Watercolor Demo 7.5″ x 10″ image 140 lb. cold press D’Arches block
I believe in demonstrating procedures and ideas when teaching a group. My weekly class at Artists on the Bluff gets impromptu demos a lot. The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words!” is so true. Very often a student will have a question that is best answered with a demonstration. I’m going to share the steps below.
Step 1…the beginning
First move: You can see some pencil lines. Usually I put these in so my students can get an idea of my plan. The basic pencil lines help to set boundaries. You can see the horizon line, some rough indications for the shape and size of the barn, etc. In short I have set up a basic road map. It is a road map I may or may not follow. The guidelines are there for orientation. Pencil lines and painted shapes of color have a different dynamic. I’m painting; so color rules.
Order: Everyone had an idea of the placement and composition. Now comes the execution. I usually paint sky and background elements first. Not always but usually. Why ? It is easier. The sky was painted wet ‘n wet. That is the paper was flooded with clear water first, taking care to avoid the shape of the barn. Hint: The wet wash will not freely migrate across into the dry area unless you have too much of an angle or too much water on your paper. As the initial sky wash of Holbein Marine Blue with a touch of Perylene Maroon was drying I carefully dropped a stronger wash of the same mixture into the dampened sky area being careful to avoid the silo and the barn shape as well as the foreground. While that area was drying I carefully applied the foreground of M.Graham Gamboge with a bit of the residue of Perylene Maroon and Marine Blue still lingering in my brush. The resulting bronze color is a perfect winter color. By the way most of this wash at this stage was executed with a 3″ flat brush. The exception was the pale vermilion red and blue wash on the front of the barn.
Study the image:
At first glance you can see some not so clean wash edges, in some places pretty crude. The white edge on the left side of the piece was left in order to prevent the wet sky and wet foreground from mingling. The white edge of the barn on the shadow side was inadvertently left and will soon be refined.
Why this demo, why this approach?
At times I think that we all think too much. This is especially true of beginning watercolor painters. Note I wrote “painters.” Like many of you I run across the woefully ignorant who like to think that watercolor isn’t a painting medium!! I’ve even run into this idea among so-called educated teachers with a lot of alpha bet soup tagged on the end of their names. My point is that painting is painting, period. The medium we choose does not negate the fact that certain concepts of painting are largely universal and only altered by the requirements of the media we choose to use. If you study the works and methodology of painters like Richard Schmid and David Leffel you will find that many of their approaches can be applied to other painting mediums. Certainly watercolor, like other media, has its own requirements and approaches.
Do you recall the first time you attempted to paint a watercolor? Did you make a lot of preparation, planning what you were going to do? While it is desirable to have a goal in our work; at times, students came become a nervous wreck by planning too much. It is almost as perilous as the brave soul who just jumps in without any plan what so ever. In many ways I favor the student who bravely dives in throwing caution to the wind. Having written that I need to clarify. Looseness in a painting methodology is NOT the same as being sloppy. Looseness comes from confidence and relaxation after one has mastered a few basics.
All washes were dry when I used a size 6 Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush to paint in the general shape of an old oak tree. The wash was American Journey Andrews Turquoise. The fence line was a mixture of the Marine Blue and Perylene Maroon. Note the fact the the shadow side of the barn was now repaired and a bit of Marine Blue w/ Perylene Maroon provided a shadow for the edge of the roof line. A dilute mixture of the same color was used to cast the shadows on the front of the barn.
Darker washes were mixed to define the tree. At first glance the turquoise wash was not too powerful. However, alternating a stronger pattern of a mixture of dark blue and maroon created a strong optical black. Note where the darker wash was applied to the limbs and where it was omitted. Take time to study the patterns of light and shadow on trees to help make your images more convincing. The same dark was used in the space between the barn and silo to help clean up and define the edges of the barn. A portion of the fence appears to have a highlight as it approaches the barn. No masking or scraping out was used to create this effect. Recall that the shadow side of the barn was once a lighter color. Here the sequence of painting was reversed. The dark shadows between the fence rails was painted leaving the lighter wash to appear as a highlight. This is refined even more in the final stage of the painting. As an added thought, a bit of turquoise was applied to the shadow side of the roof.
