Wokingham Art Society
Demonstrations by Sue Smith
W/c Portrait
2012
Return to Archive W/c Venice
2018

Watercolour Landscape, Venice, 20 February 2018
Sue's usual métier is portrait painting but tonight she was standing in for our President, Paul Banning (who, sadly, had lost his wife a few weeks ago). A landscape was what had been expected and so it was landscape we got. It was a view over Venice from the Campanile.

Her daughter had taken a photo late one winter afternoon when everything was interestingly back-lit. But Sue forgot to put photopaper in the printer. A rather dull printout was the result. It gave good tonal information but lacked contrast and detail. She found another photo from the same point, but at a different time of day to use as a back-up. She looked at a number of previous artists' attempts, too, to give her an idea of what others had found interesting.
Sue took a leaf out of Paul's book: she had done quite a detailed pencil drawing to start with, dividing it into smaller rectangles to help with positioning. It ruins the surface if you rub out, so Sue uses a rather laborious process:
Get everything in the right place on tracing paper
Transfer this to the "real" paper with home-made Tracedown (a red ball pen is a good tool to use to make sure you've missed nothing)
Reinforce the lines with pencil as necessary.

Tonight her paper was Fabriano Artistico 300lb. It's a heavyweight paper but she still likes to stretch it, on a Keba Artmate paper stretcher (see below).
Sue's using watercolours from Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton (despite Winsor & Newton's awful new tube design). She recommends a sloping palette with raw paint at the top. You can then pull it down, as watery as you like. She also has a separate palette for mixing. Sue goes for bright colours: reds, oranges, purples and yellows.

With a hake she put transparent yellow with a touch of gold across most of the picture. For the sparkling water she only dry-brushed it with the side of a round brush. A few areas were left white and she was careful to catch potential runs with a cloth before they went over the white areas. Cotton wool is gentler on the surface than kitchen paper for lifting paint out.
She dried the yellow washes with a hair drier before starting the blue sky. If you put blue over yellow there is a risk of getting green. Avoid this by making sure there is some red in the blue: use French Ultramarine perhaps, even with a touch more actual red. Where a bead formed she lifted it out with a "thirsty" brush (only slightly damp).
For the distant islands, all almost the same blue/ochre colour, she recommended a largish sable "reservoir" brush (see below). With this she dotted in detail while the sky blue was still just damp. The land looks darker near the waterline ("It doen't matter if you are a bit mean with the paint at this stage - you can always do it again later").
As the top was drying Sue started on the two main domes. The palette had a mess of purples, reds and blues. "Don't cover more than an inch without changing colour". She started at the top (all that tiny detail was done with the point of the reservoir brush). Some yellow was introduced for the smaller dome but everything was wet-into-wet so the colour variations were pretty subtle.

She then went back into the distant buildings, making sure their colours were paler (thinner paint) and cooler (more blue than red). As she switched colours, touches of gold appeared but she left the waterlines for later (dark with a thin white line dividing land from shadow)

Sue did get started on the nearer end of the island but time ran out.

As always, I've put some general comments as "Bullets" below but, sadly, this was the end of the demo.

Thank you again, Sue, not just for stepping in so gallantly at such short notice but for making it such an enjoyable evening. Well done.
Home-made Tracedown. Scribble all over tracing paper with a graphite stick. Spread the graphite over the whole surface with lighter fuel or isopropyl alcohol
Keba Artmate paper stretchers are not cheap but Sue finds them invaluable. By combining different sizes you can make different shapes of recangle .
If you stretch paper use clean water and beware of letting paint pool at the bottom (it will cauliflower)
Sue avoids masking fluid - edges come out too sharp and there's risk of ruining the surface
Carry a fine clean water spray to keep the palette moist.
Do not try to paint with bone-dry brushes, but don't let them sit in water (unless you're using acrylics).
The sable reservoir brush has a fine centre of pure sable hair surrounded at the base by squirrel hair (the reservoir). A combination of the perfect point and great colour holding capacity.
To avoid hard edges forming as paint dries (during a coffee break, perhaps) soften the lowest points with water.
Wet-into-wet will always give a softer edge but detail is still retained if there is less water in the second lot.
There was quite a lot left to do but Sue said she wouldn't get round to it until she had
dealt with one or two other commitments.

