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Stephen has a studio in Sheffield. He told us he was discouraged from doing art at school. Having done O Level art, he went into retail and this shows in his display of materials for sale at the demo. He is the author of four books on watercolour with another on the way. 


Watercolour was what Stephen really wanted to do but he had to work at it. Acrylics and oils are easier to use due to them being easy to overlay and manipulate. Watercolour is designed to be transparent, with use of white to be avoided. It can be manipulated, but with plenty of water, which can be a bit scary! 


Reflected light bounces off water at the same angle it arrives. Water acts like a mirror. Stephen explained how the reflected angle can change according to your viewpoint. Perfect mirror images are very hard to represent in paint. When water moves it’s possible to see reflections in different places. Where there are ripples, the reflection splits and repeats. We saw an example where the reflection is parallel but stretched, being more intense closer to the reflected object. Edges often blur but are elongated in rippled water. If it is excessively windy the result is no discernible reflection. 


Reflections on wet pavements behave in a similar way to the water in terms of reacting to rough and smooth surfaces.


Stephen thinks planning is really important and amateur artists don’t do enough of it. Nowadays students have to demonstrate their research and experiments. Stephen sketched out a horizon with a setting sun a third of a way across with clouds coming in from the sides but leaving the area around the sun clear. For the sun, Stephen wrapped kitchen paper around a tube lid to lift the wet paint away to leave a white disc. The plan is to leave a white space under the sun. Distant isles don’t need a reflection. Nearer islands were brought in from the sides. He will include a boat if there’s time. 


It should take about two minutes to paint a watercolour sky. 


Bockingford 425g paper was used. Stephen does not stretch paper. Using a hairdryer helps to flatten the paper, as long as it is well taped down. 


Paint from tubes was mixed on the pallet to quite a thick consistency. Utramarine and light red were mixed together to make a plum colour for the top of the sky. He also used raw sienna and burnt sienna.


Stephen showed us a person represented as a carrot. Loading a number 8 brush he painted two people side by side - carrots with a gap and then a small round head. Reflections were added, dark immediately beneath then breaking and widening. This can also be done with the reflection wet into wet, which makes it more fuzzy. 


Using the last half hour, Stephen started the actual painting. Before starting, he checked the paint consistency and added some ultramarine. Using a hake brush which holds a lot of water, Stephen gently applied a layer of water, before applying with a number 8 spearhead brush, raw sienna, then burnt sienna and finally the plum. The plum was also used for the clouds. After using the lid and kitchen roll trick for the sun, a hairdryer was used to dry the painting. 


Once it was dry, Stephen marked the lines under the sun on the masking tape that secures the picture to the board. The paint over the horizon was lifted off whilst wetting the part under it. Vertical stripes of the upper colours were applied light to dark away from the sun, leaving the clear strip. The paint was dried again, before the distant islands were added, dragging the paint along rather than painting the top first then going back in. It was dried again before a stronger plum was used for the closer islands. A dry brush effect, using the side of the brush was used to create a broken reflection. 


A scrubby beach area was created using a size 10 brush, burnt sienna then plum and a dry brush technique to great effect. Some little stones were added with the plum before drying again. Stephen sketched out the boat and then applied plum strongly with a number two brush. This was followed by the reflection, intense underneath then zigzagging leaving wider and wider gaps. A tip for the mast: using a ruler’s bevelled edge, Stephen used it to guide the brush. Some tiny birds were added at the end, then it was dried and the pencil guidelines were removed. 


The result was spectacular. Stephen kindly signed the work and donated it to the group. Everyone agreed we should have him back for another demo. 

Meg Grant


To view an enlarged copy of a picture please click on it.
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