Painting Snowdrops

One of the delightful sights of the cold January days is delicate white blooms of snowdrops drifting across verges and through churchyards.   No wonder we have the urge to pick up our paintbrushes when we see them. The fragility of these pristine white blossoms seems to be so well suited to watercolour.

In this tutorial, I am not attempting to show you how to create the perfect snowdrop watercolour. I hope, instead, to share some tips on using two different methods of resist to retain the white of the paper, and at the same time, get splashy and creative with your paint.



In both paintings I used the same colours – four transparent: one warm and three cool. Not a green amongst them.  (Can you tell which is my favourite?)

Masking Fluid Method

Saunders Waterford is one of my favourite papers. Its robust enough to take a pretty wet wash which is important for me as I do a lot of wet-in-wet painting.I chose High White for this little demonstration – appropriate for the crisp colour of the flowers.

My rough sketch was done in watercolour pencil.  The beauty of this is that the lines almost disappear completely once you start painting and so absolute precision isn’t a necessity. Also, I chose a bright green to work in, which would blend into the image in the bits that might still be visible.

Apply masking fluid to the flowers and leaves so you can paint with abandon when you’re getting the background done. There is nothing worse than thinking you’ll remember to be careful around the areas you want to preserve as white – and then having an ‘Oops’ moment as you realise you’ve just obliterated a snowdrop. Also, my masking fluid was somewhat elderly which made things a bit challenging. [Tip: don’t do this. Lumpy masking fluid is just horrible to work with].

I used a combination of Indigo and Sepia to make some nice dark variations in the background. At the end I added some splatters of Quinacridone Gold to bring in some warmth and a bit of light. Add a sprinkling of rock salt to provide some background texture. I used large crystals to give the impression of blossoms dotted in the distance. If you prefer a more ‘starlight’ effect, smaller salt crystals would work better.

Make sure you let all of this dry really well. I left mine overnight. But don’t leave it so long that the masking fluid binds to the paper and damages the surface when you remove it.

Using Quin Gold and Pthalo Turquoise to create a fresh green for leaf and bloom details. I deliberately left some white highlights in the leaf areas. A dilute mixture of Sepia and Indigo gave me a faint blue/grey for the shadows on the petals.
Put in the darker leaves using a mix of Quin Gold and Indigo. And then its a matter of final touches – a bit of softening of the foreground snowdrop to make the trio stand out more. The final step is to highlights details on the main flowers.

Oil Pastel Resist Method


This was done from a reference photograph I took in the churchyard of our village, with a tree and a treestump in the background. The approach to this is to focus on the drifts of snowdrops across the grass rather than details of individual blossoms.
Use white oil pastel to block out the areas where you want to preserve whites. I used a textured paper and a rough stroke to leave some areas for colour to show through. Paint the first wash, laying in light tones of colour at low intensity.

Start bringing in darker tones in your second wash.

Increase contrast in the area of interest, with some wonderful juicy dark tones and a bit of splattered Pthalo Turquoise (go light on the splatter at this point).

The background detail is now in but needs to be pushed back to ensure it doesn’t pull the eye too much. The visual journey in this painting is up the diagonal, across the border in front of the trees, and then down to the detail again. The tall grass blades on the left hand side provide a pathway back down to the beginning. I felt there needed to be something more to guide the viewer on this part of the journey.  I also didn’t like one errant line of oil pastel.

To resolve this, I added some splatterings of white gouache: A fairly dense sprinkling just above the mid ground clump of flowers, and another less dense just next to the dark patch of grass above the left hand blades of grass. As you can see in the final painting at the top of this tutorial, these two areas of light in the painting linked the top and the bottom of the image better.

If you decide to have a go at painting your own version of snowdrops, take part in our first 2019 challenge.

TIPS – Gilly Marklew on texture

How to create texture with watercolour

There are many, many ways to create texture with watercolour, and I have folders full of experiments. Many years ago, I was first attracted to creating texture after seeing the work of one of my watercolour heroes, SEAW member, Tessa Shedley Jordan. She used to grind up her own watercolours and add gum arabic to them. The results were really sedimentary and amazing. This is not something I have mastered but have since discovered my own technique.

I expect we have all by now heard of the amazingly sedimentary Daniel Smith colours, which I can’t get enough of. Using them on heavy rough watercolour paper produces its own separation through sedimentary deposits in the valleys of the textured paper. I have experimented by mixing D S paints with Windsor and Newton (see above), then with other D S paints together, and through this, I did manage some rivulet effects using paint and water alone which is what I was aiming for.

Using granulation medium

But wanting to explore more, I tried Daniel Smith paints with granulation medium. This is not a cheap option, but I liked the results. I wanted to create a rivulet effect which is ideal for dramatically representing stormy skies, or gritty textures like rusty metal, or gnarled wood, but this effect still eluded me, despite the money I had spent on it!

It was only when I discovered that in order to create it, you must fly by the seat of your pants, turn your paper nearly vertical in the direction you want the flow to go, and reduce the number of your brush marks by 98%. This means loading your brush up with granulation medium, and a generous amount of pigment, and only touching the paper with your loaded brush at the top, and allowing it to flow down of its own accord. But be warned: do this too many times, and you will wash away all of your texture; not enough fluid, and it won’t flow. Then you have to be patient and watch it develop, which is the hardest part for those of us who want to be in total control of the outcome. Once you have abandoned the idea of control, the most beautiful things happen on their own. This applies to watercolour in general but is multiplied when using this technique. It appears to be deceptively simple, but ask my ex-students and they will tell you it takes some practice, but practice on a small scale is a lot cheaper, and less frustrating than trying to get it right on an underpainting you are invested in.

