PHCC is offering a short five-week course in Watercolours in Term 1 2018 with accomplished artist Chip Kaufman. See our ‘About’ page for more information about Chip. Detailed course notes are also supplied below.
***Students receive a 10% discount on materials at Senior Art Supplies at Senior’s Degraves Street shop, 21 Degraves Street in CBD. Deans Art at 188 Gertrude Street Fitzroy has also offered the 10% discount for our watercolour students.***
Monday evenings 6pm – 9pm, 1 through 29 October, 2018 (5 weeks)
Cost: $245 ($230 early bird and concession) including course notes.
Where: Upstairs Studio, PHCC
Please contact 9387 7740 or firstname.lastname@example.org for any more information.
Chip Kaufman, Artist
243 McKean Street, North Fitzroy, 3068, Victoria, Australia
Mob 0400 919 504, fax 9481-0585, email: email@example.com
To prospective participants in Chip Kaufman’s second Watercolour Course at Princes Hill Community Centre
I am very pleased indeed to have been asked by Princes Hill Community Centre to lead a second Watercolours course during Term 4 on Monday evenings, from the 24th September – 29th October 2018 (6pm–9pm). I offer these thoughts about the course, so that you can understand how I’ll probably organise and run it, and thereby whether you’d like to join us.
Senior Art Supplies discount (at Senior’s Degraves Street shop in CBD)
I have talked to Nicki at Senior Art in Melbourne’s CBD on 21 Degraves St, and she has agreed to give my students a 10% discount, if you mention that you’ll be one of my students. I buy virtually all my supplies and tools from Senior Art there. I don’t presume to impose any of the following recommendations, which are only based on my experience alone. You are more than welcome to choose other tools and materials, based on your own preferences and experience.
Easels and Tables
Students will not be provided with watercolour-specific easels. However, you are welcome to bring your own, as I do. The tall drawing easels will be available, although they will position paper in an almost vertical position, meaning that you’ll need to deal with running watercolour paint (something that many fine artists such as Greg Allen and Amanda Hyatt normally embrace, although I find it difficult). You will also be welcome to use the small black square tables available in the studio, whose surfaces are flat. You’ll be able to put something beneath the edge of your watercolour board, so that you can tip the paper to control the direction of flow for fluid watercolours.
My own easel set-up
Largely my own design and invention, I built this easel/palette/tripod arrangement about five years ago (see photos below). I have made another set-up for a friend, who loves it. This set-up remains the best arrangement for watercolour or acrylic painting en plein air that I have seen. I also use it regularly for my life painting in the Princes Hill Community Centre studio.
My set-up uses an inexpensive Inca photo tripod. I have glued the connecting pieces which normally would fit to the underside of a camera, instead to the underside of my watercolour boards. I bought several of these connection pieces, and I have cut off the screw that goes into the bottom of a camera, so that I can glue the piece/s to the back of my watercolour boards. I have one board for A3 size paper, and one for larger sheets (shown). Using this set-up, I can adjust the tilt and height of the board to level, vertical and anywhere in between, and thus can cause watercolour paint to flow in whatever direction I choose. The palette support shown above has a groove that enables it to sit on the tripod legs at an ideal height for me when standing to paint, ergonomically ideal for my right hand and out of my way when standing at the easel. This stand (right photo above) holds the palette, plenty of brushes, and three plastic cups of water. I also have a two foot-long length of plastic-covered wire in my kit. On windy days, I tie this wire to the tripod bracket, so that I can hang a handy rock or whatever beneath it to keep the easel from blowing over. I’ve even painted using this set-up in knee-deep seawater.
I think that your palette needs to be big enough for you to use and mix plenty of paint from tubes. Palettes should be white plastic or metal, with at least four reasonably sized mixing wells and perhaps twenty slant trays or wells for each watercolour pigment. The palette should have a tightly sealing cover so that your watercolours don’t dry out or spill.
You could try using the little ‘travel palettes’ with their own little ‘half pan cake colours’, but I would quickly become frustrated with such a tool…and what do you do when you’ve run out of one colour?