We all looked forward to seeing how it finished up.
In the event it won the Sandra Fagin Award, 2018, for the "Best Watercolour" prize at our 2018 Exhibition,
following more than a few finishing touches!
W/c Portrait
2012
Return to Archive W/c Venice
2018

Watercolour Portrait, 19 June 2012
Our Chairman, Sue Smith, despite running the AGM (to say nothing of her other commitments), also took it upon herself to fill today's demo slot. Aren't we lucky to have such a dynamic woman in the chair!

It was after 8 before she was able to start, not least because we were still enthusing about the Society's Jubilee Frieze. So it wasn't surprising that Sue had decided that a photo of the Queen would make a good subject for her portrait.
Choose your photo references carefully:

Beware smiling portraits (they can look false)
Remember that the camera flattens things, so one photo is often not enough.

Sue does a lot of preparatory work if she wants a good likeness. Apart from possible sketches of details, an eye perhaps, she usually does a couple of full size preparatory pencil drawings.
We can recognize people at a distance, without detail, so the overall shape and shadow patterns must be vital, even if we are not really conscious of them. Her drawings concentrate on getting shapes and tones right before detail (which just adds interest).

The main features for recognition are eyebrows, the crease (not lid) of the eye, the nostrils and, most important, the line between the lips. Sue's final drawing is on thinner drafting paper. When she is satisfied with this she transfers it to the watercolour paper using homemade tracedown, a light box or a sunlit window. Both drawings are kept to hand for reference, tonal in particular.
You can just see the ouline of the hat and shoulders and there are some very lightly-drawn flowers in the bottom left corner. Sue had already done a preliminary watercolour wash of skin colour (New Gamboge, Permanent Rose - and damp cotton wool to lift out highlighted areas).

She generally uses a couple of each of the primary colours: a warm and a cold. Both may not always be necessary: tonight she would keep almost entirely to the warmer ones.

Sue had put out a spot of each colour round the rim of an enamelled tin plate (better than plastic). This way, using the very tip of her sable brush she cold pick up pure colours from the outside of the spot or drag down from its inside into the wet mixing area.
With thin glazes like this, the order in which you do background, shadows/shapes and detail is not important. Sue chose to do a bit of shaping and then some detail.

She said she was not afraid of putting more colour on than was necessary - watercolour dries lighter and if it's then not light enough you can always moisten it and lift it out.
The actual work started when she added Alizarin (darker) to the original skin mix for areas of richer tone. Ultramarine was added for the darker shadows, including the creases.

The blue patch on the Queen's forehead was to cool the temple area where the bone is near the surface, and will lie underneath subsequent washes. She also touched in a little permanent rose onto the nose and ear.
Unless she needed hard edges, edges were all softened with a damp brush as soon as a new glaze was put on.

She then spent quite some time with a running commentary on the first eye, the nostril and, most important, the mouth.

Remember that the eyelid overlaps the eyeball, the upper lid overlapping the lower one and casting shadow accordingly. So paint the edge under the eyelid and draw it down over the eyeball and lower lid (alizarin and ultra or instead, for the real "black" darks, orange and ultra). There is a second softer edge, corresponding to the crease above the eyelid. Don't be tempted to leave the white of the eye white - it's not.

The nostril, similarly, has a hard edge at the top.

Although there are shadows around the mouth, the lower lip colour is barely different from the skin below. Unless contrasting lipstick is used there is no sharp edge around the lips - only where they meet in that vitally important line (I reckon this is one of the places where Sue will be doing some lifting out). The lips should darken towards the corners of the mouth to give them more shape.

End of demo
Obviously, by the end of the demo there was much more to be done.

Sue speculated about how dark to make the background, which has to throw the face, hat and flowers forward.

Smalt blue seemed to be favoured but she came back within days with a photo of the end result (probably finished, she says) saying that she had saved her smalt for another day, using ultramarine instead. The result seems to justify this decision.

You're a devil for punishment, Sue, but you certainly kept us interested all evening.

Many thanks.








Finished portrait

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