Think again: Watercolor painting isn’t difficult!

Contrary to what people think… Painting with Watercolors isn’t difficult to paint!

painting with watercolor

A5 watercolour: Basically a simple composition. Missed spots and finer details were filled-in and added during the finishing-off process.

Why do people think painting with watercolor is difficult?

When they first tried painting with watercolors, they felt they had no control. For three main reasons I have listed below. Things I have noticed while teaching watercolour beginners:

  1. They get impatient when things don’t happen as they expected and as quickly as they wanted.
  2. And got fed-up when the paint bleds all over the place into other previous wet painted areas. This happened because they wanted to paint a whole painting straight off, first time, without first learning the basics.
  3. So they just charged in, hoping somehow things would just happen miraculously with the switch of their brush.

So why is it that some people become great watercolorists?

  1. They loved colouring-in and drawing so much as a child, that they wanted to learn more about art.
  2. Over time they got the desire to paint with watercolours, because it looked so easy to do, and also that it created such exciting blends and washes of colour.
  3. Their realized even if it took time to perfect, that didn’t matter, because it would be a fun activity, they could and would enjoy doing for the rest of their lives.
  4. The more they got involved and learnt to control the thrilling idiosyncrasies of watercolour, the more they became obsessed with the technologies of painting. The `rollercoaster’ of failure and success to them, became an adventure, they just couldn’t stop!

So what is the secret to painting with watercolours:

  1. Simplify your composition. Avoid complex detail. Desire what is most impressive.
  2. Be patient with yourself. Don’t rush in like a `bull in a china shop’. Think before you act. Plan your moves and the possible stages required to achieve your goals.
  3. Watch what you are doing: Where your brush is going. How close your wet brush is to what is already wet.
  4. Why, because watercolour is liquid. Obviously and naturally water flows and runs more easily where it is already wet!
  5. Make sure you have the right mixture and strength of hue, and check the amount of liquid/paint on your brush, before you apply your brush to your paper.
  6. And observe the wetness or dryness of the paper and paint already there, before putting your brush to paper. Even if it means waiting a few minutes before you can add another colour. This is where artistic know-how and patience comes in.

Artistic know-how:

You can read books how things are done, but trying out those techniques for yourself, is the `proof of the pudding’. The more you practice those techniques the more you have control of them. Theory alone isn’t good enough… your passion and ability to master them is what counts.

Artistic patience:

When you’ve been an artist long enough, you realize art it is an emotional activity. That means using all your senses, to control and create all the things you imagine and desire to paint. Because you can’t reproduce what God created so beautiful, creativity is part reality and part fantasy. Therefore intuition is part spiritual and part knowledge. Something you gain through careful observance and enduring experience.

There are other further tips and free downloads, on how to paint with watercolour:

Check out the free eBooks on this website:

Wildlife & Flowers of the Soutpansberg

Adventure through the Soutpansberg:

The Soutpansberg this and the Soutpansberg that… How many times I had heard that word during my childhood. Like is was a fantastic place. Then I had a chance to go there. I must say springtime is the best time… to go there!

Soutpansberg mountains

A5 watercolour: Late afternoon view of the Soutpansberg mountains

The Soutpansberg is found in the Limpopo area, of northern Transvaal, South Africa.

Our eldest daughter took my husband and myself to the Kruger National park more than ten years ago and instead of going straight home to Johannesburg, we detoured back home through the Soutpansberg.

Soutpansberg is in Limpopo

Map of the Limpopo province of Northern Transvaal, South Africa

One of the places we visited was the Spring Festival in Haenertburg.

Not only did we see the flowers, arts and crafts at the hotel and beer garden marquees, we also spent a lot of time at the Cheerio Gardens.

Spring time in the Soutpansberg

Photo of poppies at the Spring Festival.

The Cheerio Gardens are so beautiful.

You’ll find mass of azaleas there, nestling between trees and around ponds. The tranquility of the stream running through the farm and its vegetation brings peace to the soul. It’s a ‘must see’ place to go to.

To see what more the place offers, check out

Azaleas at Cheerio Gardens, Soutpansberb

A5 watercolours of Azaleas in the Cheerio Gardens farm.

The Soutpansberg climate:

  • Summer time: 340-2000 mm rain and temperature 16-40°C
  • Winter time: Dry weather and temperature 12-22°C

Rock art & archaeology:

  • The rock art consists of engravings and paintings: found mainly in the western section of the mountains.
  • Archaeology: Evidence of early Stone Age up to the late Iron Age.

Culture & natural talent:

Potters, drum makers, bead workers and dressmakers

Nature reserves in the Soutpansberg:

There are many nature reserves in the Soutpansberg. The following list of wild animals and wild life may vary according to each reserve. So check out what you want to see before booking into a reserve.

  • The big five: Elephants, rhino, lions, leopards, wildebeest
  • Buck: Kudu, impala, eland, waterbuck, gems buck, sable, nyala and roan antelope
  • Other wild animals: Warthog, bush pig, hyena, wild dog, buffalo, giraffe, crocodile and hippo
  • Also: Indigenous birds, reptiles and fish.

Have you ever been to the Soutpansberg?

Just pop your comment in the comments block at the bottom of this blog post. Love to hear from you.

Want to see more paintings and places in South Africa?

Click on the two categories below. They are found in the left sidebar of any one of the menu pages you click on:

How to paint Cosmos Flowers

Cosmos flowers on a rainy misty day:

Want to paint cosmos flowers? With each blog I do, I like to include artistic tips. So there is always something for artists to learn from my blogs and website.

On the day we landed up in Delta Park, west of Johannesburg:

Our eldest daughter picked us up and then a friend, intending to have a lovely outing together in spite of the weather.

Sometimes the weather isn’t great for painting outdoors. But, because you’re found yourself in a lovely spot, you can’t miss the opportunity of taking photos. Here now, was the chance to gather visual aid material I could use later. Which I have!

Cosmos flowers grow in Delta Park

Photo of the river running through Delta Park, Johannesburg.

On this day in 2009 it had been raining. We waited quietly in the car until the rain stopped. Then I jumped out of the car and took as many photos as I could, of the tranquil atmosphere around us. To me that was exciting. Mist always has its own impress charm.

And been Easter time, what do you think? Cosmos flowers were out waving in the soft misty breeze. Cosmos, I couldn’t resist. Here were fields of them!

How to paint cosmos flowers?

I hate pictures with tight posies of flowers. They don’t look natural.

I like painting cosmos in their natural state, out in the open weeds and all. If you leave out most of the stalks in your painting, it brings out and accentuates the feeling of extreme freedom the cosmos flowers represent.

But in the watercolour painting illustrated here, I didn’t include any close-up cosmos, like I usually do. I had thought of doing a composition that consisted of a field of distant cosmos. I don’t think I’ll do that again. Tiny spots just don’t do justice to their profound beauty. It’s more impressive with a few close-up cosmos in the arrangement, don’t you think!?

Cosmos flowers in Delta Park

A4 Watercolour 20.8×29.3cm: Cosmos flowers in Delta Park. The cosmos painted against dark background show up more easily.

I’ve also noted that a horizontal composition of cosmos looks better than a vertical composition. In the vertical setup the cosmos flowers look crushed-up, from both sides!

And as to size:

A5 watercolours of cosmos flowers are too confined. A4, A3 and A2 sized paintings of cosmos flowers are more exciting. You can really feel the feeling of their freedom in bigger sized compositions.

Here is another link on this website about doing plein-air painting:

  • Check out the page: Plein-air Painting Fieldwork
  • And also check out the Plein-air Painting category in future. Will be displaying more paintings soon, which I did long ago.

If you want to know where Delta Park is, here is a google map of the place:

Cosmos flowers in Delta Park

Delta Park is west of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is also a sanctuary for wild birds.

Watch Wild Birds: Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Want to watch Wild Birds? You will find lots at Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

Where is Marievale Bird Sanctuary?

Marievale bird sanctuary is south-east of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is nestled between goldmine dumps and the town of Nigel, situated north-east of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. The entrance to Marie vale Bird sanctuary is free!

Watch wild birds at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

A5 watercolour: Some of the wild flowers in the grasslands area of Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

What’s so nice about the place is that it is so quiet and peaceful there. It’s a place you’ll want to spend the whole day there, from early morning to late afternoon. Bird-lovers will really appreciate this natural sanctuary. There are so many birds to watch out for with your binoculars and notch up your found-bird lists during spring and early summer.

Picnic spot provided:

No busy restaurants, just pure nature all around you. Great place for family picnics in the designated picnic area. Take out your table clothes, blankets and cushions, take a snooze or quietly watch the water for bird life.

Watch wild birds at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Photo taken from Picnic spot.

Wetlands and dams:

There is a river going through the reserve, but basically it’s a wetland area with two dams. There are lots of birds, big and small; chirping and going about their particular business, flying here and there or swimming in and out the reeds, and some birds just keep very still while they watch for possible tiny fish in the water or grubs in the mud.

Watch birds at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Photo: Folks checking out bird activity.

Watch birds at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Photo: Now what is he looking at?

Buck and wild flowers:

As you go along further into the reserve, exploring the little back roads, you go over quant long-lying bridges into more grassland areas. In some places near the mine-dump side of the reserve you’ll need a four-by-four vehicle in rainy weather.

Don’t rush in the grassland area. Take time to observe the wildlife. Watch out for buck and all sorts of tiny wildlife. In the spring there are beautiful fields of wild flowers waving in the breeze. Oh such beauty and tranquillity, you’ll forget there are busy towns and the hectic lifestyle of Johannesburg city just a few miles away. Marievale is the sort of place where you’ll want to go to unwind!

Watch birds at Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Photo: Red Bishop weaver bird.

Want to know and see more?

  • For further information on the sanctuary and a google map, go to
  • And if you want to see and read more interesting places I’ve painted, go to the  Location Adventures’ category listed on one of the menu pages.

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.


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!


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.

Wildlife in Waterberg: Mabalingwe


Mabalingwe Nature Reserve is northwest of Pretoria, in the waterberg area. It is along the road west of Bela-Bela. Bela-Bela was previously known as Warm Baths, for its warm springs.  Mabalingwe is a fascinating place.

A5 watercolour: Do you see those rocks, they are actually hippos sleeping in the warmth of the midday!

A5 watercolour: Do you see those rocks, they are actually hippos sleeping in the warmth of the midday sun!

There is so much WILDLIFE to see and do at Mabalingwe:

  • Mabalingwe Nature Reserve has the `big five’. On certain days a guide takes you on a game-drive-vehicle to an enclosure and up a stone tower to view the lions feeding. But you must book ahead of time to see the lions feed.
  • The elephants are known to cross over the Mabalingwe property on their way through to other game reserves in the Waterberg area.
  • There’s plentiful wildlife that can be seen along the many game-drive roads crisscrossing the vast property. There are Guinea fowls, squirrels, giraffe, Zebra, different types of buck and even a huge leguaan (lizard) to mention a few.
  • There are dams on the nature reserve, where you can watch wild birds and hippos.
  • Talking about hippos, if you park your vehicle at midday you may see hippos sleeping in the warmth of the day along the stream, near north dam area. At first you may think they are stones in the water across the stream in the mud. But when you look again more carefully, you suddenly realize the rocks are actually hippos! I thought painting the hippos sleeping in the water would serve as a visual hoax. See my illustration! Don’t you agree those rocks in my landscape painting look like rocks in the stream?!
  • Warthogs (wild pigs) roam the lodge area, hoping humans will feed them. They seem tame, but remember by nature they are still wild animals, so be cautious. You can also find them foraging at the side of the tarred road near the main entrance and airfield.
Wildlife in Mabalingwe Nature reserve

Photo of lions feeding at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve

Wildlife in Mabalingwe Nature reserve

Photo of a Kudo buck in the Mabalingwe reserve.

Photo of Warthogs foraging besides the road, near the entrance of the reserve.