The last refinements have been added in this small demo. You can see the planks in the barn siding as well as in the door. Some would think of the structural qualities of the building but I chose to use vertical lines on the door in order to break up the rhythm of the horizontal lines. While it is probably more accurate in terms of construction; I wasn’t concerned with that. I was thinking of harmonic rhythm and contrast. Contrast exists in all forms, not just in lighter and darker values. The fence gate was defined using the same technique of negative painting. That is the shadow shapes were painted and the lighter underlying wash was left exposed to create the illusion of highlight. Many wise painters stress introducing color into various areas of the picture plane. One commented on making an excuse to introduce color into various areas. Look carefully in the foreground and you will see some hints of turquoise and hints of red. It just helps to balance out the color.
I have written all of this to say….RELAX. Too many tall tales strangle the flow of watercolor. Examine each step and you will see how darker/stronger color has been used to clean up or refine the image. An attempt to produce perfect washes in every application often breeds frustration or a terribly stiff watercolor. I did this little watercolor to assure my students that you have the ability to refine and polish your work as you go. This is a small demo that required a short period of time but the principle applies to more involved works as well. As the layers dried I used smaller brushes for the defining moments but in the beginning I used the largest brush I could find. In the words of Delacroix, “Start with a broom, finish with a needle.” I can’t say it any better.
Want to know more about Don’s watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct from Don at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration of Don’s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at Udemy.com. Over two hours of short, easy to follow tutorials on the basics of watercolor glazing techniques, color theory, brush techniques and paper selection. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor.com
Come join on going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. http://www.artistsonthe bluff.com Telephone 205-637-5946
WORKSHOP:WITH DON RANKIN: June 20-24, 2016 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, North Carolina. CONTACT: Edwina May for details ..firstname.lastname@example.org (888) 265-3356 (800) 227-2788
The Orchard 20″ x 16″ Ruscombe Mills, Cold Press watercolor paper
This is the latest effort to capture the beauty and the mystery of this orchard. I confess that as I age I take more time to hit upon a subject. I want to soak up the subject and then attempt to interpret my feelings for that subject. Compulsion? Yes. Yes, I paint the things that compel me to paint. Sometimes they nag at my mind much like a gnat or a fly often worries you when you are outside. Finally, at some point you just have to do something about it! Perhaps some will take offense at my analogy but that is the best way I know to describe my experience. I offer this analogy because I am accustomed to getting inquiries from interested parties wanting to know why or how I choose subject matter. Well, I don’t choose. I really believe it chooses me! Illogical? For some perhaps, but for me it makes perfectly good sense.
I grew up in a rural area; barns, livestock, orchards and woods were my everyday existence. These days I find myself appreciating those “good ole days” more and more. I don’t see it as escapism. Instead I see it as paying homage to the wonderful experiences I have been provided. There is something wonderful about being surrounded by nurturing plants or trees in a garden. There is a freshness there, a promise of life.
For this subject I chose to use a multiple colored under painting. The blue is Holbein Marine Blue, the green is M. Graham Sap Green, the red is Winsor & Newton Perlyene Maroon. A careful examination will reveal the location of each color. The early strokes are preliminary shapes. Many of those shapes go through modification and improvement as the painting progresses. At any rate, they provide a foundation for location of painting elements but even more they act as a guide to elements of composition. At this stage everything is very fluid and can be modified by stronger washes. While there are a few small spots of intense color most of the washes can easily be modified. So at this stage I have a combination of light and dark as well as the movement of light. The stage is set. I confess that I spent more time on the under painting than I did on the rest of the painting. I’m not totally sure why I allowed this to happen. I would like to think that I was planning and composing the final work in my mind. There are some pencil marks, outlining a few limbs. However most of the work consists of painting negative shapes and allowing those shapes to suggest limb placement. Tedious? For some people the answer is definitely. However, if you are in love with your subject and you are compelled to capture the essence then, no, it is not.