If you wish, you can use the large boards available at the Princes Hill studio, normally used to hold drawing paper on the easels. They may be a bit cumbersome, but should work. You’ll need to tape the watercolour paper to them, securely taping the entire perimeter of the paper so that it does not warp or curl when water is applied to it. I used ‘triple-ply’ board purchased at a hardware store for my watercolour boards, which I’ve cut to the dimensions I choose.
Rag or terrycloth towel
Come with an old terrycloth face towel. I use one for every single painting I do; it is a necessary component for any watercolourist.
Water mist sprayer
This is a little bottle with a pump sprayer that sprays a mist of water. I use it frequently during every painting to moisten watercolours in their wells. Mine is only about 12cm tall by 3cm in diameter. You can buy them at art stores…mine originally had spectacle cleaning fluid in it, purchasable at a pharmacy or optometrist.
Ideally three 150ml cups for water
I always use three cups for water, retaining at least one with clean water. I usually change out the water in at least one cup before I complete any painting.
I’ve got more brushes than the following, but I find I use these the most, and would feel pretty lost without each of the following.
|Round||16 – 20||At least one of these|
|Round||12||3 or 4 or these|
|Round||6 – 8||2 or three of these|
|Flat (reasonably stiff bristles)*||Inch wide or so||1|
|Flat||Centimetre or so||1|
|Hake or other soft flat brush||About 5 cm||1|
|Fan brush**||About 3cm wide||1|
*I use this flat brush when I want to remove watercolour pigment from the painting. This is a means of ‘modelling’ and area to get some of it back toward bare paper. I wet the clean flat brush in clean water and then brush it across the painted area (pretty hard sometimes). This loosens the pigment on the paper. I can then daub the wet pigment up with a paper towel.
**A fan brush works well when sometimes you want to show gum tree foliage, for example.
***My rigger brush has a really long skinny filament at the end, and is good for painting twigs, irregular lines, etc. I keep it in the plastic sleeve/tube it came in, as it is easily damaged otherwise.
Arches 300gsm Rough watercolour paper (or equal) seems the best paper. It is heavy enough that it does not tend to buckle (as much) when washes are applied to it. However, it is important securely to tape the entire perimeter of each drawing sheet onto the painting board. If you preferred, you could tack the corners.
You should please procure big sheets (56X76cm) and A3 pads. The Arches big sheets normally come in packets of 10 sheets. This size is relatively economical to buy, but too big for normal painting, in my experience. I typically buy packets of the big size and then fold and rip each sheet into two smaller sheets (56X38cm). I use an ordinary ruler to help me fold the sheets so that I can rip them more easily along the fold. I store the ripped sheets in the same plastic sleeve that I bought them in (quite handy).
I also buy pads of Arches A3-sized paper (also 300gsm Rough). You should have at least one A3 pad for this course; you’ll probably want two pads of a dozen sheets each. An A2 pad might be even better, if you want to work bigger and looser.
‘Rough’ watercolour paper surface works best at least for me, as the washes of paint can often dry beautifully around the ‘bumps’ on the paper. I find that ‘Smooth’ paper tends to amplify minor faults in my brush strokes, and makes me too ‘fiddly’. But Smooth paper allows a transparent wash that does not show the bumps.
I note that Albert Namatjira, the great Aboriginal watercolourist, appeared to use smooth paper, usually no more than 60cm wide. He also painted in considerable detail with quite small brushes…not my thing, but he was certainly masterful at that, so feel free if you prefer that approach.
I do recommend, especially if you’re a relative beginner at watercolours, that you paint relatively big. Painting on a small sheet (such as A4 or even A3) tends to make you too ‘tight’. It’s also highly advisable to step back a few metres every few minutes when painting, to view your progress.
You’ll need plenty of ‘practice scrap paper’ in sheets folded to perhaps about A4 size (folded sheets are stiff enough for you to hold them in your hand and apply paint to them). I just re-use the back sides of my many painting failures. It’s very handy sometimes to mix and/or test colours on the practice sheet before you apply it to the painting itself. Practising on the practice sheets gives me more courage to apply the paint more daringly and spontaneously on the actual painting.
Kitchen tissues or paper serviettes
You’ll want two or three sheets of kitchen tissue or several paper serviettes for each session. Such paper is really handy to daub up paint when you’ve applied it too heavily, and/or to help actually to remove the pigment from the paper in areas, if you want. This can actually be done without making the painting look overworked, once you learn some tricks.
