Watercolour painting techniques and tutorial with Don McAra | Colour In Your Life

Watercolour painting techniques and tutorial with Don McAra | Colour In Your Life


G’day viewers, my name’s Graeme Stevenson, and I’d like 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) Okay guys, well we are in Christchurch, in New Zealand, and we are with a very distinguished gentleman today, Mister Don McAra. Thank you (Don) Nice to meet you. (Graeme) very much for being on the show. Don’s had an extensive history of being an educator before he became an artist, and was a drama teacher, art teacher, social studies and english for a number of years and just done some amazing things which we’ll discuss today. But in 1987, after many years of wanting to be an artist, you actually made the decision to say this is what I need to do with my life. Tell me about that decision and how it has effected you? (Don) Well it was something that I had, as you say, been wanted to do for a long, long time. And I had been fitting bits of art in to my drama, and to my class room teaching and so on. But 1987 yes, it just became a crunch. I had a hip replacement, my mother had died, I thought well okay, I’m not immortal too, so I will take up what I’ve always been wanting to do. (Graeme) Fantastic. And in that period of time you’ve traveled the world pretty extensively as well. And then painted a lot of – probably the things that you used to teach in social studies, or the things that you sort out in the end as far as your work was concerned. Pretty amazing stuff. (Don) Yes, I think I was drawn to the classical parts of Europe too, particularly to where my father was killed in the Battle for Crete. (Graeme) Oh, wow. (Don) So I went to Greece for that reason as well, and also to Italy and I had the pleasure of learning a little bit of Italian before I actually went there too, so I found that really handy. (Graeme) Fantastic. (Don) And then my wife Jill has been learning Spanish for some years, and so we’ve gone there and painted there as well. Also to France, and also particularly to Ireland and the UK generally. (Graeme) Well in speaking of the UK, you where in Newcastle upon Tyne, for some as well, actually did a university course there. (Don) Yes I did. I had the privilege of doing a marvellous drama course, drama and education (Graeme) Yes. (Don) with a guru of that sort of work called Dorothy Heathcote (Graeme) Yes. (Don) That was a marvellous year. But during that year as well, I was able to go around various galleries in the UK, and so I had this sort of battle on my hands as to whether I was going to be driving to do for the rest of my life to do the drama of education (Graeme) Yeah. (Don) which I did practice for a few years, but also then to follow up my visits to the main galleries of London for example, and even Newcastle upon Tyne had a good gallery as well (Graeme) Yes, well I think you made the right decision (Don) in Edinburgh. (Graeme) because the peace we’re actually working on today is one that you nearly got in trouble for, for actually taking. You where up on a railway stanchion I think it was. (Don) Oh, yes. (Graeme) So what is the building that we’re painting today and what is the town? (Don) Well the town is actually just fourteen miles south of Newcastle upon Tyne, and during that year on a couple of occasions I did get down to do some sketching beside the river where just at the foot of the great cathedral there. And this cathedral and the view over and towards it over the town is a very famous one that’s best seen from the inside of a railway carriage crossing a viaduct. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) And various famous people have commented saying this is one of the great views of Europe, you must never miss it. (Graeme) Yeah, we’re going to paint that today. (Don) That’s what we’re going to try and paint. (Graeme) Absolutely, and then we’ll discuss that more as we go along. But a very, very interesting man with a wonderful history of life which we’ll discuss today as well. But I’m going to step out of shot and I’m going to let you start on this wonderful piece. (Don) Thank you very much. (Graeme) Aright Don, well we’ve got three stages and this is the first one of what we’re going to go through. But you’re doing some pencil work. Tell me more about that? (Don) Yes, well the pencil work is just gives the layout of course for the whole painting, and I work it out, the proportions out by placing certain things around first like the tower, or the cathedral the town hall tower. And once I’ve got those in then it’s only a matter of filling in the gaps between. That’s how I do the painting, do the drawing. (Graeme) Yeah, and the drawing is such an essential part as well isn’t it? (Don) For this sort of work it is. (Graeme) Okay, and what sort of watercolour paper are you using there? (Don) I’m using this is a Saunders, a not surface so it will take the detail. A rough surface wouldn’t take the detail that I’m aiming for in this particular work. (Graeme) Okay. (Don) I’m happy enough with the drawing now, so I think I can go to the next stage, and that is