The Beauty of Freedom:
At this time we have not completely lost the ability to choose our personal painting path. I always advise students to learn all they can from various sources; then do the hard work of allowing YOU to shine through your work. Easy to write, often very hard for many to accomplish. Use what works for you.
For a while now I have had online classes on Udemy.com. The Orchard will soon appear as a new tutorial on watercolor glazing techniques. We are currently editing and hopefully it will be posted rather soon. If you would like to take a peek you can check the Udemy.com site. As of today we are editing so it should be ready in a week or so. I hope I don’t regret being optimistic!!
Want to know more about watercolor glazing? You can order Mastering Watercolor Glazing Techniques, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration of Don’ s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at Udemy.com Over two hours of short tutorials on the basis of watercolor glazing and brush technique. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor.com
On going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except Holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571Park Avenue, Bluff Park Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. http://www.artistsonthebluff.com Telephone 205-637-5946
UPCOMING WORKSHOP: June 20-24 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, North Carolina
Contact Edwina May for details. http://www.cheapjoes.com’art-workshops
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!
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.
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.
Making use of neutrals can give your watercolors a powerful boost.
Take a look at the two color charts. The combination is simple. A red, a blue and a yellow is all that is involved. Choosing the best red, blue and yellow will depend upon your experience. How do you know which combination to use? Experiment!
What is in the charts?
The chart on the left is made up of Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin, Holbein Marine Blue and M.Graham Gamboge.
The chart at the top consists of American Journey Joe’s Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon and M.Graham Gamboge.
While all of the paints are in the red, blue or yellow category you should be able to see that there are differences in the results. Compare the pale wash examples to the stronger wash examples. Also note the change in effect between the combinations. Take time to explore your paints on a piece of paper not when you are actually painting. When you are painting you should have some sort of concept in mind. However, it makes good sense to keep a separate piece of watercolor paper close by. It can come in handy when you are trying to make sure of a color passage BEFORE you apply it in a critical area.
Get a grip on color
I am accustomed to lecturing on color theory for several hours in my classroom. It is a vast subject. However, on this page I’ll stick to essentials. If you study the concept of subtractive color you will realize that as painters who work with pigments we have certain boundaries. In pure theory our red is known as magenta, blue is called cyan and yellow is called yellow. Simple enough. However, not every paint named yellow is close to process yellow, not every blue is process blue and pure magenta really doesn’t look like the reds most of us are accustomed to seeing.
What is the solution?
If you have not done so, take the time to look at these process colors. Every printed color page you view is based upon subtractive color theory. Be aware that it is different than additive color, the color of light, such as the color you see on this screen. Take time to learn the difference. If necessary, memorize what the colors look like. If you will do that you will find your color mixing frustration level greatly reduced.
As you examine the charts you will note that the swatches in the center look different from the other examples. The center swatches were produced by charging. Charging is the act of loading another color into a wet or moist field. It is very much like wet into wet painting. You will note it produces a soft effect while the other swatches that are glazes have hard edges. Both techniques have their place.
The watercolor at the top is a small painting measuring about 10″ x 14″ (25.40 x 35.56cm). It was produced using Grumbacher Thalo Blue, Grumbacher Indian Yellow, and Winsor Red. Every neutral was created by manipulating the ratio of color in each wash. The painting contains combinations of glazing, charging and dry brush. Basic flat washes were applied first. Selective areas were charged with color while still moist. Can you see where? Hint: the sky was washed in and while it was drying the foreground and middle ground of a pale yellow/red wash was applied. The sky was not allowed to touch the foreground and middle ground lest they bleed together. That was the plan. However, if you look on the left side you should be able to see that some of the blue sky seeped into the middle ground while on the right past the barn you can see almost pure white paper. After all of this dried, the entire sky was dampened with clean water (this was done to prevent any inadvertent streaks). At this point a darker combination of thalo blue and red was used for treeline. As it was drying more of the mixture was added to the trees to enhance the dark value. The charging was done with the tip of the brush and the color was allowed to bleed into the wash. The barn roof is another combination of blue and red. In the final stages a dry brush technique was used in the grassy area.
Please feel free to contact me.
Similar pieces and more involved tutorials are available in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at www.createspace.com/3657628