'The visual, theoretical and technical material included with each step-by-step demonstration is to artists as scales and chords to musicians – to be thoroughly mastered to serve as the foundation for future, more complex creative, artistic expression,' says Hilary Page.

'The following demonstration, Lemons on a Blue Plate, is no exception. It illustrates characteristics of the ovoid form, optical colour, particularly visual complementary colour pairs and watercolour techniques'.

The ovoid

The illustration above shows:
a Side view of the recognisable ovoid shape
b The foreshortened view resembles a sphere – apart from the shadow
c The ovoid’s highlight and core shadow follow the curved shape of the form. The highlight is round in the foreshortened view
d Light/colour reflects from one form into the form and cast shadow of another
e Partial ovoid forms in a composition can be hills and valleys – with the characteristic form and cast shadows
f The cast shadow of curved surfaces is darkest where the form curves under and rests on the ground

Optical colour

The challenge of depicting lemons is to keep the colour vibrant – achieved not only through clean painting gear but also through optical colour.
Lemon yellow appears most vibrant when a hard-edged dark blue colour, its visual complement, is placed next to it. Most art instruction books state that purple should be placed next to yellow to enhance the colour. This is incorrect. The lemon-yellow squares surrounded by blue and purple (above) respectively show that blue increases the colourfulness of the yellow more than purple.
Confusion has arisen because there are two types of complementary colour pairs for artists. I use the terms visual and mixing complements to describe their different functions. The colour pairs of each are not the same.
Both types are used in the following demonstration painting Lemons on a Plate.

Aubergines by Hilary Page

Eggplants, watercolour, 15x11in (38x28cm)

This painting shows that visual complements, here purple and green, make each colour appear particularly pleasing

Visual Complements
Complimentary colour pairs
Visual complements are pairs of colours used for colour enhancement (not colour mixing) when specific pairs are painted contiguously.
In his book Modern Chromatics (1879), Ogden Rood lists the colour pairs, calling them contrast colours. He says ‘The pleasure due to helpful contrast is not merely owing to the fact that the colours appear brilliant or saturated but that they have been so disposed, and provided with such companions, that they are made to glow with more than their natural brilliancy.’

Visual complementary colour pairs are those pairs that appear as a colourless grey when shown in the correct proportions and visually intermingled in the eye, such as with dots in pointillism or rotated on a disc.
I have listed pigments and paints on the chart (above) to match our paint colours. The Colour Index (CI) names, eg PY3=Pigment Yellow 3, enable you to match the pigment regardless of the manufacturer’s paint name on the tube.
The proportions of each colour pair were painstakingly calculated by Ellen Marx and published in her book Optical Colour and Simultaneity (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983).

Mixing Complements


Mixing complements are pairs of colours used in colour mixing to neutralize colours.
The colour pairs are yellow/purple, red/green and blue/orange.
To dull down a colour, add increasing amounts of its mixing complement to make an increasingly neutral colour. For instance, to make a neutral purple, as in the underpainting for the lemons add a touch of purple to dull down lemon yellow.
Mixing complements, traditionally placed opposite one another on a colour wheel, are those pairs that make black when physically mixed in the correct proportions.
The pairs complete the subtractive colour mixing process of subtracting the amount of light/colour reflected when we add another paint.
On my wheel (above) the colour pairs are the standard primaries and secondaries. Secondaries are any colour mixed from two primaries.

Visual complements:
Visually, blue and yellow dots make grey when intermingled, but make green when physically mixed subtractively

Demonstration: Lemons on a Blue Plate

Lemons on a plate




Reference photo

I used three lemons because odd numbers are compositionally more satisfying than even ones.

In strong light from above and to the side, the lemons are shown from different angles so that viewers understand their shape.

They appear against the dark blue visual complementary background, and one lemon was left off the plate for variety.

I let the plate bleed out of the picture to bring the image forward. The background was edited on my computer, using Photoshop.

Top tip

I recommend that beginners make a credit-card sized tonal value sketch in graphite.

Before starting, I drew my composition, freehand and to scale, on tracing paper, to avoid erasing and damaging the surface of my watercolour paper.

I transferred the drawing to my watercolour paper.

I do not encourage tracing a projected image – we learn to draw by actually drawing. Also, drawing is an uplifting experience and not to be missed

Step one

I mixed the colours with water separately, on four titled palettes, leaving a glob of each on the higher part.
I then tested the colour on sketch paper before applying to my watercolour paper.
From left to right: grey (ultramarine and cobalt blue, permanent rose and a touch of lemon); lemon (Winsor lemon.
A touch of permanent rose deepens the lemon); blue (cobalt and ultramarine blue.
A touch of permanent rose and lemon darkens and dulls the blue); red (permanent rose and Winsor lemon)

Step two

I slowly wet the back and front of my watercolour paper and laid it on Plexiglass, checking that it had an even shine and no puddles or air bubbles.
Working quickly while the paper still had a shine, I underpainted the form and cast shadows on the plate and lemons, squinting as I worked to gauge the relative tonal values.
I left much of the lemons unpainted to ensure clean lemon colour on subsequent washes

Step three

Working on dry paper, I wet one lemon and cast shadow. I then dropped in Winsor lemon, leaving the highlight unpainted.
I let the lemon paint-spill bleed into the cast shadow, then repeated the process for the remaining lemons

Step four

Using a pencil, I re-drew the pattern on the plate.
I then masked off each area with masking tape, cutting through with a single-edge blade to get an exact fit, taking care not to cut through the watercolour paper.
I then painted a blue wash on the plate and, when dry, lifted off the tape and softened the edges of the patterned areas

The lift-off paint technique:

  • On dry paper, lay in water on the area you want to lighten
  • Quickly wipe off the surface water with a clean cotton rag
  • Immediately erase the area using a sharp corner of your eraser
  • Lighten other areas by agitating and then lifting the paint with a sable brush

Step five

Lighten image on computer to see tones

On the computer, I lightened the image so that I could easily see the relative tonal values of the lemons and plate in the very dark areas

Finished painting
Lemons on a plate by Hilary Page
Lemons on a Blue Plate, watercolour, 7x11in (18x28cm)

I added more Winsor lemon to the lemons, again taking care to leave the highlights unpainted.

I painted the dark blue shadows on the plate, the core shadow on the curved edge of the plate and added the red stripes – leaving them light in the highlight.

I indicated the speckled appearance of the lemons using the drybrush technique – stroking the paper with a nearly dry brush.

I lifted out hard-edged reflections that are characterstic of shiny surfaces

For more information see www.hilarypage.com