Demo session, Saffron Walden


saffronwalden-hornblower_watercolour_demoHands up; I am the world’s worst blogger. I put stuff on Facebook, forgetting that I can post it here and then share it on FB – a much better way to do things.

So, I was booked to do a watercolour demonstration for Saffron Walden Art Society. The turnout was surprisingly good, considering it was Children In Need night on the telly (a must-see yearly event) and I reckon there were about 50 people present. Thank you Saffron Walden for your support.

The subject was a townscape and I always try to paint something local which everyone will recognise. SW is a particularly attractive town with a beautiful church, lots of very old buildings, and alarmingly sloping streets; I chose a fairly challenging view taking in lots of buildings and the church in the distance. I made things even more difficult for myself by moving the sun! I thought that contre-jour would add more drama.

I kept the drawing to a minimum. Draw too tightly and you just end up colouring the drawing as opposed to producing a painting. Time was tight too; I normally have about an hour and a half to complete a painting and I never draw the thing out beforehand (as some demonstrators do).

I attacked the paper with more than my usual abandon, throwing on paint with gusto, and the image slowly took shape as I progressively added the darks.

And then things got interesting as one chap asked “When are you going to add the windows to the church?”, echoed by one or two others in the audience. I explained that as the street is the subject of my painting and the church merely a backdrop, a silhouette on the horizon, I wasn’t going to add them at all. It sparked a lively debate and I was tickled pink; I had reached the end of a demo and everyone was still awake!

But the interesting thing is that the fellow who asked the question (more than once – it really bothered him) had also spoken to me minutes before, during the half-time break, and said to me “I WISH I COULD PAINT LOOSE THE WAY YOU DO”. Painting loose means picking out the big shapes, simplifying, and suggesting detail rather than spelling it out, which is exactly what I had done, but he really couldn’t handle the fact that I had deliberately not painted something which clearly exists. I suspect that he is doomed forever to produce slavish copies of photos with no hint of passion, interpretation, excitement, expression…..

I don’t mean to pick on the chap – and I don’t take his criticism personally – but it is something I encounter almost every time I paint a demo, particularly with the older generation I’m sorry to say. And being one of them, I don’t see that it comes with the territory.

It comes from years of doing the same thing, over and over, and being afraid to try something different. Experimentation necessarily entails making mistakes and this is too much to handle for many. I say that mistakes are not only inevitable (I make more than most) but that they are essential in order to progress.

So be brave, have fun, make a mess. It’s the only way. Happy painting!


6 thoughts on “Demo session, Saffron Walden

  1. Hi Keith,
    I replied to one of your previous blogs a while ago.
    Loved your thoughts on loose painting. If you don’t mind I will share them with some of my fellow members in Tadworth Art Group, who just had their winter exhibition over the weekend – not because I am accusing any individual there of being tight (in the painting sense!) – many do paint loosely but usually in other media. It seems to be a particular problem for some watercolourists.
    It would be great if you could come and do a demo for us one day, though it would be a bit of a trek down to Surrey!


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