Wokingham Art Society
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Sera Knight watercolour demonstration
Winter Townscape, 20 December 2011

Visit her at www.seraknight.co.uk. Contact info@seraknight.co.uk or 01276 856517

Sera had agreed at the last moment to do this demo (the previously booked demonstrator was unwell). What's more she was asked to finish everything in about 70 minutes - it was our last meeting before Christmas and there were nibbles and (non-alcoholic) mulled wine instead of just tea, coffee and biscuits.

She'd found a snowing Westminster Abbey Christmas card for inspiration. Sera claimed it had only taken her about 15 minutes to produce a quite detailed pencil drawing but she had painted a couple of vaguely similar scenes the previous day "to get her hand in". Of course she'll take liberties with the positioning and colouring of the people
She said she started wherever she felt best - no formulae like "background before foreground". Here, since time was short, she decided to go straight onto the dry paper with the figures, in Raw Sienna and French Ultra, spreading the same colours, wet, onto the surrounding areas. But she was almost immediately diverted onto a foreground taxi and a mid-distance bus (a lovely SAA Cadmium red) before touching in more people.

Her paint was always fairly wet, but not as wet as she would have used on a flat board. This made it easy to define a small area with a neutral colour and then immediately add touches of brighter pigment - interesting variations. She carefully left dry paper between different areas (for clear lines and no blurring "cauliflowers").
This approach backfired in the sky, possibly because she forgot to allow for the vertical board. She used several purple brushfulls (a 1" flat), the colour becoming more orange towards the bottom, but when she put extra dark at the top it ran down and left an unwanted patch where the orange had dried too much. "Leave it alone. We'll do something about that later."

For the buildings Sera used the same purple mix, grayed with a complementary yellow. Here the lines where white paper has been left untouched are even more obvious.

Once the paper was more or less all covered (40 of the 70 minutes?) the remainder of the demo was a process of continual adjustment.
Sera had three brushes in her hand: the 1" flat, one small (No8?) and one large (No.14?) rounds. Darks were introduced everywhere, dabs of sky colour made footsteps in the snow, extra texture was dabbed in to give the impression of more people, the umbrella colours were modified, she reversed the sky/buildings contrast by darkening the sky (covering up the earlier problem there and placing the scene a bit later in the day). The brushes never stopped for a moment - except when she took a couple of paces back to see what it looked like (don't you forget to do that, even if you are in a hurry!).

Noticing that the picture lacked depth and that the sky paint was dry ("more or less dry - let's live dangerously") she put a dark glaze over all the background. This meant that she had to go back and reinforce the darks there.
Before this glaze was really dry Sera got out a small toothbrush and some white body colour (gouache) and flicked paint to create the snow flakes. The moisture already on the paper softened these spots but it's an unmentioned skill to know how dry to let it become to get the effect you want.

Touching up continued. One little thing I noticed was how often she put paint down a line and then drew it one way into the rest of the area. She put extra touches of interest into the pavement and the street lights. In fact the brushes were still visiting almost everywhere - the process of rebalancing the whole composition was a never-ending one.

But it did end. In fact Sera decided, with 5 minutes to spare, that there was nothing more she wanted to do until she had had time to look at it properly*. That's the first picture here.



"The Abbey"
Applause and congratulations followed. Sera had given us a most interesting evening. Everyone appreciated how professionally she had dealt with the dual problems of short notice and limited demonstration time.






* A couple of days later Sera said that she'd decided to do just a little more: "re-touching some of the darks and straightening the wonky Abbey wall". Her photo of it is here and presumably her lighting is more realistic - absolute colour memory is not one of my strong points.

It's being used as her 2012 online Christmas card, "Christmas time in London".

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