Turner watercolour workshop, Day 2

Day 2 took off at a similar pace to the first day of the class. Toni started by walking us through some ways of making sketches. According to Turner’s contemporaries Turner carried a rolled up sketchbook in his pocket and drew with his pencil as if writing. By leaving the pencil on the surface of the paper the pencil moves easily over the paper and delicate lines can be drawn, which may readily be painted over later. You can draw this way quite quickly and if you have the time additional detail can be added. Another method, even quicker still, is to do a ‘thumbnail’ sketch just getting the most basic shapes in, using the lightest tones at the back and darkest tones at the front. Here is my sample of these two approaches. The top sketch formed the idea for the first colour work below.

Two sketching techniques. The top a pencil moves quickly and lightly over the surface. The lower two are fast thumbnail sketches.

Two sketching techniques. The top a pencil moves quickly and lightly over the surface. The lower two are fast thumbnail sketches.

Turner was able to do 10 to 15 sketches in the time he could do one colour study. If you look at Turner’s sketchbooks you can see the numerous quick sketches that he he made while traveling by carriage through Europe. Once he was settled into his overnight accommodation Turner could then add colour to these studies or further work up his sketches or colour studies.

Toni then demonstrated how to use normal cartridge paper for watercolour studies without having to tape the paper down. The way you do this is to wet both sides of your cartridge paper and place it on a smooth surface, such as a piece of glass or plastic and then the cohesion of the water molecules will hold it in place. Of course you do need to work wet into wet using this approach.

cartridge paper wet of wet technique

Cartridge paper wet of wet technique. The darker lines are made using the end of my brush and the ‘lifted’ area in the upper right is made by flicking my fingernail up the wet paint.

I was really happy with this as a way of doing quick studies. Here is another one.

Waterscape on cartridge paper

Waterscape on cartridge paper

The main drawback with using cartridge paper is that you are pretty limited with the sort of ‘lifting’ techniques you can use. Wiping with a tissue works, but the creating the sun in the image above actually tore into the paper.

After lunch we had a lecture by Dr Joyce Townsend on Turner’s materials. I think that the most amazing aspect of her talk was her obvious delight at being able to actually use Turner’s original pigments, that were left in his studio at his death (part of the Turner Bequest), to paint samples demonstrating the colours he used.

Turner's studio materials: madders of different shades,  on 19th century Whatman paper, painted by Joyce Townsend.

Turner’s studio materials: madders of different shades, on 19th century Whatman paper, painted by Joyce Townsend.

It was then up to us to bring together what we had learned to develop a final work on BFK Rives paper. While this paper is made as a printmaking paper Toni said he had found it to be the best paper to allow working, re-working and lifting techniques including scraping with a knife. Here is my final piece.

Watercolour on BFK Rives paper 31 July 2013

Watercolour on BFK Rives paper 31 July 2013

From my perspective, the quick sketching and fast ways to work up colour studies are the main things I have taken from this workshop. That and the need to get out and apply what I’ve learned over these two days.


  1. Thanks so much for the detailed description of the class and the link to the excellent Dr Townsend talk. I’m arriving a bit late but i just got Smibert’s new Turner’s Apprentice during the confinement and been looking around for more info. I do have his other 2 books. Lucky you to get classes with him. Tasmania is a bit far, especially at the moment. Hope your still painting..
    Cheers Carolg

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Hi Carol, better to arrive late than never. I was lucky that this class was held in Canberra so it was easy for me to attend. I did consider going to Tassie for a longer class, but time and opportunity never coincided. I do still paint I joined the Urban Sketchers (www.urbansketchers.org) and have, until we had to keep our distance because of the virus, had many wonderful painting adventures all over the world. I didn’t realise that Toni had another book out, so now I will have to go and look it up. Thanks for the tip.



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