Gardens in Watercolour - Karen Simmons

Gardens in Watercolour

Artist: Karen Simmons
Language: English 60 mins

Karen paints a variety of popular garden subjects at different times of the year: the landscaped gardens at Blenheim Palace, an herbaceous border full of colour and shapes, a formal garden with a beautiful lily pond, flowers in pots on the garden steps and finishes with an autumnal bonfire. Skies, water, trees, shrubs, pots, stonework and flowers are all demonstrated with her familiar flair for instruction.

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The English Garden

Having recently reviewed a book entitled Gardens in Watercolour, I was intrigued to receive a video with precisely the same title. This video is the work of Karen Simmons who has already produced tapes on portraiture and flower painting. In it she demonstrates her skill with the watercolour medium and her preference for understated, liquid washes. She begins by pointing out the wealth of subject matter to be found in gardens of all types and sizes and the richness of form, colour and texture they provide. An added bonus for the artist is their accessibility in a land of dedicated gardeners.

In this video the artist tackles five different types of garden scene. The first is the lake and ornamental sandstone bridge of Blenheim Palace, the grounds of which owe much to the genius of Capability Brown. She makes the Buttress Tower of the bridge her focal point and this, together with its reflection in the waters of the lake, is balanced by a stand of bare, winter trees. She uses Arches rough watercolour paper and begins by applying a loose wash of yellow ochre and aureolin to the area of the bridge, letting it run down into the water below. A very pale wash of ultramarine and light red is then applied for the grey of the sky, some pigment being removed with a large brush which she prefers to a tissue.

The bare twigs and branches of the trees are loosely indicated with a mixture of light red and raw umber, while the more distant tree forms provide useful tonal contrast for the pale colours of the bridge. A dark shadow across the foreground helps to carry the eye into the heart of the painting.

Her second demonstration is a complete contrast - a small but colourful English garden against an old converted wooden barn. Here she concentrates on the colour and form of the groups of flowers, the barn and the background wood being merely suggested in pale tones of ultramarine and light red, for the old tiles, and ultramarine and gamboge for the foliage of the trees. The colours of the blooms are put in with a large brush with a fine point, the various greens being added later.

The subject of demonstration number three is part of the formal garden of Gloucester College of Agriculture, comprising a rectangular lily pond backed by some ornamental stone steps and a variety of trees and shrubs. In this painting, her colours are even more muted as she concentrates on form, shape and tonal contrast. Only the browny-olive reflections in the water of the pond have much depth and for these she uses Hooker's green, yellow ochre and cadmium red, adding ultramarine and more cadmium red for the darker accents.

A group of earthenware pots of flowers on a flight of garden steps is her next subject and this is followed by a lively rendering of a bonfire against an autumnal backdrop.

The programme ends with several of the artist's delightful watercolours depicting snow scenes in her own garden, a wild cherry against a bank of misty trees and, finally, a kitchen garden.
THE ARTIST - July 1992

Gardens in Watercolour By Karen Simmons

In her latest, delightfully entertaining and extremely informative video Karen Simmons reminds us that "with watercolour so much of it is timing". And as she works through a series of excellent paintings, mostly using very wet washes and wet-in-wet techniques to capture the essence of blushes of colour, contrasts, shadows and changing light, the importance of timing becomes very evident.

Gardens are a readily available source of subject matter. Whether you work in a large, formal public park or tackle the texture and detail of a few patio pots, there are plenty of challenging subjects around. Moreover, within a single, small garden, seasonal variations and the influence of weather and light ensure that there is always something fresh to inspire. This busy video enthusiastically captures the immense appeal and potential of garden themes, with subjects varying from a view of the Vanbrugh bridge at Blenheim on a bitterly cold winter's day, to the drifting smoke and dancing colours of an autumn bonfire scene. With demonstrations also of a blazing herbaceous border, a formal lily pond and those patio pots, as well as a look at some beautiful snow scenes and misty effects, the video is full of ideas, splendidly supported by interesting and informative commentary and good filming.

Every stage of painting is clearly explained, whether it's how to mix a particular colour or find the best viewpoint. I commend Gardens in Watercolour to all watercolourists as one of the best videos I have seen.

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