How Free and Fresh is Your Art?
By Margaret Vickers
The champagne flowed and the smell of freshly baked pizza filled the air for the Lane Cove Art Society’s November (2023) Christmas meeting. Award-winning artist Tony Belobrajdic was the guest artist for the evening. Watercolour was the focus of the demonstration.
The subject was selected from a variety of photos Tony had brought to the meeting. An apt subject for the watercolour technique to be communicated was a sailing boat on Sydney Harbour. Prior to the presentation Tony had manipulated the photo through Photoshop. The sailing boat had been dropped into the harbour scene! Once the subject was selected it was full steam ahead!
A piece of smooth watercolour paper was taped to an easel with the relevant photo also taped alongside it. A smooth rather than a rough textured paper was preferred as Tony believes it allows greater control of the application of watercolour. To cover a rougher surface more water is required. Less control can result leading to unwanted running marks or “cauliflower” effects which some other watercolour artists embrace.
A subject is chosen because it has made an impact on Tony in some way. He did hold up some portraits of people he had painted mainly because he had been moved by them. Similarly, Tony showed some still life works that had made an impression on him. He has also painted historical scenes. Tony showed a work set in 1943 of a ship in Sydney Harbour full of men going to war. Watercolour captured this very emotional scene done in sepia colours.
Back to the easel. A large brush was chosen. No preliminary sketch was done but mentally Tony assessed his approach to the subject. He noted where the tonal qualities were going to be from the darkest to the lightest. Leaving the white of the paper is how Tony achieves his highlights. He does not use masking fluid or lifting out the paint. Once Tony had assessed his approach he dived straight in to paint the broad shapes composing his subject. This initial step was done quickly “a la prima” which means that the watercolour pigments are laid down in a single application. Tony aims to keep his mark, fresh, quick and impressionistic. It was also why a big brush was used initially to lay down these large abstract shapes.
The second stage assessed where shadows and reflections would fall. He suggested to “exaggerate the shadows” because they always “look good”. It does also inject a dramatic element into the composition. In watercolour painting the tonal quality is achieved by the degree of pigment picked up on the brush. Stronger tones in the shadows meant more pigment was loaded up on the not so wet brush. In this demonstration Payne’s Grey and sometimes black was used to gain the darker tones in the work.
The final step in Tony’s approach to watercolour painting is to paint in all the details. Small flicks of the brush brought out shadows, structures and compositional elements, which tightened the whole painting. The end result was a fresh impressionistic work showing a sailing boat gliding across Sydney Harbour.
Tony’s style of impressionistic mark making results from his “a la prima” approach to his watercolour painting. What Tony’s presentation illustrated was that marks can be free and fresh if they are done without being too labored. Allow the paint to work its magic. Why not give “a la prima” a go when you next attempt a watercolour?
Thank you for your interesting demonstration Tony.