WATERCOLOR TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
To learn to paint
watercolor may at first seem strange and difficult, especially
if you are use to opaque mediums such as oil or acrylic. The
first and most obvious difference is the fact that watercolor
is transparent. This means you must decide from the very
beginning where the areas of white will be in your painting.
The process for successful
watercolor painting, is to avoid the areas to be left
white and apply the lightest washes first, gradually
working your way towards darker washes. Try to cover
large areas fairly loosely in the early stages of the
painting, applying tighter detail towards the end.
Here are a few points to
keep in mind...
Small thumbnail sketches allow you to shuffle your
subject around and adjust the composition before you
start to paint. Having a plan to work to makes it much
easier to avoid problems, particularly when it comes to
arranging tonal (light dark) contrast. Break your
thumbnail sketches into about four different tonal areas
and shade them in. This lets you manipulate the lights
and darks so the maximum contrast occurs at the centre of
contains only four different tones (black, dark. grey, light. grey, white)
There are a few things to remember to
maintain color harmony throughout your painting.
Limit your palette
Dipping into twenty different
colors spread around your
palette is tempting but usually results in a discordant, muddy work.
Limit your colors to just two or three, particularly in the early
stages of a painting. Your subject will dictate which ones to choose. I
find for buildings, landscape etc. starting with washes of earth colours
- Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna plus a little Ultramarine or Indigo,
depending on what sort of atmosphere youíre after, gives a tight
harmonious foundation to work on. More intense colours can be carefully
introduced later if necessary.
How often do you look at a painting and see an area of
colour that doesnít seem to fit? A group of trees in an out of place
green, a discordant blue river or a purple flower that seems to jump out
of the bunch. The remedy to this problem is simple, introduce more of
the discordant colour to the rest of the painting.
Tie up color
A few fine calligraphic lines in a
harmonious color will usually tighten up a disjointed color arrangement. Use a #1 or 2 liner brush or pen and
ink. It is important to use just one color for these
lines or you run the risk of adding to the confusion. If
you use ink, a fine spray of water quickly after the ink
is applied, will soften the lines and create some
interesting feathering effects.
Avoid neutral darks - a painting will have more life and
character if the darks tend to either warm or cool. To mix a rich strong
dark donít use an opaque Yellow. Windsor & Newton Quinacridone
Gold or Rowney Indian Yellow work best. Most other yellows make muddy
This painting was done using only Prussian
Blue and Burnt Sienna
CENTRE OF INTEREST
For a painting to be successful the centre
of interest should be obvious and well positioned. Avoid placing the centre of interest
in the middle of a painting (either horizontally or
vertically) unless you are after a static, formal
the centre of interest an unequal distance from each side
helps position it correctly. Breaking the horizontal and
vertical axis roughly in the ratio of 1:2 will also help
to place the centre of interest
DON'T OVER WORK
A painting filled with carefully laboured detail from one
edge to the other can be difficult to look at. If you
like to work with fine detail, consider including some
areas of relief.
painting the viewers eye can wander between the
interesting textures and detail of the building and flat
areas of relief provided by the foreground and flat blue
To produce successful paintings it
is important to practice drawing
matter what you are drawing it is important to first
consider how your subject will be placed on the page.
Small thumbnail sketches before you start your drawing
are good way to work out the composition before you start
Start your drawing
by mentally reducing the subject to a few simple shapes.
Sketch these in lightly and accurately, then proceed to
break these up into smaller more detailed shapes. Don't
start at one corner of the subject and work your way
across to the other.
Your drawing will look better if the most interesting
part ( called the centre of interest ) is not placed
along either of the pages centre lines. The strongest
tonal ( light / dark ) contrast should be placed at the
centre of interest. Have some areas of the drawing less
detailed than others. Try and keep most of the detail in
the area of the centre of interest.
confidence, practice drawing on large sheets of cheap
paper with a soft (5B or 6B) pencil, charcoal, or pastel
pencil. Stand up, work on a vertical surface (or surface
at right angles to your line of vision) and move your arm
from the shoulder. Work from large and bold to fine and
detailed. Only the final finishing off needs to be done
with small, tight hand movements.
Practice - It
doesn't matter what you draw - you have to train your eye
to accurately judge proportion and your hand to
accurately convert these judgements to marks on paper.
There are no shortcuts here, lots and lots of pencil
shavings are the only answer.
Enjoy what you
Put a matt around your work, sit down with a
glass of wine or cup of coffee, and look at all the good
things you have done. It is important to feel good about
your work. Dwelling on mistakes or problems is
disheartening and makes it difficult to move on. I have
yet to see a painting without some good points. Concentrating on the positive aspects of your work gives
you confidence and enthusiasm, and allows you to build on
© JOHN LOVETT 1999
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