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Demonstrations by Peter Atkins
Visit Peter (Barney) at www.pgatkins.co.uk

2004 2005 History Page 2009 2012


The reference
8 June 2012

As his reference material Peter had brought along a rather washed out plain paper printout of
John Sell Cotman's famous painting of Greta Bridge.

Although his time was limited, the aim was to reproduce this picture using, to the best of his understanding, Cotman's own techniques.

Copying the work of acknowledged masters is an invaluable aid to learning. Cotman himself was a contemporary and admirer of Turner, early 19th century.
From the reference, Peter had produced an accurate but faint pencil outline drawing on Arches paper, stretched and dressed with a very thin warming coat of ochre (or a tea bag would do!).

Cotman himself was an excellent draughtsman - drawing is an essential skill for a painter. Peter advised strongly against continuous lines, recommending many short, light marks. If you draw like that you can see if the line you are beginning to develop is going wrong and can correct it without ruining the surface of the paper with a rubber.
He was using a limited palette of Italian Maimeri Blu tube watercolours: Primary Red Magenta, Yellow Ochre, Berlin Blue and some touches of Cobalt.

All the colours he mixed were greys: red and blue to make a purple, plus the complementary yellow. These greys are always biased towards either blue (as here initially) or earth colours.

He moistened the sky with wet tissue and started gently stroking paint on with a remarkably small brush (a No 8, at a guess), leaving untouched areas for cloud.
The method is to lay in large areas of flat colour, quite thinly, using similar colours over the whole picture but mixing a more bluish grey in some areas and adding more ochre for the foreground boulders and more red for the trees - always large flat areas.

Errors are not a problem with this type of watercolour painting because later glazes are always going to be stronger that the earlier ones.

Apart from areas like the bridge and foreground water, where he wanted only the the initial ochre dressing (which he called white), all was covered in these grey glazes and then dried thoroughly.
Peter's technique for the darker parts is unusual in that he holds the brush very close to the ferrule and seems to concentrate so hard on aligning the paint precisely with the outline drawing that one very rarely actually saw where the tip of the brush was on the paper.

This is accompanied with a "stream of consciousness" commentary: "I need a bit there, and down there, like that, over to there" but, sadly, I couldn't always see clearly where "there" was or what "that" was like.
His palette was a large soup plate. Paint from the tube was put on the rim and mixed in a larger or smaller central pool. Water was brought into this pool only on the brush.

Once the first glaze was dry Peter started adding smaller areas of darker and darker glazes, subtle additions of one or other of the colours moving the central grey in one direction or other away from the centre of the colour circle.

Shadows and reflections were added and over-strong ones blotted back. Everything was brought to life by juxtaposing lights and darks. Detail in the rocks was designed rather than being strictly representational. Distant windows and roofs were touched in. Time ran out.
The painting looked finished to me but Peter said that more work would be needed to finish it properly and so he took it home to see what that work was.

This would have marked the end of what had been a most absorbing evening for us but we were lucky enough to have Peter go back out to his car and bring back one of his big sketchbooks - page after page of meticulous and very satisfying pencil "paintings" of his local area. Icing on the cake!

Sam Dauncey
2004 2005 History Page 2009 2012


Peter Atkins
7 August 2009

This is Peter's 3rd visit. This time he was demonstrating in Acrylic Gouache (which he felt should be pronounced "GohArsh"). Much easier than watercolour because it is opaque - and better than designer gouache which stays water-soluble and is picked up by subsequent coats.

Pencil, he says is an excellent starting point because it is good not just for drawing but also for "painting" - look here, for example, at a picture "painted" entirely in pencil.

"Buy my pencil sharpener"
Peter used a fairly cheap Homebase paper sold by the metre in various colours - this evening the pinky fawn you can see in the unpainted areas, because that colour was to appear in several parts of the picture. He stretches his paper.

With acrylic gouache you can use watercolour techniques but it's better to put down large flats of colour and overpaint later. It dries more slowly than normal acrylic and so (i) he was using the hair-dryer very frequently and (ii) it was not necessary to keep brushes in water when they were out of use for even tens of minutes.
He spoke of mixing to a double cream consistency but was careful not to let runs develop.

He likes to establish the lightest lights and darkest darks as soon as possible and then fill in the middle tones. "Buy my red glasses to see tonal values".

