Watercolour – the floral extravaganza of West Dean Gardens with Christine Forbes

Painting - Water Based

Ref: SSS11636

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About this course

Capture the exuberance of flower borders in West Dean Gardens. You will paint outside using portable watercolours, recording the rainbow of colours on show.

Course Description

West Dean Garden’s flower borders are the perfect place to indulge a sense of exuberance as high summer offers a rainbow of delight to capture in portable watercolour. This adventurous yet practical course takes you from observational drawing through to responsive mark-making; and from considered colour to flamboyant painting. Your tutor guides you through a series of exercises that enables you to create and develop a personal and intuitive response to your subject. Working in the studio and around the summer borders you will be drawing and painting both architectural and softer plant forms, experimenting with shape, form and composition. Finally you develop your coloured sketches and ideas through to large scale paintings.

You will draw inspiration from some exciting contemporary artists and consider how their work has been created. You will be encouraged to explore brush size and usage, colour palette and pictorial composites. There will be plenty of demonstrations and one-to-one support from your tutor. You will be encouraged to share ideas within the group too to enable the progression and changeability of your ideas.

Trying out a variety of painting methods you are guided 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 ventured beyond your comfort zone into more intuitive terrain. This course will broaden your knowledge of line, colour, form and composition 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, the tutor may change the course structure as appropriate.

Course welcome and outline of the week ahead:

Look at selected artists and consider some dynamic approaches to our subject matter, including some drawing exercises to loosen-up.

Drawing from observation (simple forms), outside. Playful mark-making.

Exploring form, light and shade in adventurous ways.

Painted sketching.

Group drawing activity.

About personal interpretations of plant life and using colour to create mood.

Creative painting and poaching ideas. Developing the subject forward using a range of strategies. Considerations of the pictorial.

Swap over classes. Incorporating additional ideas or motifs. Discussion and troubleshooting.

Students direct 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 moving equipment between and working in 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, with a surrealist theme inspired by Salvador Dalí, who was one of West Dean founder, Edward James’ friends and collaborators. (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. A detailed timetable will be given to all students on arrival.

(Please note that plans may be subject to change depending on GOV.UK guidance at the time)


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 paper provided for the first evening session.

What students need to bring

  • A spill proof water pot, a compact watercolour paint set, an A4 glue-sided watercolour pad (approx 300gsm) for working outside.
  • A sports cap drinking bottle for the week is essential.
  • Sunhat and sun cream.
  • Bring other/similar materials you wish to use.
  • Please bring any photos/sketches that you find inspirational.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • HB pencil, 6B graphite stick, medium sized charcoal
  • Plastic eraser, knife/pencil sharpener, masking tape
  • A4/5 sketchbook
  • Approx 2 sheets cartridge paper (160gsm)
  • Approx 2 sheets cartridge paper (200gsm)
  • Daisy palette
  • At least 2/3 sheets good quality watercolour paper of choice (minimum 300gsm)
  • Suggested range of brushes to include: a soft wash brush approx size 30; nylon/synthetic round, sizes 16, 12 and 8. Rigger size 2.
  • Palette knife
  • 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.
  • Fixative spray
  • Available from tutor:
  • Christine will advise on all materials at the beginning of the course and bring some to try out.
Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear i.e. no open-toes or sandals. You may need safety boots, if specified above.


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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