A good quality of masking tape (I use ‘hyStick’ brand) will stay adhered to the painting while you’re finishing it. The tape width should be a bit wider than an inch (35mm). Get a big roll.
I find that B or 2B pencils work best for sketching out onto watercolour paper. This lead is dark enough to enable various strengths of line weight, and won’t smudge badly if you are careful and don’t overdraw the shadows with too much hatching. Get at least three such pencils, as often I find that a given pencil will often have broken leads that fail to sharpen well.
Paints are expensive, but their copious use may be the most cost-effective means of your improving your watercolour painting, quickly and decisively.
Note that I’ve listed more than 20 pigments below. My palette has 20 paint wells, and so some pigments share a well. This has not been a problem for me, and some palettes have a few larger wells in their corners.
I usually buy either Windsor & Newton or Daniel Smith paints. I can’t presume to say whether less expensive ‘student paints’ will be a detriment for you or not. Depending on the brand/s you buy, the names of the pigments may vary slightly.
|Colour||Size tube (ml)|
|Cadmium yellow pale||15|
|Golden ochre or yellow ochre||15|
|Quinacridone gold or similar||5|
|Alizarin crimson or Permanent rose||15|
|Quinacridone burnt scarlet or similar||15|
|India ink*||Small bottle 15|
*Some people scoff at using India ink with a watercolour; I’m not that proud, when it seems visually ‘right’ to use it…the same goes for Chinese white, which John Singer Sargent used regularly.
Erasers, sharpeners, candle, pocket knife or scraper
I use a Staedtler Mars white plastic eraser, and I take care to rub a corner clean before using it on the actual paper of the painting. I use it sparingly, as over-erasing will compromise the paper surface and how it receives paint.
You’ll need at least one little cheap pencil sharpener (two in case you lose one).
Bring a normal household candle (or equal). I have found that John Singer Sargent (I think the best watercolourist ever) used a candle frequently. If you rub a candle across rough watercolour paper and then apply paint across that area, you’ll find that the white beneath the wax remains uncoloured. John Singer Sargent also would paint an area, for example, light yellow, let the paint dry, and then use the candle on that area, in order for those yellow marks from the candle to show through darker colours applied on the area afterwards.
John Singer Sargent (JSS for short) also was not bashful about using Chinese white or the equivalent (possible gouache white). Maybe this is because he was also a masterful oil painter (as well as gouache painter).
I use a tiny pocketknife which I always carry with me to scrape away colour/s before they have completely dried. This yields marks that show the original white paper through a darker pigment. You can also use your fingernail or the corner of a credit card. The pocketknife works, to a limited extent, even after the paint has dried. JSS used this trick quite often.
Course Format, Limited Enrolment, and for whom this course may appeal
To inform our painting together, I’ll first data-project watercolour masterpieces onto a big bright screen, in order to illustrate watercolour principles. We’ll have plenty of room to work (and play), and we’ll have time individually and jointly to review our painting progress. In order to optimise learning, the course will be limited to eight students. We’ll also need at least six students in order for the course to run.
The proposed curriculum explained below is inspired by our first watercolouring course for Princes Hill, which I taught during this past summer session to only three self-described watercolour beginners. Teresa, Therese, Joseph and I all had a blast, frankly, during each of those Monday evening three-hour-long sessions. Teresa and Therese (Joseph is overseas and not available) have agreed to answer any questions you may have about that first course, if you wish to contact them. They have signed up already for this second course, which means there are only four to six spaces left!
Here are the contacts for the two available students from the first course:
Teresa Batten firstname.lastname@example.org 0425 789 487
Therese Mercader email@example.com 0419 292 257
This course may appeal to watercolourists who regard themselves as somewhere between ‘rank beginners’ and artists with ‘reasonable’ watercolour experience. My only request is that you be open-minded and willing to experiment.
Monday evening sessions will start at 6pm and run until about 9pm. Please arrive early enough to set up your watercolour gear, so that we can all start promptly at 6pm. I find that it takes me about 15 minutes fully to set up and be ready to begin.
The more I paint and draw, the more I’m learning (and improving, fortunately!). So this curriculum may change somewhat, in response to new inspiration, as well as to your input before and during the course.