Photo of Warthogs foraging besides the road, near the entrance of the reserve.

 Other Mabalingwe attractions:

Wildlife in Mabalingwe Nature reserve

Photo of birds nests in the Mabalingwe reserve trees.

Wildlife in Mabalingwe Nature reserve

Photo of the stream in the Mabalingwe reserve. Beautiful hey. Could make a lovely big oil painting don’t you think!

If you go to their website

You will see they have wonderful lodges to stay in.  Their ambiance is so romantic set in the bush. There is a tea room for campers near the pool on the south side and a restaurant up by the booking offices. There is also a swimming pool up on the hill, surrounded by some of the lodges. The centre also provides accommodation for seminars.

To see more interesting South African places and wildlife: check out the Location Paintings page and category.

How To Create Sensational Seascapes

What makes good seascapes so sensational?

The thing that seems to attract people the most, is the beauty of a translucent clear wave and the dramatic violence of the wave hitting a rock or cliff face and the spray flung high in the air.

How to paint spray.

A5 Watercolour: Clear translucent wave with force of seawater hitting rocks.

What is it that really appeals to people?

People buy according to their senses and emotions. So as an artist you play upon these facts:

  • The play of warm colours against cool colours
  • The contrast of tone levels and complementary colours
  • The dominance of size and shape.
  • Power seen in action, oblique and undulating lines.
  • Contrast of sharp definition to that of blurred action.

Sensational weather conditions:

Naturally the burst of spray creates a fine mist, especially on windy or bad weather days. The contradiction between the blurring of the fine spray and the clearness of the wave’s profile, in relation to the rest of the stormy weather generates a seductive mood.

Also the opposition between warm and cool colours that you get in warm sunsets or warm brown rocks, compared with the cool colours of the seawater.

To get these dramatic sensational effects, you must know how to control edges.

Creating nebulous variegated edges:

Because the surface of rocks is uneven, the force of water hitting a rock creates an uneven and varied perimeter edge to the spray.

Some spray looks solidly suspended for a second and the finer spray somewhat blurred, thus creating a variation the edges. So when painting the pray be conscious of how you are painting the outer contour edges of the spray.

Different ways how to paint spray:

  • To get the momentary solid suspended drops of water in spray, I sometimes revert to using liquid masking in my watercolour seascapes.
  • Other times I paint directly over dry paper, purposely leaving sharp-edges. And later wetting and blurring edges and spots to create action and variation.
  • Under misty weather conditions you can blur spray with a sponge. Even here make sure you get an uneven contour edge of your spray. Swipe the sponge in different directions, depending of cause on the impact of the wave and which way the wind is blowing. The technique depends on the size and type of sponge you are using.
  • Loose perimeter borders: Adding bits of spray beyond the perimeter borders of the spray’s contour edge in darker areas makes them more noticeable, example against the sky or dark ominous cliff. Keep in mind though that the sky tone is generally lighter than the sea colour. When the cliff area’s paint is still semi-damp, that is nearly dry, spray it with water and then blot the wet droplets. Timing is important.
  • Another way to paint spray: First wet the area where the spray is going to be and then paint the background nearest the spray. Tilt the paper so the background colour runs a little into the spray area. You can also tilt the paper in the direction you want the thrust of the spray to run into the dark immediate background area.
  • Always remember that white spray and foam isn’t really pure white, unless you are emphasizing highlights and sparkles. Surrounding colours are reflected into white areas making colourful shadows, thus helping to variegate the edges and formation of the spray.
  • As a last resort, some artists use sandpaper paper to create fine droplets in their spray. How they create this effect? The sandpaper only catches the peaks or tips of the paper tooth, thus leaving little white spots (if the paper is white of cause). You can only do this if you have thick strong watercolour paper that can withstand rough handling. Even so be careful and use it sparingly. Where paper is roughened, subsequentt washes of paint will seep into the paper and leave dark marks. So only use this technique when the painting is completed. Also the effect is more effective where previous washes were dark.

Rock and the seawater meniscus:

Where the colour of the seawater meets the colour of the rock or cliff face is important. It must look natural, yet dramatic in its own right.

To make it look natural it must also have variation, sometimes blurred with graduated colour and sometimes with sharp-edges and contrast of colour.

How to paint meniscus transitions:

  • One way is to keep the paint of the rock wet so you can merge and blur the colours of the seawater with the rock colour.
  • Soften the tone of the colours of the rock nearest the water to make the merge easier. This creates a misty transition.
  • Rock looks darker when wet and this complements the `white’ of any surrounding foam.
  • The jagged definition of the top of the rock complements the blurring and gradation of the meniscus below, thus dramatizing the scene.
  • Rivulets of `white’ water running down over rocks can be in contrast (in tone and sharp-edged) or blurred edged and graduated in colour, depending on the effect you are trying to create and the speed on which it is draining off the rock.

How to paint the power behind blurred action:

We talked about the spray and meniscus conditions, but we also have to consider the surrounding scene.

You don’t just show the burst of water and spray, but also the force of the water preceding it, what caused it, behind it. Otherwise it will give the impression of a whale-blow.

  • Show the rest of the wave, on both sides where possible.
  • Use undulating contour lines in your seascapes, to imply the powerful motion behind the impact of the wave as it hits a rock, cliff, etc.
How to paint a surfer riding a huge wave

A5 Watercolour: Surfer crouching while riding the curl of a huge wave.

Sensational dominance:

And of cause the dramatic dominance in relation to smaller weaker things, we consider the difference of blurred action of foam to that of the solid definition of cliffs, lighthouses, etc.

  • Towering cliffs compared to the waves seen far below.
  • A big wave with its far-flung spray compared to a submerged rock, only partly visible above sea level.
  • Lighthouse paintings where the force of an enormous overpowering wave breaks against a lighthouse and there is a small man standing in the lighthouse doorway unaware of the oncoming huge over-whelming wave!
  • A small figure of surfer compared to the mammoth wave he is riding in its clear curl and the pounding foam and spray on its opposing side.


For more tips on how to paint beautiful seascapes check out page and the category “Watercolour Seascapes Secrets”.

Lion Park: Krugersdorp South Africa

Krugersdorp Lion Park

Have you ever been to the Krugersdorp Lion Park? It is on the west Rand, in the Transvaal of South Africa. The park is open between 8am and 6pm, and there are a variety of things to see, including four of `the big five’, at very little cost.

Lion park trees

A5 watercolour: When you go to Krugersdorp lion park, just for fun, see if you can spot this clump of trees!

What you can see:

  • The terrain of the park is restful and beautiful in its natural state. To bird watchers it’s a haven with their cameras or binoculars.
  • You can wonder along rural roads viewing wildlife and see interesting ruins. There’s also a separate lovely big braai and picnic area where the whole family and friends can spend the whole day if they wish.
  • The wildlife in the greater part of the park ranges from rhino, hippo, giraffe, buck, zebras and mongoose colony, to wild birds housed in a walk through aviary opposite the ruins.
  • The lions are kept in a huge (100-hecture fenced off) part of the park. Besides the normal viewing, you can watch the lions feed on Sundays between 10am and 11am.
  • There is also lodge accommodation and a conference centre. From the centre parking you can see a waterfall in the distance.
Photo of a wild bird in the lion park.

Photo of a wild bird in the lion park.

Photo of part of the lion park.

Photo of part of the lion park.

One of the roads going through the lion park.

One of the roads going through the lion park.

The ruins opposite the bird aviary.

The ruins opposite the bird aviary.

Bird aviary in the lion park.

Inside the bird aviary in lion park, opposite ruins.

Lioness in the lion park.

This photo of the lioness was taken late in the afternoon.

Safety warnings:

  • It’s important that you keep your windows of your vehicle closed while travelling through the lion’s enclosure. Strangely, lions see vehicles as one big shape (you are included in the shape) but the moment you move and make a noise (even a small noise) they begin to see you within the shape as prey. There are two guarded gates (in and out) of the enclosure to ensure you are recorded as entered and left the enclosure safely.
  • You mustn’t get out of your car, walking is strictly prohibited. But horseback safaris or viewing on mountain bikes is possible in the general park area, if you book in advance.
Mongoose in the lion park.

The mongooses were very friendly, hoping for tip-bits to eat.

Zebra grazing in the lion park.

Zebra grazing in the lion park.

Buck in the lion park.

Buck in the lion park.

If you want to know more about the Krugersdorp lion park check out:

Directions to Krugersdorp Game Reserve:

From Krugersdorp, travel towards Rustenburg on the R24. The game reserve is on your righthand side of the road.

Note: It is a few years since the photos in this blog were taken within the lion park.

More blogs on South African scenes  to be seen in Location Paintings category.


Seascape Contrary Facts

Facts verses emotional content:

Okay, up till now in my previous seascape blogs, we have talked about the blurring of action and movement in seascapes, and how blurring creates emotional impact in your paintings. But now, we are going to discuss contrary facts, differences between blurring and detail. Not only where to put detail contrast but why it forms in those places.

Contrast facts

A5 watercolour: Contrast of edges, tone and colours makes a dramatic effect.

Blurring of action and motion:

  • Naturally foam and spray is blurred, especially in the shadows.
  • And of cause where water is forcibly hitting rocks and rushing over the rocks.
  • Also where the water of the wave is cascading forward and turning over the inner tapped foam.
  • Plus, mist and fog softens the scene and creates emotional appeal.

We need distinguishing facts to bring things into focus:

There can’t be only be blurring in your seascape paintings. We need for sharp edges and a certain amount of detail. But why contradictory?!

  • Well, if there is too much blurring, your painting won’t have recognizable details that states what’s actually happening in your painting.
  • So we need a certain amount of contrast, sharp-edged brushstrokes, neat contour edges and fine detail to bring things into focus.
  • And tonal contrast puts oomph into your otherwise blurry wishy-washy scene. If you don’t mind my watery pun!

Here are a few places you’ll likely to find those sharp-edged facts in seascapes:

  • The top-edge contour-ridge of a peaked wave just before it breaks and turns over. The reason it’s darker just at that point is that the water is starting to triple over and is slightly thicker (gathered and condensed) there and its weight drops forward.
  • A certain amount of value-definition is added just at the turning-curve of the wave. This little bit of darker definition contrasts with the clear sheer transparency of the water of the wave close by. You may not see this situation. It all depends on how the peak is formed in the moment of turnover action or if there is a returning tidal wave or undercurrent influencing the situation.
  • The undulating-contour or ridge-edge of incoming swelling waves, need inconsistency of blurred edges and sharp edges. Why? Because the sharp edges pronounce the power of the wave. And the blurring stops it from looking static. The variation in undulating lines and differences in edges is more comfortable than stiff neatness. Why? The variation creates breaks the neatness of the contour lines. And this is strangely bridged and subconsciously acceptable as people `read’ (peruse) your painting. Whereas on the other hand, neat contour edges cut up the painting into separate collage-like dimensions.
  • Even though turnover wave-foam is fragmented, there is a certain call here and there for a few sharp-dry-edged brushstrokes, to give the foam distinguishable form, especially as it falls within a darker area.
  • In the case of white’ water running off dark wet rocks in rivulets, the contrast gives your painting a dramatic touch.
Even though you may not be an artist reading this blog, its fun to make it a game looking for blurred and sharp edges when you visit the beach.

There are also other ways of softening and contour edge:

Blurring isn’t just having soft-edged brushstrokes (ie painting wet-in-wet method) but also using gradation of colour and tone. I can hear you thinking, “What is that, for what reason, how and where?”

  • What is it? Gradating colours and tones to create smooth visual transitions over potential problematic contours that could possibly restrict visual advancement.
  • Purpose: Thus assisting the eye to flow easier from one area or plane to another, thus preventing jerky visionary exploration of the painting.
  • How: Using similar colours and tones to that of the object or its contour.
  • Where in relation to the wave: Long-side the object, ie to the contour curve edge of pecked and turning waves.
Contrary facts

Variation and differences in tones illustration.


