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Demonstrations by Freda Anderson

Visit her at www.fredaanderson.co.uk


August 2002
March 2008
Back to History Watercolour
September 2012
May 2015
Still Life in Oils, 5 May 2015
Freda came with lots of examples of her oil paintings: portraits as well as still life.

She wasn't going to try to do an oil painting from start to finish : a demo doesn't allow time for that. What we were going to get was a stream of hints and comments as she worked on several paintings at different stages.

For a modern portrait she would use a fairly rough canvas, start with a charcoal sketch from life, wipe off excess charcoal and then put the oil paint on, a day's work spread over a couple of days. Sometimes, too she will paint on heavily gessoed hardboard, sand-papering some of the paint off to show the texture.

For a more old-mastery look she would use a fine linen canvas and apply successive very thin glazes of paint. That way each glaze can be dry within a day, ready for the next one.

A still-life class where everyone uses the same set-up is not very satisfactory - only one person can have the best viewpoint. The most important part of making a still life is an arrangement that really appeals to you.

Setting up can take a whole day if you include the trial sketches, deciding on the lighting (a spotlight is invaluable) etc.

Keep it simple: you can't absorb too much.

Her first example was a glass with a couple of lollipops in it. A striped candy stick was on the table, arranged to move the eye across the picture and back into the centre. A striped table cloth complemented the sweets, but was separated from them by some plain cloth/paper.
Freda started with charcoal pencil. Unlike most demonstrators she approximated the golden section by drawing first centrelines and then diagonals in some of the resulting rectangles. She used these, their directions and intersections, to locate and align interesting features.

Once you are happy with the basic composition you can start putting in more detailed features with a waterproof sepia pen, and erasing the construction lines.
Freda puts paint on very thinly (thinned with Sansodor, which then dries quickly but can be lifted off if you don't leave it too long). For the first stage she scribbled in a layer of burnt sienna with a small filbert brush and then used a dry rag to to smooth all brush strokes away and to lift paint off the lighter bits.

This process is repeated in the mid-tone and darker areas (often negative shapes), building towards a monochrome picture.

For the lightest parts, more paint can be lifted off if you moisten the rag with Sansodor. Cotton buds are useful, too. A finger-nail gives more precision. Sharp edges can be softened with a soft dry brush.
Freda then moved to one she had started earlier, ready to have colour added.

Use "Liquid Glove" to protect your hands
Work from dark to light (shadows, negative shapes first)
Use a limited palette of colours: basically a warm and cool version of each primary:
- alizarine and cadmium red;
- raw sienna and cadmium pale yellow;
- french ultra and prussian blue.
Cobalt is a useful intermediate blue.
Viridian mixes well with red (particularly with magenta) to make bright greys.

Cool (more blue) colours recede; warm (more red) ones come forward. Paler greyer colours recede; brighter ones come forward.

To prepare a tonal range for each colour on the palette, mix the colour then pull some down and add some white (clean brush). Repeat this once or twice. Use a different brush for each colour.

High quality paint is well worth it if your expertise is up to it. She uses Michael Harding oils.

"Tonking" is a useful technique for oils (not acrylics). Apply paint, cover with kitchen paper, hit or rub the paper, remove it, smooth over with finger.

Don't put highlights in too early
You can work on top of re-touching varnish but not finishing varnish
If you want to adjust existing (dry) colours, don't pre-mix but put a paler paint on the canvas and then gently, very gently add a darker one, wet into wet, to get the colour you want (e.g. add red over yellow to make orange)
Stand up to do general layout, sit for bits and pieces.
Visit exhibitions. When you stop to look at a painting, ask yourself "Why did I stop here?" and learn from your answer.
Practice; practice; practice!

Thank you Freda. Always refreshingly different from the last time, you gave us another instructive and enjoyable evening.


August 2002
March 2008
Back to History Watercolour
September 2012
May 2015
Flowers in Watercolour, 14 September 2012
There is no way that even humorous, multi-talented Freda would try to complete a watercolour in a 90 minute demo. So she started with a separate introduction:

She often paints from silk flowers instead of fresh ones because silk doesn't wilt, but tonight she had a couple of photos of roses.
It is best to fit your work to a standard frame (if further cropping is necessary the frame can be expensive)
She starts by marking "golden section" lines inside an actual-sized rectangle and lightly pencilling the main points of interest there
Freda then divides the resulting outside negative space into several (not more than eight) balanced areas - here by adding leaves.
Next comes a tonal version. Then a tracing (using black pen) which is finally transferred onto the watercolour paper (soft pencil all over the back of the tracing and a red ball pen for the actual transfer, so you can see what you are doing at each stage).

Actually, instead of ordinary paper she prefers and, as tonight, uses hot-pressed watercolour board (from Jackson's). It's easier to lift paint out from, is more tolerant of scrubbing and stays sound enough to be gesso-ed over and reused for an acrylic if the first try fails.

Freda had already spent 90 minutes doing a single-layer watercolour underpainting for this evening's demo.
Before starting she sprayed all her paints with water and then got us thinking about what glazes she would need for the apricot and purple petals.
She had an enormous selection of colours in her watercolour box/palette:
staining/transparent colours down one side
opaque cadmium colours down the other and
along the top a group of floral and leafy colours and a group of earth colours

Freda enthused about "Australian Yellow" but couldn't remember where she found it! Anyway, she used it to glaze all over the flowers and leaves, lifting out lighter areas with a dry tissue or, for softer edges, with moist cottonwool. This glaze was left to dry while she started to darken the background.
She mixed a grey using Alizarin Crimson, Windsor Blue and a green (so as not to have too much yellow). She applied this quite wet, adding specs of pure colour, wet-into-wet, allowing these to spread and run.

