Polermo Study: Robert Brindley Tutorial

So, my Robert Brindley DVD’s arrived late last week. I eagerly watched all 3 videos. I learned quite a few things which I would like to share. One of Robert’s hallmarks of painting is using frisket or masking fluid, even when doing plein air. He is an avid plein air painter of both oils and watercolor.

In this series, he actually took a number of paintings that he had already completed in oils and used them as reference for watercolors. What I liked was his ability to paint extremely wet into wet without loosing his whites using frisket. In my practice painting, I used frisket and a small amount of soap mix to ‘paint-off’ my whites.

I learned rather quickly when I began to use masking fluid (and I don’t generally use it), that if you mix it with a little soap, you won’t destroy your brushes. Simply wash them out after ‘painting’ . It’s usually that simple.

Robert uses both brush and pen for his masking application. The only critique I have of the videos is that you don’t actually see him doing any of the drawings or how he applies the masking fluid. That would have been a good addition to these videos.

My reference photo for my rather complex painting using Robert Brindley’s technique of masking and color mixing transparent watercolors on paper. (Photo Credit:

After watching the videos, I attempted a rather complex scene of Polermo, Sicily in an attempt to practice his techniques. Here are some of the things I learned watching his painting technique and videos:

  1. He masks off most of his drawings already planning where the light will be. Many of the areas that are pure white from masking will be later toned down by simply adding water and softening the masked areas.
  2. He uses an oil or harder synthetic brush as a ‘scrubber’ to soften harder edges once the masking fluid is removed.
  3. He prepares most of his color mixes before hand by using small separate wells including the use of his palette. This way, his colors are pure. This is very similar to what I saw in Iain Stewart’s workshop, where he pre-mixes many of his colors before painting.
  4. He makes it a point to mix primarily the first wash, wet into wet, directly on paper. Most notably, not using pure colors most of the time, but toning them down with violets. He admits that violet is one of his primary colors used to soften and tone down and UNIFY his color scheme.
  5. He makes a very conscious effort to juxtapose his light areas against dark and more tonal aspects of his painting.

Here , I’ll go through my work involving the Polermo scene.

This is my first wash after my drawing and application of frisket. I actually used some frisket to highlight the buildings, retain some of the light on the dome of the building, which is my focal point. I also used some frisket along the water to retain some of the shimmer.

On my first wash, I took liberty to just work in color and a small amount of tone along the buildings and background. I also textured some of the painting after the entire paper was covered. I wasn’t really worried about letting the paint run a little and exploiting the properties of watercolor and it’s wet into wet diffusion. This is very much of what I learned in Herman Pekel’s workshop. The more color and texturing you can do in the first wash, the better.

I made a conscious effort to really map out what I saw in the photo (as you should do when plein air painting) and apply ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colors where they are appropriate. Again, try and paint what you see and think of colors in terms of its temperature.

In the way Mr. Brindley paints, it very similar to Zbukvic and others, who try and paint some of the undertones in the first wash. The more color and white you can preserve in this first wash, usually the better. Try not to get too dark too soon and save this for applying your mid-tones and final strokes.

I also consciously thought about atmosphere and depth while painting. Think of where you actually will reference your focal point, background, midground and foreground. This cannot be over emphasized. By varying tone in these areas, you will get the illusion of depth. Without it, your painting will look very flat.

In the second wash, after allowing the first to dry, I removed most of the frisket and began working to tonally unify the work. I focused on creating some depth by increasing my tones more along the left side of the painting.

After the first wash dried completely, I removed the masked areas and began to tonally unify the painting by mixing deeper and richer colors. Again, here , for one of the first times, I mixed my second glaze with other colors to soften or tone their intensities. I tried to stick to what I had learned in Vlad’s workshop by mixing a deep blue (using Ultramarine/dioxazine Violet) for my deeper blues and mixing Alizarin Crimson and dioxazine for my deeper reds. My yellows, I used Gambouge and Van Dyke brown to increase tonal values.

This is the completed work. I was satisfied with his technique and what I was able to do with a very complex scene.

I finished off the painting by softening some of the harder edges, altough I kind of liked the hard edges in the light. I added more tone to the water and boats trying not to take too much away from my focal point (the yellow lite building on the left.

The thing I took away from this painting the most was my ability to soften and mix colors directly on paper rather that too much mixing in the palette. If was a fun painting and gave my confidence for my next project.

I also began to realize, that not everything has to be painted in watercolor. cutting around things and leaving paper and light really adds interest to a work. Enjoy and happy painting.


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