Learning To Paint – With Matt Forster

This post doesn’t contain any of my art. It is a write up of a watercolour class I attended in London run by the very talented Matt Forster. This is only the second time I’ve featured someone else’s art on here, the first being a guest appearance by Robert Ordever.


Matt usually works with just five Winsor and Newton artist quality watercolour paints. Alazarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine Blue. He can mix any other colour he needs from these basic colours. The paint is mixed in wine glasses so as to allow sufficient quantity to be made up to finish a piece of work, and a syringe is used to add water to dilute.

Mixing The Paint

Matt uses synthetic brushes, and large sheets of heavy weight paper, 450 gsm. He soaks the paper for at least an hour then sticks it to a thick mdf board using PVA glue and gumstrip before letting it dry for at least 24 hours. He then has a stretched, flat surface ready to paint on. The board with the paper attached then goes onto an old industrial easel – heavy and adjustable. This piece of kit reminded me of the drawing boards we used to use in school and in my first job as a draughtsman.

Tone and Contrast

We started looking at tone and contrast. Matt said that tone beats colour, and a good water colour should work well in black and white (you can check your own work by photographing then editing it on the computer). Matt took a large sheet of dry paper and on the left hand side he applied a blue wash to which he gradually added red, as he came down the paper. On the right side, he took the purple from the end of the previous wash (blue mixed with red) and diluted it as he came down the paper (leaving a small triangle of white paper on the way). On both sides, Matt worked down the page along straight horizontal lines because it’s the simplest, quickest way to create a wash over a whole/half page. He also made sure he moved quickly enough to ensure the paint didn’t dry on the page until the wash was finished. This ensures a smooth change of tone. Once the left hand side had dried, Matt added a darker shade of blue to create a mountain scape on the page. I didn’t photograph the picture before the mountains were added, but the gradation from blue to purple flowed nicely down the page.

Colour Washes

Dry Brush Work

Matt then showed us some dry brush work techniques – useful for adding more detail. He suggested that three things are important when working this way. The pressure applied, the volume of paint and the speed of the brush. A quick movement can leave useful dragged brush strokes. as seen in the lower part of this photograph, and a mix of dabbles and lines reveals a tree.

Dry Brush Work

Some dry brush work was added to both images, each layer a darker tone than the one before. The occasional white highlight is picked out afterwards using a scalpel and tweezers to score and carefully remove the top layer of paper.

Building the Images

Here are two close ups of the finished images.

Wet on Wet

Next Matt showed us painting onto a wet surface. He took a large stretched sheet of dry paper and applied clean water to it using a syringe and a large brush. Moving really quickly he then added colours and we watched them blend and move through each other on the wet paper. Colours are lighter using this technique as the water on the paper dilutes the paint. You can get a sense of how the colours interact and flow into each other from this close up. Matt left some of the paper towards the top of the image dry, and these dry white areas became sunlight striking the clouds as the picture developed.

Wet on Wet Close Up

Matt worked at pace to finish the background before drying the paint using a hairdryer and carrying on – this time using some dry brush work to add the house and some foreground detail. The drifting, flowing nature of the wet paint on wet paper contrasts wonderfully with the later addition of dryer strokes.

Wet on Wet Landscape

What amazed me was how quickly this big landscape appeared – from start to finish in around fifteen/twenty minutes. I included my pencil case in this photo to give you an indication of the scale of this work.

This was an excellent opportunity to see an artist at work and to learn from him, thanks Matt.


I was with a good friend last Friday – talking about work.

My friend David was suggesting that part of the plan for developing my business should be about butterflies. Yes – I gave him a funny look too, just like the one on your face now. And then David showed me this:

Blend into the herd

Here’s a link to the original cartoon – drawn by the very talented Tom Fishburne.

OK – the cartoon is a few years old, but the point is well made. Blending in, it’s all well and good, but – where’s the opportunity in that? To help me develop my thinking, David suggested I paint a butterfly. I tried a few approaches and wanted to share my sketches with you here. I’ve stuck them on my wall as a reminder – be the butterfly 🙂



Journey to Sunset

This piece is a continuation of Paints on a Plane. Once I arrived home I wanted to continue playing with the wet on wet technique. A friend got in touch to say he liked the earlier sketches so I said I’d develop something for him. I scaled up from postcard size to A4 and off I went.

I usually use Windsor Newton water colour pans when I paint but I decided to start out with some liquid water colours I bought a while ago. Big mistake. These liquid paints I have are cheap by comparison and they don’t blend.

I quickly switched back to what I was used to (Windsor Violet and Windsor Yellow) and continued to experiment. The main challenges I faced was being too heavy handed, and not sploshing enough water on to the paper to start with. I persevered with a few more attempts before going for it with lots of water on the paper and the addition of a third colour (Cerulean Blue). I tried to make my strokes both lighter and quicker this time, and I left more time for the paper to start to dry before applying the foreground.

Here is the finished painting and in the spirit of working out loud, you can see some of the practice runs in the slideshow beneath.

Finally Enough Water on the Paper Foregound Lighter Strokes too

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