She even painted the grey over the leaves but blotted back the lighter areas

For flowers and still lifes she often finds that a background consisting of an artificial arrangement of rectangles (3, 5 or 7) can be effective but that did not seem appropriate here.
Painting of the background gradually extended right round the picture. The dark grey was put carefully round the edges and in between the flowers with the tip of the brush and then the wet line of paint was pulled out into the adjacent area with whatever stronger colour was appropriate (e.g. blue towards the top).

This sort of w/c painting needs careful attention to the relative wetness of paper, brush and paint. I reckon this comes only with experience

Texture can be added by spraying paint or water from a toothbrush (still mostly wet-into-wet) and even dabbing the toothbrush onto wet paper
Several times Freda stressed that darks tend to recede and lights to come forward. Wherever one leaf or petal is further away than another it should be darker.

After the interval Freda got onto the first rose. She experimented with a glaze of "Australian Yellow" and crimson but it was too grubby, so she switched to permanent rose.

The sequence was to put the dark (grey or blue) in along each edge and then pull it out with the permanent rose and then add more yellow and red. A rigger was used to create the effect of thin veins in the petals.
It is a 3 or 4 coat process to get the depth of colour you want. She was approaching this stage for the apricot rose but barely touched the other one (she would be using a blue and pink glaze there, rather than the permanent rose).

Instead, she went back to darkening the background and lightly scrubbing out lighter areas with her wet cotton wool.

Freda said that it is helpful to look at your part-finished picture in a frame. We did, but it made no shortcomings visible to me.
As in previous demos, she said that this picture was far from finished.
Will we ever see how the purple rose comes out in the finished article?
Thank you again, Freda, for a very informative and amusing evening


August 2002
March 2008
Back to History Watercolour
September 2012
May 2015
Portraits in Oils, 7 March 2008

Portraits have to be recognizable and so Freda likes to spend time getting to know the face. She finds that it helps to do a watercolour sketch and to consult several photographs of the subject (there are limits to how long people want to sit for you).

Watercolour sketch
Tidying up

You would be very lucky to get everything right first time. Often, her first step for a portrait is to make a drawing on thin layout paper and then trace this (charcoal on the back) to the final paper or board. A double advantage of this is that
(i) the layout paper can be shifted over the ground to place the picture in the best place for compositional reasons and
(ii) charcoal can be very easily rubbed out if further adjustment is needed.

Here, where the sitter is looking to the right, the head wants to be slightly left of centre

We were taken through the construction of a face, using charcoal:
a circle,
central cross at top of eyebrows,
ears at the back of a slice taken off at the side (top level with eyebrow cross, bottom with bottom of nose)
extend down to chin (as far below the base of the nose as the eyebrow cross is above it)
centre line of mouth is critical - bottom of bottom lip is half way from bottom of nose to chin
repeated checking to see where the subject differs from these "typical" dimensions
define shaded areas and rub out highlights.
Freda likes to have got rid of the texture of the canvas weave by priming with thick gesso. Acrylic is usually her choice for the underpainting.

You can't do a portrait in oils in a 2-hour demo so she produced a pre-prepared self-portrait charcoal sketch for the next part.

By the way, be careful with the hands (measure - they are bigger than you think)

Once you are happy with the charcoal sketch on the canvas, rub out all unnecessary or confusing lines and draw over it (referring to the source to make further corrections) with thinned burnt sienna.

Let it dry completely.
Now for the background. Green is a good ground for skin. Freda thinned it (Liquin's good for oils) and applied it all over the canvas, thin enough to see through to the burnt sienna . Then she wiped it back with a rag (or kitchen towel), possibly moistened with water for acrylic underpaintings, or turps for oils.

This was repeated by adding even more green over the darker parts of the picture, again wiping back for highlights and softer edges.

Remember, tone is essential for a three-dimensional effect:- lights bringing things forward (like warm colours) and darks pushing them back.

Working in oil, the timing is very much extended. If she has left an oil for more than a few days she likes to put a layer of re-touching varnish over the touch-dry surface to help the next layers to stick properly.
Now back to a pre-prepared version of the younger girl where the "green and wipe-back" phase was dry.

For the real painting with oils, Freda likes a hog filbert, not a round brush, for most of the work, moving to a sable for finer detail at the end.

For flesh she uses a red (cadmium, red ochre or raw sienna) lightened with white and darkened with burnt sienna and/or the background green. She prefers flake white to titanium because it is less harsh.

Raw umber and/or any blue are good for cooling the skin, and skin colours should appear in the hair for reflections. Apply touches of colour here and there - too much blending makes it too photographic.
Far from finished, but it's often worth checking in the frame to see how it's going


August 2002
March 2008
Back to History Watercolour
September 2012
May 2015
Snapshots from Acrylics Still Life, 2 August 2002
The individual stages of the picture, illustrated below were:

Stage 0 - A line/tonal sketch

Stage 1 – Outlines painted in ultramarine, then main areas washed in thinly with colours for mood.

Stage 2 – Going in thicker with close to the final colours

Stage 3 – Finished picture
August 2002
March 2008
Back to History Watercolour
September 2012
May 2015


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