Archive for category Publisher: Townhouse Films

DVD Going Wild In Watercolour || Jake Winkle

The range of colours in a Jake Winkle painting always astonish. In this film, his wildlife subjects are generally monochrome, their brown colouring designed to make them blend into, rather than stand out from, their background. Jake’s method of working is designed to make you look again, and yet there’s nothing forced or unnatural about it. By blending juxtaposed warm and cool colours, he creates shape and adds vitality that give a flat painting a three-dimensional appearance.

Jake is an excellent and generous demonstrator and he explains not only what he doing, but why. “Warm against cool gives luminosity”, “If you put too much detail in, you end up painting by numbers” and “If I think about it too much, I’m going to get repetitive shapes”. He works quickly, often aiming to have the first brushstrokes still wet as the last ones go down. Much of it is done by instinct, the build-up of colour defining the shape of the painting as much as it does the subject. It’s also interesting to see just what a limited range of equipment Jake uses: a total of four brushes and a very small paintbox that he says contains only primary and secondary – no tertiary colours. It all helps with the simplicity he’s aiming for, as few decisions have to be made and everything is readily to hand.

The practice looks simple because, of course, Jake is a master of what he does. In reality, it takes a lot of confidence and practice, but you do feel at the end of this that you could make at least a decent stab.

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DVD Watercolour Fast and Free || John Hoar

Watching John Hoar paint is fascinating. Most artists start with the sky and/or a wash and it’s not that John never does. However, he does a great deal of structural work at the beginning so that the final image coalesces in the last third or so of the demonstration. It’s a bit like learning a language by starting with the grammar and then hanging the vocabulary on it. Yes, it can be done, but it’s a very academic exercise and you don’t really get to say anything for ages. When you do though, it’s perfectly formed. And that’s the way it is with a John Hoar painting. “Paintings are made up of shapes rather than lines”, as he puts it.

Well, that’s all pretty dull then, isn’t it? No, and the reason is that, instead of spending the demonstration describing what he’s doing (and what you can see perfectly well for yourself), John tends to talk about the creative process itself. This makes the film a bit like the Patrick George DVD I reviewed a while back, but with demonstrations. If you want to learn the mechanics of painting, then this is maybe not for you. If you want to follow the process of creating an image from what’s in front of you, it’s pretty much riveting. John is by no means a slavish representer and his simplification of the complex shapes and structure of Ely Cathedral (the film consists of four demonstrations around the town) is a masterclass.

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DVD: Charles Reid’s English Watercolour Sketchbook || Charles Reid

I realised as I was preparing for this review that the way I work – making notes, picking up quotes, starting ideas that I may develop later, is very much the way Charles paints. He’s immensely quotable: “The way I paint is more intuitive, it’s what intrigues me, I see things happening, I don’t have a plan.” Even my (even to me) almost illegible scribbles are a bit like some of the marks Charles makes. He always starts with a pencil sketch that defines shapes, determines proportions and puts the elements of the composition into place – “It’s very import to connect adjacent areas.”

The thing is that, because he’s not working to a prepared plan, and everything emerges organically, the film becomes more of an entertainment than a lesson. I don’t mean that it’s trivial, far from it; rather, you sit waiting for the pearls of wisdom to come, which they do almost as a stream of consciousness (“You can’t soften edges if your paint’s too watery”). At the same time, you’re on the edge of your seat because, if he doesn’t know exactly how the picture is going to turn out, neither do you. There are plot twists to come.

To begin at the end, the final demonstration of the four here is a complex scene at Stow on the Wold (they’re all in the Cotswolds). The main element is a hotel, but there’s a lot of detail in the roof and there are parasols outside and trees in the foreground. There is also a river and a bridge and constantly–passing figures that Charles works in generically. There’s a lot going on and a lot of manipulation of the image so that it becomes coherent and reflects the scene without also being incomprehensible.

