The key to exciting painting lies in capturing the dramatic effects of strong sunlight in water colour. This painting shows its a summer day with a cool breeze.

In order to suggest the shifting, moving light, I have used lot of broken edges trying not to latch on to individual objects. They’ll be an important expressive element in the painting.


When there is a edge, it will be fairly crisp. It is felt a sense of wonder when looking at something suddenly caught in a shaft of sunlight.

The qualities of tone and colour in the areas hit by the light, compared to the areas in the shade, are fascinating. When light falls on something the colour is bleached out, yet when it falls through something, the colours glow rich and strong.


The elements of design include line, colour, shape, value, texture, space and form. But this list is different with almost every artist, teacher and every book. The ways to put them together are called the principles of design. The principles of design include balance, rhythm, emphasis, unity, variety, proportion and movement. These parts must work together, relate to each other and be satisfying for a design to be good.


This sort of thing excites me and I have spent a long time looking at comparative qualities of lights and darks in these kinds of situations. The more you look at something and try to understand it, the more thrilling it becomes. Each drawing or painting adds to my level of understanding and makes me want to look more deeply. I always work from nature.

It allows me to understand exactly what it is. I want from a subject before committing myself to paint. I draw only what is important and use that when I need to paint without getting side-tracked by other irrelevant details.

The problem with the effects that I am trying to record is that they are transient.

You never realise how quickly the sun moves until you sit down to draw it effect on something.

Then it seems that every time you look up it has moved a couple of inches. My aim is just to get down the most important bits first, and very quickly.

First I decide what is most important to me about what I am looking at. It might be the particular shape of a shadow across the area of light.

Here the distinction between accuracy and detail is important.

You don’t have to put everything in, but what you do put in, even if it is just a dot, needs to be accurately placed and drawn.

Having got the most important elements down, the bits that will hold the whole composition together, I next move on to other areas.

To set about to paint

Once I have got as much information down as I might need, I usually put the drawing to develop in mind to make it feel the painting ought to be composed in terms of shapes, rhythms, tonal patterns, negative shapes and so on.

There is always a lot to consider, but the more you can account for all these elements, the more visually satisfying your painting will be.

A sound painting is made up of beautiful arrangements of values and colour, and what helps in arranging the shapes is a knowledge of proportions.

It seems to me that there are those who without any training can come up with the most unusual arrangements of shapes and values. They are so clever in the way they set things down.

How the parts of the painting are arranged on the paper is called design or composition.

And how the painting is put together is really a matter of personal taste - the personal desire of the artist. But there are certain elements which, if put together correctly, will produce a beautiful pleasing design.

The painting

This painting illustrated here is based on light caught in one instant before it moved on. The real challenge of light is that it is always moving and what I try to show the light moving around and changing as the sun becomes lower in the sky. I paint in water colours because it is such a thrilling and unpredictable medium. As you progress, things happen, that dictate your next move, so the whole painting process is an organic series of decisions about the next move. This keeps the painting alive. Observe the composition of the painting. The entrance to the painting is at the bottom. The eye goes to the foreground objects which are the huts and the coconut trees, and into the main part of the painting travels around from object to object.

The centre of interest shows a woman fishmonger with a basket on her head ready to carry the fish. The eye is always drawn to human figure in a landscape, and their inclusion can turn an ordinary subject to a striking picture. Here the two figures on the right seated playing chess tiny as they are form the anchoring point for the whole composition. The technical richness of this medium is such that one of the most interesting techniques that it has is precisely the opening up of white spaces. Notice the white space left on the trunk of the coconut tree, the woman’s jacket, and the sea.

To give more life to the picture I have introduced few cock birds picking up food. You will observe the entire painting is done by brush without using the pencil. This reduces any restrictions imposed by rigid pencil lines and allows me to change my mind while applying colours. This needs lot of experience and hard work and concentration of mind, where to put the correct colours at the correct time. Keeping this balance of constant reassurance within a frame work of understanding is my key to exciting painting.

Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 17 March 2010