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. Some areas of the painting are more important than others, obviously and are more pleasing to the eye.
It is simply the means of arranging the parts of your picture so that they add up to a harmonious whole. A badly composed picture will look bitty, disjointed and irritating, but a well composed picture fits together in a satisfying way.
First, you must provide a way into the picture, usually at the bottom, the eye is then led over the foreground to the main part of the painting, resting at the centre of interest and exiting in the distance or out of the side. Secondly, division of space is important.
There are many ways of doing this with triangular, circular, radiating and rectangular divisions, to mention a few. The old masters were brilliant at this and a lot can be learnt by analyzing their paintings. Third, always provide a centre of interest - the most important thing and what picture is really all about.
It is very important that this centre of interest should be placed correctly in the picture where everything can lead the eye to it. The most obvious way of stressing the main centre of interest can be achieved very dramatically by putting the darkest dark in the picture against the lightest light.
The main object of interest should never be placed in the middle of the picture but set to one side. The worst faux pas all is to put two objects of equal interest in the painting.
For example, if you have to show two boats or trees, make one bigger or more dominant than the other. You may observe the two trees I have done in this painting. You see then, that you have the power once you know how to use it, of controlling your viewer’s eye.
Just as a play or film often has one main character and a supporting cast, so a picture should have one focal point - that is, one spot that draws the eye and which carries the main theme of the painting - supported by shapes and colours of secondary interest. This is what gives balance and unity to the painting. Observe the painting I have done titled ‘Sunny day.’
The tall tree is the focal point. Here the lightest and darkest tones in the painting are exposed - and viewer’s eye is attracted by such a contrast. Note also how the sweeping curve of the bund along with a flow leads us to the centre of interest instead of veering off out of the picture. The light tone of the bund leads the eye to the focal point.
The eye is always drawn to human figures in the picture and their inclusion can turn an ordinary subject to a striking picture. The two figures on the left, tiny as they are, form the anchoring point for the whole composition. The woman with a basket on her head and the farmer walking in front.
The light and dark green leaves keep the eye moving back in the picture towards the focal point. Subtle modulations of colour, texture and tone creates a lively impression of the paddyfields in front of the small huts. The texture of the peeling bark of the tree was indicated with dry brush strokes. Quick light thin strokes with a brush tip indicate fine twigs.
Note how I have used rugged dry brush strokes to indicate the texture of the peeling bark. Warm blues bring the foreground sky closer, flatter and lighter in tone as they near the horizon.
The horizon line is low, which places emphasis on the sky and increases the illusion of space. Observe the clouds on a Sunny day. A successful painting of nature’s vista depends on our knowledge and the role of the sky plays in this spectacular drama.
The appeal of this painting. ‘Sunny day’ lies in the delicate transition from strong colours and detail in the centre of the picture to pale, delicate tints (soft focus) at the edges.
To develop your confidence in handling paint, try working on larger sheets of paper than you might normally use; a too-small painting surface is often the cause of tight, constricted brush strokes.
Patience and practice
When you are learning how to handle watercolour, remember the three P’s; patience, perseverance and practice. You will need patience because depending on the humidity and the type of paper you are working on.
Watercolour washes may dry more slowly or unevenly than you anticipate. Perseverance will stand you in good stead, because things inevitably will go wrong. But, after all, the capricious nature of watercolour is part of its attraction. If you happen to make any mistake, it’s not the end of the world.
Learn by it, and move on to the next challenge. The need for constant practice goes without saying. Its a good idea, for example to try out different techniques and test how they respond to each painting. Your control of the paint can be helped or hindered by the absorption of the paper - something you can discover only thorough practice.
In watercolour there are four ways to apply paint to the paper. Wetondry; dry on wet; dry on dry; and wet on wet. We must learn the techniques of applying the paint to the paper, but also we must learn how to look at things with a seeing eye. Constant practice is the only way to get good results and if you ever become discouraged, depressed, remember that for every master piece there is a stack of discarded ‘failures’. It is through our failures we learn and discover something new and to be perfect.