Charles’s pencil drawings define the outlines and the shape of the image, but also include small details that don’t immediately appear to have a purpose. Just as I make notes while I’m watching, picking up on points I want to remember or develop, so he puts in small marks that guide the shapes later. At this stage, there’s still very little detail and no attempt to start giving substance to the picture. That comes later with the colour. “It’s all about shapes and colours” is something he said in his very first film, about flowers. I’ve always been amazed by the sheer looseness of the way Charles works and admire the way he can describe a subject in what seem to be just a few splashes of colour. Watching him here, I’m beginning to get an idea of how this works. The pencil sketch provides the form – a bit like the armature of a sculpture – and the colour provides the body, the depth, the shading and the shadows. He remarks at one point that he rarely mixes colour on the palette (“I don’t mix it all into greys”), preferring to do it on the paper. In the first demonstration, at Arlington Mill in Bibury, it’s worth taking a look at just how much colour he introduces into what at first appears to be a grey slab of a building. It’s not there to be colourful, though it can be that, but to give form and character.

I could go on, but I don’t think I need to sell this film too heavily. Charles is an immensely popular teacher and it’s easy to see why. It’s also nice to see him painting in surroundings that are more familiar to a British audience.

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DVD: Wesson’s Watercolour Secrets || Steve Hall

I’ve written elsewhere about the book that Edward Wesson didn’t write. The truth is that Wesson actually had quite a lot to say, especially to his many students. These may be getting on in years now, but Steve Hall has had the sense to talk to some of them and record what Wesson’s teaching methods actually were. As well as this, there are the articles Wesson wrote for the Leisure Painter and Artist magazines. One way and another, there’s more information out there than you might think: it just needs someone to pull it all together.

Steve is also the author of two books on Wesson and has had the chance to look at a large amount of his work at close quarters and to see how the brushstrokes work. All-in-all, if you want an authority, Steve’s your man.

Studying Wesson is also helped by the fact that he was a great simplifier. Not only is there great economy in his work, he also used the famous squirrel-hair polishing mop (now widely sold and used as a wash brush), which means that his marks are relatively easy to see.

In this film, apart from discussing Wesson’s materials – and even using the great man’s own brushes – Steve demonstrates four classic Wesson subjects: landscape, boats, pen & wash and flowers. What emerges first is the way Wesson used darks to bring out highlights “forcing up the lights by surrounding them with darks”, as he often said. This simple technique at once explains the brilliance of Wesson’s work and gives it its apparent simplicity. By comparing an early work with a later landscape, Steve also shows how Wesson’s economy of brushwork developed. In this, he was enormously influential, as the work of John Yardley and others will testify.

The pen & wash work is interesting. In his pure watercolours, Wesson, like any other artist, uses tone and shading to give form to shapes. In the wash-work, outlines are defined by the ink and the watercolour becomes an infill – and Wesson recommended this as a technique for beginners.

Wesson’s approach to flowers is well-documented by an article he wrote for The Artist, itself the forerunner of the modern step-by-step demonstration. In this, he explained how to work from the background up to the actual bloom. In this way, you have the main colour scheme down before you attempt the main subject and are therefore more likely to get the tones of the flower right, rather than making the common mistake of having them too dark. In fact, looking back over the film as a whole, it becomes apparent that, shape-wise, Wesson tended to work from the negative to the positive in general.

So, are there great insights here? A lot of what Steve Hall says is based on common sense and a lot more of it is gleaned from talking to Wesson’s students and reading his articles. Put together, however, this is about as close as we’re going to get to having a film by the great man himself. It’s all convincing and it’s all backed up by evidence. It’s also good, basic common sense. Just what we’d expect from Wesson, in fact.

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DVD: Pushing the Boundaries of Watercolour || Chris Forsey

“This could be fun.” “Now comes the fun bit.” It’s immediately apparent from his enthusiastic commentary that Chris thoroughly enjoys his painting, and particularly the unconventional and sometimes risky methods of application he uses.

These techniques are the boundaries of the title, which is going to intrigue and have you wondering. Is it experimentation for its own sake? Just how wacky does he get? The answer is that Chris isn’t afraid to spatter – even masking fluid – to use heavy, opaque inks or oil pastels that act as a resist. So much of it looks like a barely-controlled series of happy accidents that you could almost wonder whether he doesn’t just throw paint at the paper and then see how it turns out. And yet all those random marks always seem to appear in just the right place. That enormous block of ink pulls and stretches into a winter tree and those blobs of masking fluid really do look like feeding birds.

There’s clearly something going on here and, as well as a lack of fear and a willingness to experiment, it’s a demonstration of immense skill. I almost want to say, “don’t try this at home”, but I mean exactly the opposite. You really should, and you also shouldn’t be put off when your doughnuts don’t turn out like Fanny’s – when what should have been a happy accident just looks like the aftermath of a car crash. You think Chris got it right first time? Of course he didn’t but his boundless and indomitable optimism had him going back until he understood how to manipulate pieces of card, toothbrushes and even a fingernail – “wonderful piece of drawing kit” – so that, even if the result wasn’t predetermined, it was at least foreseeable.

