Picture Saturday: Watercolor Walk-Through

After last week’s doomed tutorial (and the subsequent quiet fuming), I rallied, sallied forth armed with paintbrushes and camera, and conquered both paper and blog post!  The scene I chose to paint is a portion of New Mexico landscape, referenced from several photographs.

As a bonus, I also put my messed-up painting to good use…

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…by tracing over it for fresh line art and by testing the strength and consistency of my paint on the back.

To create new line art, I taped a sheet of tracing paper over the painting and drew the outlines of the trees, mountains, river, &etc. with red pen.

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Once the ink dried, I taped the tracing paper to my light box and fitted a new sheet of watercolor paper over the line art.  Then I turned the light box on…

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See how clearly the red ink shows up?  Other colors, even black, don’t show up as brilliantly under the paper and over the light, in my experience.  So I stick to red pen.  Being a writer and editor, I have a bunch of those lying around.

I drew on the watercolor paper with a 2H pencil, following the red lines.  You can’t see the pencil lines, though, because of the strong back light.  Neither can you see my left hand fumbling to hold the camera at an angle that picked up the red color, the tip of the pencil, and my hand.  🙂

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I finished penciling the line art onto the watercolor paper and taped the page to my painting board.

The tape in question is designed specifically for art: it fastens paper down, but peels off without tearing the paper.  Unless you yank the strip as though you have a tape-removing deadline.  Do not ask me how I know this.

My painting board is actually the back of a 9×12 picture frame that called it quits and fell off the wall.  The glass shattered, and the empty frame was rendered useless.  But the back board was a perfect firm, but moveable, surface–one that can be propped upright on an easel or moved off the table right before dinner.  Because people insist on eating in my studio.  Most annoying.

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My supplies from left to right: Josefina book, reference photos, watercolor paper, tubes of paint, water jar, palette (cheap plastic thing from Hobby Lobby), and brushes (not-so-cheap things from Hobby Lobby). On the subject of where I got my supplies: the water jar is an empty pickle jar that I commandeered once it was emptied and rinsed out.  The watercolor paints also came from Hobby Lobby, but the box is an sturdy plastic candy box that turned out to be the perfect size for my tubes of paint.

And the Josefina book came in the mail.  I included the book in my supplies because (a) it has another reference photo in the back; (b) it gives me something to read while the paint dries, and (c) I’m still fangirling over the series.

The cast of colors for this project: Cerulean, Permanent Red Light, Burnt Sienna, Azo Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Sap Green, Hooker’s Green Dark, Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, and Burnt Umber.

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The first part of the landscape I painted was the sky.  I wet the sky area with my 1-inch wash brush and brushed on a layer of pale Cerulean.  Painting over wet or moist paper is called “wet-into-wet” technique, and it creates light, transparent layers of color.  The water also helps paint spread across the paper, but the downside is that if your water seeps into an area you wanted left white–the paint drifts there too!  Not fun.

In fact, Cerulean color drifted across the top of the mountains–as you can see in the picture–but it actually works for this particular landscape because the mountains need to be hazy and somewhat blended with the sky.

While this layer of paint dried, I mixed up the other colors.

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See how bright and saturated (heavily pigmented) these colors are?  If I use them straight from the tube, every part of the painting will be overly bright and have little to no contrast.  Also, the colors of trees, ground, mountains, and so on are usually earthy or dusky, and not inherently bright.  Fortunately, de-saturating in watercolor is easy.  I mixed some green in the red paint and some red in the green paint…

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…and there we are!  Any color can be de-saturated by mixing in some of its complimentary color.

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While still waiting for the sky to dry, I painted the ground with a mix of red, yellow, cobalt blue, and a little Burnt Sienna.  I painted the trees with the same color as the ground (save for the foreground trees) because I want that  earthy tone to tint the green of the trees.  Watercolor is transparent, and the colors of one layer often tint the one above, unless the paint is very dark or very saturated.

After snapping this picture, I realized that the ground was too dark.  Whoops. But contrary to what you may have heard about watercolor, you can lift off paint if you work quickly and have the right tools.  The colors won’t come off completely, but they will lighten.  So I moistened the ground area with my wash brush and gently blotted/wiped the surface with a paper towel to remove paint.  (Scrubbing the area would destroy the paper and its ability to hold pigment.)  On smaller surfaces, I “erase” color by wiping the unwanted paint with a damp brush and blotting with a paper towel until the color is lighter so as to be mostly unnoticeable.

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Argh, sorry the picture turned out so fuzzy.  Anyway, once the sky was dry, I wet the top part, washed a second layer of Cerulean across it, and blended the color downwards to create a nice gradient.

Also, see the lumps in the paper?  One of many reasons to wait until the paint dries completely to add the next layer (unless you’re working wet-in-wet); otherwise, paint will run off the lumps and puddle in the valleys, creating an uneven layer of color.  And the artist will overturn the table.  And possibly chuck it and her art supplies out the window as well.

But when the page is completely dry, it will lie flat and prevent all the aforementioned problems.

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After the sky was (again) completely dry, I painted the mountains with Cobalt Blue.  And you can really see where the Cerulean bled into the wrong area.  However, it will all be part of the mountain haze and shadows.  Watercolor will develop your plan B skills in a hurry.  🙂

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While the mountains dried, I painted the foreground trees with a mix of Sap Green, Permanent Red Light (to de-saturate) and Yellow Ochre.  These trees came out a too light, more yellow green than the dusky light green I wanted, so I later added a layer of darker green with more Yellow Ochre mixed in.

And I painted the background trees with Hooker’s Green Deep de-saturated with Permanent Red Light.

After this shot, though, I quit taking so many step-by-step pictures.  For one thing, I started painting smaller areas, paint dried more quickly, and I added the next layers more quickly.  For another, I simultaneously drafted this post, wrote another, and rendered the painting.  Step-by-step shots would have been too much to coordinate.

So in a series of steps that I did not document…

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…I rendered the mountains, using Prussian Blue mixed with Cobalt Blue.  I really just shaded the slopes and enhanced lines or blotches where the paint didn’t end up completely smooth.

For the ground, I used Burnt Sienna straight to shade the folds in the land and to paint the reddish earth of the river bank.  I also painted the middle of the river pale Cerulean to suggest reflection of the sky.  Then I added darker layers of green to the background trees.  As each part of the landscape dried (completely!), I painted darker colors until I was happy with the hues.  Then I mixed Prussian Blue and Permanent Red Light into the green paint and rendered the trees–really just with shadows to give them form, since we’re seeing the landscape from a distance.  I also painted reflections in the river with the light, watery versions of the tree colors.

I have no idea why my shots came out crooked.  They looked normal on the camera viewfinder.

Several hours and layers of paint later…

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I will definitely paint more landscapes like this in the future!

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2 thoughts on “Picture Saturday: Watercolor Walk-Through

    • Christine Eyre says:

      Have you ever tried painting with watercolor? (If so, I didn’t know that!) Maybe at some point, I’ll post my earliest watercolor paintings for comparison. Or not; they really weren’t that good. 🙂

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