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Having Fun With Glazing

paradise creekfinal

Paradise Creek , watercolor on 140lb.cold press  approx 16″ x 12″
About 150 feet from my studio door lies Paradise Creek. I never have to worry about flooding because my studio is about 35-40 feet above the creek.  That gives me a great vantage point. The location never really disappoints for there is always a visual delight awaiting me. The creek has been my constant neighbor for at least the past 30 years.  During that time I have seen a number of changes in the creek,  many of them not to my liking.  The public works fellows came in to do some “improvements”. Those actions spoiled some wonderful spots.  In spite of their actions the creek has survived. Like many of us it goes through seasons of change. In the spring and part of the winter it is often a raging torrent. In the fall it almost always sings a pleasant lullaby when we open the windows to enjoy its song.  In the hot summer the water may slow a bit and more rocks are exposed as the fish and other creatures seek refuge in the deeper pockets.

All in all Paradise Creek has been a good neighbor and an unending source of inspiration. I have enough memories and sketches to keep me busy for another lifetime.

The power of glazing:

There are so many ways to make use of glazing.  You can use it in a very controlled manner working in a traditional way with a brush or you can try other approaches.  The beauty lies in versatility.

Don’t be negative:

How many times have you heard someone say something like; ” Oh watercolor is so hard, you can’t cover up your mistakes!”   Think for a moment about that statement. It also means that transparent watercolor can be used in glazes or layers to create a wonderful range of colors!  You can create under painting texture, wonderful color combinations and /or prepare a careful under painting likeness. (Hint: you can use splatter in one layer, let it dry and repeat or you can build color via multiple layers alternating wet ‘n wet passages or direct wash on dry paper. The possible combinations are only limited by your imagination.) The secret? Know your colors and follow a proper sequence.  So what is proper? That is largely up to you.  You can review the archives of my blog for some tips. Basically two rules should be at least observed.  I say at least because you may find opportunity to break or severely bend them. As a general rule best results come from allowing each wash to dry thoroughly before applying another wash.  Another suggestion is to use your most transparent colors FIRST.

Beginning Paradise Creek:

paradisecreelbeginningIf your eyes are keen you will see that there are no preliminary pencil lines.  My apologies but the shot is a bit blurry but hopefully you get the idea. Three colors were applied, Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green,  M.Graham New Gamboge and American Journey Andrew’s Turquoise. I use a three inch brush on almost all pieces.  I do not want the beginning to be picky and that is what beginning with a small brush tends to produce.  In the words of Delacroix, “Begin with a broom and finish with a needle.” Sounds scary?   Not really, try it.

Keep it simple:

These initial passages were applied to a dry piece of 140 lb. cold press D’Arches watercolor block. I find the block to be the most convenient item when I am working away from the studio.  Once the washes were applied  I used a bottle with a fine mist to hit some of the areas. You can see where the colors blend and you can also see where the edges of the wash are crisp. Crisp edges denote that the paper is dry soft edges tell you the surface is wet. As many of you will know this is basic watercolor; nothing fancy.  The real secret here is to RELAX.  Let the wet color do it thing. If you don’t like a particular run or effect, pick up the paper and rotate it and coax the color to go a different way. When you get the effect you want, let the paper lay FLAT. Watch out for puddles, blot when necessary. In this case my paper was propped up and the color ran just the way I wanted it to go.  Be ready to let the unexpected happen.


See if you can see where the major light areas are going to develop.  Remember the brightest bright to have is the white of the paper.  Respect and reserve the white of your paper. In this case I kept the paper dry in the areas where I would later have the brightest highlights.

Next Step:Paradis CreekFullSizeRender
The darker greens in the trees are a combination of the sap green and Hookers Green. Some of the initial washes were used with the wide side of my largest flat brush.  Note the wet onto wet blending in the tree on the right as it bleeds into the water. I couldn’t resist leaving it untouched. One of those wonderful accidents. I used a brush as well as a small segment of natural sponge to create the foliage effect. The limbs on the left side are a combination of scraping out and painting negative shapes.  Simple sweeping washes with a one inch flat brush was used on the water. As you look you can see a mingling of color that suggest reflection and ripples in the moving body of water.  Recall that negative statement? Well, I see it as opportunity!  All of those wet colors blended into a soft sheen that I could have never done as well with a deliberate brush stroke. They are transparent and the colors applied over them are transparent and we get a wonderful combination. The beauty is that we get some wonderful unexpected blending of color. Take advantage of it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Jump in and give it a try!

Making adjustments:

As I looked at the almost finished piece I felt that the center area wasn’t really working for me. While I had a movement of wash going across the middle it didn’t seem to be enough to really pull the work together.  So I introduced the oak tree and some other small trees to complete the effort.

