St Michael’s Mount in watercolour by Frank Walters 18 September 2021


The demonstration was conducted via Zoom, because of Covid-19 restrictions. It was attended by 19 members and guests. Here are the reference photographs used:

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Frank told us he would be working on Saunders Cold Press watercolour paper weight 140 lbs. Because of the weight of the paper he had not stretched it, merely taped it to the board with masking tape. He announced he would be using fat brushes; tiny brushes make tiny marks. Rembrandt paints would be used, squeezed out into a tin. His colours were:

Sky colours Indigo, French Ultramarine, Cerulean
Earth Colours Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Sepia
Green Olive Green, always mix into it
Cadmiums Yellow, Red and Orange for mixing

Talking through the composition he encouraged us to paint not draw. Drawing out in pencil first was like colouring in and could lead to rather stilted/lifeless paintings. In terms of the composition he was working mainly from Reference Photograph 2, and decided to leave out the slipway/steps with figures at the lower left, as he found it distracted from the main focus of attention. He identified two “pinch points”. They were the narrow stretch of water between the distant headland on the right and the harbour wall, and the snaking shape of the causeway leaving the island.

With a completely blank piece of paper, Frank started by wetting the sky area with clean water and a mop brush. He painted into the sky with the lightest colour; raw sienna. He then worked through the other sky colours up to the darkest. While the paint was still wet he used a clean dry “thirsty” brush to make the cloud shapes. He stressed he rarely uses pure colours, but mixed into them to avoid the painting looking too “Disney”. He continued to work on the sky, introducing more earth colours. As he said, just have fun at this stage, and remember that watercolours will dry lighter.

He then set the first painting aside to dry and started on painting two, illustrating a wet on dry approach. Again he started with raw sienna and worked on another dramatic sky. He used clean water to diffuse any hard lines, while always trying to retain a little of the white paper showing through.

He then set aside the second painting and started on a smaller painting in the style he would adopt if painting on the location “en plain air”. He concentrated on achieving nice brush strokes, rather than a detailed likeness. No-one will ever compare your painting to the photograph. When painting the silhouette of the Mount, care was taken to leave some bits of white in the dark. At this stage Frank explained tonal value ranging from 1 or 2 almost entirely water and little pigment through to 9 or 10 almost all pigment and little water. “Value does all the work but colour gets all the credit”.

Frank also shared his experience that around 1 in 4 paintings started eventually develop into a picture he wants to retain/frame. The message was do not be afraid of trying and failing from time to time.

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He returned to the first wet in wet painting and identified the horizon went downhill a little. He proceeded to correct this while painting in the distant headland and the silhouette of the Mount. The grainy appearance of the cerulean blue in the sky was working quite well, and he went over the sky pointing out areas of lost and found edges that were working well.

The foreground was painted in rapidly and the causeway and figures on it were indicated. At no stage was a brush smaller than a number 8 used.

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Finally Frank returned to the second “wet in dry” painting, and illustrated the process of wet on dry glazing. He recommended studying the work of Trevor Chamberlain who used glazing to great effect. He warned against using too many different colours - a mistake many amateurs make.

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We were left with three separate images painted from the original references. All different in their method of execution and their final appearance. It would pay us to remember Frank’s advice:
“Do not be a slave to what you see,
be the master of what you want.”

Still Life in Mixed Media (acrylic and oil) by Sonia Bacchus


This was a Zoom demonstration in view of continuing Covid-19 restrictions. Despite a technical problem with the link provided by Zoom, 21 members still managed to attend a fascinating demonstration on 19 June 2021.

Sonia had set up a still life in her studio, comprising a pink ribbon , bottle, copper jug and a replica of a human skull. All the items were strongly light from the side by artificial light to achieve strong contrasts.

A board had been prepared with a grey background colour. Sonia explained that given time she would grid the support and view the composition through a view-finder constructed from card and thread. She also recommended making sketches first, perhaps using water colour. Today she would start straight in with the painting because of the time limitation. Mixed media was used as it is quicker ; the acrylic under-painting would dry quickly and be ready to accept the final coat much more quickly than oil.

Sonia started to draw the composition with acrylic paint, using a light colour so that we could see on camera. She stressed the importance of looking for geometric shapes to make the drawing stage easier. It was not a problem to draw several lines until the right one was found. All of these lines would be overpainted later.

