Friday, 28 March 2014

Wet in Wet Workshop

Hello there everyone, and welcome to this week's blogpost.

Margaret Barkley
Well, Monday of this week saw us finally get round to hosting the much anticipated visit and workshop by popular watercolourist Margaret Barkley, holding court with using the wet in wet method for producing some of her stunning bird portraits.

I know that Margaret is an old friend of Goole Art Society having visited us last year where I met her for the first time. As Phil and I walked in to the room before this week's session she remarked - 'Oh, I remember this gentleman'. Gulp - I'm a marked man I thought, but is it for the right reasons? Last year's visit with us saw Margaret once again giving us a watercolour workshop,  but this time successfully getting most of us out of our 'comfort zones' and trying new materials to have a play with in our watercolours. I remember her asking for us to bring our own sea salt, clingfilm and bag of leaves and wondered what the heck we were going to be getting up to. Trust me, I am not one for experimenting or playing around with other 'tools or props' - the most experimental I get is to use masking fluid! However, by the end of the evening we were all having fun crunching up clingfilm over wet paint and making leaf patterns. Amazing.

Anyway, I digress, so on to this week's session.

Margaret shows members some of the work that inspires her.
Once we had all arrived, and I have to say that testament to Margaret's appeal we had a very good turn-out of our members, even those who have never, or do not really work in watercolour came willing to have a go, it was down to Margaret to introduce herself and set the scene for the evening's work.

As you may be able to see from the first photo's she came armed with a whole library of bird and natural history books, chatting to us about who and why they helped inspire her. Alongside the windowsill she had kindly printed off a selection of some of her favourite bird pictures for us to choose to work on. We all gathered round the front table where she then began to explain to us her principles of getting the basics right, helping us along the way with one of her own printed 'idiot guides' as to how to start and set about the subject. Please note - I am not knocking her at all, it is simply my term (idiot guide) which endears me to something I myself find extremely useful and simple to follow.

One area that Margaret touched upon which I found very interesting indeed was the need to get the bird 'balanced' and looking right. We were shown how to set about to achieving this, and in all honesty it is quite simple, as these things more than often are (when you know how).

Margaret's 'One she made earlier.'
Once we had all taken in and absorbed the system and logic of it all then we were treated to watching a highly skilled artist at work. To help save time and keep things moving, Margaret had brought a prepared couple of sketches with her, along with a partially painted bird, which was a finch sat on top of some prickly bush (I am not a gardener so can't remember what it was) in winter time.

We huddled round as Margaret showed us how she worked quickly but in a controlled manner on a wet surface, letting the paint do most of the work after she had 'encouraged' it to move where she wanted it. Carefully building up layers of colour which all interacted with those adjacent she literally brought the bird to life before our very eyes. If she had brought an MP3 player with birdsong on it we would have sworn it was in the room with us. The photo's I took on my mobile don't quite do it the real justice it deserves, but believe me, it was amazing!

Below you will see that we have two similar looking birds, but there is a subtle difference. One of these was worked on by simply applying washes of colour wet in wet on to watercolour paper as we normally would, (well me anyway as I've previously told you I am not one for experimenting really, with anything). This looked fine, and is in fact very interesting to compare with the second one in which Margaret very gently applied the washes of paint over a slightly more pencilled in sketch, using the differing grades of pencil to alter the colour of the paint. The lines and marks allowed the paint to run some in a controlled manner, and with the grade of pencil used underneath the paint gave a very interesting rendition of the bird's natural plumage. Have you ever noticed the difference of colour between the smart looking birds in your bird guide compared to the one sat in front of you? Breeding time they all look very, very smart, especially the males as it's part of their cunning mating attraction plan to entice those 'playing hard to get' females. Afterwards when they are worn out bringing beak-fulls of nutrition to a seemingly endless number of wide-open young beaks, it's no wonder they look a little dishevelled at best, down-right scruffy at worst!

Pencilled bird on the right (flash on).
Pencilled bird on right (flash off).

Now it was time for us to run off to our seats and get going with our sketches (each carefully chosen by ourselves for us to work on tonight) having no idea just what we might have let ourselves in for. This time was spent with some joviality and chatter as we are all proficient in our own ways with pencil and sketching. Strangely enough there was a kind of silence spreading over certain parts of the room as those who are not confident in or indeed never use watercolour now had to face the sheer terror of - THE PALETTE! Colour choices and suggestions were quickly asked for, then we were away, having a go at mastering our own wet in wet techniques.

This was part of Margaret's 'Master Plan' which all good artists have. She wanted us to go and work on getting some colour down, move it about if necessary and getting it to integrate with its neighbouring colour, working to create some tone and depth, not forgetting of course to work with light against dark etc. All the time she was on hand to help out with any problems, wandering around giving us each help and advice.

Time tends to run away with you at every one of these events, the phrase 'Time fly's when you are enjoying yourself' is always true, and time now started to press, so Margaret called us back to her table and began to show us how to move on to the next stage which was to give some highlights and detail to our works. More subtle work such as the eye ring and adding gouache to highlight the eye which made such a difference when applied was simply amazing, really bringing to life the little bird.

Before continuing on our own works, we were shown how to use a variety of methods to suggest or simply to apply the effects of feathers, which are, let's face it, such an integral part of a bird's make-up. This included simple tips like getting feathers and contours to stick out from the normal line and shape of the bird to help give it some life and individuality. The last tips we received were on how to create a subtle background for your bird. If you look at Margaret's work you can see that the background is indeed a very simple and effective one: a darker coloured sky highlights the lights of the birds and lighter sky enhance the darks of the bird's plumage. To finish it off completely she then advised us to fade out the sky colour so the eye did not get detracted from the main subject.

We had all had a fantastic evening - two hours is never enough, and we thanked Margaret for her advice, help and tips, each one of us coming away with some newly gleaned knowledge be it us watercolourists or not. My artist companion Phil who I pick up on the way through each Monday and I had a real interesting chat on the 40 minute drive back. He is mainly an acrylic and oil painter, but really enjoyed the slant of using watercolour.

The rest of this blog is taken up by the efforts of our members. We hope you enjoy them.

Sparrow Hawk

Blue Tit


Bearded Tit


Newly fledged Goldfinch


Watercolour Blue Tit

Pencil Blue Tit by the same artist.

Brian's brace of Shellduck

Margaret chats to Brian on her 'rounds'.

My attempt at a House Sparrow

So, there you have it, one very enjoyable evening indeed, and almost two dozen artists of varying degrees and mediums, all happy in the knowledge they had just gained. I suspect that in most situations like this your brain goes into a little bit of overload, so it may take a day or two thinking about things before making a decision as to when you are going to attempt your next bird.

Me? Well to prove I took part as an artist as well as reporting on the evening's events,  here's my effort on the left. My board also had my original picture to work from (courtesy of Margaret), plus one of her hand-outs giving us some tips on how to go about producing a reasonable likeness.

How long did it take for me to 'mull things over' I hear you all ask? Well, the next evening Phil and I were back at the very small (4 members)  local group where I set about having a go. For once I turned up half prepared, not only finding out I had forgotten to pack one of my sets of brushes, but also my small palette too!

Luckily I had my pencil tin with me, so, armed with a putty rubber, sketchbook and blushes, away I went and managed to have a go at another House Sparrow which I was quite taken with. Next in line came the start of a Bullfinch - something with a bit of colour, so I will have plenty to keep me going when I get my full range of materials packed!

Hope you have enjoyed this blog, and BIG thanks to my friend Kathleen for her suggestions.


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