Art: THE BIG SECRET!

So you want to know THE BIG SECRET that sells your art!?

I’m going to tell you the BIG huge secret. I’ve hinted at it and I don’t think anyone has really been listening or catching on as yet!

Your paintings must be  SENSATIONAL, if you want them to be admired and sold!

Why must they be sensational? Because, people buy paintings according to their senses, feelings, emotions and the mood they are in at the time at looking at your painting.

But what makes paintings  sensational?

Paintings are sensational when there is a vibrant bold CONTRAST of warm and cool colours.

Big and bold

A5 watercolour: Lovely sunny day.

Stirring the inner spirit:

To create that type of sensational impact, artists need to draw upon their emotions to see and feel the vibe of the different colours of the thing they are going to paint, and then if their inner spirit is truly excited about it, they’ll translate and transform it into something so exotic and dramatic that it will blow the minds of all those who see it, into buying it.

Therefore we could say art is a spiritual experience. Not just a skillful application.

  • How is your inner spirit? How do you feel about what you are going to paint?
  • Do you see beauty in everything around you? How do you look at the world?
  • How deep do you dig into your emotions to see things on a more spiritual level?
  • What colours or combination of colours do you see, that the `normal’ person overlook and don’t see?
  • How big or bold can you make the shapes of things or areas? What colours can you emphasis or change in those areas.

Have you ever thought as an artist, YOU are touching lives… spirit to spirit! Your job is to stir emotion in people. If people feel the sensation of the interaction of the colours and shapes, their spirit responds to what you are suggesting.

Let me go back to the impact of CONTRAST:

As I’ve already said, the bold interchange of warm and cool colours attracts attention in the first place.

The difference between the BIG bold shapes at your main point of interest and the less cluttered surrounding area, is the fact that the bold contrast draws people’s attention to the main point of interest.

And now let me go back to the word I used earlier as well… SUGGESTING

What is suggestion? To insinuate or put forward ideas to stimulate people’s minds into believing what you are proposing.

In art terms, suggestion is a vague rendition of subordinate subject matter to stirs people’s imagination. Necessary to enhance and accentuates your main topic or point or interest!

Bold things stand out more dramatically when they are surrounded by blurred indistinct things!

Here is a slide show example of watercolour paintings with warm and cool colours:

How do we make un-important things look vague?

  • Reducing fine detail and be selective where you put your highlights.
  • Use analogous colours and/or similar tone levels in unimportant surrounding areas.
  • The interaction and merging of the different colours when they are dropped-in unimportant areas adds mood and emotion.
  • Blurred contour edges create easy smooth visual transitions over things or planes.
  • Your indistinct area can still have stuff in it, but just a suggestion of the things. Such as the use of free loose irregular brushstrokes.

So you see, surrounding your dramatic point of interest with a blurred or understated environment, means you don’t need a lot of detail! Simplicity draws more attention, than complex authentic detailed compositions.

Whether your painting is big or small: simplicity creates the biggest impact.

Detail is the opposite, to the word suggest.

If too much detail is used in a painting, there is nothing left for people to use their imagination on. If you reflect on how people love to use their imagination…. And gossip… that’s using their imagination!

No seriously, jokes aside, people love to look at a painting they have bought and still be able to continue seeing something more in their esteemed purchase, for many years to come.

What I suggest is, consider looking into the matter.

  • What is so grand about the subject matter you want to paint?
  • Which things or areas can you make big and bold in your picture?
  • What colours do you intend to use?
  • How do they relate to one another?
  • Can you use the impact of complementary colours in your painting that are contrasting warm and cool colours?
  • If not, can you change the colours somewhat, to create lovely warm and cool contrasts? Even if the contrast is subtle.
  • And where will your colours have the most impact?

If you want to learn painting secrets click on the following links:

If you’re an established artist:

What do you feel about what has been said? Feel free to add your comment below.

Are You Scared of Making Mistakes?

Are you scared of making mistakes?

Don’t be. You make the difference. Be the artist you always wanted to be.Your dexterity depends on your attitude and freedom of expression. Emotional impact is more important than perfection!

You and mistahes

A5 watercolour: When I mask in the flowers with liquid masking, it gives me freedom to slosh paint on, all over the painting! Such fun. It doesn’t matter if I make a mistake with the masking. After removing the masking, I just use my imagination and control edges with gradation.

Most people dread making mistakes:

People get so nervous about making mistakes that they rather not venture forth into new avenues of experience or start anything new, just in case they make a mistake and make a fool of themselves. Here are typical art examples:

  • “I haven’t time to paint or take art lessons. Art is only for those who are born with talent.”
  • “I don’t paint with watercolours” Why? “People say watercolours are difficult to do.”
  • “I don’t paint people in my pictures.” Why? “Well ….I …can’t draw hands or feet.”

