Sunday, 17 November 2013

Whispering Miracles - BAASA Gauteng Workshop held 16 Nov 2013

View from Zanne's Small Studio
Who would not want to paint all day with such an inspirational view! Seven members of BAASA Gauteng plus one guest attended a one-day workshop at Zanne's Small Studio in Roodekrans, overlooking the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. The aim of the workshop was to shift us out of our comfort zones to paint bigger and looser or, as Zanne put it, to 'throw paint at paper'. (Zanne Small is current Chairman of the Watercolour Society.) Well she certainly managed to shift us completely out of our comfort zones with very different techniques to what we are accustomed.
See the nice clean sheets of paper.
 "No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist." 
- Oscar Wilde. 

Challenge number one for us botanical artists, since that axiom didn't quite fit with what we have been told. Now our mantra was to be 'whispering miracles' and we had to learn to credit the viewer with some degree of intelligence to fill in the missing bits. "After all" said Zanne, "why spend a fat penny, when a thin penny will do" (according to her Scottish surrogate mother). So we started to learn that less is actually more and our new terminology would be 'lost edges', 'tonal linkages', 'fabricate', 'push back the colour', 'cabbages are ok' and 'don't control, let it go'. Well're talking to botanical artists here - detail and reality is what we deal in.
Zanne explaining unequal negative corner space for composition.
We started off with 'Exploring the Vignette' - a 'vignette' is a painting that loses clarity as it vanishes towards the corners and sides. Composition, as in all painting, is paramount, but here we learned not to leave so much space around our painting and to make it touch in four places, one on each border, but not equally. (Another useful hint was how to make your own graphite carbon paper for tracing your drawing using a graphite stick on the back of tracing paper, then using cotton wool soaked in lighter fluid to smooth it out.)
Use wet washes and keep your working edge wet

Almost there - don't forget that less is more.
Zanne demonstrated how to paint loosely and gave us some wonderful advice on colour use, including how important it is to know your pigments to avoid making muddy colours, how to push back the colour around your focal point using complementary colour over your main colour and how to use a discordant colour sparingly to make your painting sing (so Opera Pink really was named for a reason). A whole workshop just on colour is needed here!
Cramming in as much as possible just before end of day.
I think Zanne bit off more than she could chew with us and, unfortunately, we only had time to do the vignette, as we all seemed to battle with this new way of painting. However, she tantalised us with an explanation of how the afternoon session - 'Painting with the Pour' - would have gone had we been able to work quicker. The feedback from all at the end of the day indicated that we had been somewhat challenged, which was really good for any artist's block, and that it had been a most enjoyable workshop. My disintegrated brain, for one, would have been totally blown had we gone further and I really look forward to another workshop some time in the not too distant future to finish the challenge. Thank you Zanne for sharing your expertise and your wonderful studio with us!

Photos and text: Angie Hill

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