Meandering rivers are a magnetic force, attracting a profusion of creatures, flora and fauna, all of which is, of course, a rich source of inspiration for the artist. This scenery can be quite a challenge even for the more experienced among us, but I hope to take you through many ways of achieving convincing paintings, portraying the glories of the riverside. Where do we start, and how do we paint the great variety of subjects that dwell in and beside our rivers?
, watercolour, (30.5x40.5cm)
This is a typical river scene, which I have based on the River Test, near my hometown of Romsey, and parts of the Itchen. These rivers break up into tributaries, water meadows, fast flowing and quiet parts, and all offering the most paintable wide vistas and small intimate corners.
Let’s tackle the main types of foliage and leaf texturing, which will be crucial to our riverbank scenes. We need to know how to use all our materials and fully appreciate how many household and everyday items can help to create a wealth of textures.
Let’s experiment with our brushes to capture some of the natural flowing lines found in leaves and trees, by twisting and curling, dragging and dotting, and making a variety of exciting markings.
Splatter the paint from a loaded brush against your little finger to fragment the paint into a fine spray. This is ideal for distant foliage, and softening the edges of flowers and plants.
Mix up a wash of green and place a piece of Clingfilm in a pleated fashion into the wet wash, which will suck the film into it and create channels of pale patterns. These need to dry before pulling the film off. Images made with masking fluid may be drawn before the Clingfilm is applied to give you sharp and bold forms amid the contrasting backgrounds. Make sure the masking fluid is runny (like milk), and that you use a good applicator, like a ruling drawing pen, which will help you apply small details where they are needed. Let the fluid dry then rub off.
Lifting out is a useful technique, especially when there is massed foliage and some of the leaves need to be more dominant than others. Try a small sample to start with. Apply a dark varied green watercolour wash then using a slightly wetted tissue formed into a leaf shape or the side of your paint brush, carefully lift the shape from the dark background. When several shapes have been extracted and are dry, paint pastel shades of yellow and blue to give depth and a sense of sunlight to the area.
This leaf mass was formed by applying cream and pale green oil pastel as dots then washing over darker paint to form a contrast.
Apply blues and greens to your watercolour paper, and drop in salt crystals, not too thickly, but leaving watercolour paint between the salt so it has space to work. Try different varieties found in the house: dishwasher, Epsom salts, cooking and sea salt. Each gives different results, and are ideal for a variety of textures.
Here I’ve used watercolours in a wet-into-wet manner and in contrasting greens. As they’ve dried, I’ve added similar strokes for a free and deep feel, ideal for grasses on a riverbank.
Using a natural sponge, I applied yellow and mid and darker greens on top of one another. This gives depth to foliage and greenery, as each colour shines through the layers.
Little White Duck, watercolour, (28x38cm).
I used Clingfilm for the foreground reeds on both sides of the bird, placing the film in a vertical position. I then added Clingfilm to the water area, stretching it across the water in a horizontal position to form small areas of light on the river’s surface. Masking fluid was placed on the reeds (under the Clingfilm) and on the areas that need the light preserved, such as the back, neck and feet of the bird. I used cobalt blue, burnt sienna, a ready-mixed green, with violet and yellow in the reed area. When dry, I pulled off the film.