 

If I am painting on a small area like my demo, I pre-wet my paper with granulation medium.  With larger paintings like my Sebastopol geese painting , I pre-wet my paper with water and the granulation medium seems to work just as well.

NOTE: If you have tried this at home and it didn’t work, Gilly will be happy to give you some trouble shooting ideas.

See more of Gilly’s work here

Gilly will be running a oneday workshop on this subject during the AWASH festival of watercolours to book and find out what else is on, click here.

MEET THE MEMBER – Michele Webber

Boat at Harbour by Michele Webber

Name

Michele Webber

Other art societies you belong to?

Gainsborough’s House Printmakers, SAA (Professional Associate)

What led you to start painting?

I always drew as a child and always wanted to be an artist. People told me it wasn’t possible so I gave it up after leaving school. At the age of 34 I decided I still wanted to be an artist so started again.

Do you have a preference for painting style?

If so, can you describe it? My style is precise but not exactly realistic. Stylised would be a good description, I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

Describe your perfect weekend

Spending time with my daughter, martial arts training, horror or sci fi movie and a dinner at a vegan restaurant

The best thing ever invented was:

The dishwasher!

My favourite game as a child was:

I didn’t like games and still don’t. I liked drawing pictures, roller skating and reading.

If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?

You can do more than the people around you say you can do.

My favourite place to paint is (and why):

My studio in the summer. It’s light and warm.

Your favourite colour to paint with?

Talens Rembrandt Cerulean Blue. Other brands just aren’t the same and I adore this delicate granulating blue.

Best piece of advice you were ever given about art

I would take the quote by Steve Martin ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you’

More on Michele:

Website address: www.michelewebber.com

Instagram: @michelewebberart

Facebook profile: /michelewebberartist

SEAW gallery page

A sideways look at the magic of watercolour

Thoughts of a striving painter – Part 1

by Alan Noyes

Whatever jottings and ramblings I put down here can either be attributed to ideas and advice I have gleaned over time from numerous books in my studio, (How to Paint like Turner by Tate Publishing in particular), or from studying the works of other artists or to the accidents and magic of watercolour that occurs whilst messing about with the medium.  And if messing about equates to having fun then that is what it should be – fun.

To my mind, watercolour is the greatest and most perfect medium of all, it is certainly one of the oldest. Cave paintings in central Europe show silhouettes apparently applied by spraying a mouthful of raw sienna solution over a human hand. I am not advocating that – but whatever turns you on! Watercolour doesn’t smell much, it doesn’t stick to everything, doesn’t cover everything with dust and if (like me), you are untidy, doesn’t take up a lot of room and is easy to carry about – the perfect medium.

My preferences aside, I suppose the first question is “what is watercolour” and, at a very basic scientific and mundane level, the colour part could be described as a mixture of natural or man made materials held together with a binding agent such as gum arabic, awaiting the addition of water to provide a solution which can be applied to a surface, usually by brush, resulting in a dried translucent film allowing light to reflect from the supporting surface – and how boring is that – a definition designed to send you off to learn bee keeping or macramé.

 Where does the magic happen?

But at the ‘awaiting the addition of water’ stage is just where we come in. We are the magicians who conjure up the magic in what is certainly a very magical process.

Just by the addition of water we can release the magic of watercolour. Those beautiful flowing and swirling tones, those misty, mystic washes that combine to form a masterpiece of brilliant, iridescent and transparent colour.

Simple isn’t it – just add water.

Those of us who practice this aggravating art of watercolour know that simple, it is not.

Watercolour is a headstrong mistress with a very definite mind of her own and success as a painter in this medium relies on recognising that fact and practice, practice, practice.

PRACTICE –  to understand the limitations of the medium

PRACTICE –  to understand its boundless possibilities and finally,

PRACTICE –  to put the two together in a successful finished work – but the real secret ingredient to success comes when you realise that watercolour knows what it is doing almost by itself. You are but an aid to the final result, a mere manual labourer and the more you try to interfere in the process the more stubborn the mistress becomes to a point where she just gives up and turns to mud.

Try a little magic watercolour experiment

  • Fill a jam jar with clean water.
  • Mix, in separate pots, fairly strong solutions of the three primaries, red, yellow and blue.
  • Using a full brush or dropper, drop the three colours individually into the water and watch the result.

Undisturbed the three pigments retain their individuality, tumbling about each other.

Now give the water a quick stir and see what happens. Magic to mud in a second.

This is an extreme illustration of what happens when we overwork a watercolour, scrubbing and pushing at the paper, the translucence and brilliance of the pigment disappear and we begin to lose heart – wash it out, tear it up, start again.

The real magic of watercolour

But how lucky are we, we 21st century watercolourists. Bear a thought for those who came before –  Turner, Constable, Cotman, the founders of The Norwich School and their predecessors. Not for them the on line art store, the local art shop, paint in tubes. Although William Reeves produced small hard cakes of watercolour towards the end of the 18th century, most artists ground their own pigments from coarse materials prepared by colourmen. So the next time, when things are not going right or you run out of blue, don’t chuck your brushes in the air –  just be thankful you don’t have to reach for your muller and grind your own.