Ken Tolmie’s Watercolour Technique

1. Stretching the Paper
2. The Drawing
3. Background Wash
4. Underpainting
5. The Long and Winding Road
6. The Coup de Grâce

Step Two: The Drawing

Ken Tolmie works from photographs. The paintings in his Window Series are composites made from many photographs, which reveal details of the scene from several different angles. This use of multiple perspectives recalls the Cubist technique of representing a three-dimensional object on a flat plane. However, the artist generates the initial drawing from a single photograph of the entire scene.

The drawing, done in HB pencil, serves as a map for the painting: it provides the outline of the elements that compose the picture, and establishes their relationship to one another. This is a crucial and technically demanding stage: the artist requires a high degree of draughtsmanship, but also the ability to abstract a given detail from the whole composition — in effect, to perceive the object as pure shape without being distracted by what he knows the object to be. “Drawing is not a matter of reproducing the lines found in nature,” says Tolmie, “because there are no lines in nature. What the eye perceives as lines are just boundaries between light and dark. When I make a drawing, I have to decide where those boundaries are, and the placement of them is always to some extent arbitrary.”

To locate these arbitrary boundaries, Tolmie frequently refers to negatives. “A photograph contains a lot of distracting information about colour, detail, perspective and so forth; it’s easy to become enslaved to the photograph. Working from the negative allows me to ignore all of this information and concentrate purely on the outline: often I can’t even identify the object I’m drawing, so the object has no control over my drawing. Although I work from photographs, I try to free myself from the photographic, and hence from the literary.”

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