Aaah! Now the big deal:

Because rocks and cliffs are usually dark they stand out against `white’ foam, thus making a dramatic structural element in your painting. With all the blurring and blending of colours and tone, this solid structure gives strength and weight to your composition.

And the other factor, there must be some symbolic structure in your seascape to give it reason. People recognize rocks, cliffs, boats and birds. Adding up all these factors, they immediately recognize the scene as a seascapes and what is happening in your painting.

Stabilizing latitude and longitude `grid’:

  1. Latitude: Even though we spoke about making long wave contour-ridges inconsistent, their undulating linear formation does form a stabilizing factor that gives the impression that it `grips’ the sides of your composition (watercolour paper).
  2. Longitude: And anything that drops down from the top of your paper or protrudes upward from the base of your paper, forms a ‘gripping’ latitude stabilizing factor.

Note:  Even though these two `linear’ formations should form an in-consistent broken ‘grid’, and may not actually touch the sides of your paper, they are none the less subconsciously accepted as stabilizing composition factors.

  • Latitude examples: Horizon line, undulating horizontal waves, floating foam and scud rushing up the beach.
  • Longitude examples: clouds, rocks, birds, river outlets, wooden anchor poles, sun or moon reflections. Things don’t have to be perfectly perpendicular. Any oblique contour or action line will do, eg: cliff-faces.

Looking forward to hearing from you:

Please tell me your experiences in painting watercolour seascapes.  I’m sure others would like to know too. We learn a lot from each other. `Sharing watercolour secrets is caring’!

For more on painting watercolour seascape, start again on the introductory page.

Seascape Location Equipment

Gaining experience on location:

One can learn a lot about how to paint seascapes from art books and the internet, but to become a truly good seascape artist you need to do location fieldwork. That is, go down to the sea and learn directly from Nature and all its idiosyncrasies.

  • How the waves and foam form.
  • How the waves ride and break.
  • What happens when a wave hits rocks or clashes with another wave in under-current conditions?
  • What are the true colours of the sea in all-weather conditions?
  • What colours of the sand, wet and dry, etc?
Location observation

A5 watercolour: Close up of dashing waves.

When doing location fieldwork:

Don’t take expensive equipment with you and limit your paraphernalia. You don’t want to carry heavy stuff around while looking for a good scene to paint. It also reduces any ‘toing and froing’ of equipment from the car to the spot you have chosen.

You don’t need the fuss of where you are going to arrange and balance all the stuff around you on rocks or rutted sand.

Because each situation is different, only take out those things you will need from your (light-weight) haversack when you set yourself up at the chosen spot. So that you have less to gather up, should an unexpected wave threaten!

 Suggested equipment:

  • An A4 board to clip your paper to: Panelite or fiberglass boards are very light in weight.
  • A plastic water-bottle with fitting cup lid, so you have fresh rinse water and a water-jar all in one.
  • Also a small handy fine-spray bottle to wet your paper. You don’t want too much water, water can be very heavy!
  • A wet dish-clothe (they manufacture thin light-weight ones these days). Keep it in a small plastic bag to keep it damp and clean when not in use. This clothe is for wiping your hands on or flushing sand out of your paint box if necessary. But its main use is to keep your paper damp (placed under your paper) while you are painting. The reason is that paper dries quickly outdoors, especially in this case it’s generally breezy down by the seashore.
  • I keep a small stock of watercolour paper in an A4 plastic sleeve-pocket, like the ones you put in folder-files. The plastic protects the paper from getting wet.
  • Half toilet roll or paper towel, for blotting excess paint, etc.
  • For technique purposes, a small facial cosmetic sponge to create fine spray that the wind blows off the tops of waves.
  • A fold-out hold-all `pencil box’: I made mine from clothe, with a long zip. It has inner pockets to put stuff in. Some artists include elastic bands to hold their brushes firmly in.
  • A small old towel, (across your lap) to swipe your brush across when your brush is too wet. You can also arrange your paint box and brushes on it if you have to set up yourself on loose sand, to prevent sand getting into your paints. In that case, you’ll resort to flicking your brush to eradicate excess liquid.

Other considerations:

Always have the right clothing to protect yourself against all weathers, so you can work in comfort. Things like:

  • Lip-ice, scarf and a wind-breaker jacket.
  • If you take a hat, sew in an elastic band to make sure it doesn’t blow away in the wind.
  • Brown sunglasses protect your eyes from the glare and flying sand. The white of the watercolour paper creates a glare that distorts the true hue of the colours in your paint box, and after a while you find yourself selecting just any blue or green, until your painting has an unrealistic appearance.
  • I take a camera with me so as to catch special effects. If you take a camera, conceal it in your clothing. This reduces theft and also prevents the lenses getting wet and misting up with the salty atmosphere. I also carry a small plastic bottle of liquid lens cleaner and soft lens clothe in my camera sling bag.
  • Where possible wear flexible rubber shoes to balance on shape rocks, as you seek a place to paint.
  • If you are female, wear shorts or a swimsuit. You don’t want your dress flying up with a sudden gust of wind! Nor do you want an unexpected wave to make your slacks wet.
  • A plastic bag to put your litter in. Fold it up into a compact size when not in use.

What to keep in your car:

  • Also, you may want higher elevation (a better perspective angle) of the scene. Keep a fold-up camping chair in the car. Get one with a place to hold (a glass) for your water-jar and if possible a side flap that’ll hold your paint box, etc for easy access. Its irritating bending down from you chair to get at your water and paints, etc.
  • Keep a wind-breaker shield in your car in case your need it. This type of wind-breaker is those that you peg in the sand, placed on the windward side of where you are sitting.
  • Keep a file of your paintings in your car. You never know when someone seeing you working on location will want to buy one or two of your paintings.
  • Keep a sketch pad and note-book in the car. Some days you may not be able to paint, but would like to sketch the sea and make research notes instead.
  • It’s not fun painting on an empty tummy. Take food that doesn’t litter and is handy to grab and eat while painting, example apples or plain biscuits.
Location observation

A5 watercolour: Clashing undercurrents.

Passing shot:

It sounds exciting doesn’t it?! Yep, painting on location is like going on an adventure, exploring, researching and doing your thing.

What makes great seascape paintings?


Have you ever wondered what makes a great seascape painting? Here are seven basic composition tips:

What happens to pounding surf.

A5 watercolour: Pounding surf.

1: Reduce subject matter:

Always consider the elements seascape before beginning to paint. The suggestions I give here can be varied according to the type of scene.

  • A small painting about 2-3 basic things, eg: wave, foam and rocks.
  • Big paintings about 3-4 elements or objects, eg: Cliff, clear wave, stormy sky, boat or birds.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What is most impressive to you in the scene?
  • What should you leave out?

2: Dominating factors:

Don’t use similar shapes. Something must dominate the scene to give it impact and purpose.

  • One dominant shape, examples: A big wave, a huge cliff, or rock.
  • One open space, eg: sky area or less-descriptive area.

3: Differential tone values:

  • Where possible have three basic tonal areas, one light, one dark and one medium toned. Subtly interlace their format to give them natural occurrence.
  • Alternate chiaroscuro, that is, contrast and change of tone levels from one plane to another, so that form is distinguished perspectively.

4: Variation of balance and weight:

  • If there is a cliff on one side of the painting and you want some rocks on the other side of the composition, the rocks on the other side should be smaller than the cliff, so that the cliff-face dominates the scene.
  • Two big clear waves with a diminishing contour in the middle split one’s attention. One dominant wave gives the painting impact.

5: Action and motion:

  • Action: Oblique angles, contours and lines, eg: // ZZ SS.
  • Motion: Irregular arabesque lines and curves.
  • Rhythm: Big and small undulation contours.

6: Variation of detail and texture:

  • Lacy foam verses clear translucent water.
  • Soft blurred edges verses sharp hard edges, eg: sharp rocks verses blurred spray.
  • Big verses small brushstrokes: Where possible the ration of big brushstrokes (washes) should outweigh smaller strokes.

7: Variation of colours:

  • Water looks translucent when there is a combination of analogous colours, example: Blue seawater: warm and cool blues. Greenish seawater: Warm and cool greens.
  • Rocks: variation of brown tones, earth yellows and blue shadows.
  • Warm and cool colours in the sky give it atmospheric depth.
What a simple concept.

A5 watercolour: Even serene seascapes can look exciting.

Passing shot:

`All said and done’, what do you think makes a great seascape painting? Please leave a comment. I would like to hear what your opinion is.

Capturing The Action

Putting action into your brushstrokes:

Like any other landscape painting, the composition of seascapes are first considered and planned beforehand. But once you have started painting you must go with the flow of what’s happening as you slash on paint. Watercolour seascapes aren’t painted with tiny fussy brushstrokes. You must feel the power of the seawater with each brush stroke.

The sea in action.

A5 watercolour: The sea in action.

Simple synopsis?

Some people like to start with a light pencil sketch of the basic elements of the composition.

But I prefer to spray both sides of my paper. Why, because seawater is always in motion, and you need depict the blurring of spray and fine mist it creates.

So I start with a blurred blocking-in of light colour and then build up the painting as the paper dries, adding darker and darker colours (where necessary) until I get the right tone contrasts.

 Basic capturing of the scene:

  • Because watercolour paint is wet, work from the top of your page (paper) downwards.
  • Paint only the coloured areas at first. Leave the paper white, where there is going to be `white’ foam and spray, etc.
  • Keep edges soft and blurry, except where you want crisp white areas or highlighted spots.
  • Tip: Water looks wet and translucent when there is a variation of hues. So drop-in and add other colours wherever needed as you work.

Capturing the action:

Because the sea is always in motion there should be action lines in your painting. So, now look again at the scene before you. Look for possible oblique lines and contours and where you’ll possibly find them:

  • Waves are like mountains with valleys in between.
  • So check out the flowing contour edges of huge waves.
  • Notice how the troughs in between the waves have curved basins.
  • Breaking waves have curved translucent peaks.
  • The lacy froth floating in the troughs and up the water of the breaking wave, emphasizes the curve and motion of the waves.
  • Choppy water has small linked W-Hogarthian lines.
  • The scud rushing up the beach has `S’ action lines along the shore.
  • Towering cliff-faces generally have oblique contoured profiles.
  • Craggy jagged rocks have variable `Z’ action lines.
  • Watering running in rivulets, down the beach and into the surf, have `S and Z’ curves.
  • Sometimes you get sweeping cloud formation that you can use as curved action lines in the sky area as well.

Check out tonal format of your composition:

Like any painting your tonal format is important. If your painting is all on one tone level, no one will be able to distinguish what is happening in your painting. So whatever you do, somewhere in your seascape there must be a dark area that gives strength to your painting.

In fact there should be three basic tone areas to make it easier for people to peruse your painting. For example:

  1. One dark area,
  2. One medium toned area,
  3. And one light toned area.

But don’t make them obvious, there will naturally be an interlacing of the areas, depending on the situation and lighting conditions.

  • Naturally rocks are dark,
  • And `white’ foam is light coloured.
  • Skies are generally light in intensity, but you can have dark stormy skies and dark cliffs in the upper area of your composition.
  • Shadows bring in the medium tones.

But there must be contrast at the main point of interest:

This dramatizes the whole scene.

  • Tonal contrast.
  • Colour contrast.
  • Contrast of soft and hard edges.

Working out on Location:

The wind can be very frustrating:

  • Sometimes there is a sudden gust of wind, so keep your paper clipped to your board.
  • Working out-doors your paper and watercolours dry quickly. Keep a wet cloth under your paper and a fine spray bottle ready and handy for whenever it’s needed.
  • If there is high winds blowing don’t go painting that day. Fine sand can be blown all over your precious painting!
  • Sometimes it isn’t the wind that puts sand on your paper. It’s the people passing by or children playing ball that kick sand on your painting or paint box.

