Many people find watercolour difficult to control – in fact, most of us do at times, and it can be especially frustrating for those folk who enjoy and are good at drawing, but want to turn their drawings into watercolours. One excellent method of achieving this is to use the wash and line technique, where you draw the image in ink – laying down a preliminary pencil drawing if you are not confident to begin straight away with the pen – and then lay watercolour washes over the image.
In this scene of a fishing boat I began with a fine fibre-tipped pen, drawing in the boat, ropes, bird and beach features, then once the outline was complete I worked in the tones by hatching with the pen, more intense in places, such as the underside of the craft, mainly by drawing the hatching lines closer together. When all this was done I washed colour over the image, weak washes, as the tone was already there, apart from the sky and one or two other parts. Pens are not especially good for creating interesting atmospheric skies, so I did use the wet-in-wet technique to include clouds and a darkened lower sky, but it could have been left as a plain weak wash, and the same applies to the beach. On the cabin I did lay a medium-toned blue-grey wash for the shadow side, although I could have hatched it lightly with the pen.
Of course, you can simply do the drawing without any hatching and then lay washes in the usual way, mixing darker tones where needed, so there is much scope for variation with wash and line. Some prefer to lay washes first and then draw with the pen, a very effective exercise when the work has gone slightly awry! This was actually a sketch done on smooth cartridge paper, but you might like to try it out on hot pressed watercolour paper.
The scene is taken from my book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, recently published in the USA, and we are doing a special offer with the DVD of the same title on our website. The DVD is only available from us and all details are available on the site. ….and don’t forget to have a go at the pen and wash!
Do you stretch your watercolour paper? This can be an exasperating process for many artists, and although it can be avoided by working on the thick 300lb paper, or even 200lb if you don’t flood it with water, these heavier papers are of course more expensive. Watercolour blocks are another alternative, and are extremely useful if you are travelling, but again they are more expensive when compared to sheets.
In the photograph I’m discussing a point during a demonstration, and using 300lb paper held to the board with two clips, as it is essential to keep the paper firmly in position. In the studio I normally use stretched 140lb paper. Firstly I cut four strips of gummed tape to correspond in length with the edges of the paper. Then I immerse the paper completely in water for not more than 15 to 20 seconds. If you leave it in water too long there is a danger that it will tear the tape away from the board. I then hold the paper by one corner and allow the water to drain off before laying it flat on the drawing board, before wetting each gummed strip in turn and sticking it down over one edge of the paper. Finally I lay the board flat and leave it to dry out completely before using it.
Every art tutor will give you a different formula for stretching paper, and if one method doesn’t work for you after several attempts then try someone else’s recipe. Alternatively you can buy stretchers for the purpose, but you are then limited to certain sizes, and if like me you have many boards stretched at once this may not be to your liking. Depending on the amount of water you use, as well as the paper itself, you may find it still cockling with really fluid washes, even though you have stretched it well. Some papers are more prone to this, but good paper like Waterford, Bockingford and Fabriano should not give you any problems. Worst of all, perhaps, is de Wint tinted paper, which can rise up to half an inch off the board, even after stretching. However, you won’t have any problems with it, as it’s no longer available! Further advice on stretching can be found in my Watercolour Landscape Course
book, which is available on my website
I’ve been trying out the Derwent Inktense blocks, a lovely and exciting alternative to normal watercolour paints that will produce really strong tones. They are excellent for working outdoors, and well worth trying if you are having difficulty with watercolour paints, or enjoy approaching it in a slightly different way.
This is a simplified composition of the river that runs through our valley, and my aim was to try out some basic techniques. Creating a wash was achieved by applying the stick across dry paper and then wetting it with a round brush – a number ten worked well on a painting this size (approx. 5″ x 8″) – use as large a brush as you can so that you employ fewer strokes.
Mixtures were achieved by overlaying colours again on dry paper, and then applying the water. With the foreground water I laid a second application of stronger colour after the initial wash had dried, and then re-wet the passage.
Wet-in-wet techniques can be effectively carried out by picking colour off the stick with a damp brush, then brushing it into a wet area on the paper as you can see with the tree on the far left. Don’t have much water on the brush when you do this. On the right of the composition you can see small trees painted with a number one rigger brush onto dry paper, but here I’ve had more water on the brush and tested it first on scrap paper to ensure the tone was not too dark, as I wanted it to recede into the distance, but not mist-like as with the left-hand tree.
These are just basic methods done on the excellent Derwent 140lb paper which has a smooth surface that takes these Inktense sticks very well. I’ll be back with some more techniques with these superb sticks before long.
It’s always good to leave some parts of a painting indefinite, especially when it is a busy composition. With mountain scenery it can become a little boring if the whole scene stands before you in crystal-clear detail, so when we do come across such a scene beneath blue skies it will usually help if we can deliberately obscure part of the background peak, yet still retain a sense of a majestic mountain range.
In this scene, while much of the background mountain is depicted with a fair amount of detail, the left-hand slopes are only partially visible because of the cloud streaming off the summit ridge. This not only simplifies that part of the mountain, but it creates a different shape encompassing both mountain and cloud formation, and this can be varied according to the strength of tone you employ for the cloud and shadow areas, as well as the overall shape. I achieved this soft transition by working the cloud-shadow washes (in this case French ultramarine and cadmium red) onto paper that had already been wetted.
If you enjoy painting majestic mountain scenery without the hassle of hiking far into the mountains, why not join Jenny and myself on our painting holiday to the Canadian Rockies in September 2013? The holiday is organised by Spencer Scott Travel in conjunction with Leisure Painter Magazine.
Jenny and I have just returned from running a watercolour course in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some fine blasts of wind that made the sea froth, heave and crash onto the rocky coastline in a truly dramatic fashion. In Solva habour, however, things were tranquil, with hardly a ripple disturbing the reflections. The place seemed to be crammed with boats, making it a marine-painter’s paradise.
Picking out a good composition with the more shapely boat or two takes some time when you’re wading through a veritable forest of masts. Any sensible artist would sport a pair of wellies and a suitable chair that keeps one well clear of the mud….and perhaps a small table for the water-pot and cappuccino, for then, if the tide rises during your painting you can gallantly continue even if your lower regions are below sea level.
Mud, as I have ruminated on before, is a particular favourite element in my paintings: easy to get right and you can stick it all over the place – well, in the foreground, anyway. You can also use it to hide any mistakes. In this photograph the muddy channels act as an excellent lead-in to the two main boats, and can be moved to suit the composition. The ropes and chains can also be employed in this way. Emphasise rusty red chains and green seaweed-draped ropes (there is a magnificent example in the centre right) to include some colour variation, and perhaps change a white buoy (as seen on the far left) to a more colourful orange or red. Reduce the number of masts and perhaps break up their reflections with a lump of mud or two in the water. If you would wish to include the background boats they should be painted in a far less distinct manner, otherwise the background becomes too cluttered and confusing.
There are still places available for my watercolour seminar on painting skies, light and atmosphere, at Pontypool on Saturday 27th – if you are interested please telephone Jenny on 01982 560237 The mixed exhibition at Barnabas Arts House in Newport Monmouthshire has been extended until the end of October. A percentage of the profits will go to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I had to re-supply them with new paintings. Telephone no. 01633 673739