Category Archives: watercolor glazing techniques
Some of you may think I am going a bit off topic. I’m still talking about watercolor but watercolor with a bit of a twist. As all of us know, watercolor can be an extremely versatile medium. Many painters use it in extremely personal ways. The subject of this post is about lithography and watercolor.
Most of my work deals with watercolor and usually NO mixed media. Woodland Lace is a departure. I have a reason for submitting this and I hope my readers will take it to heart. Perhaps a proper title for this post would be something like, “Beware of Sloppy Inventory Control! “
That is what prompted this article. I hope you will bear with me. I must confess to being less than diligent regarding serious inventory control. After my retirement, one art dealer had a serious message to convey about the importance of proper inventory control.
Woodland Lace is a perfect example. In the early 1970’s I was selected to do a series of lithographic prints for a private mint. The approach was to work on mylar to create the necessary images in order to produce a full color lithograph. The mylar was exposed to a subtractive litho plate. In this manner the artist retains greater control over the final image and eliminates the rub up stage one would normally need if using a lithographic stone. In many cases during the rub up stage the artist loses control over the image. With mylar control is retained. I was taught the technique and began work. A political crisis occurred and our work was halted. I was paid well for all of my effort and returned home.
I began work on a series of nests. I chose to opt for printing only the black image and hand coloring the rest of the print. My reason was simple. I wanted to create a truly unique print. While the colored version would have been an original as well, the hand colored version just seemed to be more personal.
I chose three subjects for the series. All images were drawn and painted from life. The bird nest graced my studio. As I recall, my children found the abandoned nest in the fall in a Barberry Bush in our front yard. The nest was dutifully brought into my studio since the eggs had long since lost their chance to hatch. As winter progressed I could not resist beginning the task of drawing that simple little nest. The architecture was superb and in many ways surpasses human logic. How can a little bird build such a beautiful structure without hands or human education?
The answer for me is simple. G-d gives the creatures instruction. Well, after many days I finished my sketch. I even went so far as to paint the nest in egg tempera. I knew I had a non-compete clause with the mint who had commissioned me. But the project had been scrubbed when the silver crisis hit and time had passed, so I though the terms had been completed. Long story short: they had not.
I had printed the black portion of Woodland Lace producing an edition of 250 prints. I set about hand coloring some and then we shut down because there was a question about the time limit. The uncolored prints where packed and stored. They were soon forgotten.
End of the Story?
That could have been the end IF I had not taken the inventory advice to heart. I used to leave those details up to dealers and galleries. I was too busy painting! No offense toward any of my associates but that is not professional. I purchased a soft ware package called ARTsala. It is user friendly and makes inventory easy. I am told that there are other programs available. This one was not too expensive, about $45 I think.
Well, I found the packages carefully sealed and stored on a shelf under other items. Every print is in pristine condition after 39 years! Thankfully I had chosen a quality archival paper. Definitely no problem about any contract infringement at this point. I have also found other pieces that I had forgotten about.
Perhaps some will say my example is extreme, even unforgivable. Perhaps, but I think it is great example of what can happen when we forget to take care of detail. One person can’t do it all but someone has to make sure it gets done. How much have you misplaced or forgotten?
All artists should take responsibility for their work. Where is your work? Do you have control numbers on your work? I could go on and on. Hopefully you get the idea. If you can’t do it yourself get someone to help.
Found Treasure? What Next?
Well, it was like Christmas in June around here. Not only did I find Woodland Lace but I found the working drawings for the other nests. I plan to pick up where I left off. Meanwhile, I am going to display the other two subjects. One was painted on hot press watercolor board, the other on cold press paper. Both images were included in some of my previous published books. If you are familiar with my books perhaps you may recognize the subjects.
This study was painted from direct observation. A student brought this nest to my studio. It provided many hours of study and sketching. Very little pencil preliminary was done. The study is a combination of direct wash, glazing and dry brush. The beauty of hot press board is that every brush stroke shows. It is a wonderful way to create texture.
The City was a wonderful surprise. I was teaching watercolor classes and one my student’s father was a tree surgeon. One night he came to class proudly displaying this treasure he had found. We are all amazed for we had never seen anything like this. It immediately became an object of wonder and challenge. The honey comb stayed intact for a few years before it slowly began to break apart. Sadly, we had to bid it farewell but not before a lot of its color and texture had been recorded in sketch after sketch.
What Happens Now?
We shall see if I can capture the essence of those drawings started so long ago. If I am successful then I will have three (3) lithographs to offer. Right now Woodland Lace is the only one ready for the public. Meanwhile we also located some copies of limited edition reproductions that we thought were sold out. You can see them at http://www.donrankinfineart.com
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available at
Want to see the beginning chapters in live action?
You can enroll at https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
Enjoy 2.5 hours of easy to master tutorials on line. You can work at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. Enroll now.
23 Years Already?
When I was 18, the thought of a 20 year career in the military seemed like an eternity. Although I never made a career of it, at that time 20 years seemed to be so long. Today, as I look back, it seems the 23 years of teaching in one school is like a vapor. Wow! It all went so fast. A lot of things seem to change almost daily. The attitudes regarding painting and teaching in many schools seems to have swapped sound foundation for flashy contrivance.
