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William de Wilde, 28 June 2019
Flowers in Watercolour

Visit him at www.williamdewilde.org

William had brought along some examples of his work: books and paintings.
If you visit his website you will see he is a very versatile artist: including portraits (animal and human), plants, landscapes and botanical painting.
These let him explore many styles and media (pastels, watercolour, acrylic and oil).
Tonight's topic is watercolour flowers, so that's what he had brought. There was one very different acrylic flower painting on a background of dark blues and one botanical illustration, too.
Botanical illustration is quite distinct from "flower painting". For illustration you use a smoother paper, like Fabriano Artistico, for precision, and always include details of interesting stages of growth and parts of the plant: stamens, buds, sepals, leaves etc. It is a challenge to make pictures that are both scientifically accurate & artistically stimulating.

Bill (to his friends) normally works from life, not photos (except when the light is changing or the subject moving rapidly). He pays a lot of attention to lighting (over his left shoulder). That's not possible tonight so he will be copying from one he had done earlier: three camellias. He finds Arches paper too soft, so he prefers Hahnemuhle for his flower painting.
He does under-drawing for botanical illustrations only - with hard pencils (mostly 2H & 4H). For flower paintings he may well have preparatory sketches but doesn't paint over a drawing. So it's straight in with the paint; weakest colours first (even for oils). Tonight it's lemon yellow in the centre of the first flower.

He uses big brushes (No.10s) with good points. Typically he will have three on the go, so colours don't get dulled by any residue in the brush.

A big brush lets you paint whole petals without going back to the palette. Modern synthetic brushes are fine for paintings although he uses sables as well for botanical illustration.
He paints wet on dry, leaving a tiny gap between areas of colour. These white lines actually enhance the picture. He uses the same technique in landscapes too, for example.

The white lines also make it easier to strengthen certain areas or to moisten and lift paint out. Of course, where you don't want a hard edge you can always soften it with the point of a clean damp brush.

The petals were alizarin crimson with different amounts of water, strengthened with a second coat in some places and lifted out with kitchen paper in others
Going back to the centre he strengthened the original lemon by mixing in a little cadmium yellow and, for the very middle, cadmium red.

Despite what he'd said about using big brushes, he took a smaller one for detail. Logical: you don't need the brush to hold a lot of paint if you're covering a small area.

The stamens were done with tiny dots of burnt umber. The same alizarin was used to draw in the petals' veins. In one or two places he decided he needed to blot out some wet paint or lift a little dried paint out with damp kitchen paper.
Bill had time to start another bloom before the break. The centre was hidden so he started with the base and worked out through the petals.

Stems (woody, so more burnt umber), sepals (a yellow green) and leaves should be left until last. That's true for aesthetic reasons, too, but really it's because they don't move as fast as the blooms!

The colours of the demo painting never got as strong as the original but it seemed that the process could continue with strategic over-painting.

At this point the coffee break intervened and people started getting out their own flowers and paints to find out what they had learned.
So ended another interesting and unusual evening.

Thanks very much, Bill.


P.S. There were lots of interesting asides, so here are some I noted.

To stretch paper is a hassle. Thin paper is so much less tolerant. Buy pads with glued edges: 300 gsm (140lb) absolute minimum. With 400 gsm paper you can scrape back to white and even cut out thin white lines with a scalpel!
Use a very big, non-absorbent palette (china or glass). He was using a white china turkey platter tonight, preserving the paint with clingfilm.
Bill treats his watercolours like acrylics, covering the palette with clingfilm and mist-spraying water to revive it. Boots' "Reviving Foot Spray" bottle was said to give the finest mist and is cheaper than buying an empty one from an art shop.
If the weather is very hot you may need to dampen the paper first with the mister.
Remember. You need two pots of water: One for mixing and one for washing brushes.
It's important to stand back and see how your work looks. Manet is supposed to have said that a comfortable armchair was the most important piece of equipment in his studio.
Photos are good to help you get shapes right, but not for colour.
Bill is not averse to using masking fluid (put blue fluid onto white paper with a traditional ruling pen). He will also use white paint (gouache or Chinese white).
They still call the stuff you use to slow down drying "ox gall" but now it's synthetic.
Cadmium, poisonous, won't be legal much longer so we'll have to use synthetics for those yellows and reds.
Irises are a good flower to practice on - lots of detail.
Georgia O'Kieffe is an artist he particularly admires. In fact he recommends her oversize flower painting as a good training experience. In his later life Manet was brilliant with flowers, too.

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