to start putting in the first main washes. And in order to get the main washes flowing properly, I’ll have to decrease the angle of the paper, so all I’ve got to do is raise this whole drawing table like that, stamp on it hard, and it’s ready to start putting on some of the first washes. Okay, so what I’m doing now is wetting part of the paper so that I can make sure that the water will flow. That is the colour will flow and the way I want it to flow. Just a little bit more of an angle on it then wetting that first, going right down to the top of the cathedral. I’m leaving the clouds in the meantime because I’ll do the clouds separately. There’s a cloud up there. And now I’ve got to mix the colour for the sky. So for that I’m using a Colbert Blue, a tiny touch of Phthalo Green in it to take away the harshness of the blue, and I can start laying the colour on. See how nice and soft the sky is going on because of the water being ready on the paper. (Graeme) That angle that you’ve got there is really the optimum angle for you (Don) Yes, (Graeme) to be able to handle your water. (Don) that’s a very good… It’s floating down towards the horizon a bit now. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) Down towards the horizon of course, the sky gets lighter, because there’s so much more air between you and the distance, so that gives you atmospheric perspective. (Graeme) Yes, of course. (Don) So what I’m doing now is dropping more colour into it up near the zenith of the sky, so that it can warm gently down towards the horizon a bit. The sun’s coming in from this angle to the left. I shall bring the colour of the sky, the darker colour of the sky down further on the far side. And so I’m introducing a little bit more of the Phthalo towards the bottom, because the sky does tend to get yellower lower down, and that is a touch of yellow comes in with the atmosphere there. And of course if it’s a murky atmosphere like you get in some Chinese cities of course, everything goes very yellow. Now I need to make the colour of the cloud itself, and for that I’ll use just a little bit of Burnt Sienna in with the blue. (Graeme) What type of brush are you using there Don? (Don) This one happens to be a… one of the most expensive brushes. (Graeme) There you go. (Don) But it’s not really the best brush to use; I’ll change it because it was too fussy. Whoa, too much blue. This is what happens you have a bit of fun that things change a bit and that blue won’t do any harm there, because what I can do is pick it up drop a little bit of Burnt Sienna into that perhaps. (Graeme) And the piece that you’ve got in front of you of the Dunedin Cathedral, which is where we’re going and… (Don) That’s my finished work and what I’m doing is really trying to show you the step by step process (Graeme) Yes. (Don) that I went through in order to arrive at that. (Graeme) You’ve also got a picture here called Ano Viannos in Crete. (Don) Yes, yes. Did you go there because of your… (Don) Oh yes, my father was killed in Crete (Graeme) Yes. (Don) in World War Two. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) And so several times we’ve been there at various commemorations for the Battle for Crete. And New Zealanders and some Australians too were caught up in that and a few Brits as well. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) So it’s been a very moving experience to go there and I met some wonderful people there, and of course you get a tremendous welcome. Now the next stage is to getting some of the warmer washes down into the trees. For that I’ll go into a good basic yellow, it’s a kind of middle yellow and a touch of red in it as well perhaps – not too much. I’ll then start to lay in some of this main colour in the trees. Making allowances for one or two trees which are a bit redder. (Graeme) You’ve got a number of pictures that you’ve done on your travels through Europe. There’s another one here called Clifton in Connamara, in Ireland. (Don) Oh, yes. (Graeme) You’re looking across the town and the white washed houses. (Don) That was an interesting one because I was caught out in the rain there. The original painting for that (Graeme) Yes. (Don) was done on the spot, and every now and again a raincloud, a rainstorm would come through. It’s great fun; it tests you. It’s a great way of working. It gives you something much more spontaneous sometimes than a studio painting. (Graeme) Yeah, there’s a lot of the harbours over there. You’ve got one called Clovelly Harbour in the UK, but there’s so much character and atmosphere in those places. (Don) Clovelly’s a very special place indeed. I did some sketching on the spot there again too. (Graeme) And another one called Crail, from Friefshire in Scotland, and the beautiful reflections that you’ve been able to put into the water is just wonderful. (Don) Oh it’s Crail is a great town. I did a small sketch on the spot there, and that was… It’s mighty painting on the spot, because people come and on the whole in Europe they let you, leave you alone. But sometimes in Christchurch in the past anyway, when you painted on the spot people would say, oh