Watercolour painting techniques and tutorial with Chan Dissanayake I Colour In Your Life

Watercolour painting techniques and tutorial with Chan Dissanayake I Colour In Your Life


G’day viewers, my name’s Graeme Stevenson, and I’d like to invite you to come on a journey of creativity and learning and adventure through the series Colour In Your Life. There’s an artist in every family throughout the world. Lots of times there’s an artist deep down inside all of us as well. So grab your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your aunties, uncles, and mums and dads and come and see how some of the best artists do what they do. (Music Plays) (Graeme) Okay guys, welcome back to Colour In Your Life. Well we are in Canberra today, Australia’s Capital Territory, and we are with a Master watercolour artist, Mister Chan Dissanayake. Welcome to the show. (Chan) Thank you, Graeme. (Graeme) Fantastic to have you here. Chan, I actually saw Chan’s work a couple of years ago, and actually, he had won a major prize with a picture of some jumbo jets at the airport. And I looked at that and thought that’s really cool – I’d love to have that man on the show. And I’d heard a lot about him over the coming years, as far as he’s won multiple awards. He travels overseas and teaches a great deal; his workshops are always booked out. He’s an amazing, amazing man. Welcome to the show. It’s fantastic to be here. You originally got started because of figurative painting? (Chan) Yeah, actually so I basically came to watercolour from a large drawing background (Graeme) Aha. (Chan) so, and drawing was something that I did very passionately from a very early age. (Graeme) Sure. (Chan) And eventually you know, I got introduced to watercolour, and here I am. (Graeme) And you spent some time with some of the great Masters as well, over the years. (Chan) Absolutely, yes, I think we’re blessed in Australia with these Masters, you know, Joseph to, to Herman, to Alvaro, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and it’s hard not to get influenced by these guys. Yeah, they’ve been my inspiration actually. (Graeme) Oh absolutely, well they’ve you know, in any sense, I think that you are an equal par under any circumstances with those guys. Your work is quite extraordinary. But Chan really is a fantastic teacher, I mean his workshops are always booked out. But he’s one of those men that’s really studied his craft extremely well, and you’re going to get a really, really fantastic education today as far as watercolour’s concerned. But I’m going to step out of shot as normal, and then we’re going to watch what Chan does as far as mythology’s concerned, and then we’re going to move on and do an actual piece itself, so we’re going to get out of here, and you’re watch a Master do what he does. He’s very, very good. (Graeme) Alright Chan, well you’ve got four different areas of expertise that you’re going to show us. How do we start? (Chan) Yeah, so Graeme, I thought before we start to, before we actually start the piece, I might go through some technical side of how watercolour behaves. You see watercolour is different to other mediums, the dry mediums like oils, and acrylics, where you are painting on a static surface. Were as the watercolour paper when it’s damp is actually a dynamic surface. It keeps moving and the mark you place, is not the mark you end up with. So what I’ll do is wet the paper first. (Graeme) And what type of watercolour paper are you using? (Chan) This is Archers. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) The two types that I use are Archers and Saunders. (Graeme) Okay. This is what, two-forty or? (Chan) Three hundred GSM, (Graeme) Three hundred, okay. (Chan) rough to medium, yep. (Graeme) Yep. (Chan) Okay, so this paper is thoroughly wet. It’s one hundred percent wet, and you can see the sheen of the paper still showing through. So I’m going to get some… (Graeme) So which colour are we using? (Chan) This is Ultra, Ultramarine blue, its got a good tonal depth to show this sort of effect. So get a sort of a milky consistency. And I’m going to place a mark here, I’m going to maybe draw some shape here, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and as you see, it’s expanding beyond its edge; you can’t control the edge. The top part is becoming a bit more dry, so it’s actually becoming a bit more controlled, but the bottom part is dragging the paint and the pigment. So this is an uncontrolled soft edge. So if I place the same mark on this part which is slightly drier, you begin to get a controlled soft edge. So this is a lost the shape itself. The shape expands beyond its edges, but actual the shape is retained, but the edges are softer, yeah. Now this is on wet paper. So I call this effect number one, and this is effect number two. So on the dry paper which is quite simple, you fully load the brush, and make this mark. You get a hard edge. The edges are crisp, raiser sharp edges. Okay, so I like to call this effect number three. And lastly, what I’m going to do is get a lot of pigment but reduce the water quantity, and I’m going to make the same mark, and as you can tell, it actually breaks. You get this broken edge as opposed to a hard edge. Still on dry paper, and I like to call this effect number four. So you’ve got an uncontrolled soft edge, controlled soft edge, hard edge and a broken edge. (Graeme) Fantastic, and it’s got a lot to do with timing, particularly with that broken edge. The last thing you want to do with watercolour is to fill the thing in isn’t it? (Chan) Absolutely, absolutely. So if you have too much paint you’ll actually get this edge. