Watercolor – tackling complex subjects: The Bridge

May 24, 2013

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Here’s a bridge, probably somewhere in Europe, which I’m adapting to the medium of watercolor. The subject is far too complex for a beginner watercolorist, so it remains largely in the “background” while I tackle simpler subjects and build up skills.

To make the subject more manageable, I isolated a small section of it and have, so far, made two small 10x13cm studies.

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Here’s a first pass. The primary aim was to see if the isolated, smaller subject might ‘work’ or not. The secondary aim was to paint the shadows on the bridge towers, leaving the sunlit areas as blank paper. I then moved to the shadows of the bridge; too much water. The sky is way too dark for the background vegetation, so I’ve abandoned this sketch.

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Here’s a second pass, again 10x13cm. I’ve reinforced my ability to paint shadows on the bridge towers and moved to create a monochromatic tonal study, all done in Payne’s Gray. For the moment, I’m not interested in variegated brushwork which shows white streaks of paper. Instead, I’m painting areas of ‘plain’ color, more reminiscent of acrylic than watercolor.

The lightest areas are the wall (left) and the sunlight area under the bridge, so I’ve left those white. The next lightest area is the sky and the sunlit area of river water. The next lightest area is the bridge itself, which is due for an extra glaze of Payne’s Gray because currently it’s the same tone as the sky. I’ll continue building up layers of tone with glazes of Payne’s Gray.

Once I’ve created a convincing value study, I’ll move to color, with a keen eye to the intensity of the colours I use because I’m partial to creating too many mixes and greys. And, as we know, too many mixes and too many grays means low levels of color intesnity.

Here I’ve lined them up to facilitate comparison:

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More anon.

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One Response to “Watercolor – tackling complex subjects: The Bridge”


  1. so helpful. i’m more of a beginner than a…beginner if that makes sense. will attempt your method today and see if i can progress further in nailing down a more suitable process that is less frustrating for me. thanks. r.


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