Painting outside the lines

31 Oct

watercolour4By Diva Shari Parsons

EXETER – Aside from my love of photography, I have also wanted to learn how to paint something other than the walls of my home. Recently, I had the opportunity to “test drive my creative side” by attending a watercolour painting workshop sponsored by Creative Huron and held at the lovely Exeter Public Library.

The instructor was a lovely lady from Port Albert, Michele Miller, who studied Fine Arts at the University of Guelph. Michele told us that she has been painting since she was a child, mainly using oil or acrylic paints. This changed about 12 years ago after she took a watercolour class and the experience “transformed her painting”. She now paints almost exclusively with watercolours.

Michele began the workshop by telling us that anybody can learn to paint; it is just a matter of training your brain to paint what you see, not what you know, and, of course, to practice, practice, practice!

During the course of the workshop we learned about watercolour materials such as paints, paper and brushes. Michele showed us how to “stretch” our paper before painting so that it wouldn’t buckle.

watercolour2We did a short exercise on “value”, which is lights and darks, by learning how to paint using the “gradation” technique of starting off with the darkest value of a colour and then painting lighter and lighter values by adding a bit more water each time. Michele told us that traditional watercolourists don’t use white and rarely use black. We then tried our hand painting a still life of a coffee mug using the gradation technique. I found this exercise quite challenging as it also involved the practice of painting what I saw rather than what I knew about the mug. This meant that I was not painting stiff and formal black lines but looser shadows and highlights.

Our next exercise involved colour. Michele instructed us on how to make a colour watercolour5wheel using the primary colours of red, blue and yellow. Then we learned how to mix primary colours to make secondary colours such as green, orange and purple. She taught us that warm colours make objects appear to move forward and cool colours make objects recede. The use of warm and cool colours causes contrast and the more the contrast the more stimulating a picture is to look at. Michele also taught us that the use of complimentary colours, those opposite each other on the colour wheel, can really make colours “pop”.

The final subject of the workshop was composition, which is the layout or arrangement of the painting. Composition has a huge impact on the success of a watercolour3painting. There are two basic rules of composition: 1) never make any two intervals or spaces the same, and 2) establish a focal point – the main point of interest in the picture. “The Rule of Thirds” is used to divide up the canvas and establish the painting’s intervals and focal points. A symmetrical arrangement is not as interesting as an asymmetrical one.

Along with composition, Michele taught us how to create a mix of “hard” and “soft” edges while painting in order to create flow or movement through a painting.

Our final task was to paint a scene of sky, water and beach using all the techniques we had learned that day. A happy accident created a lovely texture to one corner of watercolour6my sky. When I was lamenting the result, Michele told us that it was important to try different techniques and that often “accidents” turned out to be something wonderful.

The four-hour workshop cost only $20 and included all the materials. I say that it was a “bargoon” for such a wonderful time!

This series of classes is produced by Huron Arts & Heritage Network and the County of Huron Cultural Services Department along with partner arts organizations: Art aRound Town,Blyth East Side Dance, Blyth Festival, Elizabeth’s Art Gallery, Goderich Celtic Roots Festival, Goderich Little Theatre, Libro Imagine Huron and Worth Their Salt. Funding is provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation so that registration to all workshops is just $20.

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