I am old enough to have known some of the so-called greats. They all had one universal tenet. They stressed the importance of learning to draw. While some come to it more easily than others; it is still a skill to be honed. Don’t misunderstand; learning about design and understanding color are also extremely important. However, drawing is the bridge between that vision in your soul and being able to share a bit of it with others. The most frustrating thing is to have a wonderful vision and lack the physical ability to bring it out to share.
A Tribute to My Students:
My classes for Spring 2014 are over and grades are posted. Many of my students are headed home for summer or to various locations for work and/or relaxation. I want to take a moment to feature some of those who have done outstanding work. Not every student in the class is featured. Unfortunately not every watercolor got photographed. These works are the result of approximately 14 weeks of class, meeting formally twice each week for about 2 1/2 hours per session. Also most of the students featured are sophomores. For every student this was their first class in watercolor. The teaching model I use is based upon a time tested approach. I’m not interested in producing clones. Rather, I’m interested in producing energetic, dedicated students who aren’t afraid to take basic principles and develop their personal strengths. Toward this end I spend the first two weeks of the beginning semester demonstrating basic principles. I work on small easy to execute projects that may take up 30 minutes of the class period; sometimes longer depending upon the students’ grasp. The students watch and listen. Then they take the rest of the time doing the exercises while I am available for comment and critique. After about two weeks they begin developing their own works. Many work on quarter sheet sizes at first. They often get the best results using a 140 lb. (300 gsm.) 14″ x 17″ D’arches cold press watercolor block. Some use individual sheets but at this stage most find the block to be very convenient.
For additional instruction, I show examples of personal paintings in progress that are usually stapled to a plywood board to prevent ripples. In the very beginning a number of students find it more convenient to use the block since it is lighter and often easier than carrying a stretched paper to class. Regardless, they all get the drill about the proper use of a cold water soak to allow the sheet to become pliable (al dente) enough to attach to a board.
Introducing some of my students from the Spring 2014 class:
Once again I want to stress that none of these students have had any previous watercolor experience. I am very pleased with their progress and I hope this spotlight will help to encourage all the members of the class to continue working with the medium. They have given me a great retirement gift because they performed so well and were so eager to learn. Thanks so much.
A Friend, 20″ x 28″image, 140lb. cold press D’Arches
Trevelyn enjoys working from actual models and like most younger students often uses her Smart phone to take reference photos as well. Back in the studio she likes to create a light pencil grid on her watercolor paper and develop her drawing from study sketches and the images she has captured on her phone or camera.
Kyle demonstrated a great deal of progress in this class. Unfortunately I was not able to get more examples of his work. During Spring Break Kyle had an opportunity to really work on his watercolor technique. Things began to make sense and click for him. I look forward to seeing more of his work. He produced a number of promising watercolors.
Figure Study, 16″ x 14″ 140lb. Kilamanjaro
Emily enjoys a wide variety of subjects and has demonstrated an ability to work with powerful darks as well as soft neutrals. As many of you will know getting clean washes in very dark passages is often a tremendous challenge for a beginning watercolor student. Emily does it well. I have encouraged her to work more from personal observation/ life. I think she will do well.
Ann Martin Foley:
Deer, 12″ x 14″ Image, 140lb. cold press Kilamanjaro
Ann produced some very striking floral pieces as well as these two works. Unfortunately no images were available for this publication. Like many in the class, Ann is a Graphic Design major and makes good use of negative space in her work. The young fawn is a good example.
Grace’s Barn, 17″ x 14″ 140 lb. D’Arches watercolor block
Grace likes to work with subjects she knows. I’ve entitled the barn as Grace’s Barn. She may not like that but it was her first watercolor. It was inspired by the brief snow storm we had and classes were cancelled. The barn is near her home and served as a perfect inspiration. Chief is a close up portrait of her dog. It was painted on Kilamanjaro watercolor paper. The original displays a lot of subtle yellow and grey tones as well as some strong dark passages.
Drunken Elephant, 17″ x 14″ cold press D’Arches
Lindsey enjoys painting animals and in some cases incorporating elements of the constellation. Drunken Elephant was inspired by an article she saw depicting wild elephants gorging on fermented berries and getting falling down drunk. Seems even elephants have a taste for the fermented fruit of the vine! Lindsey spent a great deal of time on an intricate study of Russian architecture in anticipation of her summer work in a Russian orphanage. She was successful in selling some of her paintings to help pay her expenses.
Merrell does excellent work. Unfortunately the exposure on these two images do not do justice to her painting skill. Rather than leave them out I have chosen to show them. The actual colors are very vibrant and fresh. The portrait of her brother is far more vibrant than the image we see here. While it is never professionally advisable to show images that one must explain I made the decision to show what was available rather than leave her out. If I am able to get better shots I’ll swap them out.
Melissa is also a Graphic Design major. As I recall this was one of her first major attempts in class. I hope she will continue to work on watercolor in spite of her heavy Graphic Design schedule.
Jasmine has exhibited a lot of energy and a lot of talent. Her use of strong dark passages is not something one regularly sees in a beginning watercolor painter. However, she handled it well.
I can think of no better way to say farewell to the Samford School of the Arts than to spotlight a number of my students. To all of you who helped make this last class a success; I thank you. I look forward in the coming years of seeing more of your work as you mature. I take pride in the fact that you all exhibited such a high degree of proficiency in one short semester.
