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Sue Smith Demonstration

Animal Painting in Watercolour, 30 Sept 2011
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See www.saa.co.uk/art/suesmith or contact her at ssquared@btinternet.com

Sue has watched countless demonstrations, "read every book" and enjoyed painting holidays. The lack of a formal art education seems unimportant. She is commissioned to do personal and animal portraits, her work often wins prizes, she teaches at Bracknell College, runs workshops and is currently Chairman of Wokingham Art Society.

In preparation for the evening Sue had made this photo by combining two separate ones, on the computer. Then she'd done exploratory tonal and colour sketches. Only a series of such sketches gets her to a point where the composition and colouring satisfy.
. . .
Here, the goose on the left had originally been walking out of the picture so she'd reversed it. She avoided reversing the shadows by copying them from the leading bird.

Once she had a clear enough idea of what she wanted, Sue had made a full-sized drawing on translucent layout paper, complete with main shadow outlines.

She'd then transferred the important lines, using her own home-made carbon paper, to a stretched full Imperial sheet of 140lb Two Rivers paper. Also sized right through, this more expensive paper is even more forgiving than Bockingford.
How to make your own carbon paper
* Use the side of a graphite stick to cover the whole of the back of a sheet of tracing paper.
* With cotton wool and isopropyl alcohol spread the graphite uniformly over the surface
* It dries pretty quickly, then you can use it like Tracedown.
NOTE. It can be refreshed by the same process if it wears thin in some places
. . .
Now the demo starts.

Working from the bottom with a 3" hake, Sue wet the paper with clean water, taking care not to wet within the shapes of the birds.

She then went in with cerulean blue at the top and cadmium orange at the bottom. The blue needed several applications and the orange was too yellow until a little vermillion was added. Using a smaller brush she was able to carry wet colour carefully right up to the drawn lines.

Remember this is all kept as wet as Sue could get away with. Normally she would work with the board flat, so more care was needed tonight for fear of runs. Where these were too big to get rid of with the tip of a brush she recommends damp cotton wool rather than kitchen paper - "too brutal".
This first wash was then dried - "check with the side of the hand". Winsor & Newton Transparent Yellow went in as the first glaze for beaks and legs.

The background is imaginary, as in the sketches. Here Sue used various mixes of purple and orange, taking great care where she wanted dark against light around the birds.

She added Cerulean to the mix for the shadows on the birds. Where light is reflected up from the ground she used much more orange, moving the brush in a curve to hint at the full shape of the breast. Flicking shadow up into the white paper gives a feathery impression.

All the time she was painting the shadows Sue referred repeatedly to her tonal drawings as well as to the photo.
Towards the end, much more shadowy texture was put almost randomly into the foreground surface but Sue said that more blue and red was needed, as you could see in the original colour sketch.

Features in the head (nostrils, eyes etc.) needed a black. She made this with purple and orange, too! Complimentary colours make blacks.

Although she had not expected to complete the whole painting during the demo there was still pressure of time. At home she works very slowly, letting paint dry naturally, sometimes continuing all night (with a daylight lamp) and often leaving a nearly-finished work on view in her studio for some weeks before "signing it off".
Sue slipped in many little comments and bits of advice so I've collected some of them together here:

The Child Beale Trust is a good place for artists.
Faces etc. are badly distorted if you take close-up photos. Use the zoom from a distance
A very economical way to let the kids "paint" is to give them just black paper and water!
If watercolour has dried too much for further wet-into-wet painting, or to lift it out, re-wet it with a spray rather than a brush (easier on the paper)
If you want red to look really bright, underpaint with yellow first
A better finish is achieved if you let watercolour dry naturally, rather than use a hair dryer
Sue uses a lot of Winsor & Newton watercolour but Shin Han is becoming popular
Although she has a lot of experience of teaching, this was the first time Sue had done a demo for an art society. What hidden talent! We certainly enjoyed the evening and I heard mutterings about how soon we might be able to ask her to contribute to our future programme.

The state of play at the end of the demo is shown below. Lovely colours, but Sue felt that quite a lot more work was needed to complete the painting. She said she hoped do this in the coming months and to send us a photo of it. I can hardly wait.

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