Friday, 27 April 2012

Frustrations as a Tutor - budget art materials

I love teaching natural history illustration and also botanical art, but in recent times I have become  frustrated by the use of cheap art materials, particularly so-called watercolours, that students purchase from 'budget' shops and such like.

From a student's perspective and especially as a beginner, the wealth of art materials available can be over-whelming and somewhat expensive if choices and purchases are not made wisely, and also of course prior to gaining the knowledge of what actually is required for a workshop or course.  It is also easy to be persuaded by cheaper alternatives, which often carry a description that creates a false impression of what can be achieved by the materials.

I know it sounds as though I am on my 'soap-box', but this seemed an appropriate subject for the blog, and if you have any further comments or suggestions, feel free to use the comment facility below this post.

At some of my art workshops I often teach beginners or individuals who are returning to painting after a gap of some years.  A workshop materials sheet is always distributed before hand with suggested colours of paint (preferably artist's quality) and the size brushes required (with a good point on each), along with any other materials needed.

The problem seems to be with the paint and brushes.  Students are often excited to use new art materials and usually progress well during the early stages of drawing their subject.  So often disappointment comes once colour is applied.  The method of creating washes is not an issue, but the poor quality of paint and brushes can render the theories of paint application and colour theory to the bin !  

Budget mass-produced watercolours usually contain very poor man-made pigments and a huge amount of binder.  They are terribly opaque and perform more like gouache or poster paint.  In some cases the principals of colour theory are just not possible to demonstrate.  The colours can be separated by eye into warm and cool colours, but once colour-mixing begins virtually every colour created ends up being 'muddy' with no transparent qualities.

I often let students use my watercolour paints, so that they actually experience the difference of using good quality paints.  Once this happens, so often students are converted and then gradually build up a palette of artist's colours, or if not affordable good quality student grade watercolours from well known manufacturers.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been looking at ways to help solve this problem.  My solution is that I am going to have 4 paint kits for students to use, for only a little extra cost on top of the normal workshop fee and they can use these whilst at the workshop or course.

The paints that I have chosen to use in these kits are Winsor and Newton Cotman Student watercolour paints.  I realise that these are not artist's quality, but they are a good, affordable starter paint to use.  The colour palette includes colours that I used when first starting to paint many years ago.  The one exception is 'purple lake', which I have chosen instead of 'permanent magenta', which is not available in this range.

Lemon yellow
Cadmium yellow
Cadmium red
Permanent rose
Purple lake
Cobalt blue
Cerulean blue
Raw sienna
Burnt sienna

I am also going to have a selection of brushes for students to use with these kits.  These will be Pro Arte Connoisseur, which are a sable-prolene mix and are very reasonably priced.

Watch this space for further news of these paint kits and I will also post some pictures of them in the near future.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Owls and more !

Apologies for not posting in a while, plenty of things have been happening and the 'juggling' still continues.

Not much painting has taken place.  I did start a picture of a Magnolia growing in our garden, but I seemed to have left it for too long and just can't get back into it.  It may be a case of leaving it on the drawing board and coming back to it next year.

I taught a very successful and happy lino-print workshop on the 16th March for the Society of Floral Painters.  The atmosphere was great and I think it was quite refreshing for many of us, as we all work in slightly different styles from a painting perspective, but print-making was a whole new world!  I have posted a couple of photos below, but more of a selection can be found at:

The main thing that has been taking up our time is developing our garden in the recent spell of very warm weather.  It is only a smallish semi-urban garden, south-facing, but with a virtually non existant lawn.  We decided to take up the lawn and replace it with chippings and we have also increased the size of the borders significantly.  That way we can plant a selection of plants that will attract bees, butterflies and other insects over the coming months.

The workshops with the Wildlife Trust have been well supported this year and the next one on the 21st April has 8 students on it.  So I look forward to meeting all of them to paint features of Spring trees.
Workshops and courses are detailed below and you can also download a PDF of the leaflet from my main website.

Derek and I had a great time at the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover, the other week.  We had an 'Owl experience' session and got to handle several species of owl.  They are all magnificent, but my favourites do have to be the Tawny and Barn Owl :)

A Spectacled Owl

Well, what next?  Definately more of a focus on my artwork.  In a few weeks I will be retiring from 20 years plus in childcare.  It used to be my main career before I went into ecology and in recent years I have taken it up again alongside my art career.  Osteoarthritis in my knees has forced me to stop, so I am looking forward to a new direction and starting my Botanical Art teaching role at Peter Symonds ACE in September.

Next weekend I will be at the Bursledon Brickworks Industrial Museum Craft and Heritage Fair, with a few pieces of artwork on display and some new editions of my lino-prints to sell.  I look forward to seeing some of you there !  In a few weekends time I will be visiting the Society of Botanical Artist Exhibition in London - really looking forward to it.