Sunday, 22 November 2015

Surprising Birches

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of a Silver Birch exercise that I had taught in class. To my surprise it received some lovely comments and so I promised that I would write up how it was achieved. Sadly, I wasn't able to take any photographs of it in stages, but hopefully the instructions below will make sense. If for any reason they don't please feel free to email me at and I will be happy to help. If you have a success, please send me a picture of it, I love to see what people have achieved! Happy Painting, Ali

1. Take a larger piece of watercolour paper than you need and using masking tape, mask off a square/rectangle well within the borders of the paper.
2. Taking a long strip of masking tape, tear it length ways down the middle. This can take a bit of practise and can be easy or difficult depending on the age of your masking tape. I found it easier to tear down about an inch and then stick this end to a table which anchors it while you tear.
3. Turn the masking tape back to back i.e. that the straight edges butt up to each other and the torn edges are on the outside and lay the two down on to your paper, just to the right of centre.
4. You should now be able to see where the truck shape is going to come from, make sure that the masking tape is well burnished down to prevent leaks when you add paint over the top.
5. Choose two colours of watercolour and one dull colour of Brusho (a powdered ink). Wet the paper with clean water, all over the area and drop in the top third, the two colours of water colour and sprinkle a very, very small amount of the Brusho on to the wet surface.
6. Make this more subtle by rolling a piece of kitchen towel across and this should give you a dappled look to the foliage.
7. While the area is still damp (or if it has dried, spray it with a fine mist of water) use a toothbrush to spatter either/both of the colours you used in the background to add to the texture of the foliage. Let all of this dry naturally.
8. When it is completely dry, very carefully and gently, peel off the tape that is masking off the trunk. If, for any reason the paper lifts, continue to peel as carefully as you can and then burnish the surface back down with the back of a spoon.
9. Using a waterproof ink such as Bombay or similar, first practise on a separate piece of paper, how to achieve the trunk texture. This is done by dipping a palette knife in to the ink and then scraping (using the edge) horizontally across the trunk. It takes a little while to get the 'knack' but you will know as soon as you get it! This method can then be used on the truck in your picture, making sure it hits and misses to resemble the texture of the Birch.
10. Use a rigger and a combination of the ink and watercolour to pop in just a couple of branches. There are lots of ways that you can paint realistic branch shapes. Personally, I prefer the 'wiggle and flick' way of using a rigger so you might want to practise this first. As daft as it sounds, I say "wiggle aaaand flick" in my head as I'm doing it...seems to work for me!
11. To finish the piece off, use a brighter colour of Brusho lightly sprinkled over the top (in this example I used Leaf Green) to give stronger foliage in the foreground but you could use more colour or even an ink if you prefer.
12. Carefully peel the masking tape from around the edges and, viola! A Birch tree!

These instructions are obviously a pared down version of how to achieve the painting but the more important part is that you find your own way through the project and if you have any tips or tricks to share, email me or post them on my facebook page - Alison C. Board.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Yes, I can paint in yellow...

I set myself some challenges today, I'd had a request from a client for a special workshop for herself and her granddaughter to come along to the studio and have a private session with me, learning lots of techniques and completing a painting in a day. When I asked what they might like to paint, she sent me through some beautiful photographs that she had taken of sunflowers. I hadn't painted one before ( I have no idea why, as they are delightful ) so was very eager to use them as a muse for a mixed media workshop.
We started the session by printing a black and white version of the photograph and realised that the flower looked better upside down than the way it had been photographed. Therefore instead of it facing down, it was looking up towards the sky. We used Tracedown to get it on to our Saunders Waterford rough paper and then tweaked it to add the stem and any additional features.

Next, using a palette knife, we applied a small amount of Pebeo Modelling Paste, a new product which I had only just been introduced to and I was eager to see how it would react with watercolours. I was anticipating that this would simulate the folds in the petals which are what give sunflowers their personality.

When this was completely dry (after a cup of tea and a chat), we used masking fluid, applied with a ruling pen, a stiff brush and a toothbrush to reserve the petals, the centre, and anything else we decided was going to be important. I prefer the pink Frisk masking fluid but any of the thin versions of the product work well.

It was the background to tackle next and I was determined that we would put some movement and atmosphere in to it, that way we would hopefully avoid the flower looking too much like a cardboard cut out. Placing our boards on easels, we dribbled and poured our choice of colours down the paper, trying hard not to interfere too much with how the paint settled, and left them to dry over a leisurely lunch.

Although we were all now really eager to get to the petals and give the subject an injection of colour, we carefully removed the masking fluid with a Maskaway eraser and began filling in the centre of the flower with a strong colour and the leafy parts that attach the flower to the stem.

