Light is the life of a painting. Water colour, therefore, is the ideal medium that is fresh, alive and responsive to the moment and the shifting moods of nature. As you have observed nature is always changing and we as painters must study and paint each colour and value carefully and accordingly.

The earth depends on the value and the colours of the sky. We must always be aware of the effect that light has on our painting.

 Fisherman mending the net.  

Depending on the nature of the day, reflected light can be either a very important part of your picture. The strong light of a clear day, for example reflects colour into everything. At a beach, the brilliant sun bounces light off the sand into the surrounding darks, obliterating them. On a very dull day, however such effects are more subtle; the reflected light is much harder to see.

Light and middle values against dark

The arrangement of values is very common. It is a clean, clear and dramatic presentation of any subject. Most traditional landscapes feature a light and middle value sky against a darker shape of the land. More contemporary examples in water colour include fish of Joseph Raffel and the nudes of Charles Reid.

Don’t confine yourself to use this value design when it appears to be the only and obvious choice. If you ascertain that a dark shape would be better expressed as a light and middle value shape, then by all means do it.

The flopping of light, middle and dark values is a fundamental part of your design vocabulary and should be used liberally. Transposing values is a simple procedure.

What is offered as a dark shape made of middle and dark values is transposed into a shape in which what had been middle value is now light, and what had been dark is now middle. Just as outrageous colours sometimes prove the best so also do alternative value organizations.

Dark and light values against middle values

On the three basic value organizations offered, this option is potentially the most dramatic and also the most difficult.

Dramatic because of the strong contrast that happens on the major subject matter. Difficult because the strong contrast can fracture the subject into two unrelated shapes. When the contrast between the light value the focal point and the middle value of the background are too close, the light value and the middle value of the background are too close, the light value and the middle value join, and the dark shape is isolated. In other words, the light and middle become one shape stands alone.


Working with water colour
* Ideal medium to portray shifting moods of nature.

* Contemporary examples are ‘fish of Joseph Raffel’ and ‘nudes of Charles Reid’.

* Best if balanced between light and dark colours.






The same problem occurs when the dark and middle values get too close. The critical factor is the values that surround the focal point.

Too light or too dark, and they wont work. Objects in directs, strong sunlight are, frequently defined as light and dark against middle values. An example is a white house in sunlight. The white in sunlight is lighter than the sky, and the white in shadow is darker than the sky.

Once you decide to use this pattern, you must remain consistent. It’s easy to get confused by local colour and find yourself vacillating between patterns at one time painting the shadow of the house darker than the sky and at other times lighter than the sky.

Expressive Colour

There seems to be a belief that if a painter matches each colour exactly as seen, reality will be the result. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Observe the painting I have done titled ‘fisherman mending the net’. If you see the colour of light, which exists and only colour which emerged is mainly yellow.

To express my view of a sunset scene. The sky at sunset takes on a radiant glow. Notice the colours used the warm pinks and golds of the setting sun with cool blues and violets of the clouds, and gradually to the stronger tones.

I have used subtle modulation of colour texture and tone to create a lively impression of the sea shore. These subtle details are pleasing to the eye, but they don’t detract from the focal point of the picture which is the fisherman mending the net. To make the picture more live I introduce a boat by the side in dark tones.

I felt the best way to describe the sun set was strong value contrast. It was my intention to first express the quality of strong light using pure, clear transparent pigments thus increasing the impression of light and luminosity. A light wash indicates the fisherman net.

Remember colour is an equal and essential partner when portraying light. It is not enough to squint your eyes and see only values. You must look into the shadows and identify the colours that are there.

Don’t look for formulas or short cuts to tell you what colours, shadows should be or always are. Look for the warm colours in the shade and cools in the sunlight. It takes some practice to allow your eyes to see shapes, values and colours.



Tissa Hewavitharane


Wednesday, 7 April 2010