Known for her experimental, innovative approach to watercolours, Jane Betteridge, author of ‘Watercolours Unleashed’ by Jane Betteridge encourages us to embrace the sometimes unpredictable and uncontrollable medium that is watercolour and, most importantly, to free up the frustrations and barriers artists sometimes have when painting. As we have a copy of the book here in the office, I thought it would be useful to try out a technique that Jane clearly explains within the book. We also asked her a few questions about her own practice and what she enjoys about teaching watercolours.
Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge is a paperback book which measures 21.6 x 1.3 x 27.7 cm (just under A4 in size) and has 144 pages which are broken down into 7 different sections plus a handy index at the back.
A short, concise introduction into the medium of watercolour, including what Jane loves about the medium and some advice on freeing up your style and painting against conventional rules ‘the right and wrong way to paint.’
Materials and equipment
It is this part of the book that I feel is most useful for beginners to watercolours, the choice of paint and materials to use can be overwhelming when first starting out and Jane really breaks it down to manageable chunks. Even down to explain the different terminology to watercolour paint such as the difference between granulating and opaque watercolours. She also includes other mediums such as Gouache & Inks – explaining how they compliment and enhance watercolour when used together.
The most interesting part for me in this section was the ‘Materials for Adding Texture’ page as it details the different materials Jane uses within her watercolour paintings which I haven’t necessarily come across before in this context such as leaves, sand and hessian. She explains what each material can be used for an what effect you can expect to achieve with it.
Jane talks us through her basic palette which features colours such as Winsor yellow and French Ultramarine but goes further in explaining other colours which you might find useful. She doesn’t just list them in a block which I have seen done previously but along with the name of the colour, she lets us know in what circumstances or subject matter you would use them for – ‘Light red is very useful for stormy skies, brickwork and stonework when mixed with a touch of French Ultramarine. It is semi-opaque and granulates well.’
Finding Your Subject
Something which can often cause a creative block amongst watercolourists and painters generally is what to paint. Jane encourages us to take a sketchbook and camera with us and perhaps revisit a landscape or scene that we think we know, and gets us to look again at details we might have missed when first visiting.
The techniques section of the book displays a range of different processes, from working wet-in-wet to adding in granulation medium and lifting out colour. As normally with watercolour I work very dry and focus in on meticulous detail I thought it would be interesting to have a go at working much more freely, following Jean’s advice and instructions on how to do so.
In the book, Jane recommends using a heavy weight watercolour paper which will not cockle when wet. She advises to prepare two wells of colour (in the example in the book it is Cerulean Blue & Indigo) and using a size 10 brush to create horizontal stripes of colour after fulling wetting the paper with a wash of water using a much larger brush (Jane recommends a size 16), tilting the paper to allow the colours to merge and move in their own way. On a rough grain sheet of 640gsm Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Paper I used Daniel Smith Watercolour Cerulean Blue Chromium Series 2 & Daniel Smith Watercolour Moonglow for the two colours, Jackson’s Icon Sable Synthetic Mix Watercolour Quill Size 4 to create an even wash of water and then a Jackson’s Studio Synthetic Watercolour Brush Size 8 to create the washes of colour. Both of the colours I decided to use were granulating colours which added to the unpredictability of how the washes would move. The rough grain of the paper also helped with this as the colour dispersed and bled into the fibres of the paper much more than if it was a Hot Pressed surface.
I found the unpredictability daunting at first but then began to enjoy that I was not in total control of how to paint moved – I could manipulate it to a certain extent by moving the paper around but once it settled, that’s where it stayed. I also built up colour in certain areas to get more definition between the layers of wash. I found it a useful exercise to not be precious about where the colour is applied and think it would be a great technique for creating skies within a landscape or as a background for a more abstract watercolour painting.
Examples of other techniques within the book, Splattering, Masking & Lifting and Texture using seeds
Another handy addition throughout the book are the orange ‘tip’ sections which alongside the tutorial give you added, useful advice.
Composition (Page 77)
On this page Jane clearly explains the importance of composition and perspective within a painting, including how to create depth and distance and arrange a balance within a picture. The poppy field image clearly demonstrates the ‘rule of thirds’ format which Jane describes simply.