One time, can you believe it?

I clumsily tipped my own paint box into the sand! Ooh, it was so embarrassing. A chap, who had come and sat down next to me to watch me paint, carefully got up and recovered my paint box. I took the bottle of water I had for painting and quickly flushed the sand off my pigments before the sand became in-bedded. Needless to say I lost quite a bit of paint in the process that day.

So my advice to you, is to watch where you put down your art materials, you don’t want a balancing trick and disaster happening right in the middle of a fantastic objet d’art.

 People coming to watch you paint:

If you don’t like people watching you paint, don’t worry, not everyone has artistic talent and maybe this could be `a-quick-sale’ when the painting is finished!

If you are still uncomfortable about people seeing what you are doing, you can sit close-up against a rock, a wind-breaker fence or perhaps there’s a concrete support wall available to shelter from prying eyes.

Putting action in waves.

A5 watercolour: Active wave.


At first the results maybe disappointing, but with much observance and persist experience: action pays dividends. If you love the sea and its entire fascinating idiosyncrasy, you will definitely win in the end.

Remember this is only the beginning of the watercolour seascape blog series. With each new blog you will learn more and more. That’s what’s so wonderful about painting; each painting is an exciting adventure!

Check out the introduction page on this website: Watercolour seascapes

THE PLACE to be in the Karoo

THE PLACE to be in the Karoo for artists:

This Karoo resort caters for artists besides the usual holiday and weekend accommodation that’s available. There’s art workshops and spacious studio space for artists to use, with beautiful views of the Touw river and surrounding koppies (hills).

This is the place.

A4 pastel painting: This is the cottage where Susan and Peter Walden stayed in during December 2014.

Here is a report from folks that have been there:

Recently Susan and Peter Walden went there. They love nature and wildlife. Even though they aren’t artists, they sent me this lovely report on the place:

“We spent five nights at this wonderful getaway that has to be the most peaceful and serene place that we have ever visited.

The farm is full of contrasts, from the hardy Karoo vegetation, to the lush greenery that surrounds the dam and the river.

Our time was spent exploring the farm during the day where we managed to spot tortoises, two large owls and a whole variety of inland water birds and other species common to the Karoo.

The studio flat where we stayed is sufficient for two, very clean and tastefully decorated. The breakfasts we ordered were five-star quality and is definitely recommended. Nights were spent around the braai (place outside fire for frying meat, fish, etc) and gazing at the stars from the viewpoint of the hammock.

Another must if you are visiting is to purchase some farm fresh eggs and a selection of organic herbs and leaves for your salad, it will leave your taste buds tingling.

We cannot end this review without including the most important ingredient to our holiday experience, and that would be the warmth and friendliness of our hosts Kevin and Lizelle.”

A5 watercolour: Touw river during December.

A5 watercolour: Touw river during December.

Artistic application:

  • First I did an A5 watercolour of the accommodation Susan and Peter stayed in. Because I wanted to depict the leafiness of the Karoo shrubs, the watercolour turned out looking too fussy and busy. So then, I thought chalk pastels would do it more justice. You can see the pastel, at the top of the page. What do you think?
  • And the A5 watercolour immediately above!  Well that was taken from a photo Susan gave me of the Touw River. I left the white of the paper to give the water a sparkling effect. It also shows how strongly the water is flowing past the rocks.

Check out the page introducing these requests: ‘Location Paintings

Contact information:

To learn more about The Place, go to their website:

And if you wish to make bookings enquiries, contact: 028 551 2068   or  071 080 7333 or email:

The Place in the Karoo, South Africa.

Here is a Google map of the area in which the THE PLACE nestles  in the Karoo, South Africa.

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.


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.

How to Retain White Paper

Why is my painting looking so dull and lifeless?”

There are several reasons why:

  • Watercolour paintings must have a certain amount of white and light hued areas or spots to freshen it.
  • Sparkling highlights in your painting bring your painting to life.
  • Contrast of tone and colour makes highlights stand out and gives your painting a fresh appeal.
Retain white paper.

A5 watercolour: The highlight spots on the roses were reserved with liquid masking.

Fact one: Fresh clean white areas:

Some artists believe that a certain amount of your watercolour painting must be left white, untouched and unblemished.

Here you have to be careful. If white spots are left willy-nilly all over your painting, it will make your painting look spotty and confusing.

Why is that? White is a dominant eye-catching `colour’, especially if surrounded by dark colours. Therefore it is wise to plan your compositions format. Where possible:

  • Leave large white areas: For example all around the outer edge, as in a vignette.
  • Group highlights, eg: shimmers and sparkles on water, highlights on a bunch of grapes or within flower florets.
  • Link the white spots and allowed them to flow smoothly through the composition. Somewhat like the flow of vine tentacles or out reaching appendages of flower stamen.

Fact two:  Tonal format:

A good painting is divided up into three basic areas:

  1. A light toned area.
  2. A medium toned area
  3. And a dark toned area.

This makes it easier for viewers to assess what is happening in a painting. Naturally these areas will be interlaced according to the subject matter’s composition layout. If you haven’t noticed this before, it’s because the artist has done it subtly.

Fact three:  Highlights:

  • Highlights (bright spots) attract attention. Because they are read like shorthand, they must be placed strategically.
  • Select which highlights you want to use and which you need to illuminate.

 Fact four: Description:

Certain white areas in your subject matter are reserved for special effects, for example:

  • Leaving white contour edges between washes, for example silhouettes: For silver-lining of clouds when painting skies, and aura rim-lights (caused by back lighting) that you can fill in later with the desired colour effects.
  • Reserving shapes with liquid masking for houses, flowers, etc, so you can work and paint freely over them, over your whole painting, without messing or eliminating those objects or things we want to fill-in and work on later.
  • Sometimes I use liquid masking to reserve white or light coloured tree trunks, and fill-in later with desired colours. For example to create smooth tree trunks or knarred knotted tree bark (see illustration). It makes the tree trunks standout in 3D manner, perspectively.
  • Even splatter liquid masking to make speckled effects, like tiny flower buds, underwater seaweed effects, etc.

Notice the following image captions, have more explanations on how to do it and the effects you can create.

White cosmos flowers

First draw-in the cosmos flowers with an eye dropper, splatter liquid masking to make speckled effects for tiny buds, draw-in stalks and scribble in a few leaf shapes with liquid masking. When the masking is dry: paint freely all over the whole composition, working wet-in-wet (such fun) to create a beautiful atmospheric background ambiance for the flowers. When the paint is fully dried, rub off the masking and fill-in your colours. Play warm colour against cool colours. Walla, it’s easy as that!

Retain white paper.

Size 23×20.8cm, thick watercolour paper: This fascinating knobbly tree stands in the Mabalingwe game reserve, nestled in the Waterberg mountain range, Transvaal. It was late afternoon when we came across it. Note: Close-up the tree trunks seem to merge and make the painting look busy and confusing. But when seen from a distance, you can see the 3D effect of the tree trunks.

Reserving highlight spots:

The aim is to keep the paper white where you intend to place highlights in your composition, either by working around the spots while painting or retaining them with liquid masking.

Working around them:

As you may have already found out, it’s so easy to unintentionally obliterate your proposed white spots as you are painting.

Funny enough it is easier to work round them with a big round brush (that has a fine point) than it is to use a small fiddly brush. Why is that?

  • The big body of the brush allows you to create smooth-blended unblemished atmospheric conditions surrounding and in between the highlights.
  • The fine point of the big brush allows you to create fine outlined detailed shapes, eg: tiny wild flowers waving in grass and weeds.

Liquid masking:

Sometimes liquid masking is called ‘rubber cement’, latex rubber adhesive or liquid frisket.

Some artists don’t like to use liquid masking. They say it gives your painting an artificial appearance. While other artists believe it gives your painting additional style.

Whatever your belief, you can control the artificial appearance by graduating your colours and tones between the masking marks and their surrounding areas.

  • What I like about masking, is that it brings things forward, thus giving objects like tree trunks a 3D effect and highlights more sparkle.
  • And also, the spray of an incoming sea wave is blurred by its fast-moving action, but just a few masked water droplets gives the crashing wave’s impact, forceful power as it pounds against the rocks and cliff faces.


  • Be careful when you rub and peel off masking liquid, it sometimes rips up the paper.
  • Don’t paint on damaged paper. The paint is easily absorbed in those areas and makes dark marks that you can’t remove.
  • If the paper is roughened burnish (smooth) it with the back of a spoon before painting over it again.
  • If you apply liquid masking to a previous wash, even if it’s dry, it’s inclined to lift the previous paint, especially if you have used non-staining, segmented pigments. It’s advisable therefore to use strong intense staining pigments in this technique.

 Masking application precaution:

Warning: Don’t use a brush to apply masking liquid. Because masking liquid is a rubber compound, it sticks to the hairs of your brush and your brush will be ruined. Liquid masking has ammonia in it. If the rubber has already stuck to your brush, try cleaning it with ammonia and rinse it well afterwards with soap and then fresh water.

TIP: If you are still determined to use a brush, dig your brush into a cake of soap beforehand to protect the hairs somewhat. When finished, rinse your brush in ammonia, then soapy water, and lastly fresh clean water.Warning: Never leave your brush standing in ammonia too long, the hairs will deteriorate.

There are other ways of applying liquid masking:

Applying liquid masking with an eye dropper:

If you have eye-droppers with different size nozzle holes, select one to suit the job in hand:

  • Big nozzle hole eye-droppers for covering large areas like houses, rocks, cosmos flowers, etc.
  • Medium holes: Use for tree trunks, fence posts, etc
  • And small holes for tiny dots and fine detail, for example: sparkles, grass, sticks, twigs, etc.

 Eye dropper maintenance:

Rinse your eye-dropper in fresh clean water in between use and after use. Clean with a pipe cleaner to prevent clogging of the tube.

Applying liquid masking with a pen:

Whatever you do don’t use a fountain pen or any pen with a reservoir. Liquid masking clogs up the pen’s channels.

It is better to use a dip-pen. You know; those old-fashioned pens which you push in the nib into the top of the handle. Nibs come in different size widths. You can draw fine thin white lines with dip-pens, like washing line and fence wire. Tip: in this case use diluted masking fluid. Dilute with a little ammonia.

Other possible tools:

You can use a match stick to create rough twigs. Some artists use nose-buds (cotton-wool on tiny sticks) to create fuzzy wide lines and dots.

Retaining white paper.

Size 56.5×37.5cm, watercolour on thick rough paper: This is a real scene, along a pathway behind houses in Hillcrest, Natal. Immediately to the left is a sudden drop, a steep hillside, down into the valley far below. Notice how the masked highlights present an impressionistic `third colour’ dimension.

How to mix colours

How colourful.

A5 watercolour: Contrast of colour and tones. Notice how colourful the dark tones are.

Why discuss how to mix colours?

It is very important. The quality of your watercolour paintings depends on how you mix your colours.

 And it may surprise you,

but most people don’t know how to mix their colours!

I can hear you say to yourself, “Surely they learnt the basics while at school. That:

  • Yellow and blue makes green,
  • Yellow and red makes orange,
  • Red and blue makes violet!”

No, they don’t even know that when then come to art classes and have to make a colour wheel!   Besides that they often ask “How do you make brown and black?

  • Brown mixture: An equal mixture of the primary colours (yellow, red and blue) make brown.
  • Black mixture: Theoretically an equal mixture of the secondary colours (orange, green and violet) make black. Note there is less yellow in this mixture. Strong intense pigments make the darkest freshest blacks, eg: translucent reds and Winsor thalo blue and green. 
Note: how colourful blacks are. More beautiful than pure black out of a tube (see illustrated watercolour painting above)

 Neither have they ever noticed the difference between cool colours and warm colours.

  • That blues and greens are cooler than reds and yellows.
  • That one red is cooler than another red, eg: alizarin red is cooler (slightly bluer) in hue than Cadmium red.
  • That there is a difference in blues too, eg: Winsor (thalo) blue is cooler than French ultramarine blue.
How to see the difference.

