How It’s Done

Ring-tailed Lemurs

– what’s involved –

Figure 1
Figure 2
All of my artwork starts with a collection of photographs – my own wherever possible – with as many as I can of each subject. The example here (Fig 1) – along with many more of lemurs – was taken on a field trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park where the access to the wildlife is so good you can get very close. However, the animals are still in enclosures with chain-link or close-boarded fencing, or mesh or netting or wooden buildings in the background. So if you want a more natural environment you have to make something up.

For the composition my method is always the same: I start with a simple outline drawing (Fig 2) which I upload to the computer. Here I adjust the black lines for grey because watercolour is a transparent medium and I don’t want to be able to see the line structure in the finished painting. Next I print it on to 300gsm cold-pressed watercolour paper which has to be hand-fed through the printer because it is so thick.

Around this drawing I mark faint boundary lines which I then denote with low-tack masking tape. I tear the tape in half along its length first so as to give me a rough edge and I stick these pieces of tape in place to achieve the deckle edge (see Fig 4.) which gives the completed painting a more informal finish. The tape has to be pressed down hard, buffing it thoroughly with the back of a fingernail, particularly where it crosses over another in the corners where it is most likely to seep.

This masked edge means you can slap on a background wash without worrying about what’s happening at the margins. It also enables you to work quickly without having to be careful around the bits you want to keep white – and to achieve this I coat all of the design itself with masking fluid first (Fig 3).

Masking fluid is a useful tool. It’s a liquid rubber latex which will protect the paper even against black if you use it carefully: Step 1 – paint it on to all the areas you want to come to later. Step 2 – let it dry completely. Step 3 – paint your background loosely and quickly, using different colours and brush strokes to achieve varying effects. Step 4 – let the wash dry completely. Step 5 – remove the masking fluid by rubbing or pulling – it will twang off the page in the most satisfying way! On a good quality paper the wash will have perfect edges, the drawing will still be there for you, the sizing on the surface will be undisturbed – leaving you free to settle down to paint the detail. This method all depends on Steps 2 & 4 so patience will reward you.

Figure 3
Figure 4