UNDERSTANDING TONE AND COLOUR, WITH LOUISE COURTNELL

We didn’t do life drawing at art club this week. Instead we had a tutored workshop entitled, ‘Understanding tone and colour, with Louise Courtnell. This was something special, I came out of the workshop so happy and excited, I even woke up the next day still buzzing.

Louise Courtnell is a fabulous character. She did the class with her shoes off and at times bordered on being bonkers but what an amazingly carefree, happy and passionate person. “This is like cooking,” she kept saying, and every so often she’d giggle like a naughty little schoolgirl lol Over the course of the two hour workshop, I found myself falling more and more under her spell!

Have a look at her art though, it couldn’t be more removed from her happy personality. Dark, moody and at times slightly sombre, her art seems completely at odds with her happy go lucky nature.

“A BLACK BACKGROUND WILL MAKE YOUR COLOURS DARKER, ALLOWING THEM TO APPEAR CLOSER TO WHAT YOU ACTUALLY SEE.”
– Louise Courtnell

We were asked to bring in a canvas pre-painted with a black ground, so as to make our colours appear darker, and closer to what we actually see. So no bright over the top Anime shades this week! Louise said how she likes to try and paint the mundane, ordinary things and even silence itself. We were to paint a still life. A single bottle placed on fabric with a few folds draped across as it’s backdrop – a very ordinary scene. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t bouncing around with excitement at the thought of painting a bottle, but since starting art I’ve learnt to never turn your nose up at anything. Be open minded.
 
The class was split into two sections. A twenty minute demo at the start, where we all sat and watched Louise paint the still life, and than a ninety minute session for us to have a go. Off she went, mixing her acrylic paints and diving right in. Louise was painting and explaining at the same time. Robert Lenkiewicz was her mentor, and it not only shows in her work, but you could feel the love she still has for him. Often referencing his words of wisdom, “Start with the biggest tonal shape. Robert always used to say that.” she said. There were no lines being painted here, no pencil drawings to start us off, just a big fat paint brush and our senses.
 
“Squint,” she would say. “Always squint to see the tones and shapes.” She even pulled out something called a Claude mirror, which she past around for us all to try out. It was cool, you looked into it and the scene was simplified allowing you to see only the main values.
 
“Respect the event in front of you.” More wise words from Robert Lenkiewicz. I like this way of thinking, it takes your attention away from your painting, allowing you to focuses on what you’re seeing and feeling. Very much like the quote I remember from Bert Dodson in the first art book I read, Keys To Drawing. He said, “The one simple rule to follow: At each point of frustration or confusion, ask yourself, What do I see?”
 
This, “Respect the event in front of you,” feels like another quote that will stick in my head and pop into my mind when I need help :) I could have sat and watched Louise paint all night. I started taking notes as she had so much advice. It was almost overload. How holding the paint brush at the tip allows for more control, having separate brushes for your lights and darks and her various stories from her time with Robert Lenkiewicz.
 
I was really enjoying the demo but it was now time for us to have a go. ‘Gulp,’ I thought. I was initially confused. Louise had left her painting on the easel and I started trying to replicate her painting before I caught myself and went back to painting the still life. I kept looking at her painting to see what tones she had used. Even though at first it appeared to be all subdued browns and creams, I found them to be very nice to look at. When viewing my Inspirational Artists, I’ve noticed I’m always drawn to pastel shades. These browns and creams were very pleasing and would be right at home alongside some of the nice pale pinks or baby blues I usually go for. They had that ‘good enough to eat’ feel about them and the black ground was certainly giving them a different vibe too.
 
I just got stuck in. Fearlessly! :) I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m beginning to think half the time no one does lol We’re all making this up as we go along. It’s like cooking lol, a bit here, a bit there … see what happens :) Louise was walking around offering advice. She said she liked my colours, and at one point asked what my next move was. I said I didn’t know, but it shows how she must always be thinking ahead of herself. I do this with my drawings, I’ll sometimes lighten one part knowing it will actually darken another, but here I was sort of painting without thinking.
 
We stopped for a break and she said I should lighten the tone at the bottom of the painting. I squinted, and sure enough, I needed to make it a lot lighter! We resumed and after lightening the bottom tone, I started trying to paint the bottle but I was struggling to mix its colour. I only had five basic colours, but the Lady I was sat next to offered me some of her paint. It was a toffee like shade, I liked it a lot. I took a dollop but starred at it for a few seconds not knowing what to do. Louise said, “Do you want me to try and mix it for you?” I shook my head and she then took a teeny bit of red and mixed them together. How did she know it needed red? I never would have thought to mix it with red but sure enough, in a split second she had mixed the perfect shade. She than asked if she could place it on my painting!
 
Inside I was like, Wahhhooooo, yes please!, but I just nodded and said yes please lol She said she didn’t want to ruin my painting, lol How silly is she, it was an honour to have her place some paint on my canvas! To me this was amazing, I can now say this painting has a few marks from Louise Courtnell :) The left of the bottle is Louise’s! So cool. She past me the brush back and I made sure not to cover any of her brush strokes :) The workshop was nearly over so we had to start packing up, I just had enough time to place a couple white highlights on the bottle and that was that.
Understanding tone and colour, with Louise Courtnell. My Bottle Painting, by Artist Sophie Lawson

I can’t believe I had this much fun painting a bottle! No disrespect to bottles, but they don’t connect with me the way femininity does. I enjoyed this so much I came away with an idea, and a desire, to paint a still life of my high heels … a few months later, I did :)

“THIS IS LIKE COOKING!”
– Louise Courtnell

Life changing? Maybe. I’ve started considering if I should stick to learning coloured pencils or just jump into the world of painting. Acrylics at least, are so much more forgiving then I’d imagined paints would be. Painting excites me. I always knew I’d feel this way but I held off as I was always told, focus on tone and drawing first. Today, painting like this, with the big tonal shapes and not line. It seemed like a technique I could easily get lost in.
 
I made sure to personally thank Louise, it was an amazing experience.
 
You can find Louise Courtnell at LouiseCourtnell.co.uk
 
 
That wasn’t the end of my Louise Experiences though … She had a Christmas exhibition on the 13th December 2015 at the Kingsand Community Hall, 11am – 4pm. I was all set to go, but the universe had other ideas. This is quite a funny story really. I finish work at 10:30, so for me to get there it was going to be tight. Kingsand is over the other side of the water, so I needed to finish work and rush to get onto a ferry, and even then I would only make it with about two hours of the exhibition left.
 
Work was done and off I went, excited to see Louise’s paintings in person. First I got on the wrong bus, so had to get off that and turn around, than I got onto the ferry. Pheww, I thought! The ferry left port and the man collecting the money came round. The Cremyll Ferry costs £1.50, so I had my money ready.
 
“£3 please.”, he said.
 
“This is the Cremyll ferry?”, I said.
 
“No, that’s the Cremyll ferry,” he said, pointing across the water as in the distance I watched another ferry leaving port.
 
“This one goes around the Barbican!”, he said.
 
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
 
I never did make it to Louise Courtnell’s art exhibition, I had a nice thirty minute tour of the Barbican though lol I’m off to go do some cooking :)

ART ENABLES US TO FIND OURSELVES AND LOSE OURSELVES AT THE SAME TIME

Thomas Merton