This is an exciting film (and how often can you say that about an art DVD?) that really will have you on the edge of your seat. Will the hero survive? Will there be a twist in the final reel? No spoilers here.

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DVD: Painting The Light In Watercolour || Cecil Rice

Books and films about painting the light usually treat it as an adjunct to capturing a more general scene – reflections in water, highlights on waves, perhaps the bright colours as the sun shines through a beach windbreak. We’re talking David Curtis here, aren’t we?

In this film, however, Cecil Rice treats light as a subject in its own right. It’s an interesting approach and not one totally without merit, although I think you’re bound to land up thinking, “does he really do that all the time?” Well, rather amazingly, having had a look at his website, I think the answer is yes. To be fair, it’s not quite as overt as it is here, and these paintings are demonstrations done to illustrate a point, but the style is definitely prevalent.

So, the sixty-four-thousand dollar question: do you want to shell out the best part of thirty quid for something you’re probably not going to emulate? Alright, the thirty-quid question. Pedant. I think the answer to that depends on who you are and what you want to do. There’s a surprise! What I mean is that, if you really want to get to grips with light, then looking at it this way will concentrate the mind wonderfully and develop your techniques by leaps and bounds. If you’ve only got the aforesaid thirty smackers, you might think twice and spend it on something more general.

So, let’s say you’ve shelled out, what do you get? In a nutshell, three demonstrations (a sunrise, an illuminated night-time scene and a sunset), a general introduction that includes a good ten minutes spent squeezing out colour, and a gallery. I mentioned the paint-squeezing thing because Cecil is either rock-solid on the use of materials or a terminal bore, depending on whether he has insights for you or not. I’m not fully decided on the matter, but you need to know as it could spoil the film for you. All artists feel they have to tell you about their favourite brushes and how they use them in a way that’s totally unique and, you know what? They’re pretty much all the same. They have hairs attached to a wooden handle and they hold paint. (And so do the brushes). Personally, I’d much rather have, “and here you can see how I’m using the point/edge of the brush to create fine detail/imply a shape.” The rest I can work out for myself. Seeing it in action is much better than a five minute lecture.

As you can see from this, I’m very much ambivalent about this film. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I’m not sure I like it that much. You might buy it and have it on repeat, or you could watch it once and never really get round to it again. A Marmite one, I think.

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DVD: Jean Haines’ Watercolour Passion || Jean Haines

This is a film about possibilities. Jean is enthusiastic about her materials and she constantly uses words like “enjoy” and “fun”. Her aim, stated at the beginning is, “to inspire you to paint in a way you haven’t even considered before”. All this sounds like a lot of gushing and I must admit I took a bit of convincing. Artists tend to do this and what they’re really saying is, “I paint the way I paint” and you don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that.

What comes out of this film, however, is the sheer joy of experimentation and the stream of happy accidents that emerge when you work with as much water as Jean does. One of her last quotable remarks (and there are a lot of them) is, “I can’t repeat what I do”. The skill, it turns out, is to realise when something has possibilities and exploit it.

It takes a lot of courage to produce a large wash from bold colours and Jean starts with some simple, quite abstract exercises on small pieces of paper which are designed to be thrown away. These are not intended to be anything, they’re just a way of warming up and getting over that first-mark anxiety. Rather conveniently, they also produce ideas and, when it comes to the full sheet, you should have an idea of what it is you want to produce.

There are four demonstrations here, of flowers, animals and landscapes, but the subjects don’t really matter, because Jean’s way of working is always broadly the same – shapes emerge from a haze of colours, effects serendipitously produce or point towards textures, and colours blend so that a complete composition is produced.

“Don’t copy what I do”, Jean advises sagely, but, “you’re only going to know how pigments interact if you practise your washes.”

I’ve been struggling to work out how to sum this film up and, in the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the least instructional and yet most instructive I’ve seen. The way Jean works doesn’t lend itself to a “do this, do that” approach – it’s too evolutionary for that. Rather, she keeps up a running commentary, observing, exclaiming and developing ideas and opportunities and it’s that which tells you so much about the process of painting itself.

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