'How can I recreate the warmth of a hot summer’s day in watercolour?' asks Richard Taylor.

'Summer is a wonderful time for artists – not only does it allow us the opportunity to pack our bags and set out on a painting expedition in the near certainty of fine weather, but it also allows us the opportunity to use some pure colour to record the light and shade that so frequently come with the season.'

How do I evoke soft summer daylight?

Hazy Summer Day, watercolour 8¾” x 14¼”

Summer is often a time of strong, bright light, resulting in equally strong and clearly defined shadows. It can, however, be a season of subtlety.

Those of us fortunate enough to live near rivers and streams are, I’m sure, familiar with those hazy summer days when the soft, gentle, light and lazy breeze drift across the landscape and seem almost to settle onto the slowly moving water.

In the illustration above I have tried to evoke that type of day by the use of colour alone.

The softness of the diffused daylight meant that no hard-edged shadows were in evidence so, in keeping with the mood of the day. I ensured that the shadows too were diffused.

This was achieved by painting a mixture of ultramarine and alizarin crimson onto the shaded areas of the bridge washing out the edges with plain water, and gently blotting the edges with a piece of kitchen roll to ensure that no hard lines occurred as the paint dried.

The soft yellows in the trees and the shadow mixture from the stone were pulled down into the water and allowed to run together in some parts and dry separately in other parts, suggesting the natural movement of the water.

The notion of light reflecting from the water was addressed by scratching out a few lines with the point of a craft knife to suggest some sparkle in the river without the light appearing too sharp, in keeping with the shadows.

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Which colours should I use for shadows?

Shadows, from the artist’s point of view, are very definitely coloured!

For creating warm, Mediterranean sun-soaked shadows, I use, once again, a strong combination of ultramarine (a naturally ‘warm’ blue) and alizarin crimson.

The series of steps for painting The Terracotta Pot demonstrates the technique I use.

Firstly, the old stone wall and pot were treated to a wash of raw sienna with a touch of burnt sienna added for additional ‘warmth’. These colours are ideal to wash violet tones across as they respond particularly well – almost glowing with light and shade.

The pot was then painted with pure burnt sienna onto the damp underwash, causing the paint to bleed and graduate to one side (the side to which the paintbrush was applied), giving the effect of curvature and shade.

The next stage was to mix a diluted shadow mixture of ultramarine and alizarin crimson, and wash this across the stone to indicate exactly where the shadow was cast.

Having established the large shadow, the more subtle interplay of light and shade that was created on the uneven stones that made up the wall had to be painted.

This was done by applying a little of the shadow mixture to the under-edges and sides of protruding stones and, before it had time to dry, dropping a little raw sienna or burnt sienna onto the outer edge. This allowed the paints to bleed together, creating a softer edge to the shadows.

The Terracotta Pot, watercolour, 8¼” x 10½”

Having completed the brickwork and blocked in the main colours of the geraniums, the shadows had to be intensified and made to glow with the heat of the midday sun.

This was achieved by applying a particularly intense wash of my shadow mixture directly ‘underneath’ the pot and flowers, and ‘pulling’ this paint outwards into the shadow underwash previously established. This had the effect of ‘fading’ the shadow out towards the edge, creating a variety of tones within the shaded wall and stone steps.

How do I paint even stronger shadows?

Whilst the previous illustrations dealt with the use of colour to create diffused shadows, now it’s time to look at creating clearly defined shapes of shadows or perhaps, more importantly, the shapes of the patches of light.

French Market, watercolour, 10” x 13¾”

This French market scene, above, was awash with colour even before the summer sun started to work on it.

The dappled shadows cast onto the awnings, the market stalls and the ground were created with exactly the same colour mixture as before.

Whilst much ‘wet-into-wet’ painting went on in the windows and doorways, the shadows themselves were painted with the tip of a No 9 brush onto very dry paper and allowed to dry unhindered by washing or blotting, allowing the underwashes to show through.

The awnings were painted with a pale mixture of cadmium red and ‘washed out’ a little to give them a faded, sunbleached appearance.

The ground was painted in raw sienna. As with the previous demonstration, the shadow colour was mixed to a strong, dark tone and applied underneath the stalls, and pulled outwards, working carefully around the areas of light.

I believe that it is this balance between the intensity of the light and shade that will help to make a successful summer painting – and, of course, the colours in the shadows.

An article first published in the September 1999 issue of The Artist

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