The difference between cool and warm pigments of the same primary or secondary colour.

First secret:  Making beautiful natural greens

Often you see people using their watercolours like they were colouring in with crayons. That is: using their colours straight from their paint box pans.

For example Winsor thalo intense green:

It looks very garish mixed only with water, especially over large areas. Greens look better when mixed with more neutral colours, for example:

  • Violet and green (makes teal green)
  • Orange and green (makes olive green)
  • Burnt sienna and sap green.
  • Raw sienna and Hooker’s green.
  • Burnt umber and thalo green or viridian green.

Note: And some artists don’t believe in mixing browns with green. But I do whatever it takes to get the effect I require as long as the quality of the painting isn’t compromised.

How to make green.

Example of green mixtures.

For more interesting greens:

  • A yellow with cerulean blue or indigo blue.
  • Indigo blue with viridian or sap green.
  • Blue-violet and chrome oxide green.
  • Sap green and French ultramarine.

Note: These last colour combinations, have the best results when the additional colours are lightly brushed in. That is: not pre-mixed in your palette plate.

 Second secret:  Keeping your colours clean and fresh.

On the other hand you get people trying mixing their colours on their painting, because they were not happy with the colour they have already there. Once started, they keep adding more colours, in the hope they can fix the problem. This is a recipe for disaster. The more colours added, turns your painting into murky `mud’. Why, because now all three primaries are involved in some form or other.

How do you prevent this?

  • First: Don’t mix your colours in the paint box pans. It’s wiser to pre-mix your colours in your palette plate reservoir wells, where you can judge intensity strength and hue against the whiteness of the palette.
  • It is wise to reduce the amount of pigments involved in your mixtures. Where possible keep it to two pigments only. Or involve only analogous colours (those sitting on one side of your colour wheel)
  • If you want to add another colour to a former wet wash, don’t fuss and stir in other colours. Rather drop-in (tip-in) another colour and watch while it spreads naturally.
  • To prevent soiling of colours, keep light colours away from dark colours in your paint box.
  • And to keep washes fresh, rinse you brush well before choosing another colour in your paint box.
  • It is easier to get your paint out of the pans quickly and cleanly, if you finely spray your paint box pans with water before you start to paint.

Third secret:  Colours affect people emotionally:

  • Paintings that consist mostly of cool colours (like blue & green) makes people feel cold. Cool coloured paintings have no impact emotionally.
  • To make your watercolour paintings exciting and more sell-able, play warm colours against cool colours. The pest results are when there are more warm colours than cool colours.
  • If all your colours are bright in your painting, they compete with one another, like they are all shouting at once. Tip: the contrast of neutrals to natural grays enhances your bright colours.

Fourth secret:  Natural greys:

Natural greys made of complementary coloured mixtures (colours opposite on the colour wheel). Natural greys are far more beautiful than pure blacks and grey pigments straight from the paint box or tubes. Black added to your mixtures will make your watercolours look dull and dead because black is non-reflective colour.

Typical natural grey mixtures:

  • Mixtures of green and red or magenta.
  • Mixtures of blue and burnt umber.

 Note: Watercolour mixtures differ from oil paints. You won’t get the same mixture blending results as you get in oil paints. Watercolour washes are more mottled and interesting.

It’s over to you what you make of this information:

Have fun experimenting with these colour combinations. You don’t know what effects they can really make until you mix your own stock of pigments.

  • For example, make swatches like my ‘green mixture’ illustration and label them to remember what pigments you used, for future use.
  • Your results will depend on how much water was involved in tinting the intensity of the colours.
  • Also you won’t get such beautiful washes of colour and special effects, if you aren’t using Artist’s Quality watercolour pigments. Cheap watercolour pigments haven’t the same constitution eminence.
  • The tine of colour and shade of black or grey depends on which primary pigment is more dominant.

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:


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.

Handling Watercolour Fluidity with Ease

A5 watercolour

This watercolour has several fluid techniques involved.

Fallacies and reality:

A lot of people think watercolours are unpredictable. Why do people have this negative attitude towards watercolours?

  • People generally think artists are so talented that they just have to splash paint on effortlessly and masterpieces materialize. So they try splashing paint on and land up working willy-nilly in the hope a miracle will occur. The fact is successful artists plan procedures before starting to paint.
  • Also people think watercolour paintings are created in just a few minutes. Not so, it takes more than a few minutes to paint a watercolour. Anything from an hour to three hours, depending on the size of the painting, considering drying time procedures and what effects you wish to create. Knowing at what stage you can take a break, when to leave off and continue the next day or even a year later!
  • Also, most people have problems because they impatiently apply another coat of paint before previous coats of paint has dried. So it isn’t surprising that the paint runs amok.
The fact is: liquids naturally flow where it’s wet. Example liquid paint flows freely in water or in wet paint.  ….All it takes to control the situation: is to observe the state of the paper and how wet, semi-wet or dry the previous wash of colour is, before adding more paint. That means, judging and timing the right moment.

It’s all a matter of cause and effect:

  • Where the paper is wet and shiny, the paint will run and blur there.
  • When the paper is dull and dry, the paint won’t run where it’s dry.
  • When there is too much water, the paper becomes soggy. Thin, over wet paper puckers (cockles) easily and pools of water form in the valleys. A recipe for disaster! Mop it up quickly.
  • If there is too much liquid on your brush and the previous wash hasn’t dried yet, you will get ugly watery ‘cabbage’ effects. Mop it up quickly, or if you want the lacy look, leave it to do its thing.

Mingling of colours:

Beginners are shocked when their brush touches a previous patch of wet paint and the colour from the brush is quickly zapped and mingles with the previous wash. Gosh, that wasn’t what they expected. What now, what should they do!!

Mingling of colours isn’t necessary a bad thing. Sometimes lovely unexpected ambiance effects are created this way. In fact artists often use this as a technique, to make special atmospheric effects! The result will depend on how much liquid is involved and what the constitutions of the pigments are.

Time artists spend on planning:

You have to ask yourself a few questions when planning your painting:

  • What do I want to achieve? What effects do I want?
  • What type of undercoats? Do I use an overall imprimatura wash or start within designated areas?
  • Since watercolours generally start out with light washes of colour, what under-colour do I need? How will the topcoats relate to this undercoat?
  • Consider the composition format. What is important? What can I leave out? How much detail do I need?
  • What should stay blurred?
  • What type of contour edges and textures do I want?

If your watercolour is a soggy mess:

  • It’s because you used too much water.
  • And kept adding and stirring in more paint.
  • And possibly three equal amounts of the primary colours (yellow, red and blue) were added to the ‘melting pot’.

Taking advantage of ‘tip and runs’:

If your brush has tipped another wet area where the paint is still wet, naturally it will run and spread out into the nearest wet area. To some people this may cause them drama. But artists use this as a trick to create distant trees along a mountain range’s contour edge.

Remember: the amount of water controls the consequences.

Spreading test:

Some watercolour pigments run faster than others in wet areas. To test the pigments you have:

  • Dab fresh clean water on your paper (like in the illustration below).
  • Then tip one side of the dab of water with paint and watch what happens. How quick or slow each pigment takes.
  • To make the test plausible: Make sure there is enough water in each dab, so that the paint can run easier.
  • Watercolours don’t run as quickly or spread so easily in damp or on semi-dry paper.

Note: If you tilt the paper, the paint will run and spread even farther into the wet area. Thus ensures you have some control where you want the colour to be.

Spreading of watercolour

Spreading test.

So you see dramas can be turned to your advantage! Artists learn to go with the flow of what’s happening as their painting evolves, if you don’t mind the pun!

If you want to learn more about watercolour secrets, start at the beginning of the ‘watercolour secrets’ category – listing in the left bar column.

Why Watch the Paper?

Watercolours are NOT difficult as most people seem to think:

  • All it takes is watching the state of your paper,
  • When to apply your brush,
  • Watching where you put your brush,
  • And how much liquid on your brush and paper.
  • How the quality of the paper makes a difference.
  • And lastly how to control the condition of your paper.
Watch the watercolour paper.

A5 watercolour: The old road to the homestead.

Watching the state of the paper:

It’s important to always watch the condition of your watercolour paper before applying paint:

  • Wet-in-wet: If your paper is too wet, you will get very blurry washes and vague shapes. Why? Because paint runs very easily on wet paper. Therefore things will only be blurred where you have pre-wet the paper.
  • Wet-in-dry: That is, wet brush on dry paper. When the paper is dry, you’ll get sharp-edged brushstrokes. Dry paper gives you sharp-edged detail.
  • But if you want soft-edged brushstrokes and contour edges, wait until the paper isn’t too wet or too dry. The stage of dampness depends on how blurred you require the result.
Remember the stage or state of wetness, dampness or dryness of your paper controls the condition of the effects you are trying to create.Waiting and judging for the right moment to apply your paint is called `timing’.

 Spreading your paint:

  • If you have trouble spreading your paint: It’s because you don’t have enough liquid on your brush, and the paper is too dry. If your brush is big and fully loaded (with water and paint) and your paper is wet, the easier the brush will flow over the paper.
  • Basically it’s the amount of liquid that controls any wash. That is: how much liquid there is on your brush and on the paper.
  • If the paper is dry and has textured tooth (rough surface), you will get a broken-colour-wash of colour. The reason why, is because paint only covers tips and not enough paint to fall into the hollows of the rough textured paper.
Watch how paint spreads over tooth.

What ‘tooth’ means and how paint spreads over the tooth on textured paper.

Timing of application:

It is just the matter of judging the state of your paper, whether the paper is dry, wet, damp or semi-dry, before you apply your brush:

  • If there is a pool of water (and paint) on your paper, mop it up quickly before you have a disaster.
  • If there too much liquid on your brush you’ll get `cabbage’ wash effects.
  • If your paper is wet, the paint will run very easily.
  • If the paper is shiny, it’s still wet.
  • If the paper is semi-glossy, it’s starting to dry.
  • If the paper is starting to go dull, it’s damp.
  • If the paper is matt, it’s dry.

 How to see the state of the paper:

I often get the question at this stage of instruction: “How do you see how glossy the paper is or not?”

If you are not seeing the difference, place your painting between you and the nearest window. It is easier to see this during the day.

The more you paint, the more you get your `timing’ right. No one can actually tell you what really occurs unless you observe and experience it for yourself.

Watch what you are doing: Be careful where you place your brush. Watch how your brush spreads its hairs. Don’t rush, watch how the paint spreads and blends.

 The quality of the paper:

  • Thin paper cockles and buckles badly. Pools of water collect in the valleys of the paper.
  • Wood-pulp paper, eg: blank newspaper, goes yellow in time.
  • Avoid acid-free paper, it goes yellow in time.
  • Hot pressed paper is very smooth. The paint sits in globules on its shiny surface.
  • Very absorbent types of paper suck up liquid too quickly, to make it easy to spread paint. You need more liquid to apply unbroken smooth washes.
  • Thick textured paper needs more liquid to fill in the valleys of the `tooth’. A damp brush catches only the tips of the tooth because there isn’t enough liquid on the brush to run into the tooth valleys of the paper’s texture.
  • On the other hand thick textured paper is perfect to make dappled segmented effects. First wet your paper and fully load your brush with segmented pigments.
  • Fine tooth, semi-absorbent cold-pressed paper gives you smooth blends and gradations. This creates beautiful atmospheric washes.
  • You need to practice often to learn how to handle Waka-sen and Jito-shi Japanese papers. Some artists use rice paper instead. I don’t think Japanese papers are available in South Africa.

Environment control:

Working out doors your paper gets dry quicker than if you were working indoors.