Notice there is always an added excuse! It’s only human that we pull out because we are scared of the unknown. We generally are not adventurous enough”

Why do you think this is?

It is drummed into our brains from childhood, all through our school days. We are programmed to get our sums right, write neatly, colour-in within the lines, etc. We are not taught how to use our imagination or trained how to brainstorm, so as to find other ways of doing things or overcome problems.

Perfection under subtle control:

Because we were indoctrinated into staying within the lines of colouring books as children, we expect perfection. That we think we can only be good artists if our paintings are perfect like the old masters, full of detail.

The fact is: the old masters actually controlled their detail by using gradation of tone and colour along and beside their contour edges. Because most people don’t know this, there continues to be the perception that precise detail is important.

But in fact the quality of your contour edges is more important.

You can paint over lines, the contour outlines of objects. It is how you do it that counts.

  • Messy contour edges: If your outlines are loosely reiterated unevenly, the eye accepts the variegated combination of lines as animation.
  • Blurring of contour lines: The soft blurring gives the object atmospheric dimension. And of cause action and movement is blurred.
  • The free-flowing dexterity of scribbling and blurring edges creates emotional impact. Also shows the artist isn’t scared to express him or herself freely. It is as though they have put the `breathe of life’ into their paintings.
  • Why is this acceptable? People are more concerned with the outer contour edges of objects than they are of the centre part of the objects. The outer edge of the shape identifies the object’s character. So detail in the centre part isn’t that important as we think.
  • Also mood is more important than perfection. Why, because people buy with their emotions.

QUALITY OF `SPEECH’ IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FACTS YOU ARE STATING

Watercolour illustration: Straying within the lines, or painting over lines to create atmospheric conditions.

Pencil outline and watercolour illustration: Staying within the pencil lines, or painting over the pencil lines to create atmospheric conditions.

The dexterity quality of your strokes depends on your mood. You make the difference. Believe in your vision, paint it as you see it should be.

Pour your heart into your painting. Put power and passion into your strokes. People will feel your passion within your art. Feel the mood you are creating. And with that enthusiasm, you will forget about making mistakes. You will see mistakes are really un-important in the bigger picture. Remember even the best artists make mistakes, all the time, you just don’t see them!

SO DON’T BE SCARED OF MAKING MISTAKES

Ask yourself when you make a mistake, “Have I learnt from this experience? What shall I do in future to handle this situation better? Is it really a mistake, can I benefit from the situation and transform it to my advantage instead?”  Often it only takes a small thing to turn the situation around.

Surprisingly, it can be the challenging painting that sells quickest!!! So don’t give up on yourself. So what if you make a few mistakes, it’s a learning curve! Successful artists are generally those who persist against all odds. Mistakes, been the least of their worries.

Be willing to take up challenges:

Those who are successful in this life are those who tend to assess the pros and cons before taking up challenges.  For example as an artist: “How shall I compose the composition format? What style and colours should I use and what type of mood should I create, etc.”

Once `on the trail’ of actually doing something, you discover how mistakes teach you `how not to do it again’ and possibly how to `do it better next time’. It is only though challenging ourselves and trying out something that we learn new skills.

The wisdom of practical knowledge:

If you have experienced something before, you have something to judge what to do or not to do. So if you fall into a rut or a problematic situation arises, you are able to use your imagination (relying on past experiences) to improve or overcome situations. Practical knowledge is the key to success …we only become good artist by observing the world around us and drawing and painting often.

What have you experienced?

For all the other artists out there, please comment and tell us how you have handled mistakes? And what you have gained from reading this blog?

More watercolour secrets are revealed:

  • Check out Watercolour Secrets category ….listed in sidebars of menu pages.
  • Also download watercolour books for free.

How to Fix Basic Composition Problems

I can hear you now, saying to yourself,

“Oh yeah, it’s all very well my learning to paint with watercolours ….but my first attempts turned out a flop! It looked like a jumble of colours. Why was that?”

That is a composition problem. Nothing to do with your articulate skills! The following advice will show you how to  create more effective paintings.

How three tonal areas creates impact.

A5 watercolour: “Muddy road ahead” was painted basically in three basic tonal areas: Sky- light toned; middle ground- dark toned; and foreground- medium toned. Also notice: to make pathways and roads show up, use contrast of tone.

First: Drawing attention to what’s important and giving your painting dimension.

Most beginners paint everything on one tone level, some intensity of colour and tone value, making their paintings look bland. There needs to be contrast of tone and colour somewhere in your painting, to make things to stand out and be recognizable.

 “How do we do that?”

