Faber-Castell Pitt pen, with a medium nib. The size of my paper is approximately 40 x 30 cms.

Pen & Wash Demonstration 2
I’m now applying the Rowney FW coloured inks, using plenty of water. You could do the same with traditional watercolour, but the inks give more vibrant colour.

Pen & Wash Demonstration 3
Nearly done, just a few more clouds. That’s a 3/4 inch flat brush that I’m using.

Pen & Wash Demonstration 4
Ta-da! A mount or mat round the work always helps.

January paintings

The year is already twenty days old, where does the time go? I have been busy here at the studio, working on a commission for a client which I’ll show you in another post. In between times, I’ve had visits from several artists who like to come here for tuition from time to time, so I thought I’d show you what we have been doing.

So, here are a couple of watercolours which I did as demonstrations for some students earlier this week.

Tree landscape in the style of Edward Seago
A sky and a tree, what more does the landscape artist need! This is in the style of the East Anglian master Edward Seago.
Buttermere painting
A view of Buttermere, in the style of William Heaton-Cooper, a well known Lake District artist of the 20th Century
You will see that they both use a very limited palette of colours, which I hope gives them a nice feeling of harmony and atmosphere. Never worry about making your colours too true to life, try and keep things simple because it makes for a more effective painting.

Both these works are based on paintings by well known artists of the 20th Century. You can learn a great deal from studying the masters, but you must never copy their work and pass it off as your own. Make sure that you add “after Edward Seago” or whoever to the title, so that everyone knows where the original composition came from.

Autumn Pen and Wash

The trees are turning and starting to show some nice autumn colours. Pottering in my studio the other day I was searching for painting inspiration and started flicking through my piles of photographs, when I came across one that I’d taken of Castle Rising church. The photo was snapped in early Spring, when the trees were still completely bare, but I thought that it might be nice to put some leaves on the trees and add a bit of autumn colour.

Autumn at Castle Rising church
Autumn at Castle Rising church. Pen and Wash 10ins x 12ins

You can see the result here. I did a sketch using a Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen, with black ink, and then applied some simple watercolour washes. I tried not to go too over-the-top with the autumn colours as, after all, this is Olde England not New England! Some purples made from Light Red and Ultramarine work quite well with the orange of Burnt Sienna. Greens were made from Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow Pale.

These pen and wash studies are quick to do and I always enjoy them. Ideally, I would love to be sitting there by the church with pen and brush in hand, but that isn’t always possible. Anyway, working from a photo gives you the opportunity to change things around and not just “paint it as it is”. Why not have a go at making an autumn scene yourself, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Painting a Rainbow

Well August has come and gone and I don’t seem to have posted anything on this blog for quite a while. Involvement with exhibitions, a few trips away, another (minor) operation on my right eye, they have all taken up time. And time is what we never seem to have enough of – to make artwork and post on blogs, among other things!

Anyway, enough of that. Here’s a tutorial about painting rainbows, which I hope might interest you. I currently have two rainbow paintings in the West Norfolk Artists Association’s Small Works exhibition, which continues until the 15th September in the Shakespeare Barn at King’s Lynn Arts Centre.

Ah yes a rainbow, that most elusive of atmospheric effects but so delightful when you see one glowing over the landscape. But how to paint it, and in watercolour too? In this short tutorial I’ll show you how I achieved what I hope is a convincing effect.

Photo of rainbow
I was just lucky to catch this lovely rainbow while on a walk near Snettisham

Firstly a few truths about rainbows as they generally appear. Forget all the old stereotypes of seven colours arching over the landscape. We usually only see partial rainbows and even if there is a complete arch it’s so huge that only a small portion of it is likely to appear in most compositions. Also, the red and yellow elements of the rainbow are usually the most prominent, with the other colours only hinted at. You can see all this in my photo which I took a couple of years ago on a walk near Snettisham, Norfolk.

Having established, by careful observation, what we actually need to achieve the next task it so set about rendering it in watercolour.

For a rainbow to appear convincing, it must seem to glow from within the sky and indeed even sometimes the land itself. That means it needs to be painted first and then the sky laid over the top. If you try to paint it in at a later stage in the painting – well it just doesn’t seem to work. Not for me anyway.

Rainbow painting stage one
The rainbow is painted in Daler-Rowney FW acrylic inks. Then it must be allowed to completely dry

It is possible to paint the rainbow first using traditional watercolour, but it requires a good piece of paper and a delicate touch with the brush to avoid disturbing it when you over-paint later. The “trick” is to use acrylic ink for the rainbow, which is vibrant in colour and waterproof when dry.

The first stage of my painting was to take a piece of Saunders Waterford 300lb paper, about 11 inches square. A NOT surface is probably best. I prepared small washes of Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic inks, using the colours Scarlet, Lemon Yellow and Process Cyan. I dampened the whole sheet with clean water and let it soak in. Using a number 4 sable hair brush I carefully painted the rainbow colours, wet into wet. I blended them by using a damp brush and some careful wiping with kitchen roll. It takes a bit of care for the colours not to spread out too much. You can help this by only having the paper just damp, not too wet. By blending the colours on the paper you can achieve red, orange, yellow, green and blue in your rainbow. A touch of Magenta mixed with blue made a violet for the last colour although it’s almost imperceptible.

Rainbow painting stage two
Stage two. The sky goes on over the top of the rainbow. Make sure you use transparent pigments so that the rainbow glows through

Eventually I was happy enough with my rainbow glowing there on a white sheet of paper. It takes a bit of practise to control this technique and I had several attempts, each on a fresh sheet, before I was satisfied. Don’t be afraid to use up paint and paper, it’s the only way to learn!

Now it has to be left to dry, preferably overnight, because for the ink to be waterproof the paper must be bone dry.

The next day I dampened the paper again. This time I prepared washes using conventional watercolour pigments. The sky is painted using a bluey-grey mixed from Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Burnt Sienna and a little Quinacridone Red. It sounds an unlikely combination but I like it because you can vary the colour so easily by adjusting the strength of the component pigments. Sometime the pigments separate a little as the wash dries and that makes the appearance more interesting. Also, these pigments are very transparent, which is essential for the rainbow technique.

Rainbow painting finished
The completed painting. After Rain – A Norfolk Field. 11ins x 11 ins

The sky is painted wet into wet, although I used a bit of blotting with kitchen roll to get some harder edged clouds. When it was dry I added the landscape below, using Raw Sienna and greens mixed from Phthalo Blue GS, Burnt Sienna and Lemon Yellow. The rainbow’s the thing, so keep the landscape simple.

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the sky in the Stage 2 photo is not the same as the finished work. I had two paintings on the go at the same time and forgot to photograph each stage of both of them, but the technique is exactly as described here. Have a go and make a few rainbows in your art!