Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two

Once a year or so, I invite the stuffed animals to join us and they’re always eager to be in the limelight for the day. Little do they know, they’re the perfect subject for an exercise that concentrates on analysis, soft-edge techniques, brush-handling, colour mixing and patience.

ANALYSIS: We all love to paint with our hearts and let our emotions flow onto the paper but with watercolour, perhaps more than any other medium, we also have to think. I’ve used my pencil drawing to divide up the bear into component shapes. This is my analysis and plan for painting the bear. As you can see, I’ve left slivers of white paper between the shapes. This has been done to show the students my analysis. It’s also intended to help with the use of soft-edge techniques. By separating the shapes, they can not run into one another when wet. The students will not leave white between their shapes but I hope they will think carefully about their plan as they draw.

Analysis always involves simplification. What is the essence of the object? I’m not trying to show every minor detail and I’m not trying to show texture.

SOFT-EDGE TECHNIQUES: “What happened! I tried what the instructor showed us and it didn’t work.” There’s a lot to think about with even the simplest soft-edge techniques. I painted each shape one at a time with the lightest wash. While wet, I touched in the middle tone and, in a few spots, a darker tone, as well. All three washes were prepared ahead of time. My support board was at a slight angle with the top of the sheet higher than the bottom. I used a suitable paper; Saunders 140lb, cold press. I tested my colours and painted several swatches as practice before working on the actual study.

By the way, It’s not essential to start with the lightest shapes first but it helps me gauge the middle tone of the darker brown areas.

BRUSH-HANDLING: I use a pad of paper towel which I keep directly under my palette. It’s there to help me maintain my brush. For example, If I clean my brush in the water jar and then go directly to my dark wash, the dark wash will be diluted by all of that water so I’ll remove some of the water first on the paper towel. I have to change the paper towel regularly. As you can see, it’s already soaked after painting only ten or so fairly small shapes.

COLOUR MIXING: One of the challenges of this exercise is to mix enough of each colour. If you run out before finishing a group of shapes, it can be difficult to match the colour on a second attempt. I try to make more than I think I’ll need. I’d rather have some left over than not have enough.

And don’t forget to make your middle tones dark enough! Watercolour always dries lighter.

PATIENCE: Do you like to eat your red Smarties first? Sometimes, the students can’t resist doing the details such as the eyes, nose and mouth right away. I wait until the end and paint them over the earlier washes. I was a bit sneaky, though, in the last step and left two small bits of white paper untouched. They’ve become highlights in the bear’s eyes.

I haven’t deviated from the exercise and this is what happened. Of course, I could have painted this bear in many different ways but, if you want to learn some specific skills from an exercise, stick with it and don’t change horses midstream. Yesterday, many of the students were doing the stuffed animals for the first time and followed the exercise. Others had done this before and approached the subject in their own way.

Tuesday AM Critique

Tuesday PM Critique


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One Response to “Tuesday Watercolour Class – Week Two”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Neat exercise Barry – and thanks for the reminder, the carefree look of a good watercolour is usually quite carefully thought out.

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