  • It is important to give prominence to your main topic of interest, by giving it strong contrast of tone, colour and sharp edges, thus giving it a bold `bull’s eye target’ treatment.
  • But if everything has strong contrast of tone, colour and sharp-edges, your painting will look over busy and confusing too.
  • There needs to be variation of tone, colours and types of contour edges to make your painting interesting.
  • Why, because perspective and diminution is regulated by difference in tone intensity. That is, things in the distance have light tones and are blurred without fine detail, even misty. Whereas things nearer to you are in focus, depending of cause on their importance.
  • Things around the outer edges of your painting are generally out of focus, so as to draw more attention to the main point of interest. This is called tunnel vision.
  • Round curved things generally have blurred graduated contour edges, eg: balls and rolling hills.
  • Whereas detailed and sharp things generally have sharp-edges, along contours and outer-edges, eg: knives and sharp rocks.
  • Selecting detail and keeping detail to a minimum, keeps the eye on what’s important, thus reduces confusion.
Where and how to place your focal point.

You don’t have to use only the position depicted here. You can use any of the four overlapping lines junctions as your focal point.

Another shot at tone format: Three basic tonal areas.

If you divide your painting horizontally (or vertically) into three main tonal areas or planes, it makes the painting easier to `read. It also creates bold impact. For example:

How to compose with 3 tonal areas.

Three possible tonal areas.

  • These basic tonal areas don’t have to be in same order as this. Example if there is a storm the sky may be dark.
  • And there must be a contrast of tone on one of the tonal planes to emphasis the main point of interest. For example: if it’s a seascape the rocks are generally dark with white foam for contrast.
  • The tonal areas aren’t necessary `striped’ vertically or horizontally either. They can be subtly interlaced, but each area is distinguished by its overall tonal level.
  • The three different tone vary in size and shape, depending on the subject matter.

Second: Symbolic forms and colours.

First we will start with tree examples:

  • “Why does my tree look like a fan?” Trees have branches and leaves all around, not just on the sides.
  • “Why does my tree look like an ice-cream cone?” The brown tree trunk is too wide and solid-looking. There is no hint of branches. The out perimeter of the green foliage is confined to a neat ball shape. There are no loose leaves blowing in the wind. And there are no ‘pinhole’ openings in the foliage for birds to fly though with freedom.

 This proves things have symbolic shapes and colours.

  • Generally you don’t get bright red, blue or purple lollypop trees! Tree trunks are usually brown and the foliage different shades of green.
  • Grass is acceptable as grass when it is green in summer and earthy yellow or russet in winter.
  • Skies are generally depicted as been blue with white clouds. Skies been acceptable in the upper section of your painting and cloud shapes differ according to the weather.
  • Men and women’s body shapes differ, eg: as seen as toilet placards.

These are all things we learnt and observed since childhood. Anything different or foreign isn’t acceptable.

This is where artists can play with their imagination, creating moods and dimensions that evoke our attention. Even though you may add unusual colours to create mood, don’t push you luck too far that people reject what they see and become confused.

 Third basic problem: Been over-neat and precise.

There should be a variety of blurring to that of fine detail.

 Action:

You want to know how to put action in your paintings? Remember moving things are blurred, and live things breath:

  • Painting blurred feet is acceptable. It shows they are actually walking.
  • Car and bike wheels are blurred when the bike or car is moving.
  • Bird’s wings look blurred when they are flying.
  • Grass blowing in the wind is blurred.
  • Oblique angles depict action, and wavy lines and contours suggest motion in your composition.

 Style:  Sharp-edges verses soft-edges:

Active paintings are better than static painting!

  • Static things have sharp contour edges. So if all your objects in your painting have all sharp contour edges, your painting will look stiff and contrived.
  • Blurred and out of focus things create mood and mystery. It makes your painting forever fascinating. That is why people like to gossip, they like to use their imagination.
  • There is more emotional impact in a painting that has a greater amount of blurring and gradation (out of focus) to that of a painting which has an overdose of sharp-edges and strong contrasting tones (distinct focus).
  • Freedom of expression in your brushstrokes and freshness of your washes is more appealing, than small fussy brushstrokes.
How out of focus things have a romantic appeal.

A5 watercolour: “Deep in the forest there is a glade with a stream running through it” How out of focus paintings have a romantic appeal.

Concluding remarks:

After all that, it’s wise to prop you painting up a few feet away from you to see if it looks okay from a distance. When you working close up, you think all is well until you look at it from a distance.

Even turning your painting upside down is a good tip. It helps you to see how the composition holds together or not. It’s amazing how this trick shows up any flaws there may be in your painting. I sometimes double-check by looking at my painting sideways as well.

There are many more problems, but these are the most probable composition problems novices have to begin with. They are easily overcome with a little more observance and patience. And as people say, “Practice makes perfect!”

 Want to know more?

  • If this is the first blog you have read in the series, I suggest you go back in the archives and check out from the beginning of the “Watercolour Secrets” category.
  • And also download for free, the three watercolour books on the Free Art Books” page.

