Playing Fast and Loose with Watercolour

It’s been a busy week! I’ve completed the thumbnails for the graphic novel about Spam and the Sasquatch (now I get to start drawing the actual panels — both nervous-making and exhilarating!) and I’ve made a lot of progress on the Spam maquette. That’s all about comics, but I’m going to post some more watercolours tonight, because tomorrow’s technique of the week is going to be watercolours.

For most of my life I’ve been very tight with my watercolour paintings, with detailed preliminary drawings and transfers and careful colour application, but in recent years I’ve been trying to loosen up, particularly for class demos. There is rarely time to complete a painting in a class in my usual way of working, and a while back I decided to see what I could do by just cutting loose (in front of all those people, no less!). The results surprised me — I found I quite liked them, though they might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Here are three that I like the best.

All three of these were done using photo reference, but the key for me was to not get too obsessed with details — I wanted to suggest what I saw in the photo but not copy it. They are all about 8×10 inches.

Cuban Tree

Live Oak

For this painting I selected the tree as the centre of interest. There were a lot of other things in the photo; the background was quite busy and interesting in itself. To give the scale of the tree some context, I included a couple of the little planters’ cabins, and let it run off of the edges of the paper. It took me about twenty minutes — I was flabbergasted when I looked at the clock and found that was all it had taken! I didn’t really do any planning, or even preliminary wetting of the paper; I just loaded up the brush with some Daniel Smith indigo (my favourite colour for laying in dark tones) and started painting.

Edge of the Woods

Edge of the Woods

This was a scene that I snapped as I went by on a bus! It’s on the road out to the coast of the island, and the bus driver was very kind and kept pointing out when good views were about to come up. For this painting, I flooded the background with wet-in-wet washes, and let them blend in that nice feathery way that watercolour has. After it dried, I went back in and put some harder edged trees (more of that DS indigo). For the leafy parts, or needle-y parts, since they are young firs, I just sort of scribbled the brush across the paper, not worrying too much about the exact details matching the reference photo.

Wildly blooming

Wildly blooming

This was from a photo that a student brought in. She wanted to know how to proceed with a very busy reference photo which had a lot of leaves and shiny reflections. I started with the darkest bits, the shadows behind the leaves (I really cannot seem to do without that indigo — I should have called this post “Mood Indigo”!); the dark negative shapes gave it some initial structure. I spent about ten minutes roughing in one of the flowers by leaving negative space between the surrounding leaves. She said that gave her enough to go on, and took the photo back to her spot. But now I had a half finished painting, that I was quite enjoying, so I finished it from memory.

Looking back at painting all of these, I’m struck by how pleasant the memories of making them are. They weren’t work at all, they were pure play, and that is part of the reason I really like them. I hope that my pleasure in their creation comes through when other people look at them!

I'd love to know — what do you think about this?

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