Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Beginner’s Guide to Acrylics ~ with Yvette Wiltshire

St Ives and Penzance are well known as centres for art classes and workshops, but top class art tuition is also available in other parts of Cornwall. On a Saturday earlier this month I headed towards Liskeard to attend Yvette Wiltshire’s  (right) ‘Beginners Guide to Acrylics’ – one of a range of workshops and courses which she offers at various locations in mid Cornwall. Yvette’s interest in art began in the early 1990s, when her Father decided to take up painting as a retirement hobby.
To keep him company at his adult education classes, she enrolled as well, and the two of them never looked back. For Yvette the development of her hobby coincided with a desire to change careers. So, after gaining her teaching qualifications in 2003, she became an art tutor, both in adult education and privately.
In 2013 she was introduced to Julia Gerry, who has a background in textiles and needlework. Along with her husband and his family, Julia had been involved in the restoration of a group of 17th century barns near Merrymeet, in the idyllic valley of Penhawger. Part of the complex was converted into holiday accommodation. An adjacent wing took on a new lease of life as a spacious craft room with plentiful natural light.
Julia was looking for a tutor in art to complement her own programme of workshops, and her meeting with Yvette marked the start of a fruitful relationship. Since the establishment of Cartwheels Craft Centre Yvette has conducted regular classes and workshops there in watercolours, pastels and acrylics. She has recently given up her work in adult education but her private classes keep her busy for four days a week, providing tuition to around 60 students, one of whom is her Father, now aged ninety!
Cartwheels Craft Centre
Everyone who embarks on the journey into acrylics has a different story to tell. One of my fellow students at the workshop was experienced in watercolours and soft pastels. Another was a highly creative ‘hands-on’ artist, daunted by the prospect of applying paint with a brush for the first time. Three were teachers, one of whom was accompanying a 10-year old granddaughter whose artistic potential had been spotted at school. But on Saturday all nine of us were eager to learn and unlock the mysteries of acrylics, in the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the craft room.
Our day began at ten o’clock, with a look at the tools of the trade and painting surfaces. As an alternative to applying gesso as a primer, Yvette recommended matt emulsion – a far cheaper option. From her large collection of brushes and palette knives, we were soon able to distinguish which ones were appropriate for particular painting techniques.
Among her many practical suggestions was one which we carried out straight away. The assembly of a DIY ‘stay-wet palette’ from a plastic picnic plate, sheets of moistened kitchen towel and tracing paper took only a few minutes and did an excellent job of preventing our colours from drying out. Covering the plate with clingfilm after a painting session means one doesn’t have to start mixing colours from scratch when one returns to a project a few days later.
As newcomers to acrylics, it would not be necessary, we learned, to invest in a variety of highly pigmented colours for use at home. Yvette recommended instead confining our choice to, say, two slightly different yellows, reds and blues (along with a mixing white). Careful combinations of these primary colours would extend our range of hues. Underlining her ‘less is more’ approach, Yvette advocated that a palette limited to three or four colours would go some way towards achieving a balanced, harmonious composition.
Fortified by copious quantities of tea or coffee and Julia’s delicious home-baked cake, our first exercise was to explore a variety of acrylic techniques. We applied colour to large sheets of paper with brushes, palette knives, toothbrushes and sponges. This was a gentle introduction for those terrified by the idea of actually painting. The result of our experiments would prove to be a useful aide- memoire.
After the refreshments we had enjoyed earlier, it seemed somewhat excessive to tuck into the packed lunches we had brought along, but the break gave us the opportunity to select a subject for our afternoon painting project. Some opted for a still-life while others decided to attempt a landscape. As a demonstration, Yvette produced a near-perfect still-life of a white jug, focussing on tonal values. She followed this up with a small, beautiful landscape, her assured and effortless brushstrokes arousing a great deal of admiration.
Once we had started on our first acrylic composition, the room fell silent with the intensity of our concentration. As I began working from a photograph, I wondered whether my clumsy brush strokes would ever be recognisable as a landscape. But remembering that disaster could be concealed by the judicious application of white, I pressed on, using a moistened sea sponge lightly dabbed with colour to create the impression of gorse and clouds. All around me, some interesting artworks were taking shape. As time went on Yvette began to move quietly around the room, making suggestions and offering encouragement. Her intuitive appreciation of our individual strengths and shortcomings ensured that we all felt pleased with what we had accomplished. By four o’clock none of us was in a hurry to leave. We spent time admiring each other’s paintings, amazed at how much we had learnt in a day which had given us the impetus to continue on our artistic journey of discovery.
Sandra’s Wildflower Meadow
My own foray into the artistic process had begun a few years earlier with a two-day course in printmaking. What I relished was the unpredictable nature of the results. Back home the amount of paper which ended up in the recycling bin spoke volumes about my lack of skill in this medium.
Bernie’s Boats at Anchor
Yvette’s workshop, the perfect introduction for those wishing to become acquainted with a new medium, has now opened my eyes to the possibilities of acrylics. On the way home the evening sky was translated, in my mind’s eye, into fluffy grey-and-white sponge marks on canvas, against a layered wash of crimson and yellow.
Helen’s Dartmoor Sky
Examples of Yvette Wiltshire's paintings can be found on her website 'Art with Yvette', along with further information on workshops and classes.
Spaces are still available on Yvette’s next workshop at Cartwheels Craft Centre, ‘Skies and Landscapes in Pastels’. This takes place on Saturday 21st March 2015. See the Cartwheels Craft Centre website for details of this and other workshops.
© 2015 Helen Hoyle

1 comment:

  1. Comments on the workshop from my fellow participants included 'A wonderful day' and 'Brilliant tuition'. Ten-year-old Tilly later told her granddad: 'I've had a really fun day. I liked it when Yvette helped me to make my painting look better. I would love to go again.' Sandra, her grandmother, said: 'The day really boosted my confidence,and I couldn't believe what I achieved in such a short time!'