Monday, October 26

Thought Processes for Painting a Watercolor

Today’s Image
Reference photo for my watercolor painting
Copyright 2009

Do many (or any) of you viewers to the OrbisPlanis art blog paint primarily with watercolor? Not that it matters; I was just curious.

In February, 2009, I started painting with watercolor almost exclusively. Since then I have completed about seven full-sheet (22 x 30 in, 55 x 76 cm) and three half-sheet (11 x 15 in, 28 x 38 cm) watercolor paintings and about two acrylic paintings.

So, you could say I’ve been concentrating on watercolor. It was a new medium for me, and as with anything, it takes practice, practice, and more practice especially with watercolor.

I’ll discuss some of the thought processes I went through and problems I’ve had working on my current, but as yet unfinished, watercolor. It started when I selected the motif for my next painting.

It’s a scene near a beach on a clear, summer day with seagrass and beach vegetation covering several sand dunes. The focal point is a bait and tackle shop/building that is the entrance to a long fishing pier. The building is sun-bleached white with a red-fading-to-pink/orange roof, and the pier itself is barely visible. On the left is a short strip of visible blue-green water and a couple of light poles and a large sign. The sun is shining right overhead, and the sky is a bright blue.

I chose the reference photo because it’s a happy mood scene, and the photo was from a vacation several years ago.

Anyway, I always start with a standard, but limited, palette of ultramarine blue light, new gamboge yellow, and cadmium red medium. I decided the size the painting was going to be, enlarged the photo, taped off the border/liner of the full-sheet watercolor paper, and transferred the image by sketching.

Then I was ready to paint. First, though, I used frisket to mask off all the areas that were to remain white--the walls and some of the fencing of the tackle shop, the light poles and part of the sign, and a barely-visible jetty.

Next I applied a very light wash of new gamboge to the rest of the paper and let it dry. I decided to paint the red-fading-to-pink/orange roof first. That went well, and I was able to match the color almost exactly.

Then I painted the sand dunes, which were covered in yellow- and gray-green seagrass and vegetation that was in various growing phases from new growth to already dead. I painted the dunes and grasses a lot of different colors ranging from yellow-green to raw- and burnt-siennas to oranges and browns and deep burnt umbers for the shadows.

As I said, I was using the three colors of the standard palette, so it was not easy. However, I was able to paint a very convincing likeness (I thought) of the dunes in all their various colors. I did have to add Hooker’s green to the mix to get the light yellow-greens, which are not possible with just ultramarine blue and new gamboge.

So far, so good. All that was left was to paint the sky, which I thought would be the easiest part since it was bright and cloudless with the sun directly overhead. I mixed up various shades of blue to use for different shades from the horizon to the zenith (of the sky).

Up to this point, the painting had taken me about 20 hours over about five days. I was pleased with the result. As far as I was concerned, the painting was nearly finished, so I removed all the frisket.

The next day I took my painting to critique class. I was surprised, and in the next blog, I’ll tell you why.



  1. The first medium that I learned to handle well was watercolor too, however, these days due to time constraint and the availability of a decent working place, I learned to use colored inks. thank you ver much for sharing your step-by-step process. I have read that you use a frisket, which I've heard of but never tried using. I can't wait to see how your work here turns out. But judging from your previous works, I do not think it would pale in comparison. I bet it would be just as beautiful.

  2. Thank you so much for your nice comments! That's the kind of encouragement artists need and have mentioned so in the blog. I have never tried ink, although several artists in class have used something called Quink; I never have, though, but your comments make we want to try it. Thanks again.