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Watercolour Magic - How to Paint an Interior Scene with Adrienne Parker

Posted on Thu 11 Apr 2019

Watercolour magic

How to approach a complex scene and make the most of watercolour’s transparent and vivid colours with gouache and ink, by Adrienne Parker


Practise wet-in-wet, wet-on-dry and dry-brush techniques

Make sense of a complicated scene

The reference photograph for this demonstration: a grand salon in the Château de Montrésor

My aim in painting this scene was to paint a traditional watercolour by first layering the larger washes then building up the tones and detail using more well-placed washes and utilising my brushes to the full. Only when the painting was near completion did I bring in the inks and gouache to enhance the colour and highlights.  I enjoyed my first visit to the Loire last September and was particularly excited to visit the Château de Montrésor for the first time. It is a medieval castle with a Renaissance mansion built in the grounds, located in the French village of Montrésor in Indre-et-Loire. My artistic eyeballs were on full alert for paintable scenes and I was rewarded when I entered one of the grand salons (above). The light flooding through the window highlighted all the rich fabrics and furniture, and where there is light, there are nooks and crannies. This was a ‘must-paint’ scene!

A note on colours

The Aquafine watercolours, which are rich, free flowing and transparent, made up the majority of this painting, however, I added three Winsor & Newton pigments to the process. Quinacridone gold and permanent rose (quinacridone rose) belong to a wonderful family of colours that share the characteristics of transparency, vibrancy and permanence.  They are my favourite pair and lay the foundations for most of my paintings.  Cerulean tends to be a cool blue. It is opaque with plenty of granulation and I used it to balance the warmer hues in the later stages of the painting. The Aquafine gouache pigments, namely cerulean and titanium white, made another small guest appearance to enhance the highlights. Cobalt blue hue and cadmium red hue Aquafine inks were also useful and brightened the carpets and parts of the chair fabrics.

Enjoy working with a variety of water-soluble media this month!

Step 1 The drawing

Contour drawing is my style of choice, although I do pause from time to time to check if shapes are lining up. Here, I relied on reading lengths and angles. It is probably because I like a bit of character in my paintings, and I like to test my observation skills, that I don’t always start out with a vanishing point. However, finding the vanishing point on your horizon will help you to double check some of the more important angles, such as the beams, the top line of the wood panelling, and the table top. Really look at all the shapes: are they long and elegant, squat, square, flat, and does the shape on the left line up with the shape above or below?

Step 2 Background wet into wet

1. Load a big brush with a watery wash of transparent quinacridone gold and paint a loose layer over most of the drawing. Don’t be neat and tidy; paint over those edges and link everything together. Imagine rays of light flooding into the room and over the furniture. Carry that feeling through your brush. The light and atmosphere are being described, not specific objects.

2. While the first layer is still wet, apply a second layer of permanent rose. Beautiful coral golds will result from the mix and the stronger areas of permanent rose will lead the viewer into the mid-tones.

Step 3 Plotting the chandelier

I felt it necessary to make a start on the decorative chandelier so that over reaching caused by surrounding areas could be avoided.  Looking for the main shapes helped me cope with all the detail. You can always dab out highlights along the way. My small flat brush and small Round from the Aquafine Travel Set, were useful as I had more control. Once the overall shape was there, I could start to tackle the beams and other surrounds.

TIP Blu-Tack comes in handy if you need to lift darker pencil markings off the paper before you start painting.

Step 4 Establishing tone

1. Try to identify the bigger shapes so that colour groups can flow into each other.  If you try to paint each element separately, the picture can sometimes appear flat and static. It will also feel as though you are painting by numbers. It is best to link three or four shapes together to achieve some sort of flow. Keeping the brush loaded with water and pigment, and always having a few colours mixed and at the ready means that you can dip in and out when you need to change temperature or tone.

2. Having returned to my Aquafine Travel Set for the healthy spread of mid-tones, and selection of darker pigments – browns, French ultramarine deep and Payne’s grey – I set about painting some of the darker shapes to achieve a sense of depth and perspective using wet-in-wet creamy washes. Some shapes were crisp and tidy and others flowed into each other.

TIP Try to be excited about each wash, even if it is a section of wall.   Use the bigger brushes for as long as possible so you can achieve looser shapes, spontaneity and pleasant ‘inaccuracies’.

TIP Stand back and take a good look on a regular basis. This can prevent you from overworking. If your picture is light overall, you don’t need heavy, solid shadows. How much detail do you really need?

5 Defining edges and shadows

1. I try not to worry about achieving perfect edges and lines, but rather to create an impression of something. The darker layers or shapes, which are selectively added towards the end of the painting process, can define areas that appear too wishy-washy. 

2. The small brush helped me to paint more detail and the painting began to make sense.  Shapes, whether negative or positive, played a big part, such as the shadow shape around a chair can reveal far more than the chair itself. The chair is only a shape – a collection of tints and tones. Outlining, although tempting, can flatten so utilise a brush to create a flat edge where needed. Start at the flat edge and pull down or across with the brush.

Step 6 Enhancing colour

The carpets and some of the furniture needed a little help from the Aquafine inks. The pigments complemented the watercolour quite well.  I also brought the Winsor & Newton cerulean watercolour into the mix. The opaque quality of this pigment emboldened the cool blue tones.

Step 7 Gouache

Gouache is chalky, so it is therefore heavier than watercolour. I used it to add extra light on and around the focal point, using a dry-brush technique. The cerulean gouache provided the cooler blue and, together with titanium white gouache and a selection of watercolour pigments, I applied highlights (both cool and warm) to the window, chandelier, and various corners of chairs, piano and the table. A limited amount of water was added to the gouache and watercolour mixes to allow for maximum coverage and dry-brush effects. Adding too much water could result in the mixture becoming milky and pasty. It was important to allow the underlying layers to show through.

The finished painting Château de Montrésor, mixed media, 7¼ x10in. (18.5x25cm)

This demonstration is taken from the June 2019 issue of Leisure Painter

Click here to purchase your copy

Watercolour Magic - How to Paint an Interior Scene with Adrienne Parker


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