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Mess versus finesse

In the last of his six-part series Paul Talbot-Greaves urges you to loosen up and allow yourself to start with mess – it really will end in success!


Amantra that I have developed over the time I have been painting is ‘start with a mess, end in success’. It’s true. The looser and messier the start of the painting, the better the end result will be. If you start with a careful and timid outset, making perfect washes and hard edges, the entire painting will follow in a tight and constrained way. There is nothing wrong with that of course if that is how you like to work, but if you prefer a looser and more expressive way of working, let go and start your painting with what many people describe as a mess. I aim to capture only the colours and values at the beginning of a painting, using fluid washes of paint and allowing them to fuse and blend as I brush them on. I’m not a fan of pre-wetting paper but if you prefer it that way then go for it. Be mindful, however, that paint added to pre-wetted paper usually dries lighter than expected due to the dilution of the colour on the damp surface. Use a big brush and don’t try to paint careful shapes or individual features, just broadly apply colour of the lightest values only. Where adjacent shapes have different colours allow them to blend and fuse where they meet. At the end of this stage I sometimes slosh water onto the paper to make colours run further and create runbacks, as this generates more interest in the washes.

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About The Artist

Welcome to the first of our new standard 80-page magazine, packed with even more inspiring practical articles to help you to improve and enjoy your own drawing and painting. In addition, this month we also include your free 16-page supplement with details of some of the best art courses and holidays available to inspire and inform your creativity, whatever your level or years of experience. So, whether you love working in watercolour, oils, pencils or acrylics, take your work to the next level with our team of passionate artist/tutors including Judi Whitton on how to use body colour in your watercolours, Haidee-Jo Summers with some useful exercises to help you loosen up in oils, Mike Barr's beachscape demonstration, Paul Talbot-Greaves on how to start with a watercolour mess and end in success, Peter Graham on why the rose makes such a wonderful subject for still-life paintings, Robert Dutton on mastering perspective for city scenes, and Peter Burgess with tips on composition and the Golden Section, to highlight just a few articles in this issue. Plus, there's so much more to guide and inspire your artistic development within our new 80-page issue - enjoy!