Acrylic painting techniques and tutorial with Helen Cottle I Colour In Your Life

Acrylic painting techniques and tutorial with Helen Cottle I Colour In Your Life


G’day viewers, my name’s Graeme Stevenson, and I’d like you to invite you to come on a journey of creativity, and learning and adventure through the series Colour In Your Life. There’s an Artist in every family throughout the world. Lots of times there’s an Artist deep down inside all of us as well. So grab your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your aunties, uncles and mums and dads and come and see how some of the best Artists do what they do. (Music Plays) (Graeme) Well Hi, folks, well we are in Gisborne, in Victoria, today, and we are at the studio and gallery of one of the leading women workshop teachers in the country, Helen Cottle. Hi. (Helen) How are you, Graeme? (Graeme) Very, very well thanks. Welcome to the show. Now you were one of those young women that was determined to be an Artist, even at a young age. And it was your grandmother that really pushed you into many, many situations. But what I really like about Helen’s story is that you said to yourself this is where I want to be, this is what I want to do. And literally by working with some of the leading people in the county, you are now one of the leading workshop teachers in this country as well. Tell me a little bit about that journey? (Helen) Yes, very true. Well it all began early days, of drawing – lots of drawing – obsessed with it. My grandmother was very encouraging, she gave me pencils, and paper and asked me to draw for her all the time. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) It got to the point where she’d challenge me with things and she’d say “can you draw me this, can you draw me that.” (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And I’d say to her “Oh, I’ll give it a go.” So that was really, really where it kick started. And then from there yeah, I just kept on learning and teaching myself. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Went on to high school, went through the Art part there. Enjoyed that, really enjoyed it, (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) but I actually wanted to be a vet. I didn’t want to be an Artist at that point, cause I thought I could paint – I could draw, not paint. But decided to do the sciences to become a vet, and the Art department decided that, that wasn’t what I was going to do. (Graeme) Right. (Helen) So that was their encouragement to go down the Art side of things. (Graeme) But you’ve had even some of your compatriots these days have become good friend are Rob Lay, Ross Patterson, even Jo Zbukic, which is you know, regarded as one of the leading in the world. (Helen) Yep. (Graeme) So you’ve got some you know, quiet influential people around you these days. But you know, you’ve obviously earned your stripes as well, by any means. (Helen) Oh yeah. Well, yes and encouraged and influenced by many of the Australian Artists. We’ve had it great in Victoria particularly, there’s so many good Artists. Always on show, you can go to galleries and exhibitions and see all their work and yeah, eventually aimed high. Aimed at the ones that I thought were great and thought how did they do that? How did they get there? (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And just kept chipping away, chipping way. (Graeme) Well you’ve become a master in a sense of watercolors, acrylics, and obviously oils. The reason that we are here today, is because of Hydrocryl, and Mr Alex Holzer, and Alex and generously reached out and been part and parcel of bringing these great people to Colour In Your Life, which is fantastic. So we’re going to talk about the products today which is about what you’re going to be doing today, which is acrylics. But you can go through and see Helen’s artwork on her website of course. But we’ll be showing some of those shots today which are acrylics, and oils and watercolors – just amazing, amazing work. But I’m once again gonna step out of the shot, and I’ll annoy you with a whole bunch of annoying questions for the rest of the day. And because she’s such a fantastic teacher, it’s gonna make my job a lot easier. I’m gonna hand it over to you. (Helen) Thank you. (Graeme) Okay. (Graeme) Okay, Helen well you’ve already prepared the background, before we’ve got here, but you actually have to prepare your palette now as well. So how do we go about that? (Helen) Basically I have a palette which is consisting of, it’s just a tray – like a plastic tray. Underneath the top layer is a baking paper and below that is just some damp sponges, or damp paper towels. That way when I use the paint, I put it on here. I put out the paint I need to use and it will stay moist for days, if I want it to. I can put – I’ve got two trays, I can take the bottom tray out when I’m finished for the day. If I want to keep the colors that I’ve mixed, I will take the the bottom off and put it