Archive | January 2020

Guelph Workshop — November, 2019 with Michael Spillane

Above: Wyndham Art Supplies and Guelph School of Art.

Below: Wyndham Street, Guelph.

I was back at the Guelph School of Art (Guelph, Ontario) on November 9 & 10 – just as winter was beginning to set in – to teach  a two-day workshop titled Abstracting Fall Leaves in Watercolour. This workshop is perfect for the autumn season (so a little late, unfortunately) and different from what I usually teach, most certainly  more looser and leaning towards abstract expression rather than scientific botanical illustration. My approach to the workshop was to combine detailed realistic painting of fall leaves with an abstract compositional or impressionistic approach to the layout.

The workshop was held at Necessary Arts a few minutes walk from Wyndham Art Supplies and the school.

Necessary Arts: Founded on December 1, 2012, Necessary Arts Company is a space dedicated to teaching arts and crafts and supporting local artists.

The Town of Guelph

Known as “The Royal City,” (named after British Royal Family monarch, King George the IV), Guelph was founded on April 23, 1827, and officially became a town on January 1, 1856. Guelph was chosen as the name for the town because it was one of the family names of British royalty and had, apparently, never been used as a place name before. Guelph is located in southwestern Ontario, roughly 28 kilometres (17 miles) east of Waterloo and 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Toronto. The town is consistently rated as one of Canada’s best places to live and it plays a very important role in the history of Remembrance Day as Canadian physician, soldier, teacher and poet, John McCrae who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” was born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30, 1872.

The Workshop

This particular workshop provides a unique opportunity to combine detailed watercolour botanical painting with expressive abstract work. The workshop covers basic watercolour techniques – such as wet-on-wet painting and drybrushing – as well as focusing on composition and colour theory. Students are given step-by-step instructions on how to use glazing, splatter and other special effects to complete a magnificent, impressionistic-style painting themed on the glorious colours and textures of autumn foliage.


Above and below: Abstracting fall leaves into pleasing arrangements. My own projects.

Below: To get started, first the watercolour paper is taped down to a masonite board and sprayed with water until the paper is moist. A mix of Cadmium Lemon, Yellow Ochre and a touch of Payne’s Grey was applied as a uniform wash over the paper.

The main and lateral veins on the leaves are masked to preserve the light areas. I used a Daniel Smith Fine Line Artist Masking Fluid Applicator to mask off the intricate leaf vein lines.

With the leaf outlines drawn or transferred onto the paper, changes are made by adding or removing leaf shapes to increase contrast and/or interest in the overall design.

Once the paper is toned and the leaves are drawn, the base colours are painted by first analyzing the true colours of the leaves (that are available). Because most of the fall leaves had already given way to winter, we worked from a selection of photos taken when autumn leaves were abundant.

Every project is different and unique in its colour scheme and compositional layout.

During fall there are so many leaves on the streets, parks and gardens to choose from. This is a great project to take advantage of the season by creating a collage of interesting fall leaves and preserving them in a painting.

Above: The leaves are so realistic they seem to overlap each other on the page and jump out from the background.

The leaf outlines are positioned on the surface of the paper in an interesting pattern. The idea is to create pleasing shapes, negative spaces and overlapping outlines. Once the leaves are in place, a piece of masking tape holds down each leaf whilst the outline is transferred onto the paper with transfer paper. The leaves can also be drawn in freehand.

High contrast is achieved by developing the layers in the painting and maintaining a range of values and highlights.

A cluster of magnificent fall colours!

Below: Wow! These leaves are just so realistic!

Below: Another project with subtle analogous autumn hues.

Autumn brilliance! Realism meets abstract!

Almost completed.

This is my last workshop of 2019… and my last of the decade! I will be up and running again in 2020, starting on April 4 & 5 back at the Guelph School of Art. The workshop is titled Florals on a Black Background in Coloured Pencils & Acrylic and you will not want to miss it!

Check out the GSA website for all course and workshop listings.

Telephone: 519-767-1317
Toll Free: 1-800-560-1970

All the best,

Michael Spillane