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ANSWERS TO MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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These are brief answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I get on painting courses and at demonstrations.

Please e-Mail any questions you would like addressed.

Many thanks to all those students who have raised questions which I know are of interest to many others.

Q. Do you use tube colours or pan colours?

A. I always use tube colours. I find that only tube colours give the full range of paint consistency. That is, from a dilute, watery wash to thick paint of toothpaste like consistency. Varying paint consistency is a very important part of watercolour painting and allows a huge variety of painterly marks to be made on Not surfaced or rough watercolour paper.

Although pan colours are very good for small sketch book work and are light and convenient to carry, for large paintings it is difficult to prepare a sufficient quantity to cover a large area. I have noticed in the work of many students using pan colour that their darks lack punch. This leads to overpainting which of course kills all freshness. Achieving transparent darks first time is a vital ingredient in painting fresh, loose watercolours.

One final disadvantage of pan colours is that they wear the tips of valuable sable brushes.

A useful piece of inexpensive equipment to keep tube colours moist once they have been squeezed out into your palette is to give them a quick squirt from a small plastic spray bottle containing water, which can be purchased for under a pound from many chemists.

Q. Do you use Artist Quality, or Student Quality paint?

A. Although many artists find the Student Quality paint perfectly adequate I have always used Artist Quality. I have always believed in using the best materials I can afford but there are other reasons why artists quality is likely to help you get the best results. I find the colours are more intense and the pigment appears to be ground really fine and this all helps to achieve that elusive fresh look to your washes. Furthermore, the most expensive colours, like cobalt blue and the cadmiums seem to mix well because they are the genuine colours and the expensive ingredients have not been replaced by artificial fillers.

If cost is a consideration, then I would use Student Quality paint and spend my money on getting the best brushes I could afford.

Q. Do you give demonstrations to art clubs?

A. Yes. I have been giving demonstrations in watercolour, pen and wash, and oil painting for over 25 years. I also run one day workshops for art societies and tutor painting courses. Please click on and Courses for further details or contact me if you are interested in arranging a demonstration or would like more information.

Q. What paper do you use?

A. Over the years I have used a variety of papers I am currently using Bockingford 200 lb Not and Fabriano 140 lb Rough. Both these papers are quite absorbent and take washes easily. They also have a surface which gives interesting dry brush results. I have also used Arches 140 lb Rough, however, I have found that the size on this paper means that you have to work harder to deliver the paint to the paper. I prefer the softer papers and really only use the brush to deliver the paint to the paper. I want to avoid having to scrub at the surface, however, I want a surface with sufficient texture to get a dry brush mark when required.

Nowadays there is a huge variety of weights and surfaces in paper and students should try as many of them as possible to find which one suits their particular technique and style of delivery. I believe there are many other considerations you must take into account when selecting a paper such as the angle you fix your drawing board, what type of brush used, the humidity of the day and whether you paint outside a lot.

Q. Do you use photographs?

A. Yes. The trick to using photographs is to make sure that your picture doesn't look as if you have. Many artists use photographs nowadays. Very few will admit to it, however, it is clear from their work and subject matter that the painting could never have been carried out without some photographic source material. The Americans are much more open about using photographs.

To use photographs effectively it is necessary to have a lot of experience of painting in the field. Contrary to common belief it is often harder to paint from a photograph than directly in front of nature. This is because photographs don't give the sort of visual information that is helpful to paint fresh, loose watercolours. And, to be honest, painting from photographs is rather boring after a while compared with painting directly from the subject. But it is a useful means of tackling some subjects which would be impossible to do in any other way.

One last thing, it's surprisingly difficult to take a photograph that will make a good picture. I am sure this is because not enough thought is given before the picture is taken. It's far too easy to just click away, particularly with a digital camera when unsatisfactory pictures can be deleted. It's a different investment of time and energy if you know you're going to stand/sit in front of a subject for two or three hours and paint. It's only natural before committing yourself that you ponder the subject more carefully than you would before snapping an instant photo.

Q. What colours do you use?

A. I am always changing and experimenting with new colours, for example, I have started using Viridian which I haven't had on my palette since I was a teenager. There are a number of colours which I always keep on my palette. They are: Windsor Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Light Red, Cadmium Red, Viridian, Raw Sienna, Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Lemon. I am currently also using Raw Umber, Cadmium Orange and Alizarine Crimson. I am also trying out Ivory Black and Hooker's Green, but, they are not yet part of my permanent palette.

I think it is useful to have a core palette or blues, reds and yellows, and introduce a number of other colours to your permanent family to see if you like them. It is also important to limit the number of colours you have on your palette. For over 20 years I painted with only eight colours. This is a good way of learning how to mix and it is only recently that I have extended my palette and therefore appreciate these additional colours in a way that I wouldn't have done had I used one of those paint boxes with about two dozen different colours.

My palette is fairly conventional with the usual blues, earth colours, and Cadmiums. The same colour can usually be mixed in a variety of ways.

One very common sense thing to do is to make sure you lay your palette out in such a way that you can find your colours automatically. I, therefore, have laid my palette out with the colours varying from cool to warm. That is, the blues, reds, and yellows together. And I keep the yellows as far away from Windsor Blue as possible. The yellows are very easily sullied, and Cadmium Yellow only has to have a sniff of Windsor Blue to turn it into a green.

Q. What angle to you have the paper on your easel?

A. For many years all my watercolours were painted with the board at about 30 to the horizontal. However, this angle has gradually got steeper and steeper over time, and I now usually paint with the board at about 60 to the horizontal. One reason for this is because I found that I often got good fresh results when I did demonstrations to art clubs and had to have the board vertical. Now, although you loose some control of the paint when it is so steep I have found that having the board at about 60 enables me to retain the fresh results and not have the paint running down the paper too much out of control.

Q. What size brush do you use?

A. The simple answer to this question is, the largest one possible. Now, I know that answer is not very helpful, but it is difficult to give a number because different brush manufacturers and different styles and series of brushes all have various number systems. If I said I used a number 8-10 for most of the work then you can be sure I'm using a large brush. As regards finer work, I prefer a large brush which points well rather than one of the small rigger brushes sold for this purpose, however, this is just a personal view. These small brushes never seem to work for me. Although, like many artists I have collected a vast assortment of brushes over the years most of the pictures I now paint are carried out using no more than probably three different brushes, and really, the only reason I occasionally use a smaller one (number 6, say) is because I don't want to wear the tip of the more expensive larger sable brushes.
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