Now it was the bit that we were all itching to get to! We discussed the various ways of getting colour on to the petals and what equipment was going to be the best to use. We settled on continuing with watercolour, with the addition of some Dr. P. H. Martins Bombay inks for any parts that we thought needed a bright highlight.

As this was an experimental day, who could resist adding a little gold to the tips of the petals? The Schminke aqua powders were dissolved in a little water and carefully brushed on, just to give the petals some final pizazz.

When to stop painting is always a constant discussion in the studio, but today we put up our work and helped each other to decided what, if anything, needed to be done to complete them. My piece needed a little extra negative painting with a dark to contrast against the texture of the petals.

A conscious decision was made to stop from 'faffing' about with it and we were all pretty pleased with our efforts. Working alongside people as they paint is always tremendous fun and the constant swapping of ideas, discussion about what to do next and generally helping each other out is the reason I teach. A very astute observation was made that it was unlike me to paint in these colours as I usually paint in a much colder palette, perhaps this is the reason I have avoided sunflowers until now but I can feel a yellow period coming on...

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Testing, testing

Perhaps, it's because of my background in retailing art materials that I test every product that comes my way, most particularly colour charts. It seems to be my default setting that as soon as a product hits my drawing board, I brandish my ruler, drawing a myriad of boxes ready to fill with whatever delicious product has tempted me now.
Therefore when two products flew my way last week, I was straight to the colour charts, finding out what they can. The first product was getting my hands on every colour in the range of The Society for All Artists own brand of watercolours and the second, Dr. Ph Martins' Bombay inks.
SAA's own brand watercolour tubes
 So, I hear you ask, why make a colour chart? I'm often mocked (mostly by my husband) that I am compelled to organise everything in to a list of some description but hear me out, while I do gravitate towards order, I make a colour chart as it is one of the easiest forms of testing a product to see what it does. In the case of the watercolours, I can familiarise myself with colour names and what the range is offering me while noticing how they squeeze out on to the palette, their consistency, how they mix, how they react with the paper etc. all in a very low impact way. Maybe it would be better to plough straight in to using them in a painting, but we all know how much of ourselves we put in to a piece, I wouldn't want to get distracted by the medium I was using, I want it to do the very best job it can for me.
Laying out the colour chart
In the case of the Bombay inks, I had used them years ago, gradually using up all my supplies until I was left with just a bottle of their black, and I've found them to be one of the best brands of ink on the market. I was never able to find a reliable and reasonably priced source until recently when the SAA started stocking them, so I treated my self to two sets and when they arrived, couldn't wait to see if they were as I remembered them and I'm glad to say that they were. The colours are just glorious, beautifully transparent while being waterproof which will make them a wonderful addition to the range of water based media I work with.
The inks at work
Now, when I use either of the products in my classes, I'm also able to show what colours are produced in the range and what they look like on paper, as sometimes it can be tricky to choose from a catalogue or a computer screen.
I have a full week of classes ahead and I'm particularly looking forward to a 'Hare' workshop in my studio on Saturday when I'm hoping to demonstrate these products for everyone to see. Have a great week everyone.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Come back blog, all is forgiven

Eeek! A badly neglected blog is neither use nor ornament and in my job, not helping people to find me either. SO today is set aside with the job of updating some of my neglected social media in order to unify my profile.
What it actually demonstrates is how busy I've been over the last year, which is definitely not a bad thing but make me wonder if I've lost any of you along the way? Well, it is now time for me to put that right and become a more dedicated blogger for you all.
Yesterday saw the launch of my 2016 course brochure, an exercise which has seen me awake until 2a.m. checking dates and times as my worst fear is that I double book myself but I'm really pleased with the brochure and for the first year ever, I've released all of the dates at once. I used to only give out a term at a time but it seemed silly to know what I was doing and not tell everyone else too.
I often get asked about 'what I do' and saying 'Artist' doesn't really seem to sum it up as, with many jobs, people have a preconceived idea of what that entails. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not the sort of person who thinks that their job is tougher than people realise, it's just that the word 'artist' conjures up someone starving in a garret and not the diverse range of skills I've had to acquire over the last 20 years. I don't think most people realise that I spend far more time on admin than I actually do painting. Part of it is because I teach, which means I need to advertise, plan and organise (and I am the OCD Queen of organisation) but making sure people know who I am takes a huge amount of time. Which brings me full circle, I've neglected my blog and therefore, must do better. Hopefully I can entice you back with what I'm up to over the next few months and will endeavour to be a better blogger.
If you would like to view my 2016 course brochure, you can do so via the Issuu site here:
2016 Course, Workshop & Painting Holiday Brochure