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Artist David Poxon
Artist David Poxon

How to use pure watercolour


David Poxon - Posted on 21 Mar 2011

Demonstration: Machinery on a Farm


Bockingford 200lb (410gsm) Not watercolour paper, pre-stretched on a marine plywood board
Artist-quality tubes of watercolour paints: Hooker’s green, raw sienna, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, phthalo blue, permanent blue, cerulean blue, alizarin crimson
Brushes: large mop, mix of synthetic /sable wash brushes, No. 1 Rigger, Size 00 small customised detail brush for drybrush application, stiff bristle brush
Masking fluid
Kitchen roll
Two large water bowls

I reduced the image to the fewest possible outlines in this pre-study and used a B pencil to place the drawing accurately on the prepared watercolour paper. The less detail the better. Do not impress too greatly with the pencil, as this affects the way the paint ‘runs’ on the surface, and you may want to erase the pencil lines with a normal pencil eraser later. (Do not use a putty rubber on watercolour paper – it leaves a residue that affects the surface.) I have a collection of buttons, old tools, and other objects with interesting shapes that help me get good confident pencil lines on to the paper and assists in avoiding errors at this stage


Masking fluid application

Preserve absolute white detail areas with masking fluid. I never use a brush – a stick or piece of cardboard serves just as well, and can be discarded afterwards. When dry, prepare the first of many big washes. I use saucers for this and aim for the consistency of a cup of tea. With a mix of Hooker’s green and raw sienna rapidly cover the whole surface with a large wash brush.
This underpainting will, in time, modify subsequent colour application. This is one of watercolour’s greatest attributes – use its transparency to preserve light filtering through from the white ground and build tonal depth with later washes


Flicking into wet paint

While the first wash is still wet, quickly mix raw and burnt sienna to the consistency of single cream and, with a stiff bristle brush, flick into the wet paint, approximately in the subject areas where most texture is most wanted. This is where good-quality reference photos are very useful as you can zoom in on fine detail. While still wet, rock the board to encourage the paint to run and mix. Raw sienna granulates: the heavier particles in this hue drop into the hollows in the paper surface producing a ‘speckled’ effect. The board is then left to dry on a flat surface
Repeat the first wash application at least three or four times, allowing the previous wash to dry completely each time. Do not be tempted to rush the drying process with a hair dryer as this affects the end appearance leaving the paint looking flat.
With washes and paint splattered everywhere it’s easy to get disheartened as the work may look messy and some of the drawing lost. Use a rigger and a stronger mix of colour to reclaim the painting and get in some key edges


watercolour spattering

Define areas of greatest interest by covering surrounding areas with scraps of paper and applying more texture to individual components with a combination of spattering and careful placement with a small brush. Take advantage of any white spots of paper still left by placing shadow stokes alongside. Here the early washes containing Hooker’s green illustrate how complementary colours work as they contrast with the red-brown flecks of an alizarin/burnt sienna mix


Softening watercolours

Objects closest to the viewer appear sharper, so soften, or even lose completely, those edges deeper in the picture plane, to create an almost blurred effect. Dip the bristle brush in clean water and dab with a tissue. Gently, tease the edge of the dry paint with only one or two passes with the damp brush, then immediately wipe the edge with a clean tissue. Resist the temptation to keep dabbing, and leave to dry. This process can be repeated if more softening is required


A curved plane in watercolour

Portraying a curved plane in watercolour is one of the most advanced techniques. First decide on the direction of light then repeat the process described in stage five with a barely damp brush. Then wipe (not dab) the damp surface in the direction of shadow. This effectively partially moves paint away from the light


hatching with a rigger brush

When dry, apply more paint to the surface, a small distance in from the lightest edge.
Use a hatching technique with a rigger brush – in this case curved hatching following the form of the object. Let the paint dry, then again rewet and repeat, each time stepping more towards the shadow side. It may be necessary to repeat this stage five or six times to achieve a realistic effect. Try to maintain accuracy, and resist the temptation to speed up the process. Watercolour won’t be hurried.
Add several more unifying washes to the painting as tones gradually step down into the deepest shadows. After each wash, reassess edges and repeat earlier steps.
Slowly the painting will come alive and finally masking fluid can be removed. To be faced suddenly with extreme whites can be quite startling – decide which whites are to be kept and discard those not required by blending in surrounding paint, or overpainting with colour.
Pick over elements of fine detail with a very small brush, customised to only a few hairs. Look for light and shadow play and place dry brushstrokes always in the direction of shadow in a pointillist fashion. This is time consuming but the end result is very rewarding


Machinary on a farm

Machinery on a Farm
, watercolour, 18x27in (45.5x68.5cm).

The finished painting contains a good mix of watercolour techniques and roughly 16 layers of wash.
This method of pure watercolour painting is not quick, but if like me you love the painting process then perseverance can pay dividends

 Click here for another feature by David to learn more about the pure watercolour technique.

This extract is taken from the May 2011 issue of The Artist.

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