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 Six: The Coup de Grâce

For Ken Tolmie, the final stage of painting a watercolour is as exciting as the first. After the protracted and arduous process of adding detail, the final session is astonishingly brief, frequently lasting no more than an hour. Nevertheless, that hour will see the painting undergo huge changes: “Sometimes it is simply a matter of adding highlights with opaque paint,” explains Tolmie, “but more often I’ll take a big brush and remove ill-thought details at the same time as adding highlights. In effect, I quickly repaint the whole painting.”

Born Again Barn (Detail): dissatisfied with the details on the snow-covered field, Tolmie prepares to paint over them (clip extracted from a forthcoming Tolmie Productions film)

Born Again Barn (Detail): having painted over the dissatisfying detail, Tolmie is ready to repaint the field and add the final touches (clip extracted from a forthcoming Tolmie Productions film). The finished piece is featured in the Current Work pages.

For Tolmie, a painting’s most important quality is its energy. The underpainting, with its dynamic combination of tones, furnishes this energy; however, the subsequent addition of detail can cause this energy to dissipate. In effect, the painting tries to say too much. By painting over some of this detail, Tolmie tries to recapture some of this lost energy without compromising the overall illusion of realism: the painting says less so that it can suggest more.

“This final step is tremendously exhilerating,” explains Tolmie, “because the result can be unpredictable. I know the effect I am trying to achieve, but I never know precisely what will happen until I’ve done it. Because I’m altering the painting so radically, the potential to ruin it is great. But when I get the effect I’m looking for, it’s very satisfying.”

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