The difference between a photograph and a painting is that, a painting expresses more than just the surface appearance of things with each stroke of the brush, the artist expresses his or her own personality and feelings about the subject.

This applies particularly in a water colour painting, in which every brush mark remains visible and therefore becomes an integral part of the finished image. Beginners, though, have a tendency to be rigid and flexible in their rush work because they lack the confidence to be able to let go and adapt to the spontaneous qualities of water colour.

Don’t be a slave to your subject break loose from it and let your enjoyment of it come through in your painting. Remember you don’t have to paint a masterpiece every time sometimes it’s good simply to experiment and discover new ways of manipulating the brush and the paint.

Trees can have many shapes, but they are easily represented with a simple combination of shadowing. A water colour must always be painted from light to dark. After outlining the area where the trees must go, a light green wash is applied, and then the contrasts are put in.

Expressive brush work

Various effects can be achieved with a dry brush. A dry brush stroke on a dry background brings out the grain of the paper and can create an interplay with previously applied coats of paint. A dry brush can be used to paint over a white surface or one previously tinted with a wash.

The technique of using a dry brush is one of the most interesting ones that can be performed with water colour. Naturally it isn’t something to be used at all times, since some areas of a painting will inevitably demand techniques involving blending colours or creating gradations.


Take the landscape painting I have titled ‘Shady trees’. The exercise that follows is a landscape with a group of trees in the fore ground. The greens in this landscape are fresh and vibrant because the artist has built up his colours and tones with lively strokes of dark green, blue and yellow.

This painting is sufficiently rich in shades and textures to allow it to perfectly demonstrate the technique of using the dry brush.

The tree trunks are precisely sketched and its most twisted branches are clearly shown. Instead of trying to paint individual leaves I have used small flecks and dabs of paint which indicate clusters of foliage without appearing stilted.

Trees are three dimensional not flat, as they are so often portrayed. Notice the trees and foliage are massed into groups of light and dark tone so that each one registers strongly against the other. Warm and cool greens built up with transparent glazes give the effect of sunshining through leaves. Finally, when all the paint is dry, the tall grass in the foreground (on the right) is added.

Soft flowing brush strokes are made at an inclined angle to race the stalks. The brush should not be too loaded with paint to allow broken brush strokes.

Gives life to a picture

The eye is always drawn to human figures in a landscape, and their inclusion can turn an ordinary subject into a striking picture. Here the tiny human figure on the left (a woman with a heavy load on her head) form the anchoring point for the whole composition, gives full of life to the picture. Harmonious colour and tones give clarity and strength to the image.


Shadows are marvellous device for conveying an impression of bright sunshine. Here the pattern on shadows cast by the trees activates the composition and creates a buoyant, spring - like feel.

The area corresponding to the road, is minimally but clearly outlined. Care is taken to draw the cure that differentiates the road from the earth and its vegetation.

A light purple mixture is used to show the shadows fallen on the road. Shadows can be used to help build up or strengthen a composition.

Middle and dark values against light values

This pattern of values is well suited for landscape painting. The sky, the source of light, is very light in value. All horizontal planes, since they are perpendicular to the source of light, are also very light in value.

All planes that are parallel to the light source do not receive the full intensity of the light source and are middle values and dark values. So, a typical landscape scene is middle values and dark values against light values. This is a generalization and should be taken as such.

Sky and clouds When painting the sky it should be planned before hand what sort of weather conditions you are going to have, whether it’s windy, sunny day with lot of fleecy white clouds, or an approaching storm, or a rainy day or even clear blue sky.

My painting shows how the clouds too, obey the laws of perspective appearing to get smaller as they reach the horizon. Even a clear blue sky should graduate in tone with the colour at the horizon being weaker.

Note how the sky softly graduates from blue at the zenith to a pale and white clouds to the horizon.

Combining techniques

The special techniques do not have to be used constantly in water colours. In general, it is better to use these effects as very defining notes in any work. All the techniques of water colour must be combined intelligently so that the painting is not cluttered up with special effects.

Finally when composing a sunny scene, remember that either the bright warm areas should dominate or the cool, dark shadow areas.

If there is an even spread of lights and darks, the effect of bright sunshine will be lost. The painting related to this article demonstrates how successful, when painting a bathed in bright sunshine is much exciting and vibrant.


Tissa Hewavitarane


Wednesday, 22 April 2009