Review of Ev Hales demonstration B.A.S.

Posted by on May 24, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments

EV HALES WORKSHOP: 22nd and 23rd APRIL 2015


BAS hosted the consummate watercolourist Ev Hales for a two day workshop last month. Her popularity is such that all available places were quickly filled and an additional workshop is now being considered.

This was the first organised workshop that I have attended at BAS, although over the past couple of years, I have attended most of the terrific Sunday demonstrations that Rod Edelsten has arranged.

In many ways, it confirmed my belief in the exceptional value of those demonstrations for the insight that they offer into the craft of “picture making” and I would encourage all members to attend them. I have previously written on Ev following the demonstration she gave in our studio last year (see Panorama November 2014) so I will not here attempt a full overview of the workshop, but rather just focus on some aspects that I personally found rewarding.

She remains a traditionalist where subject matter is concerned. Her paintings are always recognisable, invariably reflecting the love of landscape, water and the sea.

The beginning of each session was occupied by Ev’s demonstrating, thinking out loud and describing the methods and the approach that she hoped we might bring to play when we returned to our own positions and lifted paint to paper. However, what we were able to witness in the course of her demonstrations was the much more abstract and analytical process of enquiry that she brings to her subject matter.

Her first demonstration’s subject, active water, was Fred’s photograph of a seascape, a large wave cresting as the central focus, an assorted group of coastal rocks encroaching from the edges. She spent considerable time with us, discussing the possible “mobility of placement” of the important features. Particularly in a seascape, we should always remember that if we returned a few hours, or even a few minutes later, the sea and tides, would rise and fall, changing the composition. If we moved our viewing position a few metres left or right, even the most static elements: the rocks, could dramatically relocate.

Ev adding some darks after the first couple of washes. The important thing in the long run was the composition within the picture itself. We need feel no obligation to be locked down to the layout of the scene, let alone a photograph of it, if that’s what we happen to be working from.

In connection with this, Ev in general works with little or no initial pencil drawing. She said that this locks down the positioning too restrictively. She will often cover the entire page with the initial ground wash. The absolute “whites” are the only things which may need to be located and retained as clean paper. Even then however, she prefers to locate them approximately rather than rigidly. Any clean and rich colours, may also need to go in in the initial glaze, but once again, not necessarily tightly defined or bounded. The rich variety and masterful control she displays with “edge”, that is, the way in which one passage of tone/colour meets the next, be it crisp and dry, soft and fudged, staggered or continuous, is  amongst the great strengths of her work. Her flexibility with placement and definition is an important contributor to this.

A further delightful insight she offered for looking perceptively at our subject matter, was when she urged us to look at colours for the “rhythmic patterns” they might make across the page. “What is the story of the red or the yellow in our picture? One should train the eye to seek out the patterns in the scene.”

To illustrate this, she asked us all to look across to a particular side of the room and focus our attention on everything “red” in our field of view. Suddenly the fire extinguisher; a reproduction of a Drysdale painting; an exit sign; a plastic jar on the table all became heightened. Each had a different expanse of the target colour. Ev asked, “What is the rhythm created across our field of view by the presence of these snatches of colour?” The exercise was then repeated with a target colour of yellow and it prompted a characteristically different analysis of the same subject. New rhythms arose, a new insight into our subject emerged.

For a representational painter, her analysis of her subject matter is often very detached. This is in part why she has no anxiety about working upside down, a considerable advantage for us as an audience, as our view of the picture was never obscured. But she does it with ease because she is concerned with the “design elements” of the picture, the rhythm of shape and colour across the page. Sure it might be a rock or a wave of a boat whatever. It is first and foremost a shape, a passage of a particular tone/colour and the goal is a harmony and excitement in the arrangement of these design elements.

This review was printed in the Brighton Art Society Newsletter Panorama May 2015

This Society regularly holds demonstrations and workshops for members.


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