Watercolor class #7 – preparation

June 17, 2013

At the last class, our teacher threw Portraits and The Figure into the mix, while also reinforcing Buildings in his demonstrations. Privately, I’m still struggling with brushstrokes and paint consistency, but the worst seems to be over. A lot of my initial anguish has subsided and convinced I know intellectually what’s required, I’m resigned to simply do dozens and hundreds of watercolor sketches putting into practice what I’m learning. It’s not as simple as just “drawing with the paintbrush”.

Here’s a couple of different strands I’m working with – Portraiture, Buildings and Boats/Water/Reflections.

Watercolor Portraiture

First up, work on a portrait of a famous Aboriginal creative who died a fortnight ago. I can’t reproduce my several watercolor portraits of him publicly because of cultural protocols surrounding the imagery of recently deceased Aborigines, but I can post the background of the portrait which attracted me. It involved something my watercolor teacher never does, wet-in-wet. I found it interesting that wet-in-wet effects are not just a figment of the watercolorist’s imagination but do exist in real life, as here, in the smoke haze of a rock concert.

treaty now color


tony b handout copy step 4

Having come to the realization that I understand intellectually what my watercolor teacher is on about and that I just now need to reproduce dozens if not hundreds of the same sketch to get it right, I’ve taken one of his four-step class handouts and reproduced it. First one down, 99 more to go!  I’ve been careful to have a scrap of paper beside me marked off with 1″ squares so I can record what paint I use progressively (not so much the color but the paint consistency). Except for the blob on the tower , I give myself a mark of 7 or 8 out of 10. I’m most pleased with Steps 1 (drawing) and 2 (background wash without any paint marks); I’m understanding the ‘coloring in’ of basic shaded areas (though a bit more differentiation/gradation, please) for Step 3 and even the detail with dry paint (Step 4) is on the increase.

eilean donan castle pencil eilean donan castle paynes gray eilean donan castle watercolor

The following day, I moved from an imaginary landscape to a real one, in this case, Eilean Donan castle in Scotland. I’ve chosen it because it’s universally photographed with dramatic lighting, and has the requisite towers and rooftops my teacher prefers. I started with a tonal sketch on A4 Milini 150g sketchbook, with far more detail than I could possibly translate to watercolor. I notice a Montreal watercolorist I’m keen on seems to do a tonal sketch first as well. A fortnight ago, I tried doing both simultaneously on either side of a sketchbook double-spread and this is definitely the ‘trick’ I’ll be working with from now on for location watercolor sketching; it allows the watercolor paint to dry while I indulge in my favourite pencil sketching.

On a piece of A4 Canson watercolor 300gsm paper, folded in half, I did a watercolor sketch in monochrome Payne’s Gray, then another in color. My watercolor teacher tends not to confuse things by using a backdrop of hills or mountains in his demonstrations. In hindsight, I could have got away with a direct translation of my tonal sketch to watercolor using a Payne’s Gray wash JUST for the areas in shadow. My complicating matters with wet-in-wet (I need to stop ‘going back in’, especially with a brush loaded with water!) was interesting but inadvisable. Not too unhappy with this, though my Montreal watercolorist would simplify things even more.

Boats, the sea, water and reflections in water

venice lagoon 001

A4 Canson watercolor paper 300gsm

My watercolor teacher loves water, boats and reflections in water. He’s yet to demonstrate boats/water reflections for us, but I’m hoping he will. I’ve included water in some of my watercolor sketches already. What I’ve learned from this preliminary sketch is to keep the distant horizon dead straight (difficult when I keep ‘going back in’!); I’ve taken note of how the yellow of the sky is repeated in the water (not obvious here). I’m also using dry Payne’s Gray paint, so dry it has a sticky matt consistency on the page, which is as close as I can come to “juicy” – not very convincing, I’m afraid. I’ve been observing boats and their reflections out in the wild lately.


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