Tower St. Martin, Soreze
Allan Kirk’s impressionistic watercolour exercise shows how to capture the mood of a bright, and and sunny day in medieval Soreze in the Tarn in southern France.
For Allan Kirk watercolour impressionism is the constant pursuit of light. Originating from the north east of England Allan now lives and works as an artist in the south of France. Allan, together with his wife Lesley runs week long watercolour holidays at their secluded renovated farmhouse in the Tarn region. Find out more at http://www.stepbystepwatercolour.com.
Allan was startled when a friend and inhabitant of Soreze told him it had been sacked by the Vikings, sure, it was old but what were they doing in the south of France far from the sea?
Well the medieval history of Soreze is littered with conflict, from the Vikings to thirteenth century mercenaries. Soreze was established in the eighth century next to a Benedictine monastery, and in foothills of the black mountains. Many of the existing buildings include stone from the monastery after it was abandoned.
In this exercise, Allan has taken a viewpoint looking down an old medieval street towards the tower of St. Martin, that so dominates the skyline of Soreze. Overhanging and crumbling medieval houses, shops and restaurants provide an inviting path towards the tower.
It is the way history and the present exist together that gives Soreze it’s charm. It is not a museum, and working as an artists in it’s many medieval streets is a real privilege.
- Arches Rough, 140lb (300gsm)(27cm x 22cm)
- 4B Pencil
- French Ultramarine
- Cobalt Blue
- Windsor Blue
- Cobalt Turquoise
- Burnt Sienna
- Alizarin Crimson
- Cadmium Yellow
- Burnt Umber
- Raw Sienna
- Large Squirrel Mop
- Pro Arte series 007 size 12
- Sable size 10
- Pro Arte sword liner (medium and large)
- Pro Arte series 007 size 8
- Sable size 4
- Old brush to apply masking fluid
1. The Process
The finished watercolour should be completed in around 4 hours. In between washes use a hair dryer to hasten the drying process for the next stage. Using a hair dryer can be useful. Without, it may take some time for a watercolour to dry sufficiently to be worked upon again.
Use a palette with deep wells for mixing colour, with lots of water. Also use a big water container (like a child’s seaside bucket). You will need access to a lot of water.
I prefer work with my paper between 30 and 40-degree angle. You should choose the angle that you are most comfortable with.
2. The Composition
I have rearranged the composition for this picture, I have made the tower a little more dominant and added a foreground shadow for balance. Also you will notice I have not included the ‘No Entry’ road sign.
3. Painting what you see not what you think
When you paint try to paint the light and not the objects you can see. Concentrate upon light and tone in the composition. If you worry about individual windows or shutters you will tend to over elaborate and put too much detail into your painting. Try to see shapes, colour and tone, not real world objects.
Often when we put more and more detail into a work we lose sight of the overall subject. In addition we kill the spontaneity and transparency of watercolour.
Step 1: Drawing and Masking Fluid
To begin with cut the Arches rough 300gsm watercolour paper to size (22 x 28 cm) and using masking tape attach it to a board. You can just use an old piece of hardboard as your painting board.
Now complete a simple line drawing using a 4B pencil. Use a soft pencil to draw with, and don’t mind if the pencil is visible on the finished picture. It can be erased, but you don’t need to bother.
Concentrate upon your drawing and try to get it to be accurate. You don’t want detail, but you do want accuracy at this stage (that is you want the drawing to look like what you can see).
Remember to compose and balance your picture and rearrange the composition to increase the size of the tower, add the foreground shadow and don’t include the ‘No Entry’ road sign.
After drawing apply the masking fluid with an old brush; never use a good painting brush. Apply it sparingly, it can be seen on the drawing as the dark grey marks.
Masking fluid is useful in this exercise as it enables you to produce real highlights in a painting of great contrasts, especially looking down the medieval street.
Step 2: First Wash
Wait until the masking fluid is completely dry.
