Watercolor Class #4

May 21, 2013

Tonight’s theme was Modelling Form by Minimising Contour. One thing we need to guard against is the natural tendency with paint to create outlines and color-in. Our teacher painted simple, very small 2-5min studies of buildings, showing how to leave sunlit areas blank and concentrate instead on painting the areas of the subject in shade. Here’s an example from the teacher’s oeuvre, a detail of a tower in the background of a larger watercolor. Note how the tower is essentially paper left blank, though a suggestion of yellow-orange is added to give some suggestion of the building’s material and texture.

tower detail

The tower is however essentially defined by the sky and building shadows around it. The tower’s edges cannot be painted loosely; the sky around the tower needs to be painted slowly and carefully in order to properly convey the architectural form. The sky is essentially a combination of various tones of the one cobalt blue color: a light, a mid and a dark; the teacher will sometimes prepare these three colors separately on the palette before painting any of them.

Note in particular the roof how the red is in two distinct tones – not one flat colour; I daresay added pigment was dropped in to the wet especially at the right hand corner.

Notice too how the windows are painted in the same two-tone process, a light and a dark; importantly the windows aren’t painted as complete filled-in rectangles, but just a dot or curved dot at the top and a line running down the side. A maximum of only three of the possible sides of the window are painted.

Notice how spots and streaks of white paper are left in the shadows lower right – these are not flat, broad areas of undifferentiated colour.

Notice, finally, that the shadows under the eaves are invariably two tones, a dark and a very dark.


A4 Canson Montval 200g watercolor paper.

As preparation for the class, I did a first copy (right) of the teacher’s original watercolor (left). My photo/scan of the watercolor was reproduced on to watercolor paper from a photo/scan but is about the same size as the original. It was roughly sketched in about half-an-hour, the same amount of time it would have taken me to sketch in pencil my two Sydenham terraces.

blocking in  syd terrace color trial 1

Sydenham Terrace House, west facade (left) and east facade (right), 30mins, graphite pencil on 150g cartridge paper

My quick version at right is the same size as the original watercolor photo/scan I was copying from. In my defence, I jumped straight in without any pencil blocking-in. Canadian watercolorist Marc Taro Holmes advises spending equal time on drawing and painting, so I need to heed this advice! Nevertheless, I have left the sunlight side of the terrace house blank, as the teacher has. Ditto the sunlit side of the dormer window in the roof. What I have failed to do is paint the areas around the white more slowly and more carefully. If the defining of the larger forms is weak, the whole building becomes weak, so the thin white line between dormer window and RH side of the roof and the sky is critical.

What I failed to notice utterly was how the teacher as been very careful to delineate the sunlit side of the round columns in both storeys of the building. Also the teacher has left a distinct white area on the bare paper denoting the lower half of the electrical pole. Note how my electrical pole is back-to-front: shadow then light then sky! I have grasped in general the light and dark of the building behind the terrace house, but been sloppy in my brushwork.

terrace TB terrace demo

Left: A5. Right: 1/2 an A5. Canson Montval 200g watercolor paper.

Here is the original watercolor (left) alongside a demo (right), painted 25% the size of the one on the left. Note in particular how the sunlit side of the supporting poles are defined in white paper. The roof area was on this occasion laid down as a contour then filled in, but not as one broad mass but (1) with white streaks of paper showing, and (2) differentiated with added pigment at far right. Here the teacher has left out dealing with the sky, but did add a warmer orange-ochre to the sunlit side of the building to convey building material and texture.

terrrace copy demo

Half an A5, Canson Montval 200g watercolor paper.

Here I’m working extremely slowly and carefully, with the point of my 1/8″ dagger liner brush, imitating not just the range of colours but the mark-making. This is about 50% smaller than the original watercolor. I need to work on creating really dark darks for the final shadows, despite using high-pigment Winsor & Newton paints.

terrace 3

A4 Canson Montval 200g watercolor paper.

So in summary! Upper left: a version of my Sydenham Terrace east facade with the sunlit side in blank paper, defined by the sky around it and the shadows of the shady side. Notice the interpolation of the teacher’s calligraphic lines at the base, almost always a combination of highly contrasting dot and dash. Upper right: notice how even the poles in the teacher’s demo are not one colour but always two: the tops (in shade caused by the overhanging balcony and eaves) have a dot of extra pigment added. Lower left: the teacher’s demo shows modelling form by minimising contour, variety and interest with streaks of white paper showing through and attempts at differentiating the blocks of color.


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