Honestly, the word makes me nervous when I talk to students. I’ll explain. My career began as an oil painter. We cut our own stretcher strips and we STRETCHED our own canvas. Many of you know the drill. In that case one physically stretches the canvas in order to have a taut surface. With watercolor paper we merely allow it to shrink after we carefully attach it to either a plywood board or gator board. As the paper dries it contracts naturally and if we have been faithful to carefully and gently blot the air bubbles out and straighten the paper; we get a nice smooth surface. The canvas is pretty tough. The paper is very vulnerable when it is wet and it scars easily. So caution is the watch word unless you don’t mind bruised surfaces.
How to Prepare Papers:
I hope the people at Ruscombe Mill will not take offense if I quote them directly regarding this matter. They are the makers of extremely fine hand made watercolor paper.
The finished paper will almost always not be flat due to the nature of the drying and sizing process. The surface finish may also be exaggerated: this problem is overcome by stretching the paper before starting to work on it. This process will render the surface flat with the appropriate texture and minimize any tendency for the sheet to buckle when washes are applied.
The paper should be soaked in cold water for between 5 to 15 minutes according to its weight. (Sponging the surface is not recommended since it may damage the size and does not produce an even moisture.) Holding the paper by the corners, allow the surface water to drain and lay the sheet on a flat board. It should be secured by strips of pre-wetted, gummed tape, about 2 inches wide across ( all around the edges of the paper so that the sheet is firmly attached to the board) the paper and the board. The gummed tape should be firmly pressed to ensure that it is securely glued to all edges of the sheet and the board. The paper must be allowed to dry naturally and slowly: heavier weights may require 48 hours to dry and in no case should the drying process be accelerated.
Properly executed you will then have a drum-tight, tough surfaced, flat sheet of the correct surface texture which will encourage smooth brush work.The toughness of these papers will support the lifting off of washes as well as other techniques such as scratching and scrubbing.
-Ruscombe Mill Instruction Sheet.
I make some alterations to this directive in that I prefer to staple my soaked paper to a board. There are times when I have a work framed with all of the deckles showing. Often the staple holes are either not noticed or they add to the irregularity of the sheet. My purpose for including the above directions is because they can apply to almost any watercolor sheet. Unfortunately some sheets will still buckle AFTER the dried, finished work has been removed from the board. This is a new challenge.
In an earlier post I commented on the problems with some D’Arches sheets and the performance of Kilamanjaro. Now that all of the testing is done; I can say the class consensus was unanimous. ALL pf my students preferred Kilamanjaro. Even when they painted on it without stretching, it did not ripple to a large degree. If you paint you know most of us have an independent streak.
To that end when teacher says you must prepare your paper there will be those independent souls who have to test it for themselves. I don’t begrudge them that spirit! I want them to be able to stand on their own.
Textbook used in class:
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol 1 by Dr. Don Rankin available at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Study on line with Don Rankin:
Now you can study the basics of watercolor glazing on your schedule at your own pace. The video tutorials reflect the basic lessons found in the book.
The Antique Shop: a remastered classic of a full watercolor demo available at :http://www.createspace.com/350893
YOU CAN CHECK OUT ALL THE VARIETIES OF KILAMANJARO WATERCOLOR PAPER AT:
I want to share a bit of a story about some of my paintings. I have been painting Indians for about 20 years or more. These are not made up characters. Rather, they are friends and relatives who hold deeply to their traditions. They are living human beings that I have known for many years. We have laughed and cried together, we have faced challenges together. A lot of folks don’t understand because they don’t have similar experiences in their life. I’ve had some who would often say, “Oh no, are you painting ANOTHER Indian?” Well, yeah I am. I’ve had occasions when I have asked myself, what is the point? Sometimes it gets hard to continue on a road. This is true when you get a lot of questions about why you are following a given path.
About 3 years ago a dear lady named Mary Whyte took a look at some of my paintings of my relatives and friends. One of her comments was, “Hey, I think you are on to something here. Keep it up!” Well, I have and now I am looking at a possible traveling exhibition that will record a little known portion of America.
Why am I telling you this? I have a motive. I can write reams about watercolor technique or the do’s and don’ts of just about any technique. You must remember one thing. Technique is only a part of the equation.
What is in your heart? What drives you to paint? What are you willing to continue to paint even if no one else understands?
Perhaps better stated what is it that you can’t avoid painting? What draws you, what drives you to pick up that brush and try one more time? What ever that something is; that is your passion.
I do paint other subjects. I recall listening to Raymond Kinstler urging us to not only paint figures but paint landscapes, paint still life. Get outside and paint. Leave the fear behind. Certainly learn some techniques. Find the best instructors you can and above all paint. The more you paint, the more you learn. I hope my words don’t make it sound too simple. No, it is hard work.
However, it is work that brings joy.
Every one of you who reads this has a still small voice inside of you. You have your likes and your dislikes. Find your path and travel it. Listen to your heart.
What about technique?
Yes, technique is important. Make your brush strokes count. Do you merely want to render a surface or do you want to use strokes that help build the sense of form. Think about this. Do you know what your colors can do? Mix them to find out. Write notes so you will remember. Pretty soon it will become a part of you.
If you have read this post you know that I have produced a new on-line watercolor course. I designed it with a method in mind. It is one thing to demonstrate or show finished watercolors. It is quite another thing to share principles. I developed several easy exercises. Nothing complicated. Just simple exercises that will help build confidence and share knowledge. The tutorials cover fundamental elements like paper, paints and brush handling; it is these things that build competence. Nothing fancy, at first. It helps you plant a seed. Nurture it with thought and work. Watch it as it grows. You can analyze this foundation below.
