Sunday, 27 March 2016

Leicester's Turkey Café - experimentation with paper & paint

Leicester's Turkey Café by Lizzy Hewitt © 2016
For the longest time I've been seeking to develop my watercolour technique. It's possibly the most difficult of mediums to apply well and I've known many artists give up and turn to another!

Practice, using different quantities of water 
on the paper.
When it came to painting one of Leicester's oldest and most historic buildings, the Turkey Café, I decided to treat the subject as a learning exercise. I hope you agree the effort was worthwhile!

I wanted a new painting surface so chose a new paper, an attractively smooth HP (hot pressed) art paper that my dip pen slid around on in a satisfying manner and is ideal for illustration. But a session with YouTube tutorials explained it was the most difficult paper for watercolour work as the paint simply sits on the surface!

What I really needed was a textured NOT or Cold Pressed paper where the paint had something to cling to. Unfortunately I'd already produced an ink drawing and ordered another box of 10 sheets of the HP so I was forced to get to grips with it, no matter what the limitations!

Practice, endless notes on colour matching 
& paint granulation.
Experimenting, I used both sides of every sheet. For my first attempts I did some black and white pre-drawings, glazing with ink to get the tones I wanted, just as one does with watercolour;
'Watercolour is about painting the shadows. The lightest colour in watercolour painting is the light of the paper. The contours are established by your drawing - the glaze is what builds a bridge between the light and the contours'. Felix Scheinberger, Urban Watercolour Sketching.
There are tried & tested watercolour techniques, available nowadays as YouTube videos & tutorials. It's possible to be as traditional or as loose and contemporary as you want, but disregard the basics & you’ll get into a mess (as I did!)

In the early weeks I experienced many problems with my new HP paper, particularly when excess water spread into thicker paint, creating an unattractive cauliflower effect! Another of my initial problems was over-wetting the paper so that I wasn't able to control the paint. It's all trial & error and one leans from one's mistakes.

Practice, using water to obtain the paint 
coverage & hue needed.
The paint quality also needs to be considered. In the past I used Winsor & Newton's Cotman affordable (student) paints but more recently I've invested in professional quality watercolours. You have to know what you want; I went into an art supplies shop for ultramarine paint only a month or two ago and was surprised to see three different professional versions on the shelf! All contained the same PB 29 pigment but because of the range of hue, it's possible to purchase 'deep', 'red', 'green' or 'French'! Totally confusing unless one knows exactly what one wants!

In the end making a painting is a series of decisions; there's much to think about yet one is always trying to be spontaneous. This isn't always easy. For me, one of the most troublesome considerations is deciding on focal points, how best to lead the viewer’s eye around the picture and then linking colour within the image. It takes practice to do this well and the only way to achieve consistently good results is to practice, practice & practice!
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"Unlike almost every other city in the UK, Leicester has retained a remarkable record of its past in buildings that still stand today" BBC News, Jan 2011.
Leicester's Turkey Café - night version
by Lizzy Hewitt 
© 2016
One such is the Turkey Café. Situated in Leicester's Granby Street, the Turkey Café was built in 1900. Set over three floors its façade puns both Turkey, the country, & turkey birds, with a stunning Art Nouveau frontage of Eastern-styled architecture plus three large & prominent turkeys, one set to either side of the lower shop front & a third clothed in colourful Royal Doulton tiles at the mid-point of the roof.

Art Nouveau was hugely popular at the time the Turkey Café was built. The façade was constructed using tiles, hollow blocks & a type of terracotta called carraraware, a matt-glazed stoneware developed in 1888 by the Royal Doulton Company. 

Stability was visually implied by arches, the number decreasing floor by floor, from seven on the first to three on the upper, surmounted by the third, final, lone turkey. The building was coloured blue, green & buff, to maximise the appreciation of all design elements.

Opened as a café in 1901, in the years since the building has undergone upgrades and renovations and housed various commercial premises. It is now Grade ll listed, once again a café & bar, with friendly staff & fabulous cocktails! I wholeheartedly recommend a visit!

Leicester's Granby Street & the Turkey Café - early evening
by Lizzy Hewitt 
© 2016