my grandson could do better perspective than that. (Graeme) In observing your work when I first saw it I loved the fact that you paint these really beautiful scenes of towns, and places, and cathedrals, and the wonderful atmosphere that you get within them. And you’ve got one called Dunedin Icons. (Don) Oh, yes. (Graeme) And you actually came from Dunedin originally, (Don) Yes, yes. (Graeme) and then worked on the trams down there. You actually not just paint the trams, but you work on the trams as well, as far as restoring them. (Don) Yes, I actually work on the trams here in Christchurch, (Graeme) Yeah. (Don) and we send them back once they’ve been restored. I’ve sent several cable car trams back to Dunedin, but we still keep some electric trams running around town here. (Graeme) Okay. (Don) Working on restoring them is a really interesting hobby I have, and enables me to get away from the studio and go out and work with some interesting people. (Graeme) Yes, and one thing that is remarkable out your work and stands out is the enormous detail and perspective that you put in there. Not just drafting perspective, but atmospheric perspective as well. I’m just putting up Dunedin’s Civic Center. I didn’t know Dunedin was that cosmopolitan to be honest with you. I haven’t been down there before, but it’s amazing. Plus the detail you’ve got in there’s incredible. (Don) One of the main reasons I was interested in Burum, when I was staying there was it reminded me very strongly of Dunedin. And so of course does Edinburgh, (Graeme) Yes. (Don) because Dunedin is actually called the Edinburgh of the South. After the gold rushes there was plenty of money floating around in Dunedin, so they were able to erect some great buildings there. (Graeme) Yeah, even the picture, and you’ve actually taken the painting back to the fifties. It’s called Historic 1950 Dunedin, but its got the trams, and the cars and the town hall. It looks, it looks amazing. It really does. (Don) Yes, well that’s another thing about my work, is that I am interested in history. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) And I did do a book on the cable cars of Dunedin too, which is led to a group of people wanting to reinstate a cable car line in Dunedin. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) Actually the first steps towards that have actually now been taken. Some of the cable cars that we have restored at Ferrymead and Christchurch, the Train Way Historical Society (Graeme) Yes. (Don) have actually gone down to Dunedin recently, and they’ve been set up in a small museum that anyone can visit who visit and goes to Dunedin. And people can sit in these old cable cars and imagine them still going up and down the steep hills in Dunedin. The Dunedin cable cars were just like the ones that still run in San Francisco. (Graeme) Yes, there’s a really, really great picture I’ve got to bring it up, it’s called Rush Hour Cable Car Dunedin, and it’s obviously in the fifties. (Don) Right. (Graeme) You’ve got the wicker and the cane prams attached, and then the girls obviously with their little bota hats on and dressed up in the 1950’s clothes. It’s great. Very cool. (Don) Yes, I’ve got to the stage now where I think I can move onto the next stage, but I just wanted to show you in summary, how some of those initial washes go on. (Graeme) We’ve moved onto the next piece here Don. I’d like you to tell me a bit about ‘pockets and spaces’? (Don) The great painter Cezanne, he had a particularly unusual style for his period, and he would organise his painting to some degree by having what he called pockets in space. That is when you look at a… even this one here – where you see the darker areas because of the sun coming over this way and striking the tops of the trees, there’s a recess that goes into these darker areas. It does give you the illusion on a two dimensional page, that actually you’re going into something three dimensional. That’s my understanding anyway of partly what is meant by pockets in space. (Graeme) Yeah, you’ve got piece here called Towards the Plaza de Toros, in Seville, (Don) Oh, yes. (Graeme) and fantastic piece of work. (Don) Thank you. (Graeme) It’s obviously the house of the bull. Once again you could probably take that theory we were just talking about and apply it to this as well. (Don) Yes, you can really, but it was such a wonderful view from way up the top of a great tower in Seville, Sevilla, that was a tremendous place to go to. Though we never actually went into the bull rings; I don’t really approve of bull fighting. But it was such a wonderful view that I felt I had to paint it. (Graeme) Yes, even some of the other pieces that you painted while you where in Europe. The Arches of Pitigliano in Tuscany. I think I got that right. (Don) Yes. (Graeme) Actually it’s an old aquifer isn’t it? (Don) There’s an old aqueduct there, but it’s not as old as the rest of the building. It was built in different stages over the years. It was founded first of all by the ancient Etruscans if you can believe that way, way back pre ancient Rome times. (Graeme) I’ve actually looked a lot at