Under painting: this is the foundation. Two colors; Holbein Marine Blue and Winsor & Newton Permanent Magenta were used. Note the areas of concentration. Both colors are staining colors which means they are not likely to be lifted or disturbed by additional washes applied over them. Also note that in some areas the wash is applied directly to dry paper. How can you tell? Look at the edges. If they are sharp and crisp it is a light wash applied directly to dry paper. At the end of the arm and around the back of the head you see soft edges. Some are wet ‘n wet while other areas were applied in a direct manner and the edges were softened with clear water. The colors were chosen for their staining ability to help create transparent washes but also because they can help amplify the effect of flesh.
What is the point?
Use the technique to create an effect. Use your brush to suggest form not to just merely color in an area. Even a pointed round red sable has the ability to create interesting texture by dragging the side of the brush across the paper. Experiment, explore.
Want to know more about watercolor?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume 1 by Dr. Don Rankin
DVD: The Antique Shop, 56 minute tutorial selecting and painting a site
On-line watercolor course, by Don Rankin lifetime access. Watch the lesson, do the lesson, learn the lesson. Review as often as you like. https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor Regular price $49 .There may still be some reduced coupons available at $20 off the regular price. MGTIWa. Slots limited!
I want to comment on some new watercolors that I received in the mail. From the offset I want to make it clear that I have no monetary interest in promoting these colors. However, in view of the fact that I have taught watercolor for more than a quarter of a century, I owe it to my students. I want to thank Ms. Kelly Clawson, Brand Manager at Martin/F Weber Company for sending me these goodies. I was asked for comments. I think it is worth sharing with all of you. So here goes.
The brand is called Mission Gold by Mijello. If you Google the product you will see it listed at Cheap Joe’s and Dick Blick as well. No doubt other suppliers have them too. The package I received contains a few colors I don’t normally use. In fact, if I merely relied upon names, past experience with other brands would lead me to avoid the use of some of the paints. However, if you are going to try a product; you really ought to give every offering a fair shake.
First things first:
My first test was to use the colors full strength over a black India ink field. I prefer to use circles because they conform very easily to a book format. Circles can be tedious so if you want to duplicate my efforts any black line or bar on watercolor paper will do. I would suggest that you use waterproof black India ink for this test. Other paints such as acrylics may pose an absorption problem. My desire is to use the paint under the same conditions that I test all new paints I use. To do otherwise would devalue the results of the test.
Why a black field?
Beginning students will often ask me why I use a black field to test paint. In order to excel with watercolor you really need to know the relative transparency/opacity of your colors. Simple tests like this will tell you volumes. Full strength washes will give you a good idea of the nature of the paint. It will be obvious to those of you who utilize this test that some paints will be fairly opaque at full strength yet surprisingly transparent as you dilute them into washes. The only way you are going to know this is by working with your colors.
Starting with the first red, Permanent Rose, I’ll name the other colors as we work around the circle. You will note that I used a clean enameled butcher’s tray for my paints. The order of colors is as follows: Permanent Rose, Permanent Red, Rose Madder, Permanent Yellow Light, Viridian, Burnt Sienna, Van Dyke Brown, Peacock Blue, Yellow Orange.
Checkout the circle:
The circle was painted on a sheet of 140lb. Lana Aquarelle cold press paper. For those who follow me or my books regarding the glazing technique you should note that some of these colors would be on my caution list. The reason is that in some brands, colors like Permanent Yellow and Yellow Orange would tend to be on the opaque side and thereby not a good choice for beginning layers of a glazing technique. If you look at the chart you will see that while there is some degree of film with these two colors and with Permanent Red; there is not as much as I have seen with other paints. Well, perhaps the Permanent Red is a bit opaque. That doesn’t mean that I would necessarily jump right in and use those colors right off the bat as beginning washes. However, take a look at the next series and lets see what happens.
Watercolor Exercise beginning wet into wet:
In this first pass I wet the sheet with clean cold water. I introduced Permanent Yellow Light with a 3″ flat brush and let it run down the sheet. I was immediately impressed with the strength of the wash and its ability to hold color while diluted. Into the sky I brushed a small portion of Yellow Orange and a bit of Peacock Blue. For years I have avoided paints with catchy names like periwinkle blue, etc. These names often suggest less than serious color. Not so with this blue . While the sky was settling I brushed in Viridian in the foreground. The photo was taken while the paper was still wet. If you look carefully at the bottom of the wash you can see the puddle. I wanted to capture the intensity of the wet color. All of us are familiar with colors “drying back”, that is, losing a bit of their intensity as they dry. Please keep your eyes on the intensity as you view the next few frames. By the way ALL frames were shot in my studio as they were produced. No shots have been manipulated.
The paper is still wet and a lovely misty quality is revealing itself. None of the first wash has been manipulated; it is drying unmolested. The only new color to be introduced is in the tree line. The paper is still rather damp. The tree line is a combination of Viridian, Van Dyke Brown, and Peacock Blue I used the side of a flat brush and took care to keep the fresh wash from mingling with the green pasture. I also left a spot for an outbuilding or two that will emerge later.
The paper is still a bit moist. I added the hint of a road with a bit of Burnt Sienna and used a small brush to work around the buildings. Note how the dark treeline accentuates the yellow of the tree. This is one of those happy accidents if you will. If you like misty watercolors this could be a good stopping place. Start to finish I would estimate that perhaps 25 minutes had elapsed allowing for some drying time. The color is still holding well.