1. Wet the paper thoroughly with clear water.
Use your large squirrel mop brush and wet all the paper thoroughly with clear water. Make sure that the paper is wet all over.
2. Apply very wet colour wash to the whole picture.
Prepare several colours in the deep mixing wells of your palette. Set up wells of four basic colours, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Violet, Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna. In addition add a well of Cadmium Orange. These colours are the main colours you will use for the painting.
Then using a number 10 sable brush apply the colour mixes to the paper in a very free and loose way. Let the wet paper allow the colours to run and mix together.
Apply mainly Cobalt Blue to the sky and tower roof. On the buildings and street mix apply Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna.
Arches paper will continue running the colours together quite extensively until they are nearly dry.
3. Remove the masking Fluid
When the initial ghost wash is complete and bone dry remove all the masking fluid. Do this by gently rubbing the masking fluid with your hand; alternatively it could be removed with an eraser.
Step 3: Second Wash
In this step you will apply a second wash to the buildings and street.
Use your existing colour mixes in your palette. In addition add a mix of Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Violet and Burnt Sienna. This will be used to create the shadows under the tower roof and the chimney top.
Use a Pro Arte Series 007 size 12 and Pro Arte sword liner brushes.
Do not worry if your palette mixes are contaminated, and do not worry about mixes running together on the paper. Letting the colours mix on the paper is key to this picture. Arches paper is very good at mixing colours well, some other papers may not achieve this to the same extent. For this painting the qualities of Arches paper is ideal.
1. Do add water and pigment to the original mixes as you work.
2. Do not worry if your palette becomes messy.
3. Let the mixes run together on the paper, as you apply colour sure it touches existing colour applications so that they will mix together.
4. Do be careful to leave highlights where you had placed masking fluid.
5. Use mainly Cobalt Violet, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna on the lighter parts of the building.
6. On the shadows use Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Violet and Burnt Sienna. Keep your shadows warm by using more Burnt Sienna than Cobalt Blue.
7. Mix your shadows on the paper, it provides the deep contrasts and variations within the shadow (you do not want one boring tone across all the shadow).
Step 4: Shadows
Deep shadows and shutters
Wait until the work from step three has dried completely before beginning this step.
In this step you will use the Pro Arte sword liners and develop the intricate dark tones in the street, on the tower and round the front building. Use the existing colour mixes in your palette.
You will also deepen the buildings and shadows that exist. (for example there is a little Raw Sienna on the front building. If you look closely you will see that it is wet on dry and has a harder edge that other washes.
The front shutters are a grey colour, and you can add the shutter shadows when it is dry or nearly dry. In this exercise the shutter shadows on the front building were added when the grey shutter colour was quite wet. If this happens you will get bleeding, but this in itself can add interest to the whole picture.
1. Apply pigment and water to your palette regularly as you work. Mix a dark tone of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Umber for the darkest sections.
2. Work carefully on the dark tones down the street, using your darkest mix.
3. Add Raw Sienna to the front building in a haphazard way that indicates the crumbling render.
4. Apply another wash to the building shadows on the left. Keep the shadows varied and interesting.
5. Add the dark tones to the roof and chimneys.
6. Work quickly and freely, do not get bogged down in details.
Step 5: Final Details
To complete the work:
1. Add suggestions of windows to the buildings in shadow.
2. Add suggestions of hinges on the shutters.
3. Add hanging lamp to street in dark tones
4. Touch up dark shadows all over painting.
5. Do not over do the darks, keep the work loose and free. Keep the mystery of lost and found edges in the shadows.
Allan Kirk trained to teach Art in the 1970’s and taught for 5 years before pursuing a career in computing. He now lives and works as an artist in the south of France. Allan and his wife Lesley have created TARNINCOLOUR HOLIDAYS where they offer 7-day watercolour painting holidays for small groups from beginners through to experienced artists. Groups stay and work from their renovated farmhouse in the beautiful Lauragais region within the tarn. You can find out more about the holidays and see Allan Kirk’s gallery at http://www.stepbystepwatercolour.com/