To begin with, we’ll be reviewing the watercolour medium itself, including but not limited to its transparency, its apparent spontaneity, and its abundant challenges! As my favourite watercolourist, John Singer Sargent, once said, painting a watercolour is like “making the best of an emergency”.
We’ll be copying watercolour masterpieces projected onto a big screen. Artists from my earlier course just loved doing this, even though none of them had done so before. They obviously learned mightily from their copying efforts, improving drastically during each session.
Copying masterpieces does not constrain your own creativity one bit. Rather, for me at least, it opens my eyes to how the great artists actually achieved their masterpieces, from the standpoints of technique, illusion, composition and so forth. Ever since the Renaissance and earlier, all great artists all copied the masterworks of their predecessors. Why not learn from the very best, rather than just from me?
Most sessions will begin with a brief lecture/discussion using a data projector, to show and discuss the painting we’ll be copying. I’ll usually be painting too, when I’m not helping each of you. If I paint alongside you, you’ll soon find that I make plenty of mistakes, too, which may encourage you to take risks (and hence maybe improve faster). But my demonstrations may also be helpful to you.
By the way, during the latter part of this past century, the art of illusionistic drawing and painting was generally elbowed aside by abstract expressionism and related ‘movements’. This profoundly affected the quality of teaching art and hence of learning art, resulting in many artists being unable to paint illusionistically from Reality. But the best abstract expressionists all learned illusionistic painting before they ‘progressed’ (so to speak) to abstraction. This shows in the quality of their abstract works. Today we face the dilemma of many visual artists ‘maturing’ without ever being able to paint illusionistically, or perhaps therefore even of being able to ‘observe’ really well. By our copying illusionistic masterpieces, we’ll be learning better how to see, and indeed how to make inspired watercolour illusions.
The artists from my earlier sessions all asked if they could continue to work on their artworks at home, in between sessions. You’ll be welcome to do this, as well, but not obligated…it was their idea, not mine!
I have done art all my long life (68 years-old), and I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in drawing and photography. Over the past 15 years or so I’ve painted watercolours more and more, both landscapes during travels, and figurative paintings when in Melbourne (mostly at Prince’s Hill). I also love life drawing. I’ve attached some of my recent works below.
Art is ultimately about its Medium
Decades ago, the great photographer Garry Winogrand, one of my professors for my Master of Fine Arts degree in photography and drawing, said to me, “Art is ultimately about its medium.” The longer I’m around, the more compelling this statement becomes for me…and the more relevant this statement is to my watercolour painting. Let me explain.
A great watercolour does not look like a great oil painting, and certainly not look like a colour photograph. A good painting does not just describe the ‘content’ of the subject being painted. A big part of the Art is how the painting capitalises on and celebrates the characteristics of your medium, while painting. With watercolour, this means leveraging its sublime luminosity, so that the white of the paper behind the transparent watercolour will glow through to the surface. Of course, this is much easier said than done, with ‘mud’ so often the unfortunate result of the best-laid plans. It’s really hard to re-work watercolour without its turning to dull mud.
I’ve learned, by the way, that certain watercolour pigments are far more transparent than others. And the less transparent pigments tend to dull the more transparent ones. I guess this is a function of how the particular pigment is made.
Many watercolour techniques specifically manifest themselves in a great watercolour painting, including:
- ‘reserving’ unpainted white areas, or
- ‘lifting paint out’ with a stiff brush wetted in clear water and then daubing the wetted area with a paper towel, or
- scraping back to white paper before the paint has dried, or
- applying opaque white pigment for highlights at the end of a painting, or
- marking bare rough watercolour paper with clear candle wax, which stays clear (and the paper white) when adjoining areas are painted over with colour.
Great watercolours show these characteristics of the medium. We’ll often be discussing and practising by copying how John Singer Sargent did his watercolour magic. His success with these techniques distinguishes brilliantly between his great watercolours and his equally great oil paintings (so self-evidently oil paintings!), as well as his sublime and sensitive charcoal portraits.
