I’ve had a wonderful two days this week doing a watercolour workshop at the National Gallery of Australia on JMW Turner – learning from the master. The course was held as part of the Turner from the Tate exhibition. Our tutor was Tony Smibert, who is a Tate Gallery Visiting Artistic Researcher. Toni’s area of interest is watercolours and he has worked closely over the years with Dr Joyce Townsend who is the leading specialist on Turner’s materials (paint, paper, tools etc).
We set off at a fast pace as Toni discussed and demonstrated the methods that Turner used. Turner’s work uses many basic concepts, such as the relationship between warm and cool colours and light and dark contrast. We worked on small areas, dividing up sheets of Arches watercolour paper, to record methods and processes. Toni suggests repeating these exercises, making many small works so these techniques become ingrained. This is not so you develop slavish copying but to help you get to the point where you can intuitively use the techniques as and when it applies to your own work. Like Toni said doing the exercise once won’t teach you the method.
Simple design structures such as a washes of warm colour above a wash of cool colour, suggesting sky over water, or the reverse suggesting sky over land were explored. With a bit of guidance we were able to readily produce a convincing waterscape.
We then explored ideas such as dropping cool colours into a warm background:
and warm colours into a cool background to develop landscapes. This flows from another method which is ‘finding the landscape’ in the paint. Basic structures can be worked and re-worked to develop a final image.
It was a very full day. At the end of our class we went into the exhibition so Toni could show us some specific examples of Turner’s techniques and demonstrate some approaches to doing quick sketches. What a luxury to have the originals to study so closely.