Five Stages: Wet in Wet Method

Watercolours wet-in-wet methods:

There is a misconception about the wet-in-wet method. It’s actually a process: from wet-to-dry. While the paint is wet you get very blurred edges, and as the paint dries you get sharper and shaper edges. At each stage of wet-to-dry, you can perform different types of techniques.

Watercolour using wet in wet method

A5 watercolour: Imaginary scene using wet-in-wet method.

First stage: WETTING both sides of YOUR PAPER.

“Why do you wet both sides of the paper?” With both sides of the paper equally wet, it equally counteracts and neutralizes the possibility of cockling.

Cockling is when your paper pucker and forms undulated valleys, where paint gathers in nasty pools.

Personally I lightly (fine) spray my drawing-board first with water. Then place my paper on the wet surface and lightly spray my paper as well. But you don’t have to wet your drawing board like I do, just hold up your paper and spray it both sides and then lay it down on your board.

You must paint immediately after spraying your paper. If you don’t, the water soaks into those speckled spots and the result is that your wash when you do paint over the paper, your painting will look spotty (unless of cause you require a starry night effect).

To prevent spottiness, make sure you are properly setup to paint before you start spraying. Perhaps it’s better to use a sponge if you are unsure or apprehensive.

“But I see other artists tape down their watercolour paper, why don’t you?”

I don’t tape mine down, because it adds to the cost of the commission and its time-consuming. Also I place a wet/damp cloth under my paper if I want to prolong the wet/damp state. Then if I want to hurry-up the drying process, I place my painting on a rumpled towel, this allows the air current to pass easily under and around the painting.

WATCH-OUT:   Whatever you do, don’t ever over wet your paper. The paper becomes soggy. And if you stir your paint into that, you will land up with mush. Better to quickly soak up the pool of liquid with a sponge before it’s absorbed. If it’s too bad, the situation is beyond repair, rather throw away the soggy paper and start over with a fresh piece of paper.

 Stage two: UNDERCOAT STAGE is optional:

An undercoat doesn’t have to be an overall imprimatura wash. You can also block in a selected area or shape.

 “Why do an undercoat?”

  • An overall wash prevents white spots and contours occurring. It unites the composition components and radiates up through the topcoats, giving your painting an atmospheric appeal.
  • *Blocking in selected mass shapes with their local colour pronounces their shape’s And also it allows you to retain white areas in the rest of your painting, thus keeping those areas fresh, like the blue of clear day sky.

Stage three: SYNOPSIS STAGE is optional:

Synopsis is done when you want to assess the placement of objects within your composition. Only the dominant shapes (objects) are done with the synopsis. That is, a minimal symbolic rendition of the basic facts. It’s important that you don’t start with detail. Detail at the beginning complicates things. From experience I can tell you, you tend to fuss and your work turns out looking busy and contrived.

If you do a synopsis stage you don’t have to do stage two, unless of cause you want a coloured background.

 “What is a watercolour synopsis?”

A synopsis is a light coloured outline sketch, using a brush instead of a pencil. `Draw’ the basic outline shape of the object with soft free-flowing spontaneous brushstrokes. Use simple symbolic formations to identify the basic shapes, flow of gestures, planes and action lines. Don’t worry about neatness or precision.

The paint on your brush must be the same or similar colour to the background, or the object you intend to create, for example:

  • If you have a raw sienna background and blue vase: Use a mixture of the raw sienna and the blue you intend to use for the vase, for your synopsis.
  • White background and blue vase: use light blue synopsis paint.

 “Why is a synopsis generally done on a wet/damp surface!”

  • It gives you object atmospheric aura and perspective dimension, thus settling your object comfortably within your composition.
  • The blurred indistinct outline doesn’t fully define the shape at the start, thus giving you freedom to change it shape or position as you wish.

“Can we reiterate our synopsis?”

You can softly reiterate the shape of the synopsis while it is wet if you wish. Reiteration can suggest spiritual energy, a scherzo or animated movement. Reiteration also prevents a stiff rendition and in itself that generates emotion in the viewer.

Wet in wet synopsis

Watercolour synopsis examples.

Stage four: BLOCKING-IN the synopsis:

*Blocking-in is the filling-in of large prominent shapes or creating mass shapes with the local colour of the object(s). And the intensity of the colour depends on the result you require.

 “Where would you use blocking-in?”

  • When you want one flat colour, to create an open peaceful restful area in a busy painting.
  • And if you want to group small things together, you mass them together with one colour.

 “What if you want to add additional colours?”

  • Additional colours are added while the paint is still wet/damp, as more detail is required in the process of giving your painting description.
  • If you want an atmospheric effect, you mingle analogous colours. That is, blocking-in a warm colour and then dropping-in* a cool pigment while the first is still wet. For examples: French ultramarine blue and Winsor thalo blue to give you sky atmospheric dimension. Or add magenta or orange to alizarin crimson to give the red object more impact. Tip: add the cool colour around the edges and warm colour in the centre, to give the object smooth perspective form.