  • Place a piece of wet velt or dish-clothe on a light panelite board. The velt helps to keep your paper damp. The size of the board depends on the size of your watercolour paper. You don’t usually work with big sheets of paper when working outdoors. The wind is sure to give you opposition.
  • Spray or sponge your paper with water, both sides before starting to paint.
  • To hasten the drying time when working indoors, place your watercolour painting on a dry towel. This allows the air to circulate and dry your paper.
  • If you use a hair dryer to quicken the drying time, the paper buckles and the paint dries unevenly, especially if the paper is thin and of poor quality.
  • Controlling soft-edges: Say you are painting a bowl of flowers and want to keep the petal edges delicate. Soften the edges of the flower’s contour edge with a clean wet brush. And keep it somewhat wet until you get around to painting around it.


The best water to use for watercolours:

  • Very hard water is inclined to precipitate the pigment particles, ie hastens vapour to form solid deposits.
  • If you haven’t any soft water, try using rainwater or distilled water instead.

For more tips on watercolour, check out the free downloads of watercolour books.

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.

Handling Watercolour Schemata

What are schemata?

Schemata are imaginary things we see in odd shapes. For example when you look up at sky, we are inclined to surmise the shape of the clouds look like things. That cloud looks like a face or a dog running, etc. How do we see these things? We assess the shapes of clouds by their basic symbolic shapes and then we fantasize the rest.

Watercolour: cloud schemata

Watercolour: cloud schemata

That is what happens when we paint with watercolours. We assess things, ie shape of your brushstrokes or how things merge, as we paint.

If blunders occur we quickly translate the schemata blotches that appear in our painting into something more significant. If it looks for instance like a flower or a butterfly, we either add plausible detail or eliminate superfluous details, so as to give the shape a more authentic appearance.

This calls for sensitivity of spirit:

Our minds and spirit must be in tune with what’s happening all the time on our paper. So we can quickly identify any possible unexpected schemata and decide what alternatives we can use in the situation.

This of cause can change the format of what we initially planned for our composition. Sometimes drastically!

Don’t get upset. It doesn’t help. Look carefully at what you see. Look for the beauty in the moment, the end result maybe more appealing than you expect.

This is a wow-moment, when you realize paintings taken on their own personality and life of their own. Like characters in a TV soapy, the influence of the actor’s personality affects the recording. And you as the stage manager, you are handling the end result.

The constitution of the pigments and the state of the brush and paper play a big part in the state of affairs. Their characteristics define the personality of your painting. As the artist you need to be flexible in our attitude and thought processes to make things work for you.

 Perfection verses emotional impact:

If you try to reinforce your original concept, your painting will only look contrived and stiff. Be more concerned with how you are communicating, rather than been authentically correct according to reality.

Whatever the schemata shape, consider the inner part of the shape. Just as we meet people we assess their mood, ie what vibe they are sending us. So it is with art, consider what blend of colours you are using within and surrounding the schemata shape:

  • Blue and green: cool calm vibes.
  • Red and orange: warm vibrant vibes.
  • Yellow: warm and sunny vibes.
  • A mixture of analogous colours: harmonious vibes.

 Controlling mistakes:

To make the schemata shape settle comfortably with its surroundings (so our mistake doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb) consider using harmonious, similar or analogous colours and tones to correct the situation!

The intricacies of watercolour:

Every medium has some sort of idiosyncratic intricacies. Watercolours aren’t any different.

As a beginner it can be disconcerting, irritating and frustrating at first. But once you have learnt how to handle problems and unexpected elements, you’ll be able to seize what it presents and `go with it’.

Don’t panic. Be flexible in following through on the consequences of your actions. Inflexibility doesn’t give room for manoeuvres.

Consider the problems you confront in watercolours like you were doing judo. In judo you use the strength of your opponent to swing him over. You use your opponent’s energy as your energy. You follow through on what your opponent presents.You would have less stress if you calmly grasped the problems that came and use them to your advantage. And you will find the dramas are never as big as you first thought.

Think of unexpected schemata as opportunities!

To an inexperienced person handling unexpected facets is scary. But each experience adds to your expertise. And as time goes on you’ll stop been petrified of things that could possibly go wrong, and feel the power of being in control, and actually enjoy manipulating accidental occurrences.

  • You will see the ingenious skills you used to handle these unexpected schemata, could possibly open many a door to your success as an artist.
  • Perfect your skills and help build your style.
  • Open your eyes to new concepts and take you down corridors you never dreamt you were capable of.

So why all this about schemata?

Not only do we assess schemata to correct mistakes, but it’s also the way watercolour paintings evolve through schemata.

When our watercolour paper is blank we have nothing to work with. As you know a blank canvas can be stressful. We need a faint suggestion of marks to convey an impression and stir our imagination.

When we start watercolours with blurred shapes, we have schemata formation and mood to work on. After that we add facts and define the shapes where necessary, until our painting is complete.

Conclusion: Painting watercolours is like adventuring into the unknown. Starting with a vague beginning and using your imagination to unravel the `story’. The exciting part is, as artists we get to tell the story, create a beautiful vista as a time capsule.

How to make sure of your success:

  • First, have some sort of campaign strategy.
  • Set out all you need within reach before you begin paining so you won’t panic when the unexpected happens.
  • Like before a board meeting, simplify the composition so you can handle additional details should they arise.

 Here is a progressive demo to see how watercolours evolve through schemata:

Art: Watercolours Secrets Revealed

So you want to learn the secrets to painting watercolours?

  • This series of blogs on the secrets of watercolour is FREE. You don’t have to buy 8-9 DVD’s. The information and tips are free. All you have to do is follow the blog series.
  • And what you get is the honest unvarnished truth. What watercolour artists actually experience. And you can learn from their experiences.

Since this blog is the introduction to the watercolour secrets series, we’ll start with:

What are your expectations? How great are your expectations?

Having taught many novices, they generally start out with high expectations. Most think there are shortcut tricks to success.
Enthusiasm isn’t a bad attitude, unless of cause you expect instant results. You can’t learn art in one or two lessons. It’s no secret, that most trades start with an apprenticeship and regular activity to acquire a skill.

Art is about been actively creative:

  • `It’s enjoying the trip while you are taking the journey’.
  • `Enjoying the moment while creating in the moment.
You can paint watercolours

A watercolour.

Progress depends on you. You make the difference:

  • You may learn a lot by actually experimenting with want you have learnt.
  • Don’t be scared of making mistakes. The fact is: people learn by trial and error, ie how things should or shouldn’t be done.
  • The old masters knew opposition and frustrations were part of being on the road to fame.
  • You learn a lot from reality, studying and working outdoors, eg: taking note of the true colours of Nature.
  • Checking how other artists handle particular techniques involved in your research.
  • Learning the constitution of the pigments and how they react to their environment: to other pigments and the state of the watercolour paper.
  • Finding out what your tools can or can’t do under different circumstances and procedures.
  • The trick to success: is to be patient with yourself and enjoy living in the moment of creating.

Added to that, people who:

  • Buy cheap watercolour pigments or art materials don’t get good results.
  • People who don’t watch demos carefully or listen to advice and instruction given, usually lose out on important facts.
  • People who don’t take notes or practice at home what they learnt for the day in art class, haven’t a clue how to cope on their own. When you experience something for yourself, you come back with relevant questions.

Conclusion: So it isn’t surprising then, those people get discouraged when mistakes occurred and give up even before they even start. You can’t go `like a bull charging into a china store’ without everything come crashing down!

Case history:

You’re more likely to achieve something, if you enjoy doing it. Each tiny successful attempt is encouraging, gives you confidence to continue striving towards your goals.

I remember a woman who learnt the timing of applying watercolour paint. I saw how she wiggled in her chair with excitement. You could see she loved the effects she was creating and couldn’t wait to do another vignette exercise.

So she kept trying out the technique, over and over again. And with each successful attempt her smile grew bigger and bigger, she even started humming with joy.

Why was she so successful?

She listened carefully to what the instructions were. She was very observant. She carefully watched my demonstration. Then when undertaking her exercise, she carefully watched the state of her paper before applying her paintbrush and dropping in more colour at the appropriate time, then watched as the colours merged and created beautiful special effects.

  • Yes the beauty of watercolours is the flow, integration and gradation of colours!
  • No other medium possesses or creates this type of atmospheric charm the way watercolours do.

How dedicated are you?

You learn a lot if you are willing to go the extra mile because you are thirsty for knowledge and willing to explore theory.
People who are not willing to learn anything new and prefer to stick to old habits never progress.
Art teachers will tell you: students who expect too much, all at once, don’t generally `stay the race’. Mastering a skill doesn’t usually happen overnight, unless you have had some previous experience.


  • How much do you want to become a successful artist?
  • Do you think art is just an amusing social pastime?
  • How serious are you about your artistic ambitions?
  • How do you see the world around you? What effects or colour combinations make you want to paint and be creative?
  • What do you want out of life? How do you plan to enjoy it

Do you know there are creative trolls in art?

What are creative trolls?

They are devastating faults that stick out like a sore thumb and spoil a painting. They pop out, not from the troll bridge, but stand out prominently in the picture and destroy the balance of the composition. You need to eliminate them before you start painting.

There are three obvious trolls discussed in this blog and how to fix them.

Photo of Magaliesberg, where you can take a leisurely drive through the mountains.

Photo of the Magaliesberg pass on the road to Rustenburg, Transvaal, South Africa.

Can you spot the trolls in the Magaliesberg photo ?

Some years back we took a leisurely drive through the Magaliesberg Mountains on our way to Rustenburg. Coming across this scene we stopped and I hopped out the car and took this photo.

Then I was side tracked by guinea fowl grazing in the velt (grasslands). Guinea fowl are so fascinating with their bright odd-shaped blue heads and their distinctive black and white spotted wing and body feathers.

Photo of guinea fowl you would want to paint.

Photo of guinea fowl grazing in the velt (grasslands).

As you can see, having to zoom in so far, the photo of the guinea fowl didn’t come out so nice. But aren’t the contrast of colours in the photo beautiful?

Whenever I had the chance to see guinea fowl up close, I took photos of them thinking I would paint these guinea fowl in the photo with improved features, in a stunning abstract oil painting. However since then the demand for guinea fowl paintings has sadly diminished!!

By the way, the guinea fowl in the second photo weren’t trolls!

 Getting back on track:

The photo of the Magaliesberg scene …has three creative trolls:

  1. Fences crossing in front of a painting’s composition are a no-no:  Why? Because it blocks the way into the scene of the painting! People want to feel they can enter and stroll into a scene unhampered by fences, walls and closed gates.
  2. Roads and pathways going out of a scene is a no-no: Why? Physiologically: A road going towards the right side, leads the eye out of the painting!
  3. The stark directional power of neat outlines and contour edges of hills and mountains: Notice how the hillside on the left slopes sharply down to the right in the photo, giving the impression of sliding out the picture unhindered. It also causes an in-balance in the composition. That is a NO-NO troll.

So how do you fix that when you paint?

Do you like this watercolour of Magaliesberg?

Watercolour painting of the Magaliesberg, “The old farm road”.

As to the fence or wall going across the composition:

  • You can reduce the length and make a gap in the wall. Don’t show each and every brick and crevice. Change shapes and colour of bricks and add moss and disfigurement.
  • Give the fence an uneven appearance and perspective: Stagger and change the angle and type of poles and posts. Reduce the amount of wires seen.
  • Or remove the fence or wall altogether! This will simplify the composition and give your painting more impact.

 As to roads and paths leading out of the composition:

  • A road or path coming in from the left-side is a good thing. It leads the eye in the composition.
  • To stop the eye wondering out of the painting’s composition, add a tree or something to block the way out of the picture.
  • Give the road a purpose: Redirect the road toward the centre of the composition and towards the main objective, eg: view or house.

As to the sharp slope of a hill or mountain:

  • Tilt the angle of the land, in this case up on the right-hand side of the composition.
  • To balance the composition: Put taller trees or darken the trees’ value, on the right side. This helps to strengthen the composition and blocks the possibility of any eye exiting the picture.
  • Neat clean contour edged along hills and mountains should be broken up with trees or blurred in places, depending on the situation. Another trick is to graduate values and colours with their adjacent areas.

