Watercolour painting – adventurous compositions with Christine Forbes

Ref: SSS31585

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About this course

Create adventurous paintings through explorative watercolour and inventive compositional ideas. Drawing in the gardens and painting in the studio, you will unleash your usual approaches to painting and discover new and exciting terrain.

Course Description

West Dean Garden’s shady trees and flower borders are the perfect place to lose yourself whilst discovering exciting new ways to draw and paint. This adventurous yet practical course takes you from observational drawing through to creating constructed compositions in watercolour. Your tutor will guide you through a series of exercises that will enable you to create and develop your subject matter by way of ‘constructing’ a composition by experimenting with brush, colour palette and collage.

Working in the studio and around the trees and borders, you will be looking to both architectural forms and softer plant shapes to find ways of freeing up your thinking. Still life arrangements in the studio will offer some additional, dynamic colour to play with. Your sense of adventure may well lead you to some exciting, abstracted final pieces.

Inspiration will be drawn from some selected artists with consideration as to how their work has been created. You will discover new visual pathways by experimenting with brush and colour palette. There will be plenty of demonstrations and one-to-one support from your tutor. You will also be encouraged to share ideas within the group to enable painting progression.

This variety of painting and compositional formating will guide you towards a truly personal rendering of your week’s experiences.

By the end of the course, you will have generated a considerable amount of drawings and painted sketches for further development. You will have explored watercolour’s technical and explorative capabilities and discovered new approaches to the aesthetics of composition. This course will broaden your knowledge of line, colour and form whilst offering you plenty of practical tips to open up new pathways for self-expression. You will learn to evaluate the painting experience more confidently and objectively.

All working methods will be demonstrated by the tutor and repeated as required. The course structure is outlined below, but the tutor may change this as appropriate.

Course welcome and outline of the week ahead:

Drawing from observation

Playful mark-making

Looking at selected artists and considering some dynamic approaches to your subject matter

Exploring form, light and shade in adventurous ways

Painted sketching

Group drawing activity

Considering personal interpretations of trees, plants and flowers; using colour to create mood

Sharing ideas

Developing the subject forward by incorporating newly discovered ideas

Discussion and troubleshooting

Students directing the latter part of the course with guidance, as required

Group review

How to keep up momentum after this course

You will need to be comfortable working in and moving equipment between both studio and gardens.

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 the150th anniversary of the first Impressionist exhibition held in Paris in1874. 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


  • On this course, the tutor will supply some experimental materials to share, and some paper will be provided.

What students need to bring

  • HB pencil, 6B graphite stick, medium sized charcoal
  • Plastic eraser, knife/pencil sharpener, masking tape
  • A4/5 sketchbook
  • 1 Pritt stick, pair of scissors
  • Daisy palette, palette knife (or old credit card)
  • Suggested range of brushes to include: a soft, flat, real hair wash brush, approximate size 30; nylon/synthetic round, sizes 16, 12 and 8; rigger size 2
  • A range of good quality watercolours, including the following basics (or similar tints): Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Rose Madder, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, French Ultramarine, Hookers Green, Ivory or Mars black
  • Fixative spray
  • Masking fluid with nozzle (Schmincke do a good one in a blue tint available in the shop)
  • A spill-proof water pot, a compact watercolour paint set, an A4 glue-sided watercolour pad (approximately 300gsm) are all useful for working outside
  • A sports cap drinking bottle for the week is essential
  • Sunhat and sun cream
  • Please bring any other/similar materials you wish to use and any photos/sketches that you find inspirational.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of watercolour paints (tubes and pans), drawing materials, sketchbooks, a good range of papers, brushes, palettes, fixative spray and Schmincke masking fluid
  • Your tutor will advise you on all materials at the beginning of the course and will bring some for you to try out.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Christine Forbes, tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Christine Forbes

Christine Forbes is a Sussex artist and graduate of Northbrook College, Worthing. Her background is in design, acting, fashion and catering. She has been teaching for over 16 years (both adults and children) and includes: The National association of Gifted Children and HMP Ford. She continues to work for private, club and corporate clients. Christine exhibits regularly and is a member of the Sussex Watercolour Society. She runs her own gift card business.


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

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