 “So which brush should we use?”

Usually blocking-in is done with a big brush. The brush must fit the size of the area: the bigger the shape, bigger the brush you use, so you don’t get uneven fussy messy washes.

*DROPPING-IN:    If you drop-in another colour it enhances or subdues the local colour depending on, if you use an analogous colour or an earth pigment. Or if you want a glow effect, drop-in an opaque pigment, eg: white or yellow.

 Stage five: RE-WETTING is optional:

Re-wetting is done when the previous washes are dry. You could call this glazing as well. Some people call it ‘subtractive colour mixing’, because the result of two colours (layers) makes a `third-party’ colour.

“Why should you re-wet an area?”

  • When you are layering colours, you can achieve a particular colour you wouldn’t naturally get in pre-mixing. In this case try to use fresh analogous translucent pigments. If you layer complement colours you will get grey results.
  • Or if you want to remove paint to create a special effect, like light coloured stones or white tree trunks.

Often used to correct mistakes:

  • Sometimes you re-wet an area or spot because you want to blot and remove colour there. The size of the brush depends on the size of the area or spot.
  • Or you want to re-work the area or soften a sharp contour (outline) edge before the paint stains or dries completely.

Conclusion:

From all that has been said so far in this ‘Watercolour Secrets’ blog series, I’m sure for those who have had misgivings about watercolours in the past and not been able to correct mistakes etc, will by now think otherwise.

It’s a great medium. You can create a painting faster than an oil painting. In fact the merger of colours is a boon. The colours mingle so beautifully, giving you such exquisite atmospheric ambiance, that you can’t achieve in any other medium.

Unlocking Colour Wheel Secrets

We have already confirmed how important it is to know the constitution of pigments and how the knowledge improves your watercolour skills. Now let us take it one step further:

Colour wheel secrets

A5 watercolour: Basically a yellow, green and blue analogous colour scheme, with burnt umber accents.

Unlocking colour wheel secrets:

If you use a specific combination of pigments you’ll get a particular range of hues, shades and special effects according to their constitution.

  • A combination of transparent cool intense pigments will give you beautiful fresh translucent washes of colour. Example: Rembrandt gamboge yellow and Perm Madder Lake, Winsor green and blue.
  • A combination of opaque pigments will make your painting look milky and smoky. Example: Naples yellow, cadmium red and manganese blue.
  • A combination of segmented pigments will give you dusty and grainy effects. Example: Winsor lemon yellow, Venetian or Indian red and cerulean blue.
  • A selection of earthy pigments will give you a muted range of colours. They are lovely to use when you want to tone down a colour that’s too bright perspectively. Example: Raw sienna, Light Red, burnt umber chrome oxide green and Indigo blue.
  • Subdued primaries: Raw sienna, brown madder alizarin and French ultramarine blue.
  • Delicate primaries: Aureolin yellow, rose madder Alizarin and cobalt blue.
  • Subtle energy colours: cadmium orange, cadmium red, manganese blue and Winsor yellow.

Exercise experience: If you make a simple colour wheel from each group, you will see what range of hues each of these combinations make.

Note: The example of pigments above, are only suggestions. If you had done the scrub and opaque test in the last blog chapter, you will have had some idea of which of your own pigments are transparent, opaque, segmented, etc.

How to make a basic colour wheel:

  1. It is made up of the three primary colours: yellow, red and blue, equally spaced apart.
  2. The secondary colours: orange, violet and green, are placed in between the primaries: Yellow and red make orange, yellow and blue make green, and red and blue make violet.
  3. The intermediate colours: are placed between a primary and a secondary. Example: yellow and green makes lime-green.
Colour wheel template

Cardboard colour wheel template.

It’s easy to make a colour wheel if you have a stencil template:

I made my colour wheel from a stiff piece of cardboard.

  1. I used small shirt buttons to get the size of the holes and then cut out the holes with a sharp blade.
  2. Notice the order of holes: The top hole should line up with the bottom hole (four holes in a row).
  3. I labelled the top hole yellow, like the sun high in the sky.
  4. The bottom hole will be the violet hole.
  5. Label the three primary colour holes, so you know where to begin filling in the colours. With red on the left and blue on the right.
  6. The six centre holes are filled in last (after you have filled in the primary, secondary and intermediate colours). They are for grey mixtures, made by mixing the complementary (opposite) colours together.
  7. When mixing the colours, don’t use colours straight out of tubes. Mix with a little water to an even consistency. Note some pigments are weaker intensity.
  8. To get the right hue balance, mix colours 50:50 in ratio, eg: 50% yellow to that of 50% blue to make true green.
  9. My colour wheels (see illustration) were based on Winsor and Newton’s quality control grading. AA been absolute permanent colours. S1 referring to cheapest range.
  10. Because my illustration is only a photo copy, you can’t actually see the texture quality of the pigments. That you will need to discovery for yourself, by experimenting with your own pigments.
Colour wheels

Simple colour wheel examples

Concluding remarks:

All these colour wheel exercises may seem a waste of time, but let me tell you, I thought so too years ago until I did it. Then, WOW!! I WISHED I HAD DONE IT SOONER.