Planning your composition:  Notan


Ideally you are aware of the term “Notan”.  It is a Japanese word that describes the relationship of light and dark.  It can be a very useful tool for helping you  develop your paintings.  In some ways you might think of it like a large puzzle. This illustration was taken using my smartphone and choosing one of the editing features. If you are not familiar with the concept of Notan by all means study it. It will help you to see the large parts.  Recall that I mentioned starting the painting with a big brush. After conquering the large elements I can settle down to refine the smaller items.  As you look at your screen if you are near sighted merely take off your glasses and see the large blurry shapes. If you have regular vision merely squint your eyes. You should see how the shapes interlock with one another grays working with white and black. Plan your composition making use of Notan. It works very well with just black and white.  The shot above is a camera conversion of the finished painting. However, I think it serves to make the point.  Your painting needs a good frame work. This will help you see it. We all need to hone our skills to develop better paintings. This is a great tool. Use it.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? You can purchase Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I. by Dr. Don Rankin at

Enjoy a remastered classic on DVD entitled The Antique Shop by Don Rankin

Study with Don Rankin online at your own pace at any time that fits your schedule.  Over 30 tutorials on various watercolor techniques more than 2 1/2 hours of content  at

Study with Don Rankin at Artists On The Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama. Classes are held from 9:00 Am- 11:30 every Thursday except holidays. Contact Ms Linda Williams at

Underpainting: Can I use more than one color?


Bluejacket, watercolor , 28″ x 20″  300 lb. cold press Lana

I often get asked about using more than one color in the initial under painting. Questions range from can I do it to how do I do it?

I think it helps if you think of under painting as a process of setting a stage for what is to come. If you take the time to study past and some modern masters you will find many examples of artists who chose all sorts of underlying color schemes to provide a platform for what was to come in the final  application of paint.  Granted, most early works are either egg tempera or oil paint applications.  I think that is one reason my first edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor created such a buzz.  In fact, here we are at least 28 years later and the book, now revised, is still popular.

The arrangements of color can run the gamut.  

Are you aware that some early painters would often use silver hued paints for under painting some of their grand ladies? Others would develop color schemes that depended upon the use of complementary colors to effect striking contrast. In the watercolor entitled Bluejacket, a combination of colors were alternated. The next three shots will show the underlying structure of color.


Stage 1: The washes are faint.  Three colors were used.  You can see a combination of Thalo blue, Permanent Magenta and Violet
mingled in varying strengths of intensity. Some areas fade into nothingness while other critical points are fairly bold.  Some of the washes were applied directly while the softer areas reveal that a wet into wet approach was used.  These first washes help set the stage for what comes later.  Keep in mind you are in control, make sure you have a concept or a direction in mind BEFORE you begin. Have a plan, then set out to execute it.  The under painting session is the time to set the stage.  Make use of wet into wet, direct wash and charging of washes to accomplish your goal. What is charging ? Some may ask.  Relax, you don’t need your credit card! Charging consists of dropping a new color into a damp field of color that is already on the paper.  With a little practice you will determine the optimum timing for this application. I would caution you to avoid the attempt while the passage is still very wet unless you want your charged color to dilute a great deal. Waiting until the paper is too near dry will also create unwanted effects. Once again practice on scrap paper until you get the hang of it.


Stage 2:  If you recall basic color theory then you remember that violet and yellow are complements. Their combined use helps to increase or intensify the effect of one another. Perhaps it could be argued that Permanent Magenta is not violet but it is close and its presence doesn’t deter from the effect. I always try to teach students about the vital difference between pure color theory and the paints with which we work.  Pure theory is one thing.  Learning to work with the limitations imposed by our finite materials  such as paint, is another matter altogether. Take a moment to compare the first two steps. The yellow in this case is M.Graham Gamboge.


Stage 3: At  this point a little hint of what is to come reveals itself as you examine the shadow side of the face where a combination of M. Graham Gamboge and American Journey Copper Kettle are combined as a tentative wash to see how the color combination will work.   When I am painting faces I choose to develop distinct shapes that depict the architecture of the head I am attempting to capture. Don’t be afraid to use brush strokes in watercolor.  Too often watercolor is considered to be pale, pastel and understated. Consider the works of Sargent and Homer. Look at the power they conveyed while using watercolor.


See the watercolor glazing technique in action: A number of years ago I was fortunate to have a wonderful producer named Dan Brennan. He and his team produced a video of my painting technique complete with a final segment that contains a composition and  brush tutorial.  The original VHS sold thousands of copies. I am delighted to announce that the original master The Antique Shop was found in Dan’s archives and has been remastered in DVD format.

It is now available at

You can also obtain Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I, Revised Edition at

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