Power of Simplicity in Watercolours

Power of simplicity in watercolours:

  • The power of simple shapes and linear thrusts.
  • How they make your paintings more dramatic.
  • How simplifying your composition makes your watercolours more dynamic.
Power of simplicity

Power of simplicity in watercolours.

First the capability test:

Not all new art students bring their previous paintings for you to assess their dexterity skills. Without this evaluation, it’s prerequisite that their first lesson involves painting without first giving a demonstration or instruction.

Why? It is important that each person’s talent is recognised and they are given individual help according to their needs and abilities. If you start their lessons from the assessment point and take it from there, you can guide them in such a way that they can build their own personal style.

General results of the assessment:

  1. People tend to draw their composition with pencil before they paint. Often as not, they continue filling in all the details in the process with their pencil. Then when it comes time to paint, they fill in the colours like they were filling in a child’s colouring book. Conclusion: The fully drawn synopsis is too detailed. They haven’t learnt that a soft basic simple synopsis is all you need to build your painting on.
  2. If they don’t start with a pencil drawing, they are inclined to `draw’ the composition with a small thin brush on dry paper. Each component of the composition is ‘drawn’ separately and individually, without an imprimatura undercoat wash. Assumption: They can’t understand what is missing. What is wrong with their painting? Why doesn’t it jell? Conclusion: The linear painting is too detailed and has no atmospheric relationship to pull the components in the painting together.

Why start a painting with simple big mass shapes?

  • The simple dominant shapes are the basic foundation of your painting.
  • The small items and details are just your supporting cast.
  • Simplicity is the bones of your composition.
  • Detail clutter is distracting and confusing.
  • Eliminating detail at the beginning makes it easier to paint. You don’t have to fiddle around the details.
  • The less detail you have, the richer your picture.
  • Simplifying your composition strengthens your painting.
  • Dominant shapes give your paintings impact.
  • Simple structures have symbolic characteristic connotations like road signs. If the shapes are simple they are easy to ‘read’, thus giving them dynamic power.
Beauty is simplicity. Simplicity is born of knowledge. Simplicity speaks volumes. Simplicity has power. Simplicity is dramatic. Note: rich people don’t have cluttered homes. Their rooms are big and their decor simple.

Removing detail clutter:

When sizing up the scene you wish to paint, half-close your eyes. This cuts out the fine detail. It also conveys the basic tone levels and coloured areas, as simple mass shapes.

Seeing basic shapes and linear thrusts?

What are those basic shapes you see when your eye are have shut? For example, could you say that dark mass is a tree and the road zigzags back into the hills beyond?

Now open your eyes and look again at the tree. What is the basic shape of the tree? Is the outer contour shape of the tree’s canopy an umbrella shape? Or would you say the tree looks roundish, ‘bubbled’ or heart-shaped?

Now, which way does the trunk lean and which way do the branches twist? That is the linear thrust of the tree’s structure. Would you say these linear thrusts point into the painting? Do they directing the eye towards the main point of interest?

What is the flow of the hills and mountain’s contour outlines. How do they inter-flow? Is it pleasing?

These mass shape outlines and linear thrusts are your composition’s basic foundation synopsis.

So you see, breaking down what you see into simple basic shapes, makes it so much easier to select and orientate the components within your composition.

Examples of other symbolic mass shapes:

  • Cars and bicycles have round
  • House consists of squares, rectangles and triangle shapes.
  • Heads are ovoid (egg) shape.
  • Feet are basically wedge shapes.
  • Fir tree foliage is cone
  • Most vases and jugs have round bell shapes.

 Shadows shapes:

Some artists like to paint only the shadows. The areas that receive direct light they leave white. This also helps to reduce unnecessary detail. The shape of the shadow’s outline conveys the symbolic shape of the things in your paintings.

In order to see basic shadows, half-close your eyes again. Check out only the very dark and medium toned areas: these are your shadow areas. All light areas are left un-coloured.

Another way to simplify small stuff:

Is to group or link things:

  • Gather shadows into bulk shapes. Where possible leave out the fussy little bits. Then fill in the shadows’ centers with different colours according to the objects’ symbolic colour, by `dropping-in or charging’ it with cool shadow tints and shades in their local colours. The variation and gradation of colours in the shadows is what makes the painting so appealing.
  • Grouping similar tones and colours together is accepted as one unit or shape.
  • If you have a bare winter tree, don’t try to draw in every twig. Rather suggest the shape of the bare tree by first painting its overall aura form and then stroke-in a few selected twigs according to the aura form.
  • If you are painting loose fruit, for example cherries. Group them in a bowl or plate.If it’s tiny flowers, group them in floret clusters, with only a few details in the floret to show which type of flowers they are.
  • If there is loose scattered flowers, rather link or `string’ them along, so they flow gracefully through the design of your painting (without attaching stalks). Do this especially with white flowers, as white is inclined to make `holes’ in dark surroundings.
Power of grouping tiny flowers

Simple floret cluster.


Power of aura forms

How auras give bare trees form.

Life, movement and flow of linear lines:

Linear thrusts and contour lines are actually action lines. But in their simplicity they also give your composition foundation strength and visual direction.

  • Oblique lines (eg //) convey action.
  • Wavy Hogarthian lyric lines, eg: undulating mountain contours.
  • Choppy wavy lines (eg UU) Motion of sea and river currents.
  • Zigzags and S-bends, eg perspective of fence posts, pathways and bends in rivers and streams.
  • Whirly lines eg: vine tentacles
  • Curvy lines, eg: growth and flow of curly hair.

Simple free-flowing brushstrokes:

When there is less detail it is easier to apply quick flowing brushstrokes. The freedom to express yourself gives you the power to do your thing without restriction and frustration.

When you have simple shapes, you naturally start seeing the importance of using bigger brushes to fill big open areas. Thus your brushstrokes become more direct and the trust of your brushstrokes changes as you follow the curves and angles of the dominant shapes.

You’ll find you no longer need to use small brushes or make small fussy pats of paint. Also you’ll find large brushes force you to simplify your picture.

Why fuss and bother:

Simply use your creative power (we talked about before) to simplify your compositions and Walla, you have great watercolours!


Link to this post:

<a href="http://www.adafagan.co.za/power-of-simplicity/">Power of Simplicity in Watercolours</a>

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.