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Review of the Live Art Demonstration

on Tuesday 8th November

Artist: Stephen Coates

Subject: Looking at Clouds and Sky

Medium: Water Colour

Stephen has been a watercolour artist for approx. 20 years. Although not formally trained, he was always good at art when at school, but was advised not to pursue it as a career.

Stephen started running some courses in watercolour and then wrote two books – The Watercolour Enigma and Easy Guide to Painting Skies in Watercolour.


The demonstration began with short presentation on the science of watercolour and how watercolour differs from Acrylic and Oil. Stephen then went on to explain how important both preparation and planning are prior to actually starting the painting. There are only two minutes from wetting the paper to completing the application of paint. He did not recommend the use of kitchen towel as it dries out the paper and prevents the water flowing. Which means the softer colours cannot be blended and hard edges can form on the clouds. To develop clouds, Stephen uses negative painting.


The practical demonstration began by Stephen dividing his paper into four quarter’s with masking tape,(Pic.#2) and with a pencil he sketched into the first section an outline of the picture he was using as an example of what he wanted to demonstrate (Pic.#3). Stephen feels that the consistency of the paint is important and consequently, that tube paint is preferable to pans.

The colours that he used were Ultramarine and Light Red to create a plum colour.


With the board tilted at a slight angle, Stephen demonstrated in the first section (with the sketch) what happened when an even film of water was applied with a goat hair Hake brush, and using the same Hake brush, he painted the main part of the sky using Ultramarine. A small amount of the Plum was applied to create grey shadows in the clouds (Pic.#8).

The second area was painted in the same way but without the sketch (Pic.#9).

In the third section, Stephen showed what happened when too much water was applied to the paper before painting (Pic.#10).

Lastly, in the forth section (Pic.#11), it was shown that hard edges formed when too little water was applied. Stephen emphasised that there should be no fiddling to try to resolve any part of the sky that you felt was not right. This he demonstrated by adding water to an area, creating an unsatisfactory result (Pic.#12).

Stephen recommended that the sky should always be applied first on a painting.


After the break, Stephen began the main part of the demonstration.

Paint colours: Raw Sienna

                       Cerulean Blue

                       Plum colour (Ultramarine & Light Red)

Stephen did a quick sketch showing three phases to remind him which order to construct the sky (Pic.#13). Remembering that the paper will only stay wet for approx. two minutes from the time that the water is applied, it is important to have a plan ready.

Phase 1- Wet whole area of sky. Raw Sienna (warm yellow) applied across lower area of sky (Pic.#17). Cerulean Blue (straight from tube) applied in two patches (Pic.#18), keeping a space between them and the Raw Sienna. Separate brushes were used for each colour as mixing the two colours gives a “horrible” green.

Phase 2 – Areas for clouds were added to five areas of the picture (Pic.#19&20). They were drawn, tapering and pointing to the focal point in the picture. It is important not to make them symmetrical on the paper. Diluted Plum colour was used in the clouds

Phase 3 – “Muchos Plumos” Pick up a lot of the Plum colour and add it to the areas shown in the sketch to give depth to the painting (Pic.#21&22).


Stephen followed the above phases on the actual painting. He did no more on it, but allowed it to develop as it dried.

The picture was then dried off with a hairdryer (Pic.#23).


Stephen then completed the picture by adding the foreground, using mainly the Plum colour. Starting with a diluted Plum colour for the distant islands (Pic.#25), and a progressively stronger Plum colour for the islands that he wanted to appear closer to the front of the picture (Pic.#26).

To create shadow reflections of the islands, Stephen used a technique that he had seen Scott Swinson use. He gave a broken effect in the reflection by having a small amount of pigment on the brush and applying it to the painting with the brush side on and the hand low down (Pic.#27).

Stephen then added a beach with the same technique, but by first applying Burnt Sienna as a base coat (Pic.#30&31), drying it, and then applying Plum colour sparingly over the top (Pic.#32).

With the aid of a Rigger and the Plum colour, Stephen added some rocks to the picture (Pic.#33) and then with a flat brush he added some posts in the water (Pic.#34). A Rigger was used to add reflections of the posts on the water (Pic.#35&36), and also to add some birds in the sky (Pic.#37&38).

Adding a mount really completed the picture.[Pic.#39]


Everyone agreed that Stephen really gave us an excellent demonstration, and explained everything so clearly as he went along.

We are looking forward to his next demonstration on Reflections, which will be next year.

Click on a picture to see an enlarged view
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Pic. #2
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Pic. #8
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Pic. #10
Pic. #11
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Pic. #19
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Pic. #18
Pic. #21
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Pic. #25
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Pic. #26
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Pic. #32
Pic. #33
Pic. #35
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Pic. #34
Pic. #37
Pic. #38
Pic. #39
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