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) So you’ve got to reduce it so the water’s actually not dripping out of the brush, so you get this lovely speckled effect, where the texture of the paper has got a hit and miss sort of effect. And that can be used creatively on the right place, at the right time. (Graeme) Well we’re going to move on and do one of your beautiful watercolours. It’s always magical as far as I’m concerned, I mean I can paint with watercolours, but no were near like you guys do. But to simply watch these pictures appear with the least amount of effort. I mean less is always more in watercolour. (Chan) Absolutely, I think that’s the critical message is that if you, if you let watercolour paint itself, it paints it better than you. So you know, by leaving it and let the magic sort of happen on the paper is what I’m about. So lets see how we go. (Chan) Okay, so we’ve got the paper taped up now. It’s actually getting into the subject itself, and as you can tell, this is a subject that I’ve painted before. So I’m going to start the drawing process. When we look into the drawing, we want to sort of rearrange the shapes in an interesting sort of way, and one of the first things is to isolate the horizon. So in this case I’m just going to make a low horizon, basically about there. Not halfway, but just below halfway, somewhere there. And from this side I’ll also make a few lines, so we’ve got the leading shapes – so we got the sky, the background area, basically the foreground and this sort of road surface, which is going to be the three biggest shapes in the painting. (Graeme) Over these years, I mean you’ve obviously made a lot of trial and error in doing what you do just regardless of the influences that you’ve had. And that’s really the key to watercolour isn’t it? You’ve just got to keep trying. (Chan) Absolutely, I think you know, it’s one of those things, mediums where you’ve actually just got to preserver with it. It takes years of learning and you know, practice, practice, practice is the key. You’re bound to make a lot of mistakes, but they are part of learning and you know, with every painting you learn something new, is what I feel. (Graeme) Absolutely. We’ve got a picture here from your collection, and there’s some absolutely amazing paintings that Chan has done, but it’s called Farm House in New South Wales. But the perspective in this particular picture, not just the objects – the geometric objects, but the actual perspective of the colour is quite amazing. (Chan) One of the key elements of drawing is understanding perspective and proportion, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s a natural scene, or a streetscape to a landscape, you still have to have things in the right order. (Graeme) And there’s another one of Echuca, but it’s an old town they have paddle steamers down there. But once again looking at the perspective of not just the buildings, but the colour perspective as well. (Chan) Yes, yes, Echuca is one of those magical towns and I actually did a tour, a painting tour with Travelrite, historic towns of Southern Australia, and we stayed in Echuca, and it was just a magical place to paint you know, beaming with a lot of subjects, paddle streamers to streetscapes, you can just sit there and do a painting three-sixty degrees, so it’s just an amazing place. (Graeme) Yeah, and Traverite actually does some fantastic trips away with talented artists like yourself, I mean they only get the best people. (Chan) I’m actually involved with another tour that’s coming up to Tuscany, Italy (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) which will happen in September this year. Yeah, it’s a great way to explore plein air painting with a group of artists, and yeah, we’re looking forward to that actually. (Graeme) Yeah, a lot of fun and with a gentleman of your particular set of skills, it should be fantastic. (Chan) It’ll be, it’ll be lovely. Okay, so the drawings actually pretty much done, and I’ve got the essential elements here to do the painting. But what I thought is what’s lacking in this painting, photograph, is a bit of life. And what I’ll do is I’ll actually have a car that’s actually driving into the painting, to lead the eye into the painting. It’s nothing big, it’s something slightly small. I’ll just put the back of a car here, and just the visual element. (Graeme) Any particular model? (Chan) Yeah, I have no idea. (Graeme) One with four wheels. (Chan) Four wheels – that’s it, that’s it. Yeah, so I use a wide variety of brands, ranging from Daniel Smith, to Schmincke, to Art Spectrum, but generally most of the paints are Winsor and Newton. I find that the pigmentation is much finer, and it works really well with that sort of pigment. So just a dull blue, it’s not very overpowering, but very watery at this stage, and so I’ll use this bead and start this from the top. (Graeme) And your brushes as well? I mean… (Chan) Yeah, I use a lot of, a lot of brushes. I’ve become very fond of these calligraphy, Chinese calligraphy brushes, (Graeme) Yes. (Chan) and they actually do a really good job, so I’m using them to good effect. Gravity is actually pulling the pigment down, and you get sort of a wet area here, and you just use that to your advantage and bring it down. So as you come down, I’m actually going to go a bit thicker, a bit thinner, and use something like a bit of lilac. It’s a bit opaque and it gives you that sort of distant mountain feel. (Graeme) Yes. (Chan) So break down, even at this stage, if I get a little bit of whites that I left behind, I’ll leave them to be the snowcaps in the mountains. But you got to make sure they’re not too big, yeah. