Look Only at the Sky

Look at the Sky (2)Although this little practice painting isn’t much to brag about, it represents a big step forward for me with watercolors — as long as you only look at the sky.

Yes, I managed to create a pale watercolor-washed sky using several different colors. I also successfully added in a distant hillside, although the color is a bit too blue. Still the idea is there. It’s a great improvement over the awful streaky sky from my “Winter Stream” painting.

I am working now to develop what I consider to be fundamental watercolor skills, one of the most important of which is the ability to create the soft, pastel skies I love. I came close to getting the effects I wanted with my “Looking over the Water” painting, but then came the disastrous “Winter Stream”.  Time for more practice. Much more practice.

It’s become obvious to me — and to anyone who has seen my paintings — that I haven’t been using enough water. So, for this practice exercise, I brushed on lots of water, and then brushed on lots more water. I made certain the paper was flooded with water before I applied any color.

Of course, I made a big mess. One of the problems — which leads to one of my reasons for not using enough water — is that I’m painting on the same easel I use for oil painting. While it’s not vertical, I do keep it at a fairly high angle, probably much higher than I should for watercolor. As a result, too much water means I have water running all down the page, down across the bottom of my easel, and right on down to the floor. I’ve got a canvas drop-cloth spread out there, so no worries about that, but I surely don’t want all this water running everywhere, do I?

This brings up another problem. I’m still very inexperienced with watercolor. I don’t know what my paint and paper will look like once it’s dried. I know the colors will be lighter, but how much lighter? What about those places that look like drips, or streaks, or puddles? What will they look like once the paper has dried? Without some knowledge of what the end result may be, it’s all but impossible for me to know if what I’m doing is right or not.

As I painted, I did see a few places that I thought might turn into streaks, so my next “new trick” was to take a spray bottle and spray on more water, enough to cause my colors to once more start moving — running — on the paper.

Before the sky was completely dry, I did brush on a bit of color for a distant hill. I then finished the practice by working a bit on architecture. I was trying to show definite light and dark area on the house, but again, without knowing how it will all look once dry, it was hard for me to get my color values right.

I know, however, that watercolor isn’t a one-and-done painting method. I could add additional layers to darken certain areas, and in time, hopefully I’ll learn how to do precisely that. For now, I’m still working on the basics, like creating soft, pastel skies with watercolor washes.

As for the rest of the painting, I dabbled around. I drew in something that was supposed to look like a tree, and just played around with no conscious intentions. It’s all part of the learning process, and today, I feel as though I really have learned a little.

What would you include on a list of watercolor essentials to know?

 

4 Comments

  1. One of my watercolor teachers used to say, “The secret to watercolor is the water.” And it truly is. When choosing a medium, I first ask myself whether I want bold and opaque results or transparent, soft results. And if I choose the latter, I have to continually remind myself to use more water than paint when mixing. Water it down and water it down again. Then when applying, use even more water to blend. I can always layer to darken areas of shadow or boldness. But those light layers won’t be light if I haven’t used enough water or left white spaces. … And if you like the blossoms and streaks effects … yep, more water.

    Blossoms depend on type of paint, time applied to water, and humidity/how fast it dries. So, one thing I struggled with (and still do) is learning to account for drying time. If I wash the entire page with water, chances are parts of it will dry before I get around to applying paint. The results will look different, which might be fine for some subjects, but I once painted a fox and was frustrated by how different the opacity/transparency was because the paper I used was super absorbent and dried too quickly. I kept having to break down my work area into smaller and smaller spaces to wet before painting in an attempt to get a more even flow. The “wet” applications ended up looking more flowy, while the “already drying” applications almost looked like gouache. So, now I remember to wet only the small area I’m working on and apply the paint quickly. Then for blooms and such, I’ve had teachers guide me through actually do tests on scraps to see which paints and what timing produces the best irregular results. Sometimes it’s just that some types of paints don’t produce those hard, irregular edges the way others do. Other times it’s because they’re not drying quick enough or too soon. It really is trial and error until you are very familiar with your supplies and personal tendencies when it comes to water use.

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    1. I’m never going to be very good with watercolors simply because it’s not my favorite medium. I’ve been oil painting again today, and it feels so good to be back with my oils instead of fussing and fretting with watercolors. I do want to learn the fundamentals and be able to use them, but I’m not going to make myself crazy trying to understand everything about watercolors and how to use them. I like playing with my watercolors. As long as I can have fun with them, I think I’ll be happy. I am working on a watercolor painting now in addition to several oils, and so far things are looking all right with what I’m doing… but it’s still in the early stages LOL. I could mess it up tomorrow. It’s interesting to try learning, and my morning “watercolor warmups” are really helping me start getting a feel for how much water, how much paint, wet paper, dry paper, and all those variables. I’m glad I’m learning more, but each day I realize again that I love my oils much more than watercolors, so that’s where I really want to focus my painting time.

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