Watercolor Class #2

May 6, 2013


I missed last week’s night class, the first, due to illness. It was devoted to Drawing, including such things as perspective. Tonight’s class was dubbed Color Mixing & Tonal Values. Here’s the A4 reference photo from which I worked during the night.


Here’s my first copy of the reference photo, imitating as closely as possible the teacher’s style. I worked smaller than the original A4 photo on 200gsm Canson ‘Montval’ cold-pressed watercolor paper with a single angled brush. I thought he used three brushes in his plein air watercolour sketches: a large brush for washes, a smaller brush for details and a rigger for his fine lines. For anything smaller than A4, he uses a single angled brush and reserves the 4cm-wide large brush for anything bigger, i.e. larger than A5.

I haven’t corrected the scan to more realistically show the color; I’ll keep experimenting with that till I get a better result.

The strength of this sketch is its freshness. A secondary strength is being able to leave high light areas as blank paper. Its weaknesses are manifold, chief among them being that I’ve not clearly differentiated enough the four key sequential steps (Drawing, Masses, Details , Shadows). The subject matter is probably more complex for a beginner than it could be, given the amount of “scattered” detail, compared to a single ‘blocky’ building facade, for example.  In the meantime, there is no variety of mark-making (I’m not using the pointy end of the angle with sufficient slow care) and too much uniformity in the water-paint ratio. I’ve copied the photo in leaving the sky blank.


Here’s a second unfinished attempt done in class. I’ve paid more attention to the ‘geometry’ of shapes visible in the photograph, but I’m resisting my routine care and attention when it comes to the drawing, being keen not to “over-draw” before applying paint. By carefully drawing in the shapes, I’m hoping to get a variety of paint strokes than in the first attempt: some ‘hard’ edges (e.g. the bridge and shapes under its arches) contrasting with the many ‘soft’ edges (the background town buildings and trees).

The strengths so far include more careful drawing (Step 1) and this has involved working slightly larger: (32 x 22cm). I’ve been more conscientious in  blocking in masses (Step 2), leaving the pointy end of the angle brush for detail. The business of leaving specks of white in large masses is tricky and I probably have to paint a lot more slowly to do this.

Unfortunately, in terms of weaknesses, I’m not again differentiating clearly enough between what’s a Mass (broad washes but with articulation involving specks of white), what’s Detail and what’s Shadow (left till last). I’m trying to ‘make sense’ of the scene as I go when the essence of watercolor is really that it’s a confused, diffuse thing until the shadows bring it into sharp focus at the end.

In terms of opportunities, it’s probably worthwhile my returning to what I would normally do when faced with a scene like this on location and work towards what the teacher wants. Normally, I’d do a detailed pencil sketch with no paint. A small tonal thumbnail is a second approach. My third approach is the Provincetown white line wood cut where I work up geometric shapes in color with little evident brushstroke, a mosaic of color. Here’s something I did on location two days ago to show the base from which I am working and thinking:

cockatoo island 4may13

A4 Milini 150g sketchbook, double-spread of watercolor (left) and pencil sketch overlay (right).

Perhaps I need a build a bridge between what I know and what I don’t know in the week before the next class. So I’ll tackle the subject as I normally would and slowly move towards what I think the teacher is after in terms of clear delineation of the four steps. I’ll upload them as posts labelled ‘Watercolor #3 Preparation’.


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