See How Watercolour Paintings Evolve

  • Paintings evolve stage by stage, layer by layer.
  • Each layer is planned to get the best results.
  • Watercolours start with light washes of colour.
  • Tips on how and when to apply paint.
How watercolours evolve

This watercolour was painted, starting with the sky and trees.

Watercolour procedures:

With watercolours you work from light to dark. That is: you start with light washes of colour and with each additional layer of paint the painting gets darker and darker. So it is wise to control how many layers of paint you use and what you intend to do with each layer.

You can start with a light imprimatura undercoat or be selective of what area you wish to start painting in.

Imprimatura wash:

An imprimatura is an overall wash, first layer of paint that works as a background colour. It helps to link and unite all the objects within your composition. The tone-level and colour you choose for your imprimatura wash is important.

  • If the imprimatura wash is too dark, your painting will turn out dark and look depressing.
  • The colour you choose to use as our imprimatura wash is the overall undertone colour of the scene you wish to paint.
  • Imprimatura washes have an impact on how your painting is perceived. For example, if you use a light wash of raw sienna it will radiate up through the topcoats as through the sun is shining through your painting.
  • Imprimatura washes are usually warm colours. A cool colour will make you painting look cold and uninviting.
  • If your imprimatura wash is a complementary colour to the topcoats, the end result will be a grey picture, eg: Green over pink makes grey. So to keep your painting fresh be careful which colours you are using over others.
  • If your imprimatura wash is covered by another primary colour, the result will be a secondary colour, eg: Blue over yellow makes green.
How paintings evolve.

Example of starting with separate areas.

Examples of selective painting:

  • You generally start at the top of your watercolour paper and work down. That is, starting with the sky, then the background hills and lastly the foreground. This prevents smudging and the sky sets the overall tone level of the land below.
  • When painting clouds, you paint the blue of the sky first, leaving the white of the clouds. And while the paint is still wet soften the lower edges with a light grey underbelly. The tops of the clouds usually have sharper edges than the bottom edges.
  • If you are painting a bowl of flowers you generally start with the centre flowers and work outwards. Then paint in the background and vase. Lastly the foreground (table top).

Dry-to-dry procedure creates too much detail:

If you start with dry paper you’ll get neat sharp-edged brushstrokes. And once you have neat detail, it restricts creativity. It’s not so easy to soften or change anything later as most pigments stain the paper.

But, if you start with large wet blurred mass shapes, you can alter the shape of things somewhat. That is: soak up and blot paint or add paint as you wish. Working this way, working wet-in-wet, gives you more leeway for your paintings to evolve.

The wet-in-wet procedure:

  • Start by wetting (finely spraying) your paper with water before painting with colour. Wetting your paper allows your brush and paint to flow easier.
  • Add an imprimatura wash, or apply separate washes of colour that blur and create mass shapes on the wet paper.
  • As you work always watch the drying process, so as to know when to add (brush-in) more colour and shapes to build up the basic composition.
  • Also always watch your brush behaviour. So that you not only apply the brush to the right place, but how the hairs of your brush are spreading the paint on the paper. Should you level your brush horizontally or use the tip. Roll or twist your brush to make the right brushstroke shapes, etc.
  • As you add more colours, take time out to watch how the colours merge and blend. How are they interlacing with each other? Decide whether you should you tilt the paper and control where the liquid colours are running into or not? Warning: don’t interfere too much before the paint starts gelling and drying. If you leave it too late your painting will look tired and overworked.
  • Starting out with big undercoats and blurred mass shapes allows you to create atmospheric contours that are easier on the eye than sharp edges.
  • As you proceed you are defining shapes, until your painting is complete.

TIPS:

Before applying paint:

  • Always consider what your colour scheme you intend to use, before mixing your colours on you palette, so that you get the correct shade and tint. This saves many a dramatic mistake.
  • Always watch the consistency of your paint before applying it. Will the colour be too dark or too light? Is there too little or too much liquid on your brush?
  • What is the state of the paper? Do I want this application to blur in a wet spot or make a sharp-edged brushstroke in a dry area?

 While applying paint:

  • If you want to paint next to something and don’t want the colours to touch run and mingle, make sure the paint of the object concerned is dry before applying more paint next to it.

Planning your composition:

Because paintings evolve layer-by-layer, stage-by-stage it’s only obvious if we want our watercolour painting to be successful that we should plan the format of our paintings beforehand.

Unsuccessful watercolour paintings are generally due to starting out willy-nilly, impatiently adding more and more paint, hoping by chance the end result will be great.

If you plan your moves you’ll know what to do at any given moment. If you understand procedures and the constitution of your medium it reduces so many problems. You won’t have to force issues or make so many corrections later.

  • First take time to analyze and digest the scene you wish to paint.
  • Decide how you are going to compose the composition and how that will affect each layer of paint.
  • Whether you are going to start with an imprimatura or work selectively areas by area.
  • Investigate and think what possibilities there are. If you did this or that, what do you think will be the outcome?
  • What is the mood? What is the overall undertone colour?
  • What colour scheme should you use? How do the colours relate? Can I change the colours to make the colours more dramatic and vibrant?
  • What basic shapes are there? Take note of the main symbolic shapes, the flow of gestures and angles? How objects, forms and space relate to one another.
  • Sharp strong contrast of tone and colour shouldn’t be scattered all over your painting? That’s confusing. Where you place it is important. It should mainly be at the main paint of interest.
  • Be selective with detail. Simplify what you see and eliminates unnecessary detail. Where possible group small things together and make mass shapes out of them.
  • What possible bright highlight spots are there? If there is bright highlights, which ones do you need to use and retain the white of the paper? And if there are light fresh green leaves, start with a light green wash in that area and darken around them as you proceed to give them their mass shape.

For free downloads:

For more info, go to the page that has free manual books on painting watercolours.

 

 

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