Look forward to hearing from you:

What creative trolls do you have pestering your paintings? Let me know. Maybe I could suggest ‘vanishing cream’ or ‘zap spray’ to get rid of trolls. Ha, ha! No seriously, if you need help with painting compositions, feel free to ask me. Either email me (contact form in left sidebar) or if you are using a mobile device, put in your request in the comment form below.

For more Photo Demos:

See page “Introduction to Photo Demos

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Want to know How to Change Your World?

Why do what people expect of you? Have you ever wanted to do your own thing? You can you know.

Want to know how to change your world?

All it takes at first is to put a smile on your face. Why take life seriously? Frowning only makes you ugly! Opening up your heart and mind, changes your attitude.

Checking the beauty of the world around you:

For starters, what did you find so profound? Did you check the different colours of trees and grass? How blue the sky is. How the clouds ride the sky. How water shimmers and ripples in the wind. And when the sun is setting, the brightness of auras around grass seeds and delicate flowers, etc.

From this experience you will see how the energy of light and colour transforms your attitude, giving you a feeling that you could attempt anything, if you so wished. All you have to do from now on is make time for yourself and put your plans into action.

Artist doing her thing.

People love watching artists doing their thing.

If you’re an artist:

You soon learn that you can’t copy exactly what God so perfectly created. Nor do you want to paint mundane scenes that no one will buy. So what do you do? You suggest reality by translating and transforming what you see into something more dynamic and sensational.

Yeah it’s fun to be an artist. You can play around with facts and theory, and use the power of imagination to change the world into a whole new whimsical world! Isn’t that great?

Emotional impact:

With first impressions, people usually buy things with their senses and emotions, seldom with reasoning. It’s the impact of colours and boldness of shapes that first attracts them. Why, because people like drama, using their imagination and need something to lift their spirits.

You can take a tip from Walt Disney on how to change your world:

His films have a dream like quality. The key influence is simplicity and the emotion of gradation of colour. Flow of movement and contour lines created action. Some of the colours of reality were transformed by the interaction of warm and cool colours. Also Walt Disney films inspired your imagination.

Photo of meander scene.

Photo of a scene in the Natal Midlands Meander.

Looking beyond reality:

I got this photograph of a scene in the Natal Midlands Meander from a friend who recently spent as week there.

Watercolour of meander scene.

Fanciful watercolour impression of the Natal Midlands Meander scene

As you can see I didn’t use the whole of the photo’s content. I couldn’t paint every leaf and blade of glass, so I did my thing and changed the colours to give it a romantic Walt Disney effect.

  1. Changing the colours of the photo on my computer gave me another dimension of the scene. Helped me see the scene from another point of view.
  2. Wanting to keep my colours fresh, I refrained from applying an overall imprimatura as my first wash.
  3. Because I the colours of my highlights to be bright, I used liquid masking.
  4. When the masking was dry, I first applied warm colours: Lilac and violet for the background trees, and yellow grass and gold bushes in the middle-ground.
  5. Once that was done I painted the dark shadow areas of the foliage. And French ultramarine blue for the sky.
  6. The sap green foliage was applied, before adding the colours of the pool.
  7. Rubbing off the masking, I finished off by filling in yellow-green to the highlight spots.
  8. Last of all I propped up the picture some distance away to check what I had achieved.

People who have taken art classes with me have often said I have changed the way they see the world around them. Now that you know how artists see their world, you can take time out too, to look at your world through your own rosy `tinted glasses’?

If you want to see more of how I transform photos into paintings, check out the ‘Photo Demo‘ page and blog category.

Please leave a comment:

How profound is your world? I really want to know if this blog has changed the way you see things, and the way you paint from now on?

Blue Lagoon Seascape

Blue Lagoon:

Fishermen on Blue Lagoon pier

Fishermen on Blue Lagoon pier.

Men and their fishing! My sense of humour may seem wacky to you, but don’t you think the men crowded together on Blue Lagoon’s pier with their fishing rods, makes their profile look rather spiky, like the back of a porcupine?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved fishing when I had the chance years ago. But now that I live in the Transvaal there isn’t the likelihood me going fishing.

Blue Lagoon is situated at the mouth of Umgeni River, just north of Durban central, now part of Durban’s beach front promenade. Since I took the photograph construction work has been done on the pier. Between the parking lot and beach there is an open space where people gather for braai picnics. It seems a popular spot for family and friends to meet, especially in the early evenings. I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

Years ago there was a small lagoon and roadhouse where the parking lot is today. People used to paddle, swim and were even baptized there in the lagoon, but over the years the lagoon became stagnate and eventually dried up.

Photograph of Blue Lagoon’s surf:

Blue Lagoon surf

Photo of Blue Lagoon surf.

Since usual seascapes with flat waves aren’t dramatic enough, I thought a close up photo of the rocks at the end of the pier would be more dramatic with waves crashing on the rocks and throwing up spray.

Painting demo:

Watercolour of Blue Lagoon surf.

Watercolour of Blue Lagoon surf.

This is the watercolour painting I did of the photo. And this is how I painted it:

  • Since the watercolour paper I took with me on this trip to Durban was so very thirsty (absorbent) I heavily sprayed my board and wet both sides of my paper well, so that the first wash of paint would result in a soft indistinct blur.
  • The first wash was of light blue, leaving out the white of the foam and spray areas.
  • Then as the paper started drying I commenced filling in the detail. Shaping and defining the waves, and creating frothy edges to foam and spray. That is, adding darker and darker paint as I proceed, until I had just the right effects.
  • I used transparent pigments where possible. Analogous mixtures of ‘thalo’  blue and ‘thalo green for the seawater, and a touch of yellow ochre to make the green water.
  • Soft pink was added to the sky and yellow ochre to where the sand was churned up into the waves and foam.
  • Note the horizon isn’t level in the photo (perhaps a heavy right hand!) and considering the scud running up the slope of the beach, I adjusted the format of the photo somewhat to create a more pleasing composition.

 Horizon levels and timing of photos:

When taking photographs with water, eg: rivers or seascapes, one has always got to remember to check the level of the water or horizon. But if you are excited to get a beautiful shot you often forget to check levels. This especially happens when photographing waves in action. Your timing must be just right (click a little beforehand so when the shutter works) if you want to get the desired effect. Like waiting for a built up swell, that will produce a clear curled wave with foam just beginning to turn over.

More blog links:

If you want to see more paintings and find out more about Blue Lagoon area, check the last category ‘Painting of Beachwood Mangrove’, ie under `Photo Demos’ category listing.

Painting of Beachwood Mangrove

Photograpgh of Beachwood mangrove

Photo of Beachwood Mangrove and its plank walkways.

Beachwood Mangrove Nature Reserve is situated at the mouth of Umgeni River where it meets the sea and behind the sand dunes of the beach. You will find it across the bridge, from Blue Lagoon’s pier and parking area. Blue Lagoon is situated at the end of Durban’s long paved beachfront promenade.

The mangrove area was allotted as a wildlife sanctuary, where you can park your cars and have a group picnic there or explore the fascinating terrain of swamp along the wooden plank walkways provided.

If you are a bird watcher, you will find the area has lots of bird life and also up along the river. Park benches are provided along the Riverside Road embankment for those who would like to rest and enjoy the expanse of the river and its wildlife.

And if you want to see a huge variety of caged birds, there is also a bird sanctuary park along Riverside Road. There are some very beautiful birds and you can attend a discourse where personal introduce you to fascinating birds of prey in a small open arena.

Watercolour of Beachwood Mangrove

Watercolour painting of Beachwood Mangrove swamp.

Watercolour painting demo:

Naturally been a watercolour painting I haven’t put in every tree, leaf or twig. The point in painting is to capture the mood or essence of the scene. And since the photo was cool in ambience, I added some warmth, ie a little more yellow to the composition.

To give the trees a 3D effect, I used liquid masking for the trunks and branches. After the painting dried, I removed the masking and used different shades of raw sienna, burnt umber and French ultramarine blue to make the bark of the trees interesting and knobbly.

Painting plank walkways can make your painting look stiff and contrived, so I implied the walkways had loose uneven boards. And adding shadows helped to soften the neatness of the plank structure.

Thanks for patiently waiting for another photo demo of mine while I was away visiting family in Durban. If you are new to my site, please feel free to check out other photo demo blogs, starting with Introduction to Photo Demo page. Then move on to the Photo Demo category listings. Each has interesting facts about the place and tips on how to paint those types of scenes.

As always, keep painting!

Seagull over Shaka’s Rock beach

Photo of Shaka Rock beach

Photograph of Shaka Rock beach


Shaka’s Rock is 40 km along the north coast of Durban. History has it that the legendary Zulu king Shaka throw his enemies off the rock and also tested the mettle of his impi warriors by forcing them to jump off the rock. Today the rock to the left of the photograph is a fishing spot and the small town a wonderful holiday resort.

Photo of arched rock hole.

Photograph pf arched hole in the rock near the tidal pool.

There is also a big tidal pool to the right of the beach photograph, and beyond that an arched hole (shown her) in the rock that you can only pass through at low tide, thus making the place and a beautiful fascinating place to spend your summer holidays.

Watercolour of Shaka Rock beach.

Watercolour painting of Shaka’s Rock beach.

Watercolour painting:

Generally I would use a sponge to create fine spray. But in this seascape I used liquid masking. As you can see it makes the droplets of water look heavy and the water hitting the rock look forceful.

Tips: If you want water to look clear and transparent use fresh clean washes of colour and gradated colour.

In this seascape different hues of blue and green were applied, alternating to create a ‘ladder leader-in’ perspective. And, if only one shade of colour was used in the water, the painting would be boring.

Seagulls are always on the lookout for something to eat and picnickers and fishermen tend to leave food or bait lying around. The day we were there, there weren’t many bathers or fishermen, so this seagull flying overhead I imagine resorted to searching the surf as well.

If you would like to see more paintings done from photographs:

Check out Introduction to Photo Demos and Photo Demo category listings.

Stream in the Woods

Stream in the woods:

Photo of stream in the woods

Photo stream in the woods.

I enjoyed walking by this stream, down in the valley of the Kendal farm. It’s secluded under wattle trees and willows.  It’s so quiet and peaceful, away from the city with its noisy traffic and towering buildings.

I love trees. Their character is formed by the climate and weather. Some trees are bent and twisted by the wind and some trees stand tall and proud against all elements. Some trees are hit by lightning and some trimmed or chopped down. Some grow wild and carefree. Just as our characters are formed by the circumstances and environments we live in.

When you sit down and soak in the atmosphere of your surroundings and listen to the trickle of the water, as it sparkles in the sun and meanders down and over rocks and moss, it brings peace, hope and joy to the soul.

Watercolour: stream in the woods

Watercolour painting of the stream in the woods

Composition considerations:

Painting with oil paints and painting with watercolours requires different technique approaches. Photographs and painting also have different identities! Because this photograph is basically cool colours and has similar tone levels, I translated and transformed the scene by:

  • By considering what mood I intended and how I was going to go about it.
  • First I blurred the woods in the background, because I expected the foreground to be leafy.
  • I also wanted the stream to look like it was going deep, back into the background trees. So I selectively strengthened the tones in the background trees, especially where the stream disappears into the background.
  • Contrasting colour and tone between the background and middle ground, also helped to give depth to the stream.
  • Also used contrast of colour in the composition to bring the painting to life.
  • The reflection in the stream was done wet-in-wet and darkened both sides of the sparkling ripple to draw the eye up the stream.
  • As to the young leafy sapling wattle tree, growing out the foreground bank on the left, that was tricky. It consisted of different colours and shades. Wow, you may say, how do you do that? Well, to show it up against its background, I `push and pull’ the strength of the tones. That is, used chiaroscuro, alternating tone levels to differentiate the sapling from its surrounding background.
  • Also contrast the colours of the sapling to rhythm with the colours on the right hand side of the painting.