over the top, and use it as a lid. And that way the paint doesn’t dry out, I’m not wasting any paint, the colors that I’ve mixed stay as I’ve mixed them, instead of being – I have to remix the color that I’ve mixed once before, and I can’t quiet get that color. So the bull dog clips just hold the paper in place, and when I’m finished for the day if I don’t need the paper any more, or I need to change to and freshen up, take it out, screw it up, throw it in the bin. There’s no washing the paint down the sink, not making any mess, and you’re not wasting any paint really at all. A lot of people end up with it drying up on a dry palette and they can’t reuse it. So that’s the way that I like to work. (Graeme) Fantastic. (Helen) So I will pop out a few colors of Hydrocryl paint that I’m using today, is fantastic paint. I’ve been using it for a number of years. The consistency is fantastic as an acrylic. A lot of acrylics I find are either using a lot of fillers that will reduce the quality of the paint – makes them too thin and the color doesn’t stay as vibrant. So the colors that I’ve chosen, well basically I’m doing a floral painting today. I’ve got a lot of turquoises and greens, yellow, and there’ll be some pinks coming into that as well. And I’ll just pop out the colors that I’m using first off, will be a lot of the deeper greens that I need to do the background color with the leaves. (Graeme) I think another great part about the Hydrocryl paints is that they’re nontoxic, so you know, obviously people do have allergies, but they’ve not no cadmium or Colbert or led in them at all. (Helen) No, that’s right. (Graeme) So you know, you’re not going to have to worry about allergies or making yourself sick. (Helen) That’s one of the, one of the main reasons why I use the paint as well, is because I’m a little bit sensitive to chemicals. (Graeme) Yep. (Helen) And with oil paints I had to stop using turps a long time ago and shift over to acrylics and even now I’m finding this is much better to my health. So I’ve got a little bit of Yellow Ocher, Yellow Oxide, a little bit of yellow, Lemon Yellow. (Graeme) Yeah, Hydrocryl makes over forty colors as well, so you’ve got a really really wide rand of some pretty products to use. (Helen) Yeah, they’re great colors. They hold their tone as well – their color. The hue is quite vibrant, were as a lot of other acrylic paints that I’ve used flatten down and dull down out the colors. With Hydrocryl, really bright and they maintain that color throughout. And I might just put out a little bit of transparent Red Oxide, which is a god color for killing a green that can be a little bit artificial. A slight bit of Red Oxide in it can make it a little bit more earthy. If you notice I’m scoping my paint out with a palette knife, and then I’m wiping off the excess paint on the towel. I really find that a lot of people then put it in their water and rinse it out and they make too much mud in their water before they’ve even started painting. So by cleaning it off on this towel – I always have a towel on my palette, on the table, and that way I can keep it always fresh. So basically I pop the paint around the the outside of the palette, and when I mix I pull the colors together within that mixing area. Again, a lot of students tend to put it here, and here, and here and then they run out of space and wonder why they’ve got no room to mix. And that is why, it’s because you just need to be able to grab a little bit, grab a little bit and pull them together. (Graeme) Yeah, and they maintain their shape as well. (Helen) Yeah. (Graeme) They really do. Some acrylics – they’d be dripping down the page right now. (Helen) That’s correct. They’ve got a nice viscosity, and if you do want to dilute them a little bit, which I do sometimes to make it thinner, they’ve got a flow promoter which is just a liquid – almost like a varnish. And if you pop a bit of this medium out, I often put it in a little container, which I didn’t bring out with me, but I’ll pop one out later. And there’s also a gel gloss medium, which actually helps to dilute the paint but not make it too thin, because too much water can actually dull down and make your paint a little bit cloudy. The painting I’m going to do today is a floral. It’s a nice, loose, abstract type flora painting. A lot of color, a lot of vibrancy and a lot of light, which I love to work with in most mediums, but acrylics particularly. What I tend to do is look at the background of the painting first and think of the flowers last. So what I tend to do is think: backdrop, medium, middle ground, and then foreground of detail. I work from photographs, they’re all my own photographs; I take them all myself. I put them on the computer – I don’t play with them, I don’t Photoshop or anything. I might crop or zoom, and that’s about all I do to change the image. The brushes that I like to use are synthetic hair rushes mainly. Square brushes which I can use as a flat surface. I