Stephie Butler has generously shared her expertise in liquid charcoal and watercolour twice during lockdown. Once to a small group of friends and members as a technical test of equipment used in the virtual studio, and the second time to the wider SEAW community – also in the virtual studio during our regular hours. Apart from that, here is what else Stephie has been up to during lockdown.

When the spread of the virus started to get serious in the UK, I was sitting in West Africa starting to worry about getting home. There were stories flying around about flights being cancelled by and countries going into lockdown. Fortunately the company we travel with is well organised and we flew home on our original travel date – the day the UK went into lockdown.

We drove home from the airport in a weird almost ghost-town atmosphere, we had never, ever seen London so quiet and deserted.

Like many artists who work in their studios, I’m used to spending lots of time indoors on my own. It suits me and I’ve been like this since childhood. There was no need to go out, except to check up on my parents who we care for. All my workshops and tuition had been cancelled for the the foreseeable future and my partner did all the grocery runs. Within a few days my partner was furloughed, he was home, doing more cooking and chores leaving me more free time.

It’s been such a roller coaster. I’ve spent a good many weeks enjoying having time to play, experiment and try new things. This is time I don’t usually get. Before lockdown it would have been filled with teaching, exhibitions, marketing on social media and all the admin that goes with an artist’s life. All the things I’d started and not had time to finish were now possible. This enthusiasm gradually changed – I was desperately missing my sons and grandchildren, one of which I still haven’t seen; I was really starting to miss the interaction with students on workshops and at demonstrations.

Here are some of the skills I have really enjoyed honing during lockdown:

Drawing practice

I have wanted some time for myself to develop my drawing skills with portraits. I’ve recently developed a liking for working in charcoal and this was an opportunity to practice and not waste the time given to me. Being continuously inspired by so many talented artists online and discovering many different styles and techniques I’d not seen before, I decided to join a couple of online classes.

Liquid charcoal & Watercolour

African wild dog by Stephie Butler

A couple of years back I discovered a new product, Liquid Charcoal. I bought a tube and spent some time playing with it with a Dutch friend who visits every year. Whilst I enjoy using other mediums, I always get to a stage of withdrawal if I haven’t touched my watercolours for a while. I’m always thinking of ways I can incorporate watercolours with any new medium I try.

As a result, I spent a lot of time playing, mixing and trying different techniques to see how liquid charcoal and watercolours could work together. The results were so amazing that my experimental artworks were being sold and accepted for exhibitions. Having seen this interest in the combined media, I decided to add them to my workshop offerings.

Cape buffalo by Stephie Butler

I love teaching, helping and sharing knowledge with other artists, having the Sunday SEAW meet ups with other members and friends has filled a huge gap for me. So I was only too happy when one of the members asked if I could do a demonstration to our Sunday get together on Whereby. If anyone thinks watercolour is uncontrollable then they need to try these two together for a seriously out-of-control experience! As in watercolours, the size of the pigment particles determines the granulation and as liquid charcoal is made up of large pigment particles, putting the two together creates a granulation bonanza. It does take lots of practice, understanding and learning, as the properties are so different to traditional charcoal.

After working out which pigments work best, I have spent hours working out where and when to add the watercolour and water. I have worked out what effects the variations had and have found that timing is crucial to avoid making mud.  The more I experiment the more I’m discovering and the more I’m enjoying it.

In Thought by Stephie Butler

This is the latest painting which was heading for this years SWA exhibition, but was sold soon after I shared it on social media. I’ve learnt so much since I painted the first one and I am sure there is still so much to discover.

Workshops are starting to open, many of which are rescheduled dates for those that were cancelled. There have also been some new ones added specifically for liquid charcoal and watercolour, one of which is in Cambridgeshire. If you are interested in learning more, then please contact me.