I love colour. Especially the rainbow effects of colour wheels. Some pigment combinations give your painting a mellow old world appearance and some combinations give you such beautiful mottle effects. You feel you can create any mood you wish with this all-embracing knowledge!

I have a general basic palette that I use, but when doing a commission, I select and make up a personal colour wheel for each of my clients, to make sure I get the right range of hues and shades to suit their desired décor colour scheme and mood to suit their particular vision, portrait skin tones, etc.

Have fun experimenting with your colour wheels.

Pigment Consitution Secret Revelled

Constitution secrets

A5: Watercolour of autumn trees. Used drop-in method of adding colours.

Still having troubles with watercolours?

There is one more important secret fact:  pigment constitution:

Watercolour paintings can be corrected and manipulated if you know the quality and constitution of your pigments.

How do you find out the constitution of watercolour pigments?”

There are two basic experiments you can do that will give you the secret to manipulating watercolour paintings:

Experiment number one:

Constitution secret

Scrub test

         Making colour swatches:

Gather your tubes of watercolour paints together. Then basically line them up according to their primary colours. That is, all the yellows together, all the reds together and all the blues together, from lightest to darkest, etc, so you can judge one colour against another. Make sure you are doing this experiment under good daylight conditions. Then:

  • Paint 6-8cm horizontal swatches of each of your pigments, one below the other down an A4 page of 200+gsm watercolour paper. Leave a small gap between each swatch, so that the colours don’t merge.
  • Don’t paint too many swatches at a time. You need to control the drying time situation. That is, if they are too dry it is hard to judge their adherence qualities.
  • While the swatches of paint are partly dry, still a little damp, scrub with a (fresh clean) wet hog hair brush, down the centre of the swatches. Don’t scrub too hard and destroy the surface of the paper.
  • Then next to each swatch of colour, label the pigments with their names and the results, ie your impression of what happened. I symbolized my results by putting dark round spots next to pigments that stained somewhat. Empty squares suggested pigments that were easier to remove. See illustration.
  • Results depend on the quality and character of the pigments.

Generally speaking:

  • The strong strainer pigments won’t budge. You can paint freely over them when they are dry. They are usually translucent dyes.
  • The grainy or segmented pigments are easily dissolved and the gains dislodged, even when dry. So paint carefully over washes that contain segmented pigments. They are generally earthy pigments.
  • Also note that some pigments are grainier than other manufacture’s products, or have more gum in their constitutions.

Experiment number two:

Constitution secret

Opaque test

          The opaque test:

Some pigments are opaque and some transparent.

  • Transparent pigments make lovely fresh translucent washes of colour. This allows the white of the paper to radiate up through the wash.
  • Opaque paints aren’t translucent. They are called ‘body colours’. Why, because they are so dense, they are sometimes used to cover and hide previous washes. Correcting mistakes by covering them with `body colours’ isn’t advisable.
  • Watercolour societies don’t like accepting paintings for competitions that have opaque colours added. Why, because opaque pigments make paintings look milky and dull. It is obvious when opaque paint is added, they compete with the sheen of the more transparent washes, thus making the painting look spotty and overworked.

How to determine the opaque status of each of your pigments:

  • Take an A4, 200+gsm sheet of watercolour paper and with black Indian ink paint two 8-10mm columns.
  • When the Indian ink is dry, paint small swatch strips across the ink columns, one pigment at a time, slightly apart, and careful watch what happens.
  • Notice how the opaque paint when it starts to dry, particles in the paint float and cover the ink.
  • Whereas the transparent pigments part and allow the ink to shine through.
  • As in the previous experiment, label each swatch with the name of the pigment used and the manufactures quality control status. And added to that, in your opinion, each pigments opaque or transparent status. I used symbolic terms, eg: 000 (very opaque), S0 (slightly opaque), T (transparent), ST (slightly transparent).
  • If you check with my illustration, you will see I also added symbols to state how some pigments go hard in their tubes or if the pigment intensity is so week that you have to scrub long and hard to get enough colour out of a pan.

These two tests are not a waste of time or effect:

What they revel is an eye opener, a great learning curve. The knowledge you gain from this experience will take you to a much higher level of expertise. A secret to success you’ll find so exciting. Just to think of the possibilities and what you can do with this knowledge!! Take for instance the following things you can do with this knowledge:

Corrections:

Knowing which pigments are easy to dissolve and which are stainers, makes it easier to make corrections.