can tip it on the side. It can be a straight line or if I twist it just slightly, it gives it a more rounded shape like a Filbert. The only hog hair or the only natural brushes that I use are the fan brushes, which are old and mangled so they’re not perfect, but I find for foliage and for even hair on horses and things, these nice rough edges can be used as a tool, rather than just a fan brush as some people use like a fan, but I use it more on its side and twist the brush as I move. So I’ll start off with the fan brush. I’ve wet them up; I’ve taken a little bit of the water out. I’m going to mix a mid-tone grey. So I’ve got a little bit of Cerulean Blue and a little bit of Yellow Oxide. (Graeme) So you’re basic sort of squinting your eyes just trying to find (Helen) Yep, (Graeme) the darker areas. (Helen) just some patches and areas there (Graeme) Aha. (Helen) and I’ve already built up some lighter tones underneath. So by doing the deeper ones on top, it helps to give that three-D kind of look. (Graeme) So over the years, you’ve been doing this for a while, but you teach at Bathurst. I mean the people that you use to admire are now the ones that you actually teach with. You teach in Bathurst, and Cairns, and Brisbane, and Shepparton, and then you’re off to Western Australia. So (Helen) Yep. (Graeme) you’ve definitely made a mark for yourself in the workshop arena for Art in Australia. (Helen) Yes, it’s been an interesting journey to say the least. I don’t think I expected to be teaching all around Australia when I first started teaching, because I didn’t really want to teach. I actually thought I couldn’t teach cause I wasn’t trained as a teacher. So I decided that when someone asked me if I could show them what I do, I said “Yes, I can do that.” And that was the beginning of me teaching for the last twenty- five, nearly thirty years. (Graeme) That’s fantastic. Great journey, it really is. (Helen) One thing I do say to my students many times is: Don’t look at the prettiness. You’re past the prettiness, to the guts of the painting. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And then come back and put all the fine detail in. (Graeme) Now I know you’ve won numerous prizes over the years. I said to you before we started well I, I don’t know, I can’t tell you how many there actually is. (Helen) No, No. (Graeme) But that’s a great feather in your cap for doing that. But even when you were a young woman and you’d entered a competition, and your mum was with you when you walked in, and they congratulated your mum. And your mum said “No, it’s actually my daughter thats done that.” (Helen) Yeah, that was quite funny. (Graeme) That’s great isn’t it? (Helen) Yeah, they sort of said “Congratulations Mrs Cottle” and she just looked horrified, like “it’s not me.” But no, that was, it was quite interesting. Those early days I only entered a few local Art shows, but I got the idea quickly that if you win a couple of prizes it you know, makes you quite happy so. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Yeah. (Graeme) You don’t sort of throw the money away.(Helen) And that was the bonus that you actually won a prize (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) of money. You got a nice little certificate which I’ve got a box full in there that I’ve gathered. As I said, the first show I that I went into I saw a Ross Patterson painting as a prize winning watercolor, and I was painting in oils at the time. But I looked up and thought that’s where I want to be and that’s what I want to be doing. I just wondered how he got there and how he did it. I had never met Ross at the time, but it encouraged me to strive and work out what it was that took to get you through those levels to get you to those, to that status. Ross and I teach together in many venues now. (Graeme) That’s great isn’t it? (Helen) Yeah, it’s great fun. Okay, I’m about to start to establish some of the flowers, so I’m mixing a couple of different blues and purples to get these delfinia shapes here – dots and dashes. (Graeme) Dots and dashes you reckon. (Helen) Dots and dashes. No little fine petals as such, we want some nice big deliberate strokes to make these shapes. (Graeme) You’re just sort of mapping in the guts. (Helen) Yep, and I’ll do a few, I might finish one off. I’ll move across the painting in flow, so everything becomes balanced and has a little bit of harmony. (Graeme) You’ve got one piece called Moonrise, Mount Major, I think is just a beautiful piece of work. And it’s the moon rising at the same time that the sun’s setting. And you where actually out with some of the guys on a field trip doing that wen’t you? (Helen) The actually painting itself I did back in the studio, but we did some Plein Air studies that particular night. I was out with a couple of Artists and we went up to the top of Mount Major. It was freezing, but it was just perfect conditions. We got what we could do before we lost the light. I’m going to swap over to establish some of the pink flowers now. