Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BAC Watercolours, Skies continued

It is a simple thing in watercolour painting to set some flowers in front of a shaded sky and clouds. A pot of slender daffodils or budding tulips from the grocery store (so tempting at this grey time of year) will provide the model.

Make a light drawing, with the stems and leaves breaking the lower boundary of the picture, then coat the flowers, stems and leaves with removable masking fluid. When the masking fluid is quite dry (shiny and firm) proceed with the steps for lifted clouds from Lesson 2: a wash of yellow, when dry followed with a wash of blue and the clouds immediately lifted with tissue. Tint and shade the clouds and let the whole thing dry. (Always, always let the painting dry before attempting to remove the masking fluid) Gently rub off the masking fluid to reveal crisp flower shapes standing against the sky. Much will depend on your choice of flower, but for these daffodils I unified the leaves, stems and flowers with an undercoat of lemon yellow before proceeding to more differentiated colours.

"And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils"
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850

Sunday, January 24, 2010

BAC Watercolours, Lesson 2 - Skies and Clouds

Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine are provided in most ready-made painting kits. Cerulean is such a satisfying and convincing sky-blue that new painters tend to go through tubes of it. An experienced painter can make a single tube last much longer, even years, and still achieve rich tones and glowing transparency. Antwerp Blue is a sweet light blue, like Cerulean, but more intense and better for glazing over pastel tones. Cobalt Blue is another excellent sky colour. Payne’s Gray is a blue that shades to gray tones and makes good stormy skies.

The analytical approach to clouds is to draw their shapes first then paint cautiously, nudging sky colour toward the cloud edges. This lesson’s approach is freer and more immediately gratifying, and is only an introduction to the possibilities of sky-scapes.


1. We know this works better with 100% cotton paper! Have ready a good supply of paper towel or tissues. Prepare three separate washes in the palette: A yellow (Yellow Ochre or Cadmium Yellow), a blue (Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine or Antwerp Blue) and a gray (Payne's Gray or Neutral Tint).

2. On pre-stretched paper (optional, but so much better to work with) apply a light wash of yellow to the sky area. Let it dry.

3. Again pre-wetting the sky area, apply a wash of blue. Have your tissue ready and while the blue wash is still wet and fresh, "lift" the paint by dabbing, turning the tissue frequently to produce clean, fluffy clouds.

4. While the paper is still damp, you can apply a yellow or some Cadmium Red to to the tops of the clouds and gray or neutral tint for shadows along the lower edges, leaving a little white at the bottom.

Another approach is "negative thinking”, or laying down sky colours on thoroughly wetted paper while leaving open spaces for the clouds. The moisture on the page will drag the sky colour into the open spaces and create produce soft cirrus-cloud effects. Tissue can be used here too, to correct or redefine cloud shapes if desired.

For a rosy sky, the first wash of colour could be Cadmium Red. The possibilities exceed the scope of one lesson, and there is so much to cover. We have begun with skies and backgrounds as the logical starting point, the backdrops to the stage set of any painting or landscape, and will shortly move on to still lifes and perceived depth of field. But for now, back to those skies.....

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace…"

(John Gillespie Magee, 1922-41, High Flight )

Thursday, January 14, 2010

BAC Watercolours, Lesson 1

Off to a good start, we did the unbroken wash and broken wash, then used those principles to go on to a proper painting.

The steps for painting any wash are:
1. Make a puddle in your palette,
2. Pre-wet the wash area,
3. Apply colour, the paint will only flow in the pre-wetted area.

For the sunrise painting above the steps were:
1. Make a sun/moon using masking fluid, and let it dry.
2. Make a puddle of a neutral colour, Payne' Gray or Neutral Tint
3. In sweeping side to side strokes with a broad brush, prewet the entire painting.
4. Apply your neutral colour, working from the top and blending out to a pale colour at the perceived horizon (below the sun/moon), then paint up from the bottom and blend to pale at the horizon, as shown.
5. Let the greys dry a bit, then apply the waves in layers
6. Add the loons and their reflections
7. Let it all dry
8. Wash with lemon yellow and cadmium yellow (puddle-in-palette, pre-wet, wash)
9. When it has all dried, gently rub off the masking fluid
10. Add the branches, over the sun/moon if you wish.

See you all next week! We'll do the paper preparation first, then go on to some new washes, then use the prepared paper to start a new painting.

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another
with no loss of enthusiasm"

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)