The color speaks for itself and I could have just stopped here and concluded that I had proven the worth of the paint. Its good stuff. One of the most intriguing things for me was the fact the the color holds its intensity even as you dilute it as a wash. After I did my work I Googled the product and found a factory presentation that consists of running a wash from a full strength dab of the color. Very interesting.
I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Later in the afternoon I looked at the completely dry sketch and wondered what would happen if I glazed some new color over the tree areas and in the immediate foreground. So I got a small brush for spots of detail in the barns and fence area. I mixed up Peacock Blue and Viridian and washed over the greys of the trees. I also introduced some Rose Madder into the landscape in several areas to provide a little balance. The results of the simple glaze was striking. I really didn’t know what to expect because as a general rule the results would have been a bit muddy without additional glazing washes of the same color. As a result a little bit of almost all of the color samples found their way into this little watercolor. It may never hang in the Louvre but it gave me a great deal of encouragement for this new paint. One last thought the grey in the immediate foreground was bit of Rose Madder and Peacock Blue
I will be purchasing a number of the colors that are not in the sample pack. I can’t wait to use them in a major piece I am developing right now. I think the color results will be outstanding.
For more information about Don’s revised edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I visit:
This is a bit of a different approach to my usual way of working. I’ll explain. I usually work with large brushes only using small rounds toward the end for detail. I rarely use any sort of masking agent and prefer to control the use of color by carefully dampening some areas of the paper and leaving other areas dry. The wet areas versus the dry areas is very logical since watercolor will not usually bleed into a dry area. A little practice and a LOT of patience plus some compulsion will pull you through!
This particular work has been completed after I have had some major health setbacks. Last summer, I was the victim of a rear end collision. Today I have to walk with the aid of a cane. It limits my mobility and the ability to carry a lot of gear. This piece was done in my backyard after a rainy spell.
In this piece I shifted my approach. Working on a 300lb. Lana cold press sheet (30″ x 22″) I used round brushes to set the under painting stage, large brushes for overall washes; then small Kolinsky rounds for detail. One additional item was maskoid or frisket. A bottle of liquid maskoid will last me for years. In fact they usually dry up before I can use up the bottle. One tip: If you purchase a medium to large bottle, open it up and put a marble inside. Decant a small amount into a tight fitted film can. Work out of the small airtight container. Replenish from the larger container. EVERYDAY when you come into your studio flip the larger container over on its head or base. The marble will help agitate the mixture and keep it fluid. Merely shaking the container with agitate the air in the partially full larger container. The shaking and infusion of air will cause your supply to dry up faster.
My brushes for this painting were :
- #8 Mary Whyte Kolinsky round. (It only comes in a size 8 from Art Express.)
- #4 Winsor & Newton Series 7
- Grumbacher size 20 “Gainsborough” bristle brush
- 1″ flat sable or sable blend brush
- Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon
- M.Graham Indian Yellow
- Holbein Marine Blue
- Holbein Yellow Green
- Winsor & Newton Emerald Green (Blue Shade)
- Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green
- Winsor & Newton Manganese Blue Hue
- I prefer a brand called White Mask
- In this case I wound up using a tinted Grumbacher variety
Prior to applying the first wash I made a number of preliminary sketches. I capitalized on a somewhat obscured “X” design in the basic concept. Watch of it as the work progresses. You will note that there are mixtures of Indian Yellow and Marine Blue predominating the page. Note some major leaf shapes, the branch and a few flowers have been left white with only the shadows being delineated.
After the limited under painting was dry I applied the maskoid. The pink areas denote the rubber masking fluid application. I can give you several reasons for not liking maskoid even though I use it once in a while. Primarily I find it blocks spontaneity and inhibits changing directions when “happy” accidents occur. The predominant yellow you see is the M.Graham Indian Yellow….good stuff!
The making on the flowers is straight forward. The masking of the lichens on the limb are another matter. The overall shape of the lichen mass was masked. As several layers of wash was applied I would modify the masking area. It is very simple. I would put down a wash, let it dry. Sometimes the wash was only on the lichens. After it dried I would use my fingers and rub the masked surface randomly disturbing the surface. Then I would apply another wash of another color. The final result is a random selection of colors that help create a natural texture. Experiment with it. It has many applications.
After a lot of time the painting is nearing completion. I love to get lost in the little minute areas of these sorts of studies. The colors blend and swirl over one another. I will elaborate on some of the steps when Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume II is published some time in the future.
Meanwhile Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I is available direct at
Also available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff and other outlets.
From time to time we all need to go back to the basics. This is especially true of watercolor. Aside from paper and pigments the brushes we use are of utmost importance. Even more importantly is the manner in which we use our brushes. All brushes speak their own language. You and I just need to learn to observe and/or listen. The best way to do this is via practice. I have photographed a series of brush exercises that I often use with beginning watercolor students. These exercises help me to explain and they help students to see the result.
Basically I will be working with two brushes one is the flat brush. In my photos the brush I used is a 1″ (one inch) flat brush. The round is a size 8 Mary Whyte red sable watercolor brush. Two distinct shapes. MANY different results.
In my paint gear I have a number of rounds of differing size as well as a number of square edged or flat brushes from 1/2″ up to 3 1/2″ wide. Regardless of size the marks or tracks they make are similar.
