Make the paper work for you


TheWatcher _341

The Watcher                                           22″ x 30″                                                   Watercolor

I had originally thought to title this offering as “Posting Delay.” Perhaps that  headline was not entirely appropriate but I was tempted for a reason.  Time passes so quickly when you are having fun. My wife and I spent the last half of May traveling through California.  She had never been and it was my first time back in many years.   Needless to say,  I have a lot of inspiration; especially from the Big Sur. I’ll spare all of the details.  Hopefully there will be watercolors to show in the coming weeks. Currently I am recuperating from some unexpected surgical complications.  I remember the old adage, “When it rains it pours.” So in order to fill an obvious posting void I offer the following thoughts.


An Old Friend:

Due to the delays I decided to pull up a piece that is still getting a lot of favorable comments. I have never posted it before, so for many it will be a new image.  Many years ago my studio was near the top of Shades Mountain. Before a lot of development began much of the land was agricultural with fields, orchards  and pastures. There were a lot of owls and other creatures that called the mountain home.  While there are still wild residents their population has decreased dramatically.  Today I live down the side of the mountain near Paradise Creek and I still get to enjoy the call of these night visitors.  When this piece was painted there were still remnants of wild orchards in some spots on the mountain. The texture of old trees along with the challenge of pattern, color and detail in the bird’s plumage was too much to resist.

The Painting:

If you study the watercolor perhaps you can trace the progress. First,  I must say that all of the washes in this piece are transparent. Transparent wash is the only way to get fresh, crisp color.  While there is nothing wrong with opaque color; for my taste, it just doesn’t glow like transparent washes.

Saving the White:

Note the white patch around the owl’s neck and the brightest highlights on the limbs. That is the white of the paper.   The shape elements in this work were large enough that no masking was required. I merely made sure to save the white areas by keeping them dry when the initial washes were applied. In the case of the limbs the entire limb was avoided except perhaps in a few places were color may have sloshed over the boundary.


The background is a blend of new gamboge and manganese blue.  The new gamboge was applied first and the manganese blue was washed over.  Notice the direction of the brush strokes. They should be very evident. After this portion had dried the darker leaves and limbs were painted directly over the dried background. No masking was necessary since the leaves and limbs were darker washes. This is important because we keep the layers in order from light to finishing layers of dark.  In this manner the darker washes/ strokes are done in a more careful manner.  This allows for your earlier light washes to be dominated by darker, more refined brush strokes that begin to carry a hint of detail.


If you look carefully you will see that  some of the muted background colors have been used in the wings and various other areas.  Compare the colors in the wings with some of the lighter washes on the tree limb. Don’t be afraid to utilize your colors in various areas of your painting in order to create visual unity and harmony in your overall work.  The breast of the bird was developed with alternating wet ‘n wet and direct strokes on dry paper.  DON’T BE A SLAVE to detail!  Birds are beautiful and some of them have intricate patterns in their feathers.  Mindlessly painting in every detail in the same way would have spoiled the effect I was seeking.  Perhaps the alternating wet and dry approach helps suggest a slight breeze ruffling his feathers.


The textural technique I used varied in accordance with the effect of the light. Study the effect of light on surfaces in various degrees of light. Does texture look as pronounced in bright light as it does in mid and dark shadow? The best answer is for you to observe the effect you are seeking to emulate. In this case I showed less texture in broad daylight and more in the darker areas. On the upper main trunk  background wash and mid tone values merged as I used a dry brush technique to apply the darker values. Note that everything was not covered with darker colors.  Be selective as you apply defining washes, think about the size, shape and even the weight of the object you are trying to create in your illusion. Study the light playing on the horizontal limb. Study the light as well as the reflected light. Once again, some areas are dry brush some are wet ‘n wet.

Paint Instinctively:

After you begin to really understand basic painting techniques allow yourself the freedom to try different approaches. As I write this description of how I painted this piece I can’t begin to adequately describe everything. That is because I get caught up in the painting. My words may make it sound like a very calculated operation. Not at all. I let the painting guide me. That is hard to explain and may sound strange. I can compare it to music. A good musician knows his /her instrument. Ideally they have a basic knowledge of music theory. All of these things are necessary tools.  For many they have the tools and then the spirit comes and beautiful music is created.  So too with painting.  As you develop your skill with the basic tools allow yourself to “listen” and paint the things that inspire you.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?  Buy Don Rankin’s,                 Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor , Volume I     direct from: 3657628

Learn to master watercolor glazing techniques with Don Rankin at your own pace with an online course at

LEVEL II: online watercolor tutorial of a real time in studio demonstration of the glazing technique:

Enjoy one on one instruction with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama For details contact  Ms. Linda Williams , Director 205-532-2769 


About masteringglazingtechniquesinwatercolor

Watercolor painter and author of several watercolor books on painting technique. Recent inductee/recipient of the Marquis Life Time Achievers Award.

Posted on July 4, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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