A surprise was that he not only advises mixing the colours you want on plates but also likes to use black gouache, not by itself but as a very dark blue to mix with yellows to make dark greens.

Throughout, he kept fairly meticulously to the very feint pencil drawing he had pre-prepared - see how he was able to leave the finials on the bridge as negative spaces.
He referred frequently to the photo but he had also prepared this smaller trial version of the same scene (also in acrylic gouache).
The demonstration painting is more refined : better (less lurid) grass; more patches of colour; a more interesting fence and some extra details.
The end of the demo (still not quite finished).
2004 2005 History Page 2009 2012


5 August 2005

Peter had problems. Our directions to St. Pauls were not clear and it was approaching 8 pm before he started. What's more, we had been particularly asked by the stand-in caretaker to be finished on time (9:30). So Peter was under pressure to finish in the time.

His painting technique has changed little. He had washed a staining pale ochre-ish ground onto Watman paper to define the painting area (not tea bags, but they are OK!). He had followed this by faint pencil marks to guide the colour. He stressed the importance of making many light marks when you draw, so as gradually to build up the right lines (if you draw long continuous lines and erase errors you can't see where you went wrong and are quite likely to repeat the error).
He uses a palette not quite as limited as before (he now adds an emerald green, an ochre and a burnt sienna). All mixing is done on three large soup plates - fresh paint round the rim and the next brushful in the bottom.
Cold blue was knocked back with a little magenta for the sky and water (with a strip of masking tape to control the white water-horizon). Clouds were dabbed back to the ground colour (the lightest tone). The same basic mix was worked down the picture, gradually adding more magenta and then the third primary for the nearer hills. Skipping over the surface starts to give texture and form to the hills.

Once the broad shapes were defined (without going darker than mid-tone), green was mixed, with differing touches of red for different greens, to start the trees (top picture ) and rocks. (Note: Rocks can go wrong - he likes to do a tonal pencil sketch first, to make sure the shadows are mutually consistent)
In the final minutes he got into the "darks" and "darkest darks". The brush went back and forth, strengthening everywhere, even distant hills. Where the balance was not right even more darks were added until it was right. He even went to a smaller brush, one with a point, for the final details.

Peter used Turner as a theme throughout, starting and finishing with some interesting and amusing writings about his life. He had made several partial copies of Turner paintings to try to understand the master's technique.
2004 2005 History Page 2009 2012


28 May 2004

Peter is a regular contributor to "Leisure Painter". He is currently part way though a series of 12 articles (started April 2004) on the Golden Age of Watercolour in which he studies some of the greatest exponents of watercolour and shows how their styles can influence us today.

Peter's chosen subject was a timbered house at Dixter together with its garden. He started with quite a detailed pencil drawing, which he explained meant that he got the perspective and detail correct. Doing so at this stage allowed him to be much freer with the application of the paint.

This initial drawing was covered with a pale wash of yellow ochre to take away the white of the paper and to give a unity of colour to the whole painting. Peter left a border of a couple of inches round the drawing and the yellow ochre rectangle to give a white frame to the finished painting.
Peter explained that he was going to use Miameri watercolours with a limited palette of just three colours - lemon yellow, phthalo blue and magenta. We often hear the expression "limited palette" but it is rare to see this actually done at a demo.

With the board at an angle of about 45 degrees, Peter spent about 20 minutes putting the basic colours onto the entire picture. He explained that he was dropping on the paint and allowing it to run and mix on the paper. This was not something that he could do successfully at a near vertical angle. In this way he filled the main shapes without over-worked brush strokes.

With the basic ground work complete, Peter put his easel to a near vertical "demonstration angle" to complete the painting.

First he painted the timbers of the building and added the windows followed by the shadows.
Then he went over the same three elements, increasing the density of the paint and increasing the contrast.

Attention next turned to the gardens. First the greens - all from the same basic yellow and blue mixture with the addition of magenta to modify and darken the colour. He added areas of colour to indicate the flowers.
Just as with the house he then went over the greens adding yet more depth and contrast

Finally, he worked on the hard landscaping - the garden walls, paving and steps. A little dog added life to the foreground and if he had more time Peter would have added the figure that he had included in the drawing

The final piece was quite stunning.

In conclusion, this was a very interesting evening from an entertaining and informative speaker - a definite must see again - for those of us who work mainly in watercolour.

Peter Johnson
2004 2005 History Page 2009 2012


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