your cityscapes and buildings, but you’re also a very accomplished landscape artist as well. (Don) Thank you. (Graeme) Your works absolutely beautiful. We’re just putting up the Rakaia Gorge, New Zealand, (Don) Yes. (Graeme) which is just beautiful, and then the Rakaia River and Mount Hutt. And they’re just wonderful three dimensional pieces that you’re using this quality that you call the atmospheric perspective (Don) Yes. (Graeme) as well. (Don) There’s some places in this world that I think are places which give you a great sense of awe and power and majesty. And they don’t necessarily have to be about Mount Everest and so on, but they go places that somehow strike a cord with you. (Graeme) Yes. (Don) And I was… that place the Rakaia Gorge, struck a great cord with me. (Graeme) Now while we’re sticking on our architectural and city and town themes, you’ve got a piece called Toledo in Spain. It’s got a old bridge across it, but the colours in that and the light and shade are just spectacular. (Don) Yes, that was one of the most enjoyable oils I think I’ve done. (Graeme) Alright Don, well it’s pretty complicated and you’ve got a fair bit to do, so we’ll just leave you alone for a little while. (Don) Thank you very much. And I’ll just do as much as I can for you. (Graeme) Thank you. (Don) Now just what I’ve been doing is to start to draw attention to the depth of this street here. Way down in those shadows you can see some people still having painted in there walking up and down the street. But I need that depth of that street because it’s going to lead your eye down around the corner there, and around behind those trees, and behind those trees believe it or not, flowing is the river where between the trees, and the cathedral which is up in the hill above the trees. And then I’ve also been working on some of these house roofs here, and some of the sides of the buildings too. Step by step, just layering on bit by bit, until the whole thing begins to look real. (Graeme) And I just wanted to talk about the many shows that you’ve have had over the years as well. You’ve been in a number of exhibitions, (Don) Oh, yes, yes. (Graeme) going all the way back to eighty-seven. But these days you actually exhibit with the Bryce Gallery (Don) Yes. (Graeme) in Christchurch, which is run by a good friend of ours, Min Kim. (Don) Yes. (Graeme) And also the Otago Art Society as well. (Don) Yes, I’d like to send more work to them, and they’ve shown a lot of my work in the past, and I’ve won a couple of prizes there way back in the past. (Graeme) That’s great. (Don) Now what I’m going to do now is begin to show some of the more details in these blobs which look like blobs. I want to turn them into trees, so to do that I’m doing some dry brushing to some degree. I turn the brush on its side and you begin to start to get up some of the rhythm of the details. So just beginning to do that there, you can see they’re beginning to appear there. And as the tree goes down towards the shadow, towards that pocket in space down there, you need to, I need to build up the contrast between this building here which is still not painted, and the shadow in the trees. There’s also some shadow in that tree over there too. I’m doing one tree on one side, I’ve got to do the tree on the other side. And then the fall of the light coming from this way into that way, the fall of these shadows would go over like that as well. And a bit more shadow down here as well to agree with that, and so I’ll begin to spread that whole effect across the whole painting, but not going as much detail up there of course, as there is detail here. (Graeme) Alright Don, we’ve had a great day with you, and you’ve shown us some amazing techniques with your wonderful ability. And the piece that you were working towards which was the one on the wall just behind us as well. But thank you so much for having us in your studio today; it’s been an absolute pleasure. (Don) Thank you, Graeme. (Graeme) We’ve had a fantastic time in New Zealand, and in Christchurch. Wonderful country, amazing people and Don, thank you so much for having us in your studio today. (Don) Thank you for coming Graeme. (Graeme) And if you would like to see more of Don’s work, you can go to his website at Don McAra dot net and see some of his fantastic work in there. He is without a doubt one of the elderly statesmen of the art world in New Zealand these days, and an incredibly talented man, and a very gracious man as well. One of the, one of our academic artists under any circumstances. Also we’d like to thank New Zealand Artist. You can go in and see Meg and Rob, they are fantastic supporters of Colour In Your Life, and vis-a-vis we support them as well; we think they’re just doing a fantastic job. And come and see us in Colour In Your Life, at colour in your life dot com dot au, and come in our social networking platforms – lots of stuff going on. But until we meet again guys, from New Zealand and Christchurch, in Don’s studio, yes. (Don) Put some colour in your life. (Graeme) We’ll see you guys. Bye now. See you.

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