Walton Hall Watercolour Workshop

Walton Hall lake

A GEORGIAN country house on an island in a lake surrounded by parkland, Walton Hall, near Wakefield, is a great location for a watercolour workshop and we’re glad of the comfortable shelter the cafe offers as it rains heavily all morning.

Walton Hall

I was asked to lead the workshop last month as part of the Walton Arts Festival.



A beginner has brought along a brand new box of watercolours but doesn’t know where to start.

sable brushWith any new set of watercolours I like to paint a page of swatches. This helps me familiarise myself with the layout of the box and gives me practice in mixing the range of colours included. It’s useful practice for painting  smooth, graduated washes, the basis of watercolour technique.

Cotman watercolours

Some colours behave better than others when it comes to giving a smooth transition. I have several ‘wash backs’ where a colour runs back into the previous wash. Earthy colours such as yellow ochre have a tendency to go a bit spotty. But if you want perfection you might as well add the colour in Photoshop. These limitations are part of the medium, so you need to use watercolours enough to feel comfortable with them.

As usual when I’m working with beginners, I find myself encouraging students to add a bit more water to their washes. I can see the attraction of plastering on the pigment with such bijou watercolour boxgorgeous colours on offer but the luminosity of watercolour comes from letting the white of the paper show through a transparent or semi-transparent wash, giving a sense of light and atmosphere which wouldn’t be quite the same in oils or acrylics.

Thumbnail Layouts

pencil 3b

The rain eased off a little after lunch and we found shelter from a cool wind under the back porch. I often feel that I learn as much from the students as they do from me and today it was a request for a session on pencil and watercolour that prompted me to have a change from my habitual pen and watercolour.

thumbnail sketchThe panorama of lake, woods and hillside, not to mention a foreground of flowerbeds, urns, chairs and tables gives us a little bit too much in the way of subject matter. I explain that one way to tackle an overcomplicated scene like this is to draw a two-minute matchbox-sized thumbnail of your composition, rather than simply start in one corner (as I admit I often do) and commit to a full-size two hour sketch from the start.

Working with a soft 4B pencil on the cartridge paper of my sketchbook gives a tonal effect. Adding a simple watercolour wash gives an instant impression of how the finished drawing might turn out.

lime green sketchbook

I like this quick method so much that I try a second thumbnail, this time in letterbox format (top of page). It’s just as well that I am working quickly because even in this sheltered spot after an hour we’re getting chilled through and it’s time to adjourn to the cafe, take a look at the day’s sketches and discuss what we’ve learnt and how we might take that further.

Taster Session


A good place to finish and it was a good place to start too. The first task that I set when we started this morning was to draw a scone . . . then eat it. A chance to briefly introduce the basics of drawing and adding watercolour without the challenge of changing light, shimmering water and masses of foliage that we’d be face when we turned to the view from the Hall.

Link; Walton Hall & the Waterton Park Hotel.

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    1. It’s accessible only by a footbridge but just crossing that little bit of water gives me that feeling I get when I’m on an island. Like being on Lindisfarne when the tide cuts it off from the mainland.

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