RULE 1: Often a novice will attempt to make a brush perform a task for which it is ill suited. That is very counter productive and can prove to be most frustrating. Start out playing with your brushes. What kind of marks will each kind of brush make?
RULE 2: Thoughtful play will reveal a number of brush secrets.
Here are some examples:
Sheet 1 shows a few examples of just getting acquainted with the brush.
Now let’s get specific. Look at your flat edged brush. Do you know its potential? It can make large passages of wash as well as fine lines. Very versatile. Look at the palm tree for an example.
2. The palm fronds are developed with a quick movement with the flat or broad edge of the brush. Very simple, yet effective.
3. Broad leaf trees can be developed by using the side of the brush. This gets a little more tricky but with a little practice it will become easy. The secret is to reduce the moisture in the brush and allow the ferrule of the brush to rest or tap onto the paper. The idea is to create a not so perfect shape of the tree you want to emulate. With practice you will be able to create very delicate trees or robust ones. 4. You can use the sweep of the brush to create sparkling effects like sunlight on water or to create larger passages of wash.
…or try creating grass and other textures via dry brush. (Dry brush is a bit of a misnomer, in fact the brush is damp. However, the ratio of water to pigment is different. The brush has more pigment than moisture.)
Round Sable Brushes:
This is probably the best known of all watercolor brushes. It is probably the most abused. I often see students fearfully using a small round brush in an attempt to paint large expanses of wash on paper. That is sort of like trying to dig a ditch with a teaspoon! Not entirely impossible but very nearly so. In the following examples I am going to attempt to break down a typical use of a round brush. Do keep in mind that rounds can be used for dry brushing as well.
FIRST: The finished exercise and then the segments. To many of you the results will be self explanatory.
A simple approach to a simple, yet lovely, subject. The green’s are a mixture of Hooker’s Green and Holbein Leaf Green. Some of the color variation is due to reloading the brush with fresh wash. Remember the round brush is extremely sensitive yet very versatile. This often makes it more frustrating in the beginning.
Let’s Look at the Sequence:
1. First Stroke. Better stated the end of the first stroke. Take a look at the next step to get a better understanding of the sequence.
2. In the beginning the loaded brush is pressed down to begin the broader portion of the leaf. As the brush progresses the pressure on the brush is relaxed and the point of the leaf begins to appear. With very long leaves or grasses and fine limbs it is often a good idea to SLOWLY twirl the handle of the brush between the thumb and the forefinger to get a very fine line. Practice! Practice!
4. Study nature and try to emulate the basic shapes. The examples I have used are very basic with little detail. However, the effects are profound. Oriental Masters have understood the power of the simple brushstroke for centuries. If this concept is new to you pick up a book on Oriental calligraphy. Take note of numbered exercises or brush sequences used in making basic Chinese and Japanese characters. Sumi-e technique will also help open doors for you that will empower your method of expression.
Take time to master these simple techniques. It will be a small investment of your time that will pay huge rewards in your painting results.
Want to know more about watercolor painting techniques? For more examples check out Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at
Watercolor on site demonstration. 9″ x 12″ on 140lb. cold press. Blue Ridge Farm
There is a lot to be said for painting on location, especially when there is an abundance of magnificent subject matter. Wonderful views can be breath taking but even more importantly one should seek out the subjects that excite YOUR passion. In this series I will be exhibiting on-site watercolors that were done in the Blue Ridge Parkway area in North Carolina.
Blue Ridge Farm
This piece was done fairly quickly and has a spontaneous feeling to it. It was accomplished in under an hour, more like about 40 minutes. While there was no rush, the sunlight and the breeze speeded up the drying time. The palette was simple. I used thalo blue for the sky, Indian yellow and thalo blue for the green and a hint of violet for the distant mountain and the house. The stand of pine trees was added after the paper was dry. The initial wash for the sky was applied over a wet surface, taking care to avoid wetting the house. With a bit of practice you can paint right up to the edge of an area with a great deal of precision. The trick is that the watercolor wash will migrate freely over the dampened area but with care it will not venture onto the dried sheet.
When I use the word care I mean to say it is best to allow the wash to migrate on its own. If you have too much water it may be difficult to keep it from wandering into a dry portion of the paper. With a little practice you can take advantage of the dampened sheet without diluting the color too much.
Materials / Travel Light
I prefer to travel light leaving non-essentials at home. What is essential? Water, watercolor paper, pencils, brushes and paint. For paper I prefer to use a 140lb. coldpress watercolor block because it is convenient. In the studio I often staple my paper to a 5/8″ thick sheet of plywood. I have several that I have sealed with varnish and have been using them for years. Today a lot of my students choose Gator board. Since I still have good plywood boards I see no reason to change. However, this is a matter of preference. In the field the block lightens my load and allows me to work without having to worry about buckled paper. I always find a log , rock or some other support to rest the block without an easel.
I have a beautiful French easel but it is added weight. I started out using one outside but found the weight was a restriction in many of the places I was visiting. Try rappeling down the face of a cliff with a lot of added weight or jumping from rock to rock to get to the right vantage point. I do use an Army surplus ammunition can for my water storage and for a painting bucket. Yes, it is heavy but a good tight, no leak, water source is vital. That is why I suggest that you consider what you REALLY need and what you can do without.
