Turner watercolour workshop, Day 1

I’ve had a wonderful two days this week doing a watercolour workshop at the National Gallery of Australia on  JMW Turner – learning from the master. The course was held as part of the Turner from the Tate exhibition. Our tutor was Toni Smibert, who is a Tate Gallery Visiting Artistic Researcher. Toni’s area of interest is watercolours and he has worked closely over the years with Dr Joyce Townsend who is the leading specialist on Turner’s materials (paint, paper, tools etc).

Toni Smibert demonstrating JMW Turner's watercolour techniques

Toni Smibert demonstrating JMW Turner’s watercolour techniques

We set off at a fast pace as Toni discussed and demonstrated the methods that Turner used. Turner’s work uses many basic concepts, such as the relationship between warm and cool colours and light and dark contrast. We worked on small areas, dividing up sheets of Arches watercolour paper, to record methods and processes. Toni suggests repeating these exercises, making many small works so these techniques become ingrained. This is not so you develop slavish copying but to help you get to the point where you can intuitively use the techniques as and when it applies to your own work. Like Toni said doing the exercise once won’t teach you the method.

Day 1, my sample page

Day 1, my sample page

Simple design structures such as a washes of warm colour above a wash of cool colour, suggesting sky over water, or the reverse suggesting sky over land were explored. With a bit of guidance we were able to readily produce a convincing waterscape.

A waterscape using a warm wash above a cool wash.

A waterscape using a warm wash above a cool wash.

We then explored ideas such as dropping cool colours into a warm background:

Cool colours into a warm background - the basis for Turner's "Blue Rigi"

My sample of cool colours into a warm background
– the basis for Turner’s “Blue Rigi

and warm colours into a cool background to develop landscapes. This flows from another method which is ‘finding the landscape’ in the paint. Basic structures can be worked and re-worked to develop a final image.

My sample of warm colours into a cool background

My sample of warm colours into a cool background – similar to Turner’s approach to a “Study for the Red Rigi

It was a very full day. At the end of our class we went into the exhibition so Toni could show us some specific examples of Turner’s techniques and demonstrate some approaches to doing quick sketches. What a luxury to have the originals to study so closely.

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