Uncategorized Watercolour


In part one I showed you how to lay down the first layer of the painting using watered down paint, this layer is often called the ‘tea’ or ‘coffee’ layer and should be thought of as the consistency of a cordial – very thin with lots of water.

The first layer of the painting, the ‘tea’ layer from the last article.

These first layers always look too dark but you shouldn’t panic, as I always do, because they invariably dry much lighter. However they act as a good base for the layers that come on top, these colours shine through the later ones and give you the glow and interest.

In this painting I was really worried that I might have gone too dark and ruined it – BUT – I persevered and I think I pulled it back from the brink. This next layer and pass through is the ‘milk’ layer. Here I started to introduce thicker paint, with more pigment and less water, to block in the colours. I had to be careful to vary the colours as I went, so that it doesn’t become too monotonous with all one single colour.

At this stage some of the colours were beginning to look a bit ‘muddy’. This was due to me letting the paint dry, what I should have done is keep those bits wet using a spray/spritzer, but instead I had to stop at that point and return to another week’s work (I work in IT and don’t always have time to pick painting back up in the evenings).

One week later I sat back down to finish the painting. This layer is the ‘honey’ layer and that is the consistency of the paint that you should be mixing on the third pass. At this layer you tend to add the darkest pigments and areas, this has the odd effect of ‘turning on the lights’ and making the image appear lighter.

Beginning to add darker elements

I added some white neat from the tube using a fairly dry brush to show the white painted sections between the houses.

Adding black areas to indicate shadows.

I also added black (or rather, neutral tint mixed with some raw umber) to start bringing out the shadows. This layer, as I said, has got to be quite thick. You cant put this layer on with too much water or it will ‘bleed’ out into the existing areas. This is something you have to get a feel for, how much water to add. As I said before it helps to think of it in terms of ‘honey’.

I also used a milky mixture of white gouache and water to knock back the tree areas surrounding the bridge because they looked too dark and had too much pigment. They didn’t look as though they were in the distance enough. This is something that Turner did to ‘knock back’ an area so I feel justified that it is OK to do 😉

Finally I painted in the figure, and for some reason they sort of came out slightly tough and confident looking, so that was OK. The figures often take on a life of their own anyway so that is fine.

The finished painting:

The finished painting.

I am really pleased with how it finally came out, I think I captured the odd light that was there that evening. The colours ended up being less muddy than they first looked, and all in all it was a good learning experience for me.

Things I learned: I did try to simplify, but I still think I put in too much detail and it isnt loose enough. I also think that I should have finished the painting in one go instead of waiting a week in between the first and second stage. But that is what painting is all about, learning as you go and having fun and making images that make you happy.

Planning Watercolour

Started a new watercolour: Sunset in Bedminster part one

I started a new painting based on a photo I took whilst walking the dog in Bedminster. It was of a dramatic yellow sky and the equally dramatic reflections on cars as I was looking down a narrow street that faced towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I think the sun had already set but the sky was this wild yellow so I wanted to capture that somehow. The dog was in a hurry so I only managed to get the phone out and take a lowish quality snap, but for this thats OK because I dont want too much detail in the painting anyway.

A view down a terraced street with parked cars in the foreground and the Clifton Suspension Bridge on the horizon backed by a yellow sky.
Dramatic sky in Bedminster

To make the painting I took a sheet of Saunders Waterford paper that I bought online through Amazon. It is a quarter imperial in size. I’m going to be honest, when the paper turned up I was a bit disappointed because it is an off-white cream colour and not white as I’d expected. However for this particular painting it didn’t matter because there is so much yellow in the image that I didn’t really care. I will be ordering the paper from another seller next time though to ensure that it is white. You can see the off-white cream colour in this image below.

The paper taped onto a board using masking tape.

After taping the paper onto a board using masking tape I did a simple sketch to capture the scene. I amy have added too much detail but I can paint over that. I want this painting to be a bit more impressionistic than I usually do, however my instinct is always to add too much. I’m fighting that all the time.

Sketch drawn from the photo

After adding the drawing it looked OK but a bit sterile. It needed something human to help with scale and add some more ‘interest’. Street scapes without people tend to look a bit creepy, and even though there weren’t any people in the photo I decided to add a person anyway.

Added a person

I may need to adjust their height slightly because they look a bit small.

Using a large mop brush I started laying down the first layer. This layer is a light layer that uses lots of water in the mix, and acts like a kind of ‘undercoat’ to provide some colour but more importantly starts setting the tones in the image. It always looks too dark here, and ruined, but you have to bear with it, it always dries lighter and always looks ruined. It’s not, but it is easy to lose hope at this stage and give up. But be brave, and persevere. Let the whole thing dry.

“OMG We’ve ruined it!” Let it dry.

After it has dried you can start on the second stage, putting in darker colours and getting the tones more like their final values. This layer of paint will be thicker than the last layer and needs to be more controlled.

In part two I will show you (hopefully) how to ‘rescue’ the painting, how to add layer two, and then how we ‘turn the lights on’ to get the final tones and make the painting come to life.

Go to Part two.