Watercolour painting 'en plein air' with Brian Smith

Ref: SSS31542

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About this course

Working outdoors 'en plein air' creates huge opportunities. You will be guided and shown techniques to challenge you through a combination of small, quick and large studies that will take your work to another level.

Course Description

Explore a multitude of subject matter that the West Dean College grounds offers working outdoors ‘en plein air’. You will make studies through to longer projects working individually on personal choices with hints and tips to help take your work to its full potential.

Working in the expansive grounds of the College in different locations, you will create a body of work that has varied subject matter, from the watering can and the plant pot, to the grandeur of the main entrance, the elegant clock tower, the ha-ha and the larger landscapes that offer many possibilities.

Working outdoors ‘en plein air’ offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in and capture the surrounding environment on a piece of paper. In order to do this you will need to be comfortable so please bring appropriate clothing and layers, including sun hats if necessary. Portable chairs and easels will be provided. Demonstrations and individual help will enable you to create works that reflects you and your experience of being outdoors.

You will be shown how to use composition to create focus and drama, light where there isn’t any, warm and cool areas to give balance, shadows that have supporting interest, details where needed balanced by areas of suggestion. You learn how the narrative of the painting can draw the viewer in. Learn to use collective shapes and structures that move your work to a higher level. You will consider the importance of tone or colour in your work.

You will also work on specific exercises to create successful work. The structure of successful work can be broken down into tonal values, collective shape, creating emphasis and many more sub plots to engage the viewer.

If the weather is inclement, sketches can be made in pencil in the amazing internal backdrops that the house offers. You can then build on these sketches back in the studio, or develop work from sketches/images already started outdoors. The emphasis of the course is to stretch your boundaries and grow with guidance.

Summer School highlights:

The Summer School week is an immersive learning experience with more time to develop your creativity and embrace opportunities for creative development beyond your chosen course. A detailed timetable for your Summer School week will be given to you on arrival. This will include:

• Short inspirational talks by tutors and displays of their work

• A short creative experience session in another discipline/media or course

• An optional evening at the Chichester Festival Theatre (if pre-booked)

• An optional lunchtime tour of West Dean Gardens, the historic rooms at West Dean College, or West Dean Tapestry Studio

• A celebration dinner on the last evening themed on Impressionism, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist exhibition held in Paris in 1874. Feel free to respond to the theme if you wish.

• Informal end-of-course group reviews and displays of students' work in studios

As evening events are planned as part of the Summer School week, dinner is included in the course fee to enable all students, including non-residents, to participate fully.


Timetable for Summer Schools

Several evening events are planned throughout the week, a detailed timetable for the summer schools will be given to you on arrival.

Arrival Day

Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students should vacate their rooms by 10am please.

Course Materials


  • Some Saunders Waterford or Arches watercolour paper 140lb, 300gsm in all surfaces, Hot Press, NOT and rough. Winsor & Newton Artist Quality watercolour tube paints. A good selection of watercolour brushes, adhesive tape, pencils 2B, 4B, putty and plastic rubbers.

What students need to bring

  • Paints of Artists Quality are suggested by your tutor in tubes rather than pans. Winsor and Newton or Tales Rembrandt are good makes.
  • Your tutors pallet consists of the following colours which is a good selection to start you off:
  • Indian Yellow, Raw Sienna*, Burnt Sienna*. Auerolin*, Quinacridone Gold, Alizarin Crimson*, Rose Madder Genuine, Light Red, Cadmium Red*, Cobalt Blue*, French Ultramarine*, Indigo, Prussian Blue, Windsor Violet*. Viridian, Cerulean Blue, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber*, Brown Madder, Neutral Tint*
  • * denotes the most important colours within your tutor’s selection of paints
  • Paper Suggestions:
  • Arches, Saunders Waterford, Fabriano, Langton or Whatman
  • Bockingford is absorbent, not very durable or forgiving when mistakes are made but cheaper than the rest - so you choose
  • Papers come in either Hot Press, NOT or Rough:
  • Hot Press is a smooth paper and is good for letting colours mix and merge and detail if you want it.
  • NOT means not Hot Press and is slightly textured and ideal for most paintings – your tutor’s
  • recommendation
  • Rough is ideal to create textures but with less detail
  • Paper weights - 140lbs (300grams) is ideal, taped does not need stretching. 300lbs (640 grams) is extravagant, does not need taping unless you require a sharp edge to your border.
  • Brushes:
  • Sable are best but not cheap. If you paint everyday treat yourself to Sable, if not buy Sable and man made mix. Brush sizes: 5 or 6 round, 10 round, 14-16 round, 1¼ inch flat, a rigger for fine details, an old bristle brush for trees and foliage.
  • Suggested makes for brushes:
  • Kolinsky Sable - the best
  • Isabey Squirrel - very good
  • Davinci, Rosemary, Pro Arte - all have very good mixes
  • Palette
  • Suggested aluminum or metal palette (not plastic) with segments to put tube paint into and a lid to close and make carriage easy - 8" x 5" metal palette made by Jacksons is a very good option.
  • Sketches/images to work from incase of inclement weather

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials including Saunders Waterford or Arches watercolour paper 140lb, 300gsm in all surfaces, Hot Press, NOT and rough. Winsor & Newton Artist Quality watercolour tube paints. A good selection of watercolour brushes, adhesive tape, pencils, putty and plastic rubbers.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the studio or outside. This includes stout covered footwear (no open-toed shoes or sandals), sun hat, sun cream, shower proof jackets etc.


Brian Smith

People and Architecture are the main focus of Brian's watercolours striving to capture mood, light and atmosphere in daily life. His paintings have been exhibited at The Mall, Bankside and the RWA Bristol gaining awards. He has written articles for International Artist, The Artist and Leisure Painter magazines. He now demonstrates and tutors Watercolour nationally. In 2020 he was elected as a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.