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) So I’m increasing more pigment as I go along. (Graeme) Yeah, as I can see that watching you mix, there’s less and less water and more pigment. (Chan) Less water. Absolutely, yeah. (Graeme) There’s another piece that you’ve got here, and it’s not in the snow by any means, but it’s called Croobyar Creek. And you can just see that softness that you’ve actually put in that back, that very very wet effect in the hills, (Chan) Yes. (Graeme) and as you get closer you can see the pigment build, and the perspective of the colour as well. (Chan) Absolutely. (Graeme) Beautiful piece. (Chan) Yeah, so I think studying landscape you know, you get this lovely panoramic landscapes around and it’s imperative that you create that sort of distant effect. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) So the colours that I’m using are Ultramarine Blue, and Burnt Sienna, and that makes a lovely dark. The other thing to sort of say, that this, this painting is one of those paintings that is not going to look right until you actually get all the elements in. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, you sort of fill in from the side, but until everything’s filled in, it just looks out of place. (Graeme) Yeah. So Chan, I can remember when I first saw your work, you’d actually won a prize with a picture of some jumbo jets at the airport. But there’s a really interesting story behind that particular painting. Can you illuminate us on that? (Chan) I was in Melbourne actually. I saw this potential on the tarmac, the light reflections, and the Qantas planes reflecting onto the wet tarmac. But I did a little sketch but I didn’t have enough materials to pull a painting together. So later on I thought I’d find a wet day in Sydney. I went myself to Kingsford Smith with a little step ladder, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and my camera. And I peep over one of the security fences to take this photograph, and I was just waiting for a plane to come in. And I just saw this flash of light behind me, and there was a line up of police cars trying to, trying to tell me that’s not legal. So yeah, it was interesting. I had to do a lot of explaining. (Graeme) I bet. (Chan) Yeah, but after explaining, it turned out to be okay. (Graeme) And you went on to win a major prize with it. (Chan) Yes, it did actually. (Graeme) That’s fantastic. (Chan) It did, yes. (Graeme) Great story. (Chan) I’m going to start with a bit of Raw Sienna. It’s going to be an under-wash basically. A bit of Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna maybe, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) very watery, and this is going to go all the way. And don’t even worry about the car, but be careful to leave a bit of that white on the side of the road. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) You don’t want to sort of eliminate too much of the white paper. And if you happen to get a bit of white paper, that’s not a bad thing. (Graeme) Yeah, so you’ve got the snow poking through the road. (Chan) Yep, so this is just the start of it. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) The next stage is to actually get the darks, so I’ll start again. My darks are always going to be Burnt Sienna and Ultra. I’ll start with this and if you let watercolour paint itself, it looks way better. (Graeme) Yes, I mean this technique really has to be done fairly consistently, cause you really can’t can’t go back and get the effect you want if it’s dry; it’s got to be done wet. (Chan) Absolutely. While the papers wet I’m just trying to get this in, in one go. (Graeme) And all those little magic things happen when you let the pigment do what it needs to do. (Chan) Absolutely. (Graeme) Yeah, that’s great. And these are the things that you teach in your workshops as well. (Chan) Absolutely. Yeah,I think it’s important to go through the actual technical side in steps. (Graeme) Now you were saying that you actually write articles for some of the magazines? (Chan) Yes, Australian Artist magazine. I’ve actually got a few articles to come in this June and July. Yeah, I enjoy that sort of communication I guess with my students through magazines. (Graeme) So do you get much of a chance, I mean obviously being a father of young children, and lovely wife, do you get much of a chance to get out and plein air yourself? (Chan) I try to as much as I can, but obviously find constants, and as you said, family does restrict. But I do do plein air workshops quite a lot which gets me out there so. (Graeme) I mean if people want to get in touch, I mean I’ll just say it right now, it’s Chan Dissan dot com slash forward workshops. (Chan) Correct. Correct, all my upcoming workshops are on there, so (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) if anybody wants to have a look, yeah. (Graeme) And it’s a really, really pretty area around here too. Some great scenery, the little creek beds, and the reflections in the water – some of the great country around here. (Chan) I think that’s one of the reasons that I love living in Canberra, cause twenty minutes drive you’re into the county and the lovely landscape, (Graeme) Yep. (Chan) and the yeah, absolutely. So the shadow’s anchors them onto the snow itself, so it’s better to do them while the trunks are actually wet. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) So by touching them it just gives you an impression of a shadow under, and you don’t need to be very precise. So this tree truck here, the main trunk, I really want to leave some lights where there’s a bit of the snow being caught up in the edges, kind of thing. So what you do is leave some of the white paper, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and just paint the trunk, and what you’ve left behind becomes the actual snow. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) If you don’t, if you leave it and do it quickly it works out. If you try and paint by little by little, it’ll loose that feel, so I’ll be very liberal with this. (Graeme) There you go. And it’s sort of something that you’ve really got to plan. (Chan) You do. (Graeme) You’ve got to be aware of it. (Chan) You do, and I can slightly bend the tree into the painting. I don’t want it to go out of the painting as well. (Graeme) Draws it all into the paint. (Chan) Yep, yep, so then there’s just minor adjustments to that. (Graeme) Some of your streetscapes are just superb. You’ve got Rainy Day in Istanbul, (Chan) Oh yeah, (Graeme) Turkey, (Chan) yeah. (Graeme) and you got (Graeme) Hagia Sophia in the background there. (Chan) Yep. yep, yep. (Graeme) And then another one called Rainy Day in Goulburn, and that looks like a really rainy day in Goulburn. (Chan) It was actually. It bucketed down. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) I actually did a workshop with the Goulburn Art Society, and we went to lunch and it was just – I couldn’t see ten meters away. (Graeme) Is that right? (Chan) And I just loved that scene because it simplified the scene into so many simple shapes, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) which we couldn’t do with otherwise – too much detail. And I love that sort of atmospheric sort of pieces. (Graeme) And a couple more pieces I’d like to mention as well, because I really love your street scenes, is Flinders Square, for a start, which is an absolutely fantastic piece. That is just beautiful. It reminds me a little bit of the time that we did The Three Amigos, funnily enough, and we see them walking down the street. And one more which is Molesworth Street in (Chan) Lismore. (Graeme) Lismore. And you love all those old iconic buildings, (Chan) Yeah, absolutely. (Graeme) the Art Nouveau, turn of the century stuff. (Chan) I absolutely love it. (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) And I think old sort of country towns have that character, that feel (Graeme) Yes. (Chan) that a lot of the sort of new suburbs are loosing, and I’m old fashioned when it comes to that. (Graeme) And also your nudes as well, I mean which is pretty, pretty well where you started from, (Chan) Pretty much, yeah. (Graeme) and that was a big influence on you becoming a watercolour artist, and establishing where you are now. (Chan) Pretty much. (Graeme) And one of the special things that, that you were pointing out in some of these nudes as well, is that you didn’t actually draw a lot of these out, when you first started doing your studies. You just basically took the tone of the paint, and literally created the picture by brush – (Chan) Correct. (Graeme) no pencil lines at all. (Chan) That’s right, we basically draw with the brush, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and that way you get to the shape very quickly, (Graeme) Yeah. (Chan) and into the form as well, so it’s a very easy way to paint. But it’s challenging because you can get things wrong so… But it forces you to work quickly, and that sort of immediacy will feed into the works. So I’m going to get this little car in which just leads you into the painting. It’s just a mere suggestion. You don’t want to do too much work on it, but just suggest it so. (Graeme) Yeah, sometimes when you look at it, it looks like an Audi, sometimes… (Chan) Something like that. (Chan) Okay, I think I’m, I’m finished, and I’m actually happy with this piece. It’s worked out pretty well, and it always do if you just apply the right techniques, and plan your way through the painting, and the end result speaks for itself. The best thing is when you actually remove the tape, so lets remove the tape and see how it looks. This is a very exciting part of the piece, especially with a snow scene, when you get these white, clean boarders, it gives you that lovely feel. The revealed edge. (Graeme) Look at that; that’s pushed it (Chan) There we are. (Graeme) straight back hasn’t it? Fantastic, Chan, that looks absolutely amazing. Really, really well done and fantastic information. (Chan) Thank you, Graeme. (Graeme) Okay, another great day with a fantastic artist in Canberra. Master watercolour artist, Chan, thank you so much for having us – it was fantastic. And as you can see, what an amazing result. So as I said, Chan does a lot of workshops here and overseas. It would be great to travel, you’re going to Italy at some stage aren’t you as well. (Chan) Yeah. (Graeme) A lot of other countries opening up also. But if somebody wants to come and do one of your workshops – fantastic for you – what’s your website number. (Chan) It’s Chan Dissan dot com. (Graeme) Okay, come in and see Chan, and go in and see some of his work, he’s got some great stuff for sale as well. And you can always pop in and see us at colour in your life dot com dot au. And come and see us in Facebook, and YouTube, and Pinterest, and Instagram, and just about everything that we’re on. And yeah, we had a fantastic day, thank you so much for having us. We’ve got a few more artists that we need to do in Canberra. We’re looking forward to it. Great place to be. Great town, great people. But remember, as I always say, until we meet again – remember: make sure you put some colour in your life. See you guys. Bye now, see you.

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