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) So I’ll mix up one of the beautiful colors, it’s called Acra Pink. (Graeme) Yeah, they’ve got, Hydrocryl’s got a great range of Alizarin and Fuchsia colors as well, which are really vibrant when you put them down. (Helen) Yeah, they’re great colors. (Graeme) But you can see even what you’ve just done with those brush strokes and the color, the pictures just starting to come together. (Helen) Yep, start to bring some life to a very flat, dull background, but the energy in it is the actual subject of the flowers themselves. (Graeme) It’s sort of, a lot of people do, they look at the flower and try and paint the flower instead of the shape. (Helen) Well they think a flower is you know, a circle with all these little bits around the outside, but I see the outside shape and work from there. I’m just building areas and as I said, I don’t finish one particular spot I’ll move around and try and keep a bit of balance there. There’s no, in the photograph itself there’s no pink in the lower area down here, but I’m actually going to put something in there so they’re not all floating up in the air. We’ll just have one little bit that breaks up that shape. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) Often when I paint florals I won’t do a whole lot of stems and then pop a flower on top, I’ll paint the flowers and then weave the stems in between the gaps. I think I might pop out a little bit of turquoise color now, so it’s a series of warm and cool colors really. Even within a blue – it can be a warm blue or a cool blue, or a warm mauve or a cool mauve. (Graeme) Now you did a series of paintings with red umbrellas. (Helen) I did a lot of paintings with umbrellas, just with people walking along with the umbrellas for a long time, and they were very popular. But I got to a point were I painted a lot of umbrellas and I decided that it was time to throw them in the air. So the next series was literally people – or a girl, throwing the umbrellas and letting it go. Surrendering and changing tact, so it became another theme which was good fun, it was good fun to do, so I keep reinventing. This girl pops up in the bush; she pops up on top of rocks; she goes to the ocean; she goes to the mountains, and she lets go in every place she goes to. (Graeme) She lets go of that umbrella. (Helen) Yep, throw it away. So back into my greens. A little bit of the flow medium now to let the paint liquidity a little bit, so that we get a nice stroke. I’m using, I’m actually using a Rigger brush now. (Graeme) That’s a big Rigger brush. (Helen) It is a big Rigger brush. (Graeme) Wow. (Helen) It’s a nylon one, it’s not a hair, (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) or a sable. But it allows the paint to flow off the brush nicely, otherwise again they tend to hold on if you’re not careful. (Graeme) Just sort of highlighting all those areas again. (Helen) Yeah, getting a few stems and connecting lines. (Graeme) Part of the beauty about being an Artist, and I agree with this is the opportunities that you get to go out and take photography as well, and look at different people. And there was one that you came across, a gentleman that was a potter, who’s a craftsman. Tell us a bit about that? (Helen) Yes, I was in a local town Woodend, taking some photographs of street scenes. And as I walked past this little pottery studio, a fellow jumped out the door and asked me what I was doing, and I said I was taking photographs to paint from. He said oh, my mates an Artist – he’s a potter. If you’d like to come in I’m sure he’ll pose for you. So I went in and he quite happily just threw half a dozen pots for me. And I just went around moved around him, up and down, around and over, and took all these fabulous shots and then painted a series of his portraits. And here’s some really bright green now – really bright green. (Graeme) Once again you’re just using the edge of that brush to (Helen) Using the fan brush and just using the edge to establish the shapes that I need. Yeah, You live in a beautiful area around here. It’s very close to the Macedon Rangers, (Helen) Yeah. (Graeme) and it’s just fantastic. And you’ve got some beautiful pieces of the Macedon Rangers themselves, which are just fantastic. I mean you’ve captured the colors just amazingly well. (Helen) Very blessed to live in this area, for as an Artist when I moved here thirty years ago, I didn’t really have an idea of what the Art community was like, but literally fell in to it, and it served me ever since. I started teaching back then and haven’t stopped. Alright lets pick up some highlights of these guys. It’s just white with just a little bit of pink in it, and I’ll go pure white later on. Nice juicy paint is great for body. Once my thinner layers that I’ll thin out with the medium, and then push them through, but then when I come towards the end of the painting I will allow