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A different approach

Water’s Edge, watercolor ,30″ x 22″Image

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


Beginning/first strokes:

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.


Step 2

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!

Two Approaches:

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.

Glazing and Drybrush make a powerful combination

watercolor 11" x 15" (27.94 x 38.10cm)


watercolor 11″ x 15″ (27.94 x 38.10cm)

I get a lot of comments about glazing techniques in watercolor.  From time to time I run across people who are confused or don’t really understand that glazing isn’t a straitjacket.  You don’t have to commit yourself to layers and layers of tedious drudge work. You can, if that is what you think your concept needs.  However, there is no law somewhere that says you have to do it a certain way.  There is ONE rule.  It is very simple, MAKE SURE the previous wash is dry before you apply another layer.  Even that rule has flexibility.  You can charge another color into a wet passage if you desire a particular effect.  As a general rule, however, make sure the paper is dry.  In that way you can be assured of a clean sparkling wash.

Let the white paper work for you

In this little watercolor I made use of the pure white paper to satisfy some highlight areas. My subject was in strong sunlight and with her fair skin the reserving of the white paper was a natural solution.   The execution was straight forward using a limited range of colors.

Paper : 140 lb. cold press …D’Arches

Paints: M. Graham Indian Yellow,  Winsor Blue and Winsor Red

This painting was done before I discovered the virtue of Perylene Maroon.  If I were painting it today I might find myself using it in conjunction with or instead of Winsor Red.  As it stands however,  I modified the red with blue in order to achieve the maroon effect.


The actual painting was executed fairly rapidly.  A pale under wash of Indian Yellow was applied to the shadow side of the nose and cheek with the strongest mixture in the hair. Since I wanted the effect of sunlight to dominate the painting I made sure that key areas of light were left in the form of shapes. As you look at the piece you should be able to see the shapes, not only in the face but in the hair.

In my opinion it is the linkage between those shapes that help form the structure of the image and contribute to the idea that sunlight is beaming down, burning out the color.  We see these effects every sunny day. Why not attempt to capture the effect?

The washes in the face are simple, just an under layer of Indian Yellow followed by a wash of Winsor Red and blue.


The skin is fair and smooth and soft washes help to convey that feeling. The hair is silky and dry brush  helps to create the sense of hair. The yellow under wash helps to provide warmth and light in key areas of highlight.  If you study the hair closely you should be able to see the areas on the crown of the head   where blue helps to convey a sense of reflected light. The dry brushing started at the top of the head and follows a natural path to the tips of the hair. If you are not familiar with dry brush think of it as more paint than moisture in your brush. Practice, at first, on scrap paper.  Squeeze out the excess water from your brush, then swirl the brush  onto your palette. With a little practice you will get the hang of it.


It is easy to get caught up in detail and often lose the sense of the subject. Hopefully, the hair is believable as you view it. However, it may not necessarily be a perfect rendition of the actual hair.  The color is very close, almost perfect in fact. However, the arrangement of the hair has been ordered or simplified into major shapes so that the effect is achieved. One could say that a symbol has been created. Very often this is what we do in the quest to convey a concept.

Closing Comment

I’ve been painting for a lot of years and I have used a lot of different brands of materials. Many are still old favorites.  Every once and a while something special comes along.  In the area of brushes I have spent a LOT of money and still have brushes I purchased over 30 years ago! I really never thought I would ever find a brush that would surpass my Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky sables.  Well,  I still love my Winsor  & Newton brushes but Mary Whyte has developed a brush that is really spectacular.  You have to use it to believe it. It has a longer handle and a different balance. It carries more water but will snap down to a needle point in an instant. You can buy it at ArtExpress.  I bought one and I am delighted that I did.

One very important point; I have no monetary interest in promoting Mary’s brushes, book or videos. However, if you have not seen her work, treat yourself to some magnificent watercolors.

You can find more tutorials of Don Rankin’s work  in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I, by Dr. Don Rankin  at

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