Each project identifies which colours and products you are going to need – almost as an ingredients list for a recipe. It is also nice to see Jane’s finished painting before you have started the project as it gives you some indication of the type of effect you can expect to achieve. Something which is really important and that Jane reiterates throughout the book is that although there are instructions on how you can achieve a particular effect, the techniques are intermixable with each other and there are no set ‘rules’ as such. The projects within the book are a great place for beginners to start out as they can follow Jane’s instructions exactly but the techniques and experiments are also great for artists that have been using watercolour for years and find they want to incorporate some of the techniques into their own practice.
The projects also not only include traditional watercolour techniques but also encourage the use of collage, shells, plastic wrap and cotton threads.
Final thoughts on Watercolours Unleashed
One of the reasons why I think many watercolourists will find this book immensely useful, especially those that are just starting out with watercolour is Jane’s personal approach to the projects and watercolour as a medium. Many of the materials she recommends you use are things that you can find around the house, a small coin and kitchen paper being an example.
The tone in which the book is written actually feels like Jane is with you in a one-to-one tutorial, the language used is not the overcomplicated or stuffy which you can sometimes find with tutorials or books that explain a particular process or medium.
I also think it would make a great referral book to go back to from time to time, if you are suffering with a creative block or feel stifled with your own techniques or styles of painting.
After reading and trying out a technique within the book, I wanted to find out more behind the author Jane Betteridge – where her inspiration for writing the book came from and how she has developed her own style of working with watercolours. I asked her a few questions about her practice and also her tips and advice for someone just starting out in watercolour:
Christine: What inspired you to write the book and what do you find the most rewarding aspect of teaching watercolours?
Jane: I’ve been teaching watercolour painting for nearly 20 years and my classes and workshops proved very popular. It was so rewarding to see people progress and master the intricacies of the medium and I thought it would be great to share my experience and methods of teaching far and wide.
Christine: Is there a particular landscape or area of the world that inspires you most?
Jane: Without doubt my favourite place to paint is St Ives in Cornwall. I’m lucky enough to have a cottage there and am never short of subject matter in this beautiful place. Just being there and soaking up the atmosphere, the sea, the smells, the very special light and the varied weather makes you want to get your brushes out. When at home walks in the countryside looking at the changing hedgerows and landscape throughout the seasons has been the main inspiration for my work.
Christine: You work quite freely with watercolour, what do you find about this way of working that is exciting/challenging?
Jane: Watercolour is very challenging but it is unlike any other painting medium. To me it has character, it can granulate, colours can mix freely on wet paper and create colours that you would never be able to mix in the palette. Watercolour has a mind of it’s own, you cannot really control it but when you get used to it, you can guide it and cajole it to do what you want it to.
Christine: You often incorporate mixed media elements into your painting – are there any materials you have tried and that have not worked as you hoped? Similarly, are there any materials that you were positively surprised by the outcome?
I usually add some mixed media elements to my work. It may be just a little salt or ink or it may be lots of texture making mediums and and collage. I am more interested in texture and special effects than anything and have never found the use of blending medium or ox gall or similar very dynamic. My favourite ingredient is granulation medium, I think it can add another dimension your work especially when added to a little acrylic ink. Also I use a lot of watercolour ground which enables me to paint watercolours on canvas which is great.
Christine: For anyone just starting out in watercolour, what would recommend as a basic colour palette?
Jane: I think for someone experimenting with watercolour for the first time, I would advise to buy good quality paper and artist quality paints. This may sound extravagant but the better the product the better results you will get. I recommend buying just 6 artists quality tubes of paint rather than 12 student quality paints. I would try and stick to the most translucent colours to help avoid getting a muddy painting as you tend to overwork a painting when you are a beginner. Something like Aureolin, Raw Sienna, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Green Gold, Perylene Violet. When a little more experienced it’s nice to try different colours. I’m always eager to try anything new that comes out as some of the latest paints can do all sorts of unusual things like splitting into two colours or little bits of gold shine through – so exciting.
See more of Jane Betteridge’s work on her website
Click the underlined link to go to Watercolours Unleashed Book by Jane Betteridge on Jackson’s Art Website.
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The image at the top is ‘Autumn Gold’, watercolour and gouache by Jane Betteridge