that thick, chunky, juicy paint to work for me. And now I’m starting to establish some really dark, darks. I hesitated to go into them in the beginning, because it can make the painting tonally dark overall if you go in too quickly, so as I said earlier, I went with the middle tones up and down. So now I’m going to really whack in some dark accents to push things forward. (Graeme) Okay. Yeah, part of the theme a lot as you look at your work is you’re really after that mood, or the illusion of the emotion of color, as in the evenings or in the mornings as the sun’s coming up or going down. (Helen) Yes, I do, I do love the seasons and the contrasts, the light, particularly low light, evening low light, and early morning sunrise. I think your values are just fantastic at those times of the day. (Graeme) There’s another one that I’ve got here of Bondi Pavilion, and you actually have a friend that has an apartment that looks across Bondi, and you go down there and just hang out every so often. (Helen) It was the middle of winter, that particular painting funnily enough. But the light was low, and it just picked up the time where I could see what was going on. And the painting itself was painted from the balcony of the house, or the apartment that I was staying in. Okay, so now back into my finer Rigger brush, establishing a few verticals. Shapes that are leading the eye around, up and above the line of the, the mid line of the painting. (Graeme) Aha. You actually were invited over to the Shanghai Biennale at one stage, and also the Chinese Museum Watercolor brought one of your pieces for their collection. (Helen) They did, they did, and I think was I was hiding in the wings I think, and I popped out from nowhere and I was actually very privileged and honoured to be chosen. (Graeme) Cause the Chinese are fanatic about watercolors too aren’t they? (Helen) Yes, and their work’s amazing. (Graeme) So how would you describe your style? (Helen) Realist Impressionist. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) Being that I like real subjects, I like life, and what’s going on in life, but I like to give the impression or the feeling at the moment that you’re looking into it. So it’s capturing the moment and enhancing bits and pieces that you can, to make the viewer sort of be touched or be happy to be looking at this painting. (Graeme) And that play on light is always so important. (Helen) Yeah, it is one of the most important things. So at this point, these final little touches are extremely important to make the viewer read through the large shapes down to the small shapes, coming back into looking for things to tease you to make you look around a bit more, to stay involved in the painting – not to get lost and walk away, so it’s keeping you attracted to it. I’m about to get a little bit of Deep Orange this is, but it’s almost red. It’s quite a dark, dark orange which I really love. And I’m just going to pop a few little tiny dots of that within the painting. So I’m actually using my finger for this. Okay, what I’m about to do is mix up a bit of paint which is gonna allow me to flick the paint on, just splat a few random spots here and there. I find that that makes you stop being too precious with the painting, and it brings you a bit of an area that you were worried about. Once you get a couple of drops of paint on it you don’t care anymore; it makes it all come together. Okay, so with the brush flicking (Graeme) Yep, look at that. (Helen) just a few spots. Now I’ve got to watch where they land, but even if they land on a spot, like if one covers a bit of a flower, I’m not worried about that. I like the fact that it’s random. And I think that might be all we need to do for now. Yep, (Graeme) Fantastic. (Helen) we’re done. (Graeme) Look amazing. Really, really well done. Really well done. (Helen) It was good fun. (Graeme) Yeah, thank you. We had a great day, a really great day. Okay guys, fantastic day. Floras – really well done. Helen, (Helen) Thank you. thank you (Helen) I enjoyed the day. (Graeme) very, very much. Now if somebody wants to get in touch with you? (Helen) Website: helen cottle dot com dot au (Graeme) Absolutely, and if you want to come along and be with one of the best teachers in the country, I mean you have a great life don’t you? (Helen) I do. I do what I love and I love what I do. (Graeme) Come along and be part of it. The reason that we are here today is because of Hydrocryl, and Mr Alex Holzer. And Alex has generously reached out and been part and parcel of you know, bringing these great people to Colour In Your Life, which is fantastic. Come in and see us at colour in your life dot com dot au, and of course Facebook and YouTube. But until we see you guys again in this beautiful area down in Gisborne, remember guys: make sure you put some color in your life, and some floral color in your life. We’ll see you again. Bye now. See you guys.

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