We have looked at basic water colour techniques of wash drawing in the previous article. Studying several techniques is essential to understand transparent water colour.

This article is an introduction to wet-into-wet and dry brush techniques. Wet-into-wet is the most spontaneous and exciting, but too much of it can be vague, and look like candy floss.

There is no experience more exhilarating than dropping rich colour on to wet paper and watching things happen. However wet-into-wet is a bit of a misnomer because if you do actually drop wet paint on to a wet surface you then get two lots of water and the result is weak, runny and out of control.

Experience it and experiment yourself

Apart from describing the main pitfalls, there's no way one can really explain the technique. You just have to experience it and experiment yourself. Try it out with just one colour first, say Burntumber and be prepared to waste a few sheets of drawing paper.

Let yourself go fearlessly, don't be timid. Always have the painting on a gentle slope and use gravity to help you, which can be rather like swimming with the current. It's so much less effort and you'll need lees strokes.

The technique is ideal for doing such things as cloudy skies, mists, billowy trees and surging surf, but don't attempt to do the whole painting in wet-in-wet, it will just look out of focus. It's much more effective when the soft edges are contrasted with sharp edged areas and calligraphy, applied after the paper has dried or almost dried.

When running colours on to a saturated paper, be sure they are quite intense, since they will dry lighter.

Remember that the water in the paper dilutes the colour as it flows from the brush, so the fresh colour needs to be put on relatively dry, if it is to stay in place. No verbal explanation can tell how it is - the process must be experienced.

The wet paper is usually worked on while flat, because a slanted surface will cause colours to run toward the bottom of the sheet. This could be desirable in some cases. Rough or textured papers generally work better than smooth.

Award of warning never use wet-into-wet for foregrounds, they at least, should be crisp and sharp, otherwise it will look as if you're wearing the wrong glasses. Looking through my own paintings, I find that wet-into-wet techniques have formed an important part in most of them, perhaps because they always seems to sell (it's what most people think of watercolours) but mainly just because I really enjoy doing it so much.

Dropping rich colour on to wet paper

The stream here is a good example of the use of wet-into-wet, reproduced. I