When the drawing stage had been completed she switched to a decorator’s brush and using a mix of viridian green, yellow ochre and light blue she blocked in the background. While the colour was still on the brush she put in the reflected green on the skull. Mixing in ultramarine gave her the colour for the background shadows. Then a mix of pale blue and yellow ochre was used to block in colour on the skull. Switching to a slightly smaller brush she began to apply some details. An old T- shirt was used both the wipe paint from the brushes and also to remove paint from the surface. We were reminded acrylics change colour when they dry; oils never lie about their colour. It was important to exaggerate the colour. However, care needed to be taken when using black, as it can become a “black hole” in the painting. On this occasion black was mixed with green for dark shadows. Applying dark areas of background was an opportunity to tidy up the shapes of the elements of the still life.

After the break, the acrylic paint was fully dry and Sonia switched to oils. She mixed 1 part linseed oil to 4 parts turpentine as she intended to use the oils to glaze over the dried acrylic paint. Liquin was an alternative, more jelly like, medium. She started by applying a glaze of burnt sienna to add warmth to the jug. Where the acrylic painting is good, it is important not to obscure it with the oil paint. After tidying the skull, she painted the strong highlight in the jug using Naples Yellow. As the strongest highlight in the composition, this gave her something to help gauge the other highlights. Her fingers were used liberally to manipulate the oil paint as it was applied with a brush.

Sonia continued to work around the painting, tidying up the background to regain the correct shape of the objects. She liked to leave visible brush strokes; this is a painting not a photograph. Also vary the direct of the brush strokes, don’t just follow the shape/form of the highlights. A fan brush was used to pick out the highlight on the textiles. You must decide what is the important component of the painting; in this case the skull. You then spend more time on that component. Use very thin glazes to tone down other areas. Apparently Titan applied up to 30 layers of glaze in some of his paintings.

The time passed quickly, but as we approached the 2 hour point, Sonia had developed the painting into a very striking still life which seemed to have an inner glow.

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Crashing Wave in Watercolour by Cecil Rice

The first demonstration by our new President on 15 May 2021 was conducted via Zoom, because of Covid-19 restrictions. It was well attended by 25 members and guests. Here is the reference photograph used:

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Cecil had sketched out the key elements on a half imperial sheet of stretched Lana NOT paper, and had applied a limited wash of lemon yellow. It was fascinating to speculate what he would make of this apparently uninspiring image.

Winsor and Newton tube watercolour paints would be used. Initially 3 blues; cobalt, ultramarine and Winsor blue red shade. Also raw sienna, light red, burnt umber, Winsor lemon and Paynes grey. Later cerulean blue was added. He grouped the blues, yellows and reds separately on the large palette. Sable brushes were used.

Cecil had decided on a high horizon, not making too much of the sky. Initially he was undecided whether to include the figure or not, being concerned it was too central. Initially raw sienna was applied to the dry paper, a technique he referred to as dry brushing. The texture of the NOT paper allowed for a “sparkle” effect in the waves. This stage was referred to as underpainting. Masking fluid was applied, using the wooden end of a brush, to reserve the highlights, having ensured the paper was dry with a hairdryer.

Next Cecil concentrated on the big wave in the foreground of the painting, using cobalt blue , Winsor blue red shade and yellow ochre. He alternated the blues and introduced light red to darken and warm. He mentioned he was not too worried about any splashes. He used a hairdryer to ensure the masking fluid was dry, and used a candle to apply areas of wax resist.

Turner’s colour theory was then explained to us:

Yellow = light Blue = shadow/dark Red = emphasis

Applying the darks Cecil used raw umber and ultramarine blue with a touch of light red to stop it looking too cold. Trying always to be aware of the movement of the sea, he used a rigger to pull out a few strands of water. He mentioned he tends to use pure colour from the tube on the brush and allow it to mix on the surface.

Moving on to establish shadows in the waves, Cecil introduced us to https://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/water.html, an excellent reference for different paint suppliers and their colours.

When the masking fluid was removed, the highlights in the painting became clear. This caused Cecil to decide to make the horizon darker and to introduce cerulean blue, a warm blue. Working lightly in the distant water, the painting neared completion. He mentioned that a good quality white pastel could be used to enhance the highlights, but care was needed to ensure it was not overdone.