  • Segmented pigments: If you make a mistake all you have to do is wet the area and blot* And repeat if necessary to get the desired effect.
  • Strong stainers: But if the paint is a stainer, you may have to wet the area, wait a little before gently scrubbing and blotting it. If it’s really stubborn, don’t rub hard, or you’ll damage the paper.
  • When paper is damaged the paint is more easily absorbed there, and you land up with dark marks that you can’t remove.
  • To prevent dark marks: Smooth the damaged paper with the back of a spoon. Wait for the paper to dry properly before painting over the damaged area again.
  • Never paint over the area if the paper is too damaged.
  • Never use complementary colours when painting over previous washes. If you do, you’ll get grey dull results.

 *There are several ways of blotting:

  • I blot with toilet paper when controlling a small spot, but you can blot with a clean dry paper-towel.
  • I also use a dryish brush to pick up the wet paint. I either then squeeze the paint out of the brush with my fingers or pass the brush over an old towel lying across my knees, using whichever situation warrants it. I repeat the process until I get just the right effect.
  • You can flick your brush, but having to do demonstrations at galleries for years, I resorted to using my fingers and towel. You can’t flick paint on people watching you or spoil a good carpet.
  • Be aware that toilet paper becomes soggy with big pools of water and adheres to your painting. In that case it is best to use a clean lint-free dry cloth for bigger situations.

 Clouds and sky:

Some artists like to paint their skies blue and then blot-in their white clouds, or soften and blot the paint along the bottom edges to soften the underbelly of the clouds.

  • Painting the sky with segmented pigments makes it easier to blot the sky area.
  • Segmented colours create a gentle mottled effect, the interplay of warm and colour blues gives you skies atmospheric depth.
  • On the other hand if you fiddle too much with segmented colours, your painting will look tired and overworked.
  • Transparent pigments make clear fresh skies. Segmented washes create moody skies.

 Working with segmented pigments:

Basically two ways of applying segmented pigments:

 Pre-mixed washes:

Using segmented pigments in your palette mixtures, makes lovely grainy hazy atmospheric conditions, eg:

  • Skies: Mixtures of French ultramarine blue and Light Red.
  • Mist: Mixtures of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna or burnt umber.
  • Dust storm: mixtures of raw sienna, burnt sienna and a touch of French ultramarine blue.
  • Grainy shadows: Mixtures of Winsor violet and burnt sienna or burnt umber. The tint of colour depends on the ratio of pigments involved. That is how warm or cool you want the colour of the sand, walls, rocks, etc.

Dropping-in method:

Constitution secret

Dropping-in effects. Note how earthy pigments tone done some of the colours.

When dropping-in segmented pigments into fresh transparent washes, watch carefully how they interact and mingle with their host wash.

  • Cool effect on warm painted areas: Drop-in cerulean blue into a still semi-wet warm coloured previous wash and see how refreshing the effect looks.
  • Toning down an over-bright spot: When you have a bright red roof of a house in the distance, you don’t want it to standout of place perspectively. What you do to tone it down, is to drop-in an earthy brown pigment, like burnt sienna or burnt umber in the previous damp red paint of the roof.
  • Shadows: A shadow isn’t black. Shadows are colourful. Shadows are a darker colour and possibly a complementary hint, of the surrounding sunny breached areas. For example: If you want a cool shadow on a hot day you will drop-in a blue tinge into the shadow areas. And if it’s a cool day, drop-in a warm colour, eg magenta, in the shadow areas.

`Cabbage’ effects:

Constitution secret

`Cabbage’ effects.

The ‘cabbage’ effect was applicably named and coned years ago by artists. It occurs when you drop-in a colour into a previous damp wash, and your brush has too much liquid on it. The excess water and paint spreads quickly out of control and floods your painting, causing ugly lacy patches in your painting. This occurs when you are impatient or not concentrating on what you are actually doing.

Sometimes you can use the cabbage effect purposely to your advantage:

If you watch carefully what happens after dropping-in a fresh colour, you will see how the different washes meet and re-act with each other.

Depending on what each wash consists of, the second wash will push the first damp wash ahead of it, creating a ridge darker than the first wash. This can make lovely silver-lining cloud effects if your imprimatura wash is still damp!

And depending on how wet, some of the grains of paint rebound back creating a cabbage leaf effect. See illustration. And if the previous wash included a segmented earth pigment the cabbage effect will be crusty.

You can use the cabbage technique for:

  • Painting fruit or delicate edged flower petals, like the artist Paul Riley does.
  • I once saw a watercolour painting of actual cabbages in rows, in a vegetable garden scene, using the cabbage technique!
  • Sometimes I use the cabbage effect to portray leaves and buds between flowers, eg: a painting of flowers in a vase.
  • If your brush isn’t too wet you can make lovely starry-edged effects. For example: stars in a dark night sky. Just blot the wet tiny spots to ensure `whiter’ shiner stars.
  • Some artists actually wet and blot semi-wet areas to create special effects. One artist who did this was John Blockley. He actually poured tap water over his paintings, and where the paint hadn’t yet dried it was washed away, leaving the dried paint areas exposed.

