Ann Blockley’s ‘Watercolour Workshop’ is an inspiring read. Far from being prescriptive, Ann is the best kind of teacher. Her writing style encourages experimentation and play in the studio, as a means to developing your own creative voice. In this post I document what happened when I tried out a project found in ‘Watercolour Workshop‘.
Who is it aimed at?
‘Watercolour Workshop’ is really a book for painters who have some experience of painting, although not necessarily in watercolour. I feel this book was written for someone looking to inject some new energy into their work.It’s targeted at those who like to paint expressively and loosely, and are brave enough to take risks with their painting.
How is it laid out?
There are 5 main sections to the book: ‘Getting Started’, ‘Flower and Field’, ‘Trees and Hedgerow’, ‘Landscape Features’ and ‘Towards Abstraction’.
‘Getting Started’ begins with the words ‘This book is about YOU’ – and this really does set the tone. Ann describes her approaches to interpreting the landscape, drawing, photography and decision-making. She is very clear when she is describing her own experiences of how she tackles the various challenges of painting a picture, but emphasises that her ways are not the only ways. There’s also some great advice on what materials to try out – again not prescriptive, but an informative guide to what’s available and what the consequences are of their use.
The rest of the book is organised into projects. I gave one a go and immediately saw that this book is a perfect studio companion. It’s like enrolling on a painting course that invites you to break out of your comfort zone and try something new. With each project Ann suggests a couple of specific approaches that you might like to try. I can see that you could choose to work through the book as if you were on a course and quickly discover so many exciting ways that you can put watercolour to paper. Ann’s strength in her own work is to really make the paint look beautiful – the subject is almost incidental. These clearly explained techniques are accompanied by fantastic photos that succeed in both demonstrating and inspiring.
Trying out an Ann Blockley Project
I gave Ann’s ‘Wildflower Meadow’ project a go. Her introduction to the project shows some photos of a Wildflower Meadow that was her point of inspiration, and describes how you could paint the scene from various viewpoints – each with its own set of challenges. She then tells us what colours she used, and techniques such as sprinkling salt on to damp paint. The prep studies she produced of this subject are loose explosions of vibrant colour. They are evocative of a place or memory, but they also look fun to paint!
The project takes you through 4 stages, with clear explanations of what you could do and the reasoning. Although I consider myself a fairly experienced watercolourist, I started by following the book word for word. However I quickly found myself enjoying this freer way of painting too much! It was reassuring to have Ann’s knowledge on the page hinting at how I might expect the paints to behave. This liberated me to have fun with the medium. I found myself moving away from the text in order to explore further what my paint was doing. When I felt ready for more ideas I returned to the book.
Following the steps of the project Ann then summarises the mark-making approaches she adopted in the work. Again this is accompanied by some lovely pictures that really inspire and help you to see how beautiful the results can be.
Although my finished painting did look a bit like a third rate Ann Blockley(!!) I learnt so much in the short space of time I was painting for. I feel really confident that these new techniques will filter through into the paintings I’ll do in the future. It’s well worth spending time with this book every now and then if you are a watercolourist wanting to try something new. The instruction is open enough to allow for these approaches to work their way into anyone’s painting practice, irrespective of what your instinctive way of painting is.
Ann Blockley is an artist whose passion for watercolour is infectious. She believes wholeheartedly in letting her colours sing, and not feel at all restricted by her subject matter. ‘Watercolour Workshop’ succeeds in celebrating her work. It also explains clearly how we can move forward with our own painting.