PAGE 1 - Colour
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(Western Morning News)
Sunny border at Dartington Hall Gardens - a blend of colours
As Autumn approached last year, my wife and I thumbed through the local Community Collegeís course leaflet and both thought that Roger Dennisís Water Colour Painting for beginners sounded interesting. We felt able to re-organise our timetables to fit in a couple of hours one afternoon a week for ten weeks, and possibly something similar for the Spring term. The last time either of us had been given any tuition in painting was at school about 45 years ago.
Although a few of the pupils meeting in the local church hall had attended some of Rogerís earlier classes, the majority of us were raw beginners. The first lesson covered various brush strokes, the importance of having one good quality brush which had a good point and was large enough to hold a lot of paint, and the fact that one did not need a vast number of tubes of paint, 8-10 defined colours would be ideal. The reaction of my wife ands myself was that the only thing we had been taught as school was how to apply a wash, what Roger was teaching us was fresh information.
I have played about with charcoals, pencils and a little paint box for years, without any knowledge of what I was really doing. I have also been a keen photographer since my youth, and thought that I had a great appreciation of colour. At the painting classes I quickly realised how little I knew. The main part of the first term was concerned with still life, painting pots and bottles, vases of flowers, sometimes in full colour, other times in various shades of grey or another colour in the light or shaded. It wasnít long before my wife and I were forever discussing the various colours making up the sky, a landscape scene, the bark of trees and the sea, lake or river. The various hues and shading on flowers and plants, which I have been working with most of my life, took on fresh dimensions.
We eagerly signed up for the Spring session, especially as the topic was landscape. Once again we increased our appreciation of the form and colour of clouds, fields and woods. When we walked over Dartmoor we were both mentally working out how to colour the reddish brown Bracken Fern, the heavily grazed grass, the stone walls and tree-filled combes. The clusters of buds on the Oak trees gave a reddish brown hue, while those in the distance seemed as if they had been washed with a pale creamy purple. Rowan and Hawthorn close up had mottled barked stems, partly through lichens, but also because of the way the light caught them.
In my own garden, I realised that the green holly and Ivy was a mixture of dark green and darker stems and many small patches of light blue, where the sky reflected off the smooth surfaces of the leaves. I had difficulty deciding what the colour hue was on the shady side of our white Snowdrops, it certainly wasnít white, likewise the shadows on the green lawns were not always another shade of green.
When the large Hamamelis mollis ĎPallidaí, with its upright main stems, was flowering in front of my office window, I appreciated how some stems caught the light and were very pale, whereas other parts were exceptionally dark because they were shaded, and yet others were striped light and dark depending on their shape and the sunís direction. The evening sun created its own magical hue which transformed yet again the colour of the stems and flowers.
Every week we are on an steep upward learning curve, and often we stand back and somewhat conceitedly admire our efforts. We are not learning how to produce botanical paintings or fine detailed landscapes, but how to convey the feeling of what we see through brushstrokes and colour. A few squiggles with a purplish hue and we have a collection of distant trees, whereas yellow greens, the smaller splashes of greens and browns, plus a few lines of greys or browns, or both, and we had a tree in the foreground.
I have already realised how the various greens change minute by minute in my garden and how important it is to plan the garden to make the most of these changes. As the first Spring flowers, open my wife and I are seeing a new world of colour and texture. I do not want to wish my life away but I can hardly wait for the main splashes of Summer colour, to see how the various hues of complementary and contrasting colour intermingle, and whether I can portray them onto quality 130-140gm weight paper with my size 12 paintbrush and ten tubes of paint.
Although I have appreciated the light and dark of flowers, side or back lit, these effects are hard to produce on colour film as even modern fine grain transparency films can only cope with a limited contrast range. Perhaps one day I will be able to convey these colour tones in paintings.
I never fail to marvel at the beautiful colours and structure of plants, especially when looking into a flower using a x10 hand lens. I believe that it is important in a garden to have plants that attract attention and Ďcry outí for closer examination and appreciation, as well as those that create a general effect. This may be a splash of colour, a delicate hue, or a dramatic shape drawing the eye or leading the eye to other plants, structures or views. The skill in garden design is to be able to use these to full effect in all types of weather and elevations and strength of the sun.
An excellent simple tool for working with an existing garden layout is to take photographs from set positions at different times of the day and year. These can be examined at leisure, comparisons made, and alterations decided upon. A new tool for me will hopefully be my painting ability, when I can mix the colours I want and portray these onto paper with the brush. Iíve always said that it is only possible to design a garden if one understands the full potential of a comprehensive range of plants, the artistís paint box. Iíve learnt a new dimension to my gardening.