Malcolm Carver – Watercolour and Sketch Workshop  

26th November, 2020

by Margaret Vickers

Against the magnificent backdrop of Sydney Harbour and the melodious sounds of magpies and whispering casuarinas, members of the Lane Cove Art Society (LCAS) gathered at the historically rich site of the Coal Loader for their final meeting of 2020. Renowned artist/tutor Malcolm Carver presented a watercolour and sketching demonstration.

Cape Don, the ship moored nearby was the subject of Malcolm’s watercolour demonstration. From the 1960’s until the 1990’s this vessel had serviced all the lighthouses around Australia. It is now being restored by volunteers.

Initial steps were outlined. Make sure the horizon is level. Use good quality watercolour paper. Malcolm prefers to use a mechanical 2B pencil. No sharpening is required. Keep a knob of blue tac handy as it can be used as a rubber knocking back unwanted sections of the initial drawing. Smooth rather than rough paper is used as it allows the watercolour to flow in a freer manner. When working outdoors (en plein air) Malcolm only uses one brush. Its tapered shape allows him to do washes and detailed work too. He likes to use a limited palette and for this exercise only three colours were employed – burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and raw sienna.

Once painting started key points were made. Let colours mix on the painting not on a palette. It adds a freshness to the work. Distance is achieved by keeping the background soft, simple and suggestive. To promote a freer approach Malcolm uses tape to “block out” key areas. The white of the paper is retained. “The white of the paper is the most valuable thing you have,” remarked Malcolm. Work fast and do not be caught up in details. Hard edges bring the subject forward whilst soft edges create a feeling of distance. Working wet in wet can produce a distance effect. Lifting out some of the pigment can also achieve the same distance effect as this weakens the tone. Working very quickly, using only one brush and a limited palette “The Cape Don” quickly appeared on Malcolm’s smooth watercolour paper.

For the second exercise, Malcolm did a simple sketch of a harbour scene using a 2B mechanical pencil. “It is all about tone and squinting helps,” commented Malcolm. The lightest tone has a value of one whilst the darkest tone has a value of five. He reminded us that suggestive marks create a distant effect. Hard, bold lines bring an area forward. Dots were used in his sketching technique and then suggestive lines joined them. The paper was 185 gsm and it was attached to a clipboard.
Malcolm sang the praises of small sketchbooks.

Not only are they very portable, they can be a record of your work. Their undaunting size can provide an incentive to do a quick sketch rather than a laborious one.
By the end of Malcolm’s workshop one had a renewed appreciation for the history of the Coal Loader site and the beauty of Sydney harbour’s foreshore. Thank you for your presentation Malcolm. It showed the power of art to inform, inspire, uplift and connect people – so welcome after the Covid 19 socially distanced year.