I’m old school. When I paint on-site, I sketch and paint on-site. At times I will take photographs for later reference but my primary focus is the subject I am painting. This is why I believe PASSION is vital. If you are not aching to paint it, why bother? I don’t use Photoshop or other manipulations on photos. To each his own but I prefer to get caught up in a dialogue with the object that has sparked my desire. Later in the studio if I desire to delve deeper I will drag out the photos, if I have any, to take me back to the moment. I like to use photos like a sort of time machine. I hear the sounds, smell the smells and am transported back to the spot.
Mountain Pasture, Blue Ridge
Another simple on-site attempt. The palette is very limited. Indian Yellow, Thalo blue and Winsor Red. I quickly drew in a simple horizon line and roughly positioned the buildings before dampening the sky down to the horizon line taking care to avoid getting any water on the buildings. I took a moment to carefully introduce water around each of the building shapes. This is a critical moment, so be careful. A pale wash of dilute Thalo blue was washed into the sky and allowed to descend to the horizon line. While the paper was barely damp I put in another wash of pale blue with a touch of Indian Yellow to create the distant mountain range. If you consider the edge you can see that some dry areas produced a crisp edge while a couple of damp spots blurred, creating a hazy effect.
A careful examination of the horizon line will reveal a very thin white line. While the sky and distant range was drying completely I took my large 3″ brush and dampened the foreground. I was VERY careful to keep the area above the horizon line from bleeding into the damp foreground. While this is not quite like brain surgery you do want to be careful to keep the two damp areas from intermingling. That way you can prevent an uncontrolled bleed between the two areas from occurring. While the foreground was damp I brushed in a wash of Indian Yellow. I brushed it in a varying degrees of intensity but it was not a totally flat tone wash.
When the yellow was completely dry; a second wash of Thalo blue was washed over the area. After ti was dry a mixture of Thalo blue, Indian Yellow and Winsor Red was applied using a large 3″ flat brush. Some areas were dry brushed.
Once the major tone was set I began to develop the barns with dry brush strokes, using a mixture of Thalo Blue and Winsor Red. The white of the paper was allowed to shine through in critical areas to denote highlights. The darker detail lines, doors, etc. are merely stronger mixtures of Thalo Blue and Winsor Red. You will find it to be a very versatile mix. It can range from pale weathered grey to deep optical black. The cedar tree is dry brush Thalo Blue ans Winsor red as well.
North on the Blue Ridge Trail
A beautiful vista. I think the thing that really captured my attention was the sense of freedom. It was almost like one could just fly off toward the horizon. The wind was blowing gently with an occasional gust moving the grasses around in circular patterns. The distant haze of the mountains added to the power of the view. The palette is identical to the last painting, only the proportions are changed.
As you look you can see that almost the entire sheet was flooded with varying degrees of Indian Yellow. Once again the basic shape of the house and barn were avoided with the initial water wash. The entire sheet , except for the two buildings, was dampened. The yellow was not introduced into the sky. Look closely and you can see the effect. Due to the weather, the wash dried rapidly. After it was dry another clear water wash was applied down to the horizon line. Once again the buildings were avoided and left dry. A wash of Thalo blue was applied creating a misty effect. As the paper neared drying the darker portion of blue mountain on the right was put in.
A very pale wash of Indian Yellow was washed over the entire foreground that had just been dampened with clear water. Once the area was dry a pale wash of Thalo Blue was flooded over the same area creating a delicate green. As the large expanse began to dry I washed in a dry brush mode several washes of Thalo Blue, a bit of Indian Yellow and Winsor Red to create the shadow areas. The darker trees are Thalo Blue.
The language of the brush and a painting that was started outdoors and finished in the studio.
For more tips on watercolor technique you can purchase Don Rankin’s revised, updated edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I . Purchase direct at www.createspace.com/3657628
Watercolor; a great choice for plein aire
Perhaps no medium is more adaptable to outdoor on-site painting than watercolor. It is quick drying, very light, versatile and easy to carry. Many years ago I developed a travel pack that takes up very little room while offering me a great deal of flexibility in the tools and paints I can carry. I became accustomed to trekking into wilderness locations. Anyone who has enjoyed back packing knows that your gear can become very heavy. While french easels and the like are great, try carrying one along with your other necessities over rugged terrain. It won’t take long before you decide it is not worth it. My gear is very simple and light weight.
The travel pack consists of a clear plastic container that measures about 5″ x 9″ x 1.25″. It has a snap lid and will float and has a built in bracket where you can attach a lanyard if you like. The sketchbook is a 9″ x 12″ American Journey sketchbook. As for an easel or painting surface, I make use of what I can find in the wild. I may use my lap, a rock or log or the gunwale of the canoe; whatever works.
Make sure you have some sort of water container. Years ago I would carry an Army surplus ammo can. However, if you carry it full of water it can be rather heavy. The most important thing is to make sure that you are using a reliable water source. Contaminated water can adversely affect your painting. You can filter drinking water or take a little from your canteen. In the sketches I will display I took my water directly out of the lakes.
Boundary Waters Trek
These days one would wisely think twice about drinking directly from a lake or stream. Years ago I had the joy of canoeing the Boundary Waters just northeast of Ely, Minnesota. We canoed from there up into Canada. The following sketches chronicle some of the moments of that trip. These are watercolor sketches that were produced during my down time between paddling sessions. Most of them are quick pieces that I completed while “deadheading”, that is sitting in the middle of the canoe while my partners paddled. There was a small cup tied to a lanyard. That was our drinking cup. We would drink directly from the lake when we were not near beaver dams. We were in an area where no internal combustion engines were allowed and the water was clean.
