Thursday, October 29

One Way to Fix a Watercolor Painting

Today’s Image
Bait-and-Tackle Shop
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2009

Today’s OrbisPlanis art blog is a continuation from my last blog, Thought Processes for Painting a Watercolor. In that blog I talked about how I’ve been painting in watercolor almost exclusively in 2009 and some of my thought processes for my current painting.

As I said, it’s a bright beach scene featuring a bait-and-tackle shop along sand dunes. I mentioned that I was using a standard palette of French ultramarine blue, cadmium red medium, and new gamboge yellow. I talked about applying frisket, painting a light yellow wash, and how I painted the building first, then the dunes, and lastly the sky.

I was happy with the results and considered my painting nearly finished. I was so confident that I went ahead and removed all the frisket.

That was until I took my work for a critique. In the critique class, I had already shown the reference photo and the early stages of the painting when it was only sketched on the paper.

One of the first things that went wrong, I think, was the motif that I chose for this painting. I like it very much, but I’m not so sure the expert watercolorists in the class did. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the kind of images I like. I like landscapes and architecture with open and broad vistas. I like viewpoints that are different—looking up, down, out, and even close up.

In the case of this painting, the viewer is looking out on the scene from a distance. It also has a lot of sky, probably 66 to 75 percent of the painting is sky. That brings me to the next part, the problem with the sky. As I tacked up my painting for review, there was silence—or at least that’s what I thought, but maybe not.

I respect all the comments I receive from the experts, and they are always right on target and have helped me to improve my paintings. As I said, there was what I perceived as silence, and there was, but it was the expert trying to find the right words to tell me my painting was messed up.

I could also tell from the facial expression. Finally, something like, “the sky is all wrong,” was said. And then something about the sky color was for a winter sky, and the painting looks like a summer scene, and did I understand complementary colors (yes, I do) because the colors for the sky and the roof are all wrong. The sky was “sad,” and the painting needed a “happy” sky.

Also, the color of the water was wrong, but I did do a nice job on the dunes. Thank you.

The problem? I used French ultramarine blue for the sky, which as everyone but me apparently knows, is used for a softer, winter sky. Why, then, are we told to use a limited Standard palette, I wondered? Landscapes are an exception; you need to add different colors to the standard palette. Now, I know.

The remedy? Re-frisket (on, no!) the painting and then “lift” all of the blue in the sky, and repaint it using—what? Antwerp blue, I was told. So during the next week, I re-applied frisket, lifted, and repainted the sky with wash after wash of Antwerp blue.

The next week I proudly displayed my reworked painting. There was what I perceived to be silence, and I could tell from the facial expression.

The sky was not right. The value was not right and neither was the Antwerp blue. It was déjà vu all over again as Yogi Berra said.

This time, I received special attention, which I appreciated very much. From the experts vast number of tubes of watercolor, the blue that was needed was selected for me. It turned out to be Marine blue, at least that’s what it was called from that manufacturer—I had never heard of it or seen it at the art supply stores.

Anyway, the blue in the sky was lifted once again, and the “right” blue applied. All I had to do is paint in a few final finishing touches, which I did, and it’s done. It is Today's Image.

This experience showed me that there is always more to learn, like use Marine blue for summer skies. I also want to reiterate something I’ve said in the blog before—paint what you like (even if you have to re-paint it three times)!



  1. I assume the watercolor in this post is the one with the changes made?

    I looked at the previous post and viewed the subject matter.

    With respect, I don't agree with the comments from members and so called experts in your class.

    If you were happy with the first effort that you made, then I believe that is all that counts.

    100 experts would probably give you 100 different kinds of advice.

    I think it is a great watercolor.

  2. Well, thank you. I feel the same way sometimes, even though I do respect my mentors' opinions. I think Marine blue was the better choice, but I just didn't know about it. In retrospect, I learned that I should mix up several colors that could work and not limit myself. (I believe they just want paintings to be the best they can be with no malice intended.)

  3. Wow, Byrne, that sounds extremely complicated! You're lucky to have a group of supportive and helpful artists around you, but it's also important to trust your own instincts. It took me a long time to learn how to mix variations of colours instead of using them straight from the tube. In fact, it's still a struggle for me! The painting looks great, by the way!