Saturday, February 4, 2012


watercolour and gouache 19x14cm

In the National Gallery of Scotland there is a collection of Turner’s watercolours, which go on show every January. It’s been decades since I last saw them, so last month Madam and I went and had a look.

Lovely to see them again, and I hadn’t previously recognised the range of styles – from rigidly controlled pointillism to ethereal washed-out layers. It was interesting to see how good his drawing is, and that it underpins even the loosest of atmospherics.

This time, unlike my younger self, I actually read the information cards, which listed the techniques and materials used. There was ‘scratching’ and ‘gum arabic’, which flummoxed me a bit. The scratched areas were obvious, but apart from being the binder for watercolour, I couldn’t see why gum arabic was listed.

I’m quite keen on technical paint stuff, and searching the web for Turner’s methods, I found that he used gum arabic as a masking agent - Turner’s Techniques at the Tate - which was a bit unexpected, and there was more about adding extra gum arabic to standard watercolour, making it like a glaze (a bit like last month’s wallpaper paste).

The next time I was doing window work, there happened to be a sunset developing (the purist in me has a view that a ‘sunset’ is a bit of a cliché, and should be avoided). Nevertheless, I took up a piece of heavy paper and got going with the washes. And the gum arabic. And my trusty Swiss Army Knife. I liked using the glazy/arabic mix for adding to the ‘glow’, and the scraping was quite useful for regaining clean whites quickly.

While the drawing isn’t particularly accurate, I’ll just say that I’ve painted all the right colours - but not necessarily in the right areas…