Imagine , if you will, reclining in a canoe in late summer in the north woods completely out of range of any telephone, TV or radio. Nothing but you, the dark water, billions of stars and a magnificent display of northern lights. Sadly, my sketch doesn’t even begin to approach the beauty of the moment. However, this simple sketch does help me to recall the experience. Will I ever be able to do it justice? We shall see.
Imagine acres of ripe blueberries. For me it was like heaven since I dearly love blueberries. One caution, the bears love them too. You have to be very respectful and mindful of your furry neighbors if you decided to feast.
A fleeting scene of the landscape as we made our way toward Le Grande Portage and into Canada.
Le Grande Portage
The lakes are interconnected. When one lake ends you get out and carry your canoe overland to the next lake. At times the lakes are at a much higher elevation. In this case were were jumping from boulder to boulder on our way into Canada. I had the privilege of scaling a cliff with a canoe. It really helped me get in touch with my ancestors who used this path on a regular basis.
In the Mist
A wonderful way to paint wet into wet is in the rain. Never say never. Finally the mist gave way to full rain and I had to close my gear.
At times I find painters who are reluctant to show some of their sketchbooks. I do this because I have students who are often confused about plein aire work and why it is important. I think it is important for many reasons. It helps sharpen our observation skills. Working on the spot is an never ending challenge. It is also a wonderful lesson in humility. We win some, we lose some. We keep on trying.
These are quick fleeting sketches. By no means do they approach a finished state. Yet, in their simplicity I wanted to use my brush to capture moments for me. The world may not hold them in high regard but this is a part of my working method. I’m not sure why but there are times when I will mull over sketches for years before I paint the subject. No explanation for it. It is just my way. Perhaps that way I filter out the unnecessary. When I come back and do the final pieces I’ll get more involved.
Too often students and the general public will think of the glazing technique as a long boring labor intensive chore. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Glazing can be what you want or need it to be. Get out in your own neighborhood, select a spot and paint. Try to focus your attention on a simple subject and don’t try to paint the entire world in one sitting. Focus, focus. Be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to dive in. Good Painting!
You may order Don’s book, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I direct at : www.createspace.com/3657628
Looks Like Snow
Watercolor (22″ x 30″) 300 lb. Lana
Hopefully the color looks very rich and lively as you examine this painting example. Creating vibrant color that is almost as intense when it is dry as when it is wet led me to explore glazing for effect. The real story began with a man by the name of Rex Brandt. Neither he nor I were the first to adopt this approach to watercolor but he planted the seed that enticed me.
As I have stated before glazing doesn’t have to be tedious nor extremely laborious. It can be, if that is what your vision requires or it can have spontaneous effects as well. If you look closely you will see wet ‘n wet techniques coupled with some dry brush and some careful detailing. Each technique is orchestrated to create a special effect for a specific purpose. Once again the main rule is to allow previous washes to be completely dry before the next wash is applied. In this attempt there are no opaque paints, no masking agents; just simple layers of one color over another.
The list of paints used is very basic. The yellows are M.Graham’s, Gamboge, and American Journey, Indian Yellow. The blues are American Journey, Joe’s Blue and Holbein Marine Blue. The reds are American Journey Fire Engine Red and Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon. The portions that appear to be black are an optical black created with almost equal mixtures of the maroon and Joe’s blue. The bottom line is you don’t really need a boat load of colors to get strong effects.
The Foundation, choosing complements
The genesis for this painting was a sort of remembrance. I was in the Cumberland Gap a number of years ago walking the old trail to the Gap with a number of my relatives. The sleet was beginning to sting a bit and the air was cold and crisp making it easy to imagine what it was like for my ancestors as they trekked through this area. The chief was standing gazing at the sky with his blanket folded over his hands and arms. It was a natural. I began the painting with an under painting of red and blue.
At this stage the colors are Holbein Marine Blue, dilute Fire Engine Red and a touch of Perylene Maroon. Reds can be tricky so at this stage they need to be dilute lest they bleed and sully the colors that come later. The Marine blue is lively and helps boost some of the later applications of color. By necessity, the under painting is pale. However, primary features are established as well as major folds and shadows. Keep in mind all of these elements are still fluid. By that, I mean to say that stronger washes can over ride or modify any of these preliminary strokes.
At this stage several layers of yellow washes have been carefully applied and the figure is now defined by the additional surrounding colors. No additional work has been done to the red/blue under painting on the figure. The effect is heightened by the use of complements to help set the stage for the final work to come.
A Clear Path
If you take the time to study the beginning under painting, then the color addition, as well as the final piece you should see the path. Everything is rather simple when you look at the layers. Allowing colors to blend wet into wet and then polishing some areas with careful, deliberate brush strokes helped to create a unity. For some individuals winter is drab. For me, it is invigorating and full of rich yet subdued colors. The range of greens, oranges as well as rich reds all sprang from the selection of a few colors.
When you have an idea or inspiration; make a plan. Without a concept or destination your journey is futile. Allow YOUR senses to direct you. As you follow, remember the basic rules of color.
I have been under a very demanding schedule and recovering from the adverse effects of an auto accident. The weather man says our temperatures will drop in the next few days. There is a stand of beautiful old gnarled trees not far from my studio that beckon me. Hopefully, I’ll be out doors for some plein aire work. I hope to post that in the near future.