Australian Fine Artist

John Orlando Birt

Subject: Demo of Landscape in Water Colours

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

John is best known for his water colour paintings but is also a very good oil painter and pastellist. He actually spent a lot of his early working life designing cars for Ford and other companies not only in Australia but also overseas, including Italy where it is possible that he was more interested in changing his career to fine art than what he had been doing up until then. With all that beautiful scenery who could blame him.

For this demonstration we were treated to watching him paint form a photo he took on one of his yearly trips to Italy. John does prefer to paint on site but as we all know, you can’t do that all the time and photos have made artists’ lives so much easier! There is also the fact that really, we don’t have to copy every detail from a photo, as we are artists, we can put it aside and finish off any scene as we like.

For this painting John was using 300gsm Archers paper, not stretched or wet prior. The paper was held by the corners and as the paper moved John merely adjusted the tape to suit. the brushed were squirrel hair and the paints were Daniel Smith, which John says has lovely vivid colours and he is now using a lot.

All his colours are mixed on the palette before John begins work which means he is very efficient in getting the paint on to to paper. There was minimal mixing later on in the process.

Working from the sky at the top, John applied his blues, preferring to use cobalt instead of ultramarine and adding some warmth as he approached the horizon behind the buildings.

The roofs were done next in a very warm orange and he then moved on to blocking in the bushes at the base of the buildings. Everything was blocked in with mid tones except the water for the canal at the bottom. Keeping the paint nice and loose at this stage and leaving some white paper meant that the painting was kept fresh and loose.

The darks and details were left until after the break when the paint had dried by itself as John doesn’t like to use anything to hurry up this process. He went from top to bottom again, creating shadows and windows for the buildings and adding depth to the bushes. He then painted in more detail on the little row boat in the canal. He also painted in the reflections in the water. By painting in these and going over with the water later he said that the reflections will pick up on the colour of the water and look more natural and correct.

The very last thing he did was to lightly paint in the water which he said must be kept lighter than the sky colours but using similar blues etc.

We received some great tips whilst John was painting so I have left some time to list them in this editorial.

  1. Light is very important in every artwork. Your use of light and shadow will take a good painting to the next level
  2. Drying water colours with a dryer or painting in hot conditions where the paint dries very quickly can leave the painting looking “chalky”
  3. Do not underestimate the value of sketching on site. they can be the basis of some great works down later in the studio
  4. When you get to the point in your painting when you ask yourself “what do I do next?” put it away or go for a walk, do not do anything as overworking a painting a a major problem for many artists and can kill what may have been a great piece if you had left it alone.
  5. Cobalt blue and burnt sienna make a great green for Australia
  6. As much as water colours can be more trying than oils – enjoy your painting, it’s not meant to be a nerve racking experience.
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