If you want to see more paintings from photographs check out Introduction to Photo Demos page and category.

I’ll be away during the month of September in Durban. I’m looking forward to spring and the warm barmy days down at the coast.  I’ll write as soon as I get back. In the meanwhile I hope you enjoy painting and that this blog on the stream in the woods has been interesting and informative.

Bush Demo

Photo of bush demo

Photo of South African bush on the Springbok Flats.

This photo was taken in the bush, on the Springbok Flats, a farming, game reserve district, north east of Pretoria, where we have been spending time with our son. Since he has a website (‘Long Day Safaris’) he wanted to experiment with taking videos for his cycling blogs. Just before leaving the house he said I should also take my painting kit.

That is how this photo demo came about: First he took a video of me painting in the bush and then I took videos of him cycling in the bush. We had a grand time taking videos, something we hadn’t ever done before. We sure had lots to learn!

So why isn’t the video included in this blog? Well … in the past, my voice on tape recorders sounded ghastly, very different from what I normally sound. Apparently things hadn’t changed, my voice still sounds pathetic!

And what about the painting I did for the video? Well that was a disaster from the start. When you paint outdoors your watercolour paper dries quickly, making it hard to spread your washes. The situation is somewhat intensified and challenging when the weather is windy, as it was that day.

Placing a sheet of wet velt or wet material under your watercolour paper and spraying your paper both sides prolongs the drying time.  Since I had forgotten my velt at home, I should have taken a wet dish-clothe instead from our son’s house.

I’m used of doing demos in front of people and doing location fieldwork. That’s no problem, but painting for a video was a new experience. Been action people, we didn’t waste time discussing the possibilities of how to go about it, hoping that we would learn from the experience. Setting up my camping chair and paint paraphernalia was done quickly, but once started I didn’t know if there was sound, if I should talk or not, what angle was best, etc. This made me rather nervous.

Talk about bungling, I started by painting in the blue of the sky. Leaving white areas for the clouds, naturally this created sharp-edges because of the dry paper. So I had to work quickly, rinsing my brush and blurring the sharp-edges, especially the underbellies of the clouds. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came to painting the trees and bush it was another matter. Because I couldn’t spread the paint, it looked like sketching. It was very frustrating not been able to get the effect you want.

The effect of South African bush is unique. I love the profile of the trees with their gesturing umbrella shaped canopies. To get the full picture, the bush also hosts briers, khaki-bos and wild seeds waving in the breeze. The contrast of colour in the winter is beautiful. Well to me as an artist it is anyway. The grass is straw coloured and light compared with the green and russet colours of the trees and bush.

With the paper so dry, it wasn’t easy portraying the tree with their nobly twisted filigree branches and leaves. Oh well, I had to keep going because the video was still rolling. Pressing on was even more embarrassing! Instead, here is a watercolour I did later back at the house.

Watercolour of South African bush

Watercolour painting of South African bush.

Love to know how you coped doing videos for the first time. And what program did you used to put it on your website. Our son had problems converting his video to MP4 format, to be able to put it on his webpage. Well you don’t learn anything unless you try doing it, hey!

Over the Treetops

`Over the Treetops’ is a photo demo painting blog.

The photograph is of the treetops and range of mountains, seen from the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, near the quaint town of McGregor.

Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve

Photo of Vrollijkheid view of treetops and surrounding mountains


The reserve was so beautiful over the Easter weekend. Even though there are sign-posted descriptions of plants, etc along the pathways, the milieu of the reserve is still kept unscathed by its tourist attraction.

Photograph of an owl

Photo of a spotted eagle owl sitting in a tree.

On the way back from one of the bird hides we came across a most serene friendly spotted-eagle owl. It sat there quietly watching us from a tree above the pathway, only about two meters away can you believe it! Very impressive. Seemly unconcerned about us, maybe more interested in us than we in it. An unforgettable experience.

Because it was the beginning of autumn there was a variety of colours, subtle maybe for the average man to see, but to the artist, a place of pure beauty where your imagination could run wild.

The ‘Over the Treetops watercolor demo:

High over the treetops you can see the surround hills of the Riviersonderend mountains of the Cape.


Watercolor landscape

`Over the Toptops’ is a watercolour of the view from the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve.

`Over the Treetops’ was painted on A5 textured 200gsm Amegeo mixed media paper. Not the easiest paper to paint watercolours on. But I suppose one can get used to its particular idiosyncrasies if you use it often enough.

A light imprimatura wash of raw sienna was done first. I must say the wash for `Over the Treetops’ was done about 3-4 weeks ago in anticipation of doing a watercolour demo. I often do this in advance, especially if I plan to paint on location. Capturing special effects isn’t easy when working on location. You have to be well prepared because weather, light and atmospheric conditions, change quickly while working on location. Doing as much as you can beforehand, saves a lot of time when the sun seems to speed through the sky!

Of cause the painting isn’t like the photograph. I painted the scene according to my imagination. Zooming in, cutting out most of the foreground, bring out and contrasting colours, makes it feel like you are looking high over the treetops, towards the haze over the mountains. To emphasis this feeling I reserved a few tiny spots to give the scene a leafy ambience. This contrasted with the smooth description of the mountainous background.

Hope you enjoyed `Over the Treetops’ watercolour. If you want to see more photograph demo on this reserve, check out the ‘Heron Nature Trail’ blog. Also `Photo and painting demo’ of a Dutch Cape styled house in the town of McGregor.



Heron Nature Trail

Heron nature trail in the Vrolijkheid reserve:

Vrolijkheid nature reserve is situated between Robertson and  McGregor in the Cape. The reserve is close to the little quaint town of McGregor and has two main trails and dams.

  • We did the Heron Trail. Erected along the trail are placards giving descriptions of plants and wildlife. We saw many wild birds and even a tortoise from one of the bird hides.
  • The Rooikat trail is much longer. At the beginning of the trail there is a stone wall (built between two farms over a hundred years ago).  Along the trail you will come across Klipspringer Gorge and later perhaps you will see baboons in the hills.
Photograph of Heron Trail

Shrub land along the Heron Trail

The Photo: I took many photos and this photo and demo is of the shrubs on the way to the first dam. I thought the dark bush silhouetted against the blue of the surrounding mountains beautiful. This particular scene captures Karoo-like shrub, which I thought quite appealing.

Watercolour of the Heron Trail

Watercolour of the shrub land along the Heron Trail.

The demo:  The photograph looks somewhat dark, so I reduce the amount of shrubs and  lightened the ground area to give the scene some contrast. The photo is rather cool in nature, so I incorporated a little warmth to give it a little more emotional impact. If the painting (A5) is viewed from a distance the undergrowth doesn’t look so spotty because I reduced detail wherever possible.

South Africa is a beautiful country. So many lovely places off the beaten track to visit.

Photo and painting demo

Photo and painting demo of a Cape Dutch house in McGregor.

Where is the town of McGregor?

The little town of Mcgregor nestles in the Riviersonderendberge mountains of the Cape, South African. The nearest town by road is Robertson and over the mountains is Greyton. If you are travelling from Cape Town, you get there via Worcester and Robertson.

What is the place like?

I really enjoyed our stay there over Easter Weekend. You can always find someone walking their dogs when out on a walk. A market is held every Saturday morning between 8:30 and 9:30. Folks tell you, “You have to get there early, otherwise you will miss it.” Homemade goodies and fresh produce is sold out quickly. There is no charge to have a stall there. This I think is very wise because everyone benefits.

Including the dogs:

They seem to know when it’s Saturday and not the usual `walkies’ outing! Why? What have they got to look forward to? The answer: A lady brings homemade titbits especially for the dogs every market day. You should see the dogs queuing up, licking their chops in anticipation for their turn. The dogs big and small are so cute and adorable that everyone has the urge to pat and fondle them. You would think it’s their special day to socialize, not just the folks who live there!

When you walk around touring the quaint little town, everyone is so friendly and the place is so beautiful and peaceful, that you wish you could live there too. If you don’t believe me, Google and book a cottage for your next holiday. And if you like the place there are estate agents there by the way.

It seems as though everyone in the tiny town is talented in some way or other. The streets of the town are very clean and the galleries and shops interesting venues. Most of the houses are Cape Dutch styled, neat and freshly painted, with grape vines over veranda poles and lattice or bougainvillea over doorways and pretty flowers in pots. So picturesque that you feel you’ve arrived in heaven. ….even funerals are led by a minstrel band!

Photo and painting demo:

So it isn’t very surprising I took many exciting photos of the houses and the surrounding mountains. I think most of them lean towards been painted in oils. But here is a photo of one of the houses partly hidden in the trees that could perhaps pass as a watercolour.

Cape Dutch house in the town of McGregor

Photo of Cape Dutch house in McGregor

painting of Cape Dutch house

The watercolour of the Cape Dutch house

You will notice some things were omitted or rearranged according to artists’ licence. I took out the fence to prevent its intervening barrier. And in the process reduced the intimidating horizontal planes in the foreground somewhat and added a subtle pathway and steps to give abstruse passage and access to the house.
The foreground trees gives the scene perspective dimension and the leafy texture of foliage contrasts with the neat plain walls of the house, thus drawing attention to the house as the main point of focus and interest. Even the extended leaves, of the trees in the top/right corner of the paper, points to the house and suggests its atmospheric relationship to the mountains in the surrounding background.

The watercolour was painted on A5 paper, ie from a mixed media 200gsm Amedeo A4 pad. As I like working from warm to cool colours, it didn’t take kindly to my reiterated washes: first a raw sienna imprimatura wash and then different warm intermediate coats before applying cool topcoats.

Also check out the next demo of the Heron Trail in the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve not far from the town of McGregor.


Old willow stump

Photo of an old willow stump

Old willow stump near the Vaal River

Before start reading this demo blog perhaps you would like to view the first photo demos on page “Photo Demos”

Location of the photo: Old willow stump.

This scene of the old willow stump was taken further up the bank from the Vaal River, near The Barrage, Sasolburg, Orange Free State, South Africa. It is part of a piggery farm. In summertime it’s very green and lust, and brown and dry in wintertime.

Its interesting how the terrain of the farm varies. There are lots of different types of trees near the river.  Most of the lower part of the farm is marshland though. And some of the marshland is sandy. Where there are no shrubs the sand is sold to the building trade.

And where there are tiny shrubs scattered over in the dry sandy area, a little more elevated area, rat colonies have taken over. This type of rat burrows tunnels near the surface and makes nests underground like moles do, making the soil look lumpy. Naturally there are snake holes too. If you walk there you have to watch where you are walking. Tiny wild flowers can be seen in between the small shrubs, making the spot very interesting to explore there.

Watercolour landscape of  an old willow tree stump

Lower part of Sasolburg farm border the Vaal River.

Watercolour painting demo:

I made the old willow stump bigger than the photo depicted. Thus giving it dominance, and importance of been the main point of interest.

And because the foreground in front of the old willow stump was boring with just green grass, I added a stony footpath. This also gave the painting more warmth.

The paper used:

A5, 190gsm, acid-free watercolour paper, the last of the watercolour A4 pad I’ve been using.

Method used in old willow stump demo:

  1. First I did a light raw sienna imprimatura overall wash.
  2. When that was dry, a light wash of perm madder lake pigment in the sky area. This pink wash gives the green scene more warmth.
  3. When that was dry I started with the old willow stump, making it larger than it is in reality. I thought painting it blue (French ultramarine) would make the scene look more dramatic.
  4. Then I went on to filling in the distant trees and middle ground shrubs.
  5. The foreground was done last. Adding stones made the foreground more interesting. The sticks in the left-hand-bottom corner were changed into a discard tree trunk, suggesting it was part of the original willow tree.