Watercolors

As I learn the paint watercolors, let me share with you the experience.

Joe first put me through a few basic learning steps. This allowed me to get used to the brushes (which are quite delicate), the paper, and the paints. As Joe pointed out early on, there are two components of Watercolor paint, the -water- and the -color-. However, of the two, the water is the more interesting one.

Now, with just a rudimentary understanding, Joe took me through the following beach scene step by step. First the sky, which is done by laying down a rough pattern of water before the paint is lightly brushed in. One also needs to use the side of the brush, rather than the tip for these kind of wide open, chaotic, spaces. Next came the hills in back. One on top of the other, but note that the second hill is a bit darker by two factors: by adding pigment to the paint, and by layering it on top of the first hill. The second hill must also come a bit lower, to indicate its closer proximity.

Now the water and beach were tricky. First came the beach by laying down water on the left side, leaving the right of the picture dry. Then, by painting in a medium hue on the right, the color is drawn towards the damp paper on the left. This, you see, gives you the nice gradient which is more noticeable on the second attempt (picture on the left). The ocean is now done by mixing a hue a of French Ultramarine and laying down rough ocean currents with a “dry brush technique. The paper must be dry for that to work.

The picture is finished up by applying a bit of blotchy darks on the left and right which represents rocks along the seashore. One needs to make them non-regular in shape using a fairly dark mix of paints with little water, and then follow-up with just water to smooth them into the painting. As a final touch, I added, small rocks/birds on the beach, birds in the sky, and the people. They are nothing more than careful strokes of the tip, but add a sense of perspective.

My First Watercolor

First Attempts

The following four pictures were over the next month. It doesn’t seem like much, but thinking each one through is hard, and leads to a sound understanding of technique. Watercolors require thinking. There is no messing around because you can’t easily take back a mistake. Like carpenters say, measure twice, cut once. Well in watercolors its: think twice, one stroke.

Learning Basic Techniques

 After getting through a few pictures that use only two or three colors, Joe had me start with a simple scene from the Outback. It is after all Australia. The two on top were my first attempts. However the top left square was a second try that actually got worse. Luckily, I improved when I did the two on the bottom. They show better use of brush technique (especially in the trees) and have somewhat better gradients.
 
The painting is making heavy use of gradients. But because the moon and rocks need to be excluded from all color at first, we need to lay down water and create a field of damp paper for the colors to soak into. The sky is first, with blues first painted in, followed by deep magenta which creates a two-tone evening sky. Actually, I used too much red at first, which completely replaced the other color. This is a common mistake that can be avoided, but you need to keep the following points in mind: How wet the paper is; how much tilt there is on the easel, how much paint you apply. If you don’t get all three right, one color will win out.
 
The foreground is also pretty hard, and you can’t wait for things to dry. First come orangey hues mixed with  a bit of burnt sienna, followed by darker foreground which includes magenta. Notice how bad the top left one came out. This happens because I waited too long, and let the paper dry. Futile attempts to lay down more color only made things worse. The gradient effect was lost, and the colors ran into each other forming hard brush stroke outlines. When its done right, the colors flow together well, and by adding just quick strokes of water, one can add texture to the ground. This can be seen on the bottom left square.
 
Trees on the horizon are added in next. This as it turns out was a bit harder to achieve than I thought. It requires careful use of side brush strokes on dry paper. Two tones are used, a lite green for the general tree line. Then a second very dark hue with French Ultramarine is added to just hint the existence of tree trunks and darker foliage.
 
Finally, the stones are painted in. The hard part seems to be how to attach them to the ground. You need to paint a distinctive dark grounding line at the bottom, and ensure there is a little bit of shadow. Without those components, one feels the stones are floating in air.

Learning to work with color

That’s it for now. More to follow as I progress.

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