Friday, 12 February 2016

Watercolour Workshop: Less is More!

As part of my residency, I ran another of my empowerment workshops recently, working with the academics at the Morgan Centre. My merry band of would-be sketchers were all given a free set of watercolours at the outset and, although we did do some playing around with them during our very first meeting, I have noticed that most people aren't really using them. Not surprising - I know some very seasoned sketchers who are still terrified of watercolour.

So, I thought we would do some work with paint, to get them more familiar with how it feels and to discover some of the simple but effective things you can do. 

For people to feel comfortable, it is vital that these workshops are fun and that results are acheivable. I need people to not only learn useful techniques, but to enjoy the session sufficiently that they are inspired to give things a go when they are on their own, with the SCARY blank page.

First of all, we used wet paper and explored simple mark-making methods, introducing watercolour to the page, but then leaving it alone, letting the water take it off to interesting places, resisting the urge to scrub and mix. 

Then I asked people to see if they could see an image in the blobs and squiggles. The challenge was to use as few drawn marks as possible to turn the splodges into something. Love these funky birds:

Next, we played a game in pairs, where people took it in turns to add a mark to a shared painting, building up images which were initially abstract, but waiting for the suggestion of something representational to emerge. It's fun because people sometimes have different ideas of where it's going. You can choose to cooperate with your partner, or you can subvert their ideas as you see them emerging and deliberately take it off on a different track.

The idea of the exercise was to get people painting freely, but to keep it light-hearted and devoid of expectation. I wanted them to learn how the paint worked - what consistency to use, which colours reacted together well, the difference between working onto wet and dry paper - all this, without any pressure to create something successful.

Finally, I asked them to use the techniques we had learnt, to do a very quick watercolour sketch of an item of fruit or veg that I'd asked everyone to bring. I showed them how you can restrict where the wet paint is going to go, by creating the shape of your object in water first, then quickly introducing the paint while it's wet. This is my 10-second mango:

I asked people to use only 2 or 3 colours and to let the paint settle on its own, as before. Finally, to finish off with the minimal amount of line-work needed to make the object identifiable. This is my example apple and satsuma:

We suddenly ran out of time and everyone had to rush off, so I only got a photo of one person's painting, this gorgeous garlic. Quite a tricky thing to choose, particularly as an absolute beginner, but she did a fantastic job:

Everyone did really well. Their 'homework' was to go away and use the techniques in their sketchbooks over the next few weeks. My hope is that the workshop demonstrated that you can be quite free and easy with watercolour and still get quite dramatic results, by sticking to a few simple rules:

* Use water first to tell the paint where to go and to give you lovely marks
* Limit yourself to 2 or 3 colours
* Let the paint do its thing - don't fiddle and scrub!
* Less is more: you often don't need outlines

If you are afraid of watercolour, give it a whirl. You need plenty of clean water, a hairdryer to encourage the drying along and a good size brush, so you get enough paint down. Watercolour paper is ideal, but we only had ordinary cartridge paper books to work in and, as you can see, it was fine. So long as it isn't too flimsy. Have fun!

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