This is the painting at the end of the session. A lively and interesting image produced in 2 hours from the original photograph. Cecil intends to work further on the middle-to-far-distant sea.

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Portrait in Oils with Rob Wareing, 27 March 2021 (Zoom)

Rob and his wife Elaine were self-isolating, so a “virtual” model had to be used. Meet The Pensioner, a portrait Rob had painted previously from a live model:

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As we were limited to 2 hours, Rob intended to paint a head and shoulders version. He had prepared a stretched canvas by priming it with acrylic primer and a little orange and blue acrylic paint added to produce an off-white surface to work on. He started by using a Nitram Charcoal pencil to complete a careful sketch. He took around 20 minutes being careful to establish the angles. The face was divided into thirds and the focus was on big bold shapes. Rob said he pays a lot of attention to eyes and the nose, particularly the length of the nose.

Once satisfied with the sketch, Rob started to block in colour, starting with a dark, mixed from French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. He deliberately used a brush that was “a little too big” because it made his painting looser. At this stage the paint was thinned with a little white spirit. We were warned the painting would initially look quite messy. Other colours were created by introducing white, more burnt sienna,as well as a touch of alizarin crimson. Rob stressed that at this stage the important thing was the tonal value, rather than the exact colour. He had two lots of white on the palette to ensure there was always a clean white available.

Approaching the break, after approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, Rob started to work on the highlights adding cadmium yellow pale to the white and a touch of alizarin crimson if he wanted to make it cooler. Using a smaller/softer brush he returned to his original dark mix to recover some of the drawing. However, he stressed that it was important to avoid too much detail, always looking for tones.

After the break Rob started to use paint without any thinners. In his words he tried to make every brush stroke count. He stood back from the painting a great deal, deciding which area needed attention next. It was apparent that Rob was still looking very carefully at the model and measuring distances and angles as he worked.

He shared with us that when working with a live model he makes many sketches in a variety of poses, until settling on the final pose to use. In his words “the model gives you so many ideas”.

He often uses a hand-held mirror to look at a reflection of the painting to help decide what needs more attention. The final tip he shared with us was the use of a wooden walking stick to rest your hand on when working over wet areas of the painting. It is easy to hook over the canvas, and much harder to loose track of in the studio.

Despite the rather unusual circumstances the lack of a live model was not really noticeable. Elaine did an excellent job of changing the camera angle and viewpoint to make sure we could see what was going on.

Epic Landscape in Acrylics with Marcus Finch

Our first demonstration of 2021 was via Zoom online. Marcus has demonstrated for the Society before, but this was the first time online. He decided to tackle a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. Here is the reference photograph:

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Marcus started by discussing the issue of copyright. This photograph had already been altered from the original – Marcus had digitally painted an overcast sky to replace the clear summer sky of the original. In addition he intended to adapt the image as he worked on the painting.

He had prepared a large piece of hardboard by priming it and rubbing down to provide a key for the paint to adhere to. Marcus used Seawhite paints, primary red, primary blue, yellow, white, burnt umber, a plastic lid as a palette and inexpensive brushes. He also had a colour shaper – like a paint brush but with a flexible plastic point.

He started by marking the halfway point on each of the sides of both the reference photograph and the support. The sky came down to almost the half way point and he painted this in various tones of blue/grey working from light to dark. He indicated the position of the sun outside the painted area and ensured that all suggested rays of light spread out from that same point. When painting the clouds, he ensured that base of each cloud was linear. When he stopped working with his “sky” brush, he wrapped it in cling film to prevent it drying out.

The distant rocks were laid in with the same palette of colours using a flat brush. The colour shaper was used to remove paint and produce highlights; this only works if the paint is still wet. Working forward through the landscape he gradually warmed the colour palette, still laying in the darker colours.

He then started to illuminate the painting using highlights, starting in the distance and working forward. Again warming the highlight colour as he approached the foreground. In a flurry of activity in the final minutes Marcus painted in the sandstone rocks in the left foreground and depicted scrubby vegetation as well.

The final image is shown below. Quite a remarkable achievement in 2 hours.

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