Glyn Macey can often be found roaming the harbours, moorland and coast of his native West Cornwall, sketchbook in hand recording the details of daily Cornish life and history. Such sketches are used as the basis for his studio paintings. If you can’t get to Cornwall for one of his painting workshops you can learn online from one of the tutorials available on his website.
Watercolours ‘en plein air’ with Winsor & Newton
by Glyn Macey
Painting ‘en plein air’ is always a joyous experience and never more so than when working with the most spontaneous of all mediums, Winsor & Newton watercolour. The unrivalled luminosity and loose speed of a good watercolour seems akin to a magic trick. Just a few deft brushstrokes of water, a touch of added colour and the magic begins to happen. Of course, the British weather doesn’t always play ball, but then, the vagaries of the fast changing climate help to keep things interesting, help to keep us on our toes. And for me, this is key.
Artists of all abilities from all over the UK visit my studio in West Cornwall to take part in workshops. Very often these artists want to loosen up their style and work in a more fluid way. It often turns out that these same artists make their work by copying photographs and therefore paint detailed, representational artworks, a mug of coffee and Radio 4 at hand. To counteract this way of working I take them outdoors, painting by the sea – quickly, fluidly, instinctively. The sun is sometimes hot, the rain comes, the winds blow and the light changes…continually. But far from being an annoyance, these elements add life, action and atmosphere to the paintings. The artists’ development in style is instantaneous and exciting.
On a practical note, when working on location with any medium I like to travel light and when using Winsor & Newton watercolour the same ethos applies. I begin by stripping out any unnecessary tools from my bag of tricks. How few brushes can I get away with? How few colours?
Other practical considerations also come into play. For instance, full sheets of watercolour paper can be difficult to deal with when a Sou’westerly is blowing in from the Atlantic. Full sheets would also need an equal-sized board for support and probably an easel that won’t blow over. For these reasons I work on smaller Winsor & Newton pads of heavyweight watercolour paper – the more heavyweight the better to avoid cockling. When working with watercolour my blanket rule is to buy the best that you can afford, which for me means Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour, a couple of good quality sable brushes, usually a 1″ flat and a no. 4 round, together with a pad of heavyweight NOT paper in about A3 size. I chose NOT simply because I love the textured surface. Using a board backed pad means that I can dispense with an easel and a separate board which lightens the load and makes life a whole lot easier when climbing mountains or cliff sides (if that’s your thing)! A water pot is also needed to store water that I collect on location. This found water can be river water, rainwater, a top up from the local pub or shop or seawater. And before anybody raises their hands in mock horror at my mention of seawater, it’s comforting to remember that Turner used seawater in many of his watercolour location studies and they have stood the test of time – well, for over one hundred and seventy years so far…
If feasible, I love to use Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours in tubes for the ease of creating rich, deep pools of colour and restrict myself to a limited palette of only four or five colours. A set of Winsor & Newton pan colours will work equally well and a good set will include a carefully chosen range of colours all contained in a durable, small box complete with palette space. These watercolour sets are perfect for travelling, particularly if flying abroad – they’re light, they contain everything you need to capture your chosen scene and they’re not outlawed at the security check-in desks, which can happen with large tubes of paint and mediums (but that’s another story!).
So this summer I challenge you to make the most of creating your artwork outdoors in all of the vagaries of our glorious British weather. Email me an image of your ‘en plein air’ work on [email protected] for a free critique; I’d love to see your paintings.
Watercolour Painting Supplies at Jackson’s Art
Click on the underlined link to go to the Watercolour Painting Department on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
Click on the underlined link to go to the current offers on Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
Click on the underlined link to go to the current offers on Watercolour Brushes on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.