How Illusions in Watercolour can outperform Photography
One often assumes that a camera describes a subject more clearly than a watercolourist can. While that is often the case for mechanical depiction of that which was photographed, a camera does not perform as well for colour rendition, and certainly cannot think or edit (except after the fact of the photograph). A camera can’t capture the true colour of a day-lit subject when there is a lot of contrast, as well as our eyes can usually see it. Colours in brightly lit areas are likely to be washed out, and/or shaded areas will lose their colour and turn to boring dark grey silhouettes. How watercolouring outperforms photography becomes really obvious, for example, when you study a great Hans Heysen watercolour, such as the one below.
If Heysen (or I) had photographed this actual view, I would have had to either expose the photograph for the shaded trees, or for the sunlit paddock…but a single still photograph could not describe both. Or I’d need to expose for the sunlit paddock and use a giant flash, stronger than any I’ve ever seen, to light the shaded trees!
Even today’s new cameras still can’t ‘see’ or therefore depict the sunlit or shadowed colours anywhere near as well as Heysen did in his paintings. This is because, when we look at a scene like this, our eyes almost instantly adjust to the target of our focus, enabling us to adapt to the light intensity of the area on which we are focusing, and thereby see colours well in virtually any lighting condition. A camera can’t do this with a still photograph.
Heysen described his approach as follows:
“Keeping the tree solid in the morning light was the difficult thing. I think it was something I was striving for all my life, really. The subtlety of a light-coloured tree against light was the problem. To get the weight of that tree – its character and strength -and yet retain the light surrounding it, playing around the tree – and a feeling of sunlight throughout the whole. Nature doesn’t deal in pure colours, out of a tube. The colours are mixed with atmosphere.”
If you observe the painting above, the sun is near the horizon and just outside the left edge of the picture. Heysen chose to clearly show the colours he saw in the trees.With the sun in this position, a camera could not have done this; rather, a camera would have rendered the trees in dark silhouette.
This masterpiece, by the way, could be one of the paintings, which we’ll copy in our class. If so, we’ll also review and attempt to copy the techniques, which Heysen used in this painting. For example, how did he get the amber foliage on the upper right that’s in front of the blue trunk? How did he do the white on the sunlit tree trunks or on the gorgeous belly of that light-coloured horse? How the hell did he render those tree trunks to look so gloriously round?
Moreover, having wandered some of the same terrains in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, where Heysen so often painted, I’m beginning to believe that Heysen may well have visually edited his subject matter. Most of Heysen’s desert landscapes and gumtree scapes in dry creek beds appear devoid of the annoyingly ubiquitous brush that is so often present in these landscapes. Overgrazing back then might have handily denuded the ground planes, as well. Heysen almost surely isolated the chosen elements in his paintings by removing unnecessary visual distractions in the views he was painting. But the whole image remains utterly credible, to me.
Moreover, we painters can choose to adjust the painting of the subject we’re observing, simplifying some areas if we want, in order to focus attention on the main subject of the painting. And we can change the colours or contrast of some areas, in order to enhance the painting. That’s not possible really in a still photograph. Photography has its own great strengths as an art form, which differ markedly from watercolours.
Reviewing Masterpieces by Hans Heysen and John Singer Sargent, and possibly others
Please Google both these artists’ watercolours; these artists are amazing and so different from each other. John Singer Sargent (JSS) painted with and learned from many of the Impressionists in Europe, and his work became progressively more loose…but his work was always illusionistic. I attach a few of my favourites below.
John Singer Sargent must have had a really fun life. Early on, he established himself in the US and Europe as ‘the oil portrait artist’ of the rich and famous. He made a great deal of money doing so. While he loved portraiture, he also loved travel and painting, touring with a select few friends. For the last several decades of his life, he would travel Europe (mostly) with four or five friends, painting, playing, with his friends obviously napping often outdoors (see his paintings). He absolutely loved Venice and returned there many times.
But the rich and famous actually hounded him to do their portraits in oils (damn the cost!). John Singer Sargent at some point realised that he could far more quickly (in one sitting usually) portray these clients in charcoal or pencil instead of painting in more time-consuming oils. He sketched many lucid sublime and powerful portraits, probably for close to the same cost to the clients, but thereby allowing himself far more time to travel with his friends! What fun he must have had!
Perhaps we partially can emulate the fun John Singer Sargent had, while we’re together during this forthcoming watercolour course.
 Sargent Portrait Drawings, Trevor J. Fairbrother, Dover Publications, New York 1983
ISBN – 13: 978-0-486-24524-9