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Sue Smith Demonstrations

See www.saa.co.uk/art/suesmith or contact her at ssquared@btinternet.com


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Watercolour Techniques in Landscape, 19 May 2017
Remembering her earlier visit (below) it was good to welcome Sue back.

Tonight's demo was a bit different - she would try to share her thought processes as she worked on a scene she had not previously painted.

Sue was using a not quite square sheet of heavy weight (600gsm) Fabriano Artistico Rough paper.
She has taken a shine to Winsor and Newton's large pans of watercolour. Big enough to let you have a pool of water/paint in each pan, and with lids home-made from their original packaging. They let you have whatever amount of dilution you want.

Working from iPad photos of Lauterbrunnen Valley, near Interlaken (famous for its waterfalls) Sue established the composition by outlining the main features lightly in pencil. No need for accuracy, so no need to grid the drawing.
Next she wet the paper (to minimise runs) and then washed the sky and the shaded side of the valley with blues (cooler Winsor and cerulean, above; French Ultra and some purple below). She repeated this on the sunlit side, using yellow and orange.

She quickly lifted out some of the blue where she wanted white (along the distant mountain tops and for the central church spire, for example, following the pencil marks), and dried it thoroughly.
Sue is not that keen on greens - they don't attract attention. So she had been careful not to let the blue and yellow mix. But what is to be done about the sunlit green cliff-tops? How about some nice warm red? Quinacridone Rose? That's not too opaque. Chinese-style brush pointing up? Wet into wet, but touched very carefully into the very top of the yellow area so we get a sharp edge but nice blending as it spreads down.

She used the same technique on the shaded, blue, side to define edges, using a warmer darker blue for the nearer hillside and even a touch of purple near the valley bottom. Line the brush up with the features.
"Oh dear! I've not really thought the colours through properly. There's got to be something to connect the two sides. Perhaps a more lemony yellow and adding some of the sunlit mountain-side colour to the bottom of the other side? . . I'm not sure that's right."

How about drying it yet again and putting a thin blue wash on? . Adding a bit of the complementary colour to darken the base of the cliffs might help - and the nearest extreme right-hand side of the sunlit side? "Oh dear, I used the wrong blue and have got green where it went over the yellow. And something badly needs doing about the bottom of the cliff on the left but I'm out of time. It needs more work."

There was something really refreshing about seeing how, in real life, when you're working with a time limit and haven't planned it all out in advance (painted it several times before, in the case of some demonstrations) things don't always get finished. A painting can take longer that you thought and bits might need re-working.

So we mustn't despair. Don't think you are a failure if a painting gives you trouble. Every try teaches you something. This one just isn't finished yet.

Sue dropped in lots of tips on the side:

It's normally better to paint watercolours with the board almost flat, but that's not much good for a demo
If people really know the scene they expect accuracy but artistic licence normally conquers all
If a hair comes out of the brush when you are doing a wash leave it, otherwise you'll get an ugly finger mark
Six colours is usually about right: warm and cold versions of the three primaries, perhaps plus a favourite
Avoid mud by choosing transparent colours for all except the very first wash and perhaps for final detail
Avoid the hair-drier unless you are short of time - it dulls the colour
If your paper is clipped to the board, release it now and then to stop it buckling
Rest brushes on their sides on a plate, not with hairs bent over in a pot

So, well done Sue. Thanks for an intriguing evening.
This was the state of play at the end of the demo.
If Sue does have time to finish it we look forward to
adding her final photo to the end of this write-up.


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Animal Painting in Watercolour, 30 Sept 2011
Sue has watched countless demonstrations, "read every book" and enjoyed painting holidays.
The lack of a formal art education seems unimportant. She is commissioned to do personal and
animal portraits, her work often wins prizes, she teaches at Bracknell College, runs workshops
and is currently Chairman of Wokingham Art Society.

In preparation for the evening Sue had made this photo by combining two separate ones, on the
computer. Then she'd done exploratory tonal and colour sketches. Only a series of such
sketches gets her to a point where the composition and colouring satisfy.
. . .
Here, the goose on the left had originally been walking out of the picture so she'd reversed it. She avoided reversing the shadows by copying them from the leading bird.

Once she had a clear enough idea of what she wanted, Sue had made a full-sized drawing on translucent layout paper, complete with main shadow outlines.

She'd then transferred the important lines, using her own home-made carbon paper, to a stretched full Imperial sheet of 140lb Two Rivers paper. Also sized right through, this more expensive paper is even more forgiving than Bockingford.
How to make your own carbon paper
* Use the side of a graphite stick to cover the whole of the back of a sheet of tracing paper.
* With cotton wool and isopropyl alcohol spread the graphite uniformly over the surface
* It dries pretty quickly, then you can use it like Tracedown.
NOTE. It can be refreshed by the same process if it wears thin in some places
. . .
Now the demo starts.

Working from the bottom with a 3" hake, Sue wet the paper with clean water, taking care not to wet within the shapes of the birds.

She then went in with cerulean blue at the top and cadmium orange at the bottom. The blue needed several applications and the orange was too yellow until a little vermillion was added. Using a smaller brush she was able to carry wet colour carefully right up to the drawn lines.

Remember this is all kept as wet as Sue could get away with. Normally she would work with the board flat, so more care was needed tonight for fear of runs. Where these were too big to get rid of with the tip of a brush she recommends damp cotton wool rather than kitchen paper - "too brutal".
This first wash was then dried - "check with the side of the hand". Winsor & Newton Transparent Yellow went in as the first glaze for beaks and legs.

The background is imaginary, as in the sketches. Here Sue used various mixes of purple and orange, taking great care where she wanted dark against light around the birds.

She added Cerulean to the mix for the shadows on the birds. Where light is reflected up from the ground she used much more orange, moving the brush in a curve to hint at the full shape of the breast. Flicking shadow up into the white paper gives a feathery impression.

All the time she was painting the shadows Sue referred repeatedly to her tonal drawings as well as to the photo.
Towards the end, much more shadowy texture was put almost randomly into the foreground surface but Sue said that more blue and red was needed, as you could see in the original colour sketch.

Features in the head (nostrils, eyes etc.) needed a black. She made this with purple and orange, too! Complimentary colours make blacks.

Although she had not expected to complete the whole painting during the demo there was still pressure of time. At home she works very slowly, letting paint dry naturally, sometimes continuing all night (with a daylight lamp) and often leaving a nearly-finished work on view in her studio for some weeks before "signing it off".
Sue slipped in many little comments and bits of advice so I've collected some of them together here:

The Child Beale Trust is a good place for artists.
Faces etc. are badly distorted if you take close-up photos. Use the zoom from a distance
A very economical way to let the kids "paint" is to give them just black paper and water!
If watercolour has dried too much for further wet-into-wet painting, or to lift it out, re-wet it with a spray rather than a brush (easier on the paper)
If you want red to look really bright, underpaint with yellow first
A better finish is achieved if you let watercolour dry naturally, rather than use a hair dryer
Sue uses a lot of Winsor & Newton watercolour but Shin Han is becoming popular
Although she has a lot of experience of teaching, this was the first time Sue had done a demo for an art society. What hidden talent! We certainly enjoyed the evening and I heard mutterings about how soon we might be able to ask her to contribute to our future programme.

The state of play at the end of the demo is shown below. Lovely colours, but Sue felt that quite a lot more work was needed to complete the painting. She said she hoped do this in the coming months and to send us a photo of it. I can hardly wait.


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