The secret is that you have the power to do as you please with this knowledge. Experiment for yourself, to find your power over watercolours. If you want some exercise to experiment with try those in the free download “Watercolour Doodle” book on page ‘Free art books

Like to hear from you, as to what you have gained from the “Watercolour Secrets” catalog series.

How much detail?

Photo detail

Photo of a Kendal farm stream, on the East Rand, Transvaal, South Africa.

The microscopic view:

Amateur artists are amazed by the fine realistic detail they see in the great works of the old masters.

Because of the fine detail they see, they get the false impression that detail is important, and so they fuss and fiddle to get their own paintings just perfect. And because the old masters had complex compositions they think every corner of their paintings must have something in every spare space.

If you aiming for laborious photographic detail, you might as well stop wasting your time painting and blow your visual aid (reference material) photo up to a larger size and frame it!

What aspiring artists don’t realize is that detail is carefully handled by the old masters to convey the right impression. What do I mean by that?

To start with, ten to one the paintings with lots of fine detail were large paintings. With small paintings there isn’t room to cram detail in!

To draw attention to the main point of interest, they controlled the outer edges of their paintings:

  • The immediate surroundings of objects have similar tone levels to that of the objects.
  • The immediate surroundings of objects have similar or analogous colours to that of the objects.
  • And the contrast of tone and colour is strengthened at the main point of interest.

As time went on artists got cunning:

  • They started blurring the details around the outer edges of their paintings and putting more emphasis on the centre part of their paintings, to create tunnel vision. Putting the spotlight and focus on the main characters at the main point of interest makes your painting more dramatic.
  • They also started reducing the amount of detail in the foreground. This was done so that the eye could travel easier over the foreground, drawing you more dramatically into the painting.
  • I call these blurred foregrounds ‘a lot about nothing’. In other words, the less descriptive areas are still interesting but less obtrusive.
If someone moves while a photo is taken, their image is blurred. That means action is blurred, eg: blurred wings of flying birds. Considering that train of thought, if trees, grass and wild flowers move in the breeze, their foliage will be blurred.If that is the case, it makes sense that blurring in paintings isn’t a bad strategy, but a fact of Nature. So why not use it with other things that live and breathe as well.That is food for thought, don’t you think!

 In watercolours:

You have to reduce details even further. Why? Because:

  • You start with a wash of colour on wet paper.
  • And refine the schemata shapes and add detail as the paper dries.

 How much detail?

About 15-40% detail, depending on the type of subject matter involved.

Take note:

  • Having less detail means you have more control over wet washes and flexibility to change things as you work.
  • Complex compositions are difficult for beginners to handle.
  • Less detail draws more attention to the more dominant shapes (objects) in the composition, giving you a stronger statement.
  • Don’t expect perfection: Trying to get things perfect can be frustrating. Fussing and fiddling makes your watercolour look tired and messy.
  • Nobody can reproduce what God so perfectly created.
  • If every detail is distinct and well pronounced, they all call attention at once. This causes confusion.
  • Don’t clutter your work. Detail should be selective and well placed.
  • Each detail is read like shorthand. Small dots and dashes act like full stops and comas and as you would use in grammar. A string of them It directs the like a trail of facts for the viewer to assess your painting. Just make sure you don’t over use your exclamation marks!
  • Blurring unnecessary details creates atmospheric mood.
  • Blurring is sensual. And people buy paintings according to their senses and emotions.
  • If your painting has a lot of detail, try to keep some areas blurred and uncluttered.
Watercolour detail.

A4: This watercolour has about 60% detail. Why so much detail? In this case I wanted to capture the feeling of the feral leafiness of nature. But notice how the smooth blurred areas make it somehow more acceptable.

Illusion of reality:

It isn’t the job of the artist to produce authentic detail, while copying directly from reality. Art is creating another dimension or translation of reality. What you create is your own personal perception and impression. You use suggestion to convey reality.

People are fascinated by illusions. They like to surmise and put their own connotation on what they see in your art. People love using their imagination, to reason and gossip. Make it so that they never get bored with your paintings and always have something they didn’t notice before.

That is why watercolours are so appealing. Because they are applied in a spontaneous manner, the loose free expression, the blending of colours and gradation of contour edges is more appealing than sharp-edged accurate detail.

 Is detail important?

Yes and no. Why is that?

  1. First of all people assess a picture symbolically.
  2. Second they read the shape by its outline.
  3. Therefore the shape and outline is more important than the inner section of the shape.
  4. The inner part suggests the mood of the shape, or the state of a person, whether they have a red dress or blue pants on.
Remember details are like trimmings, frills, button and bows on a dress or blouse. If a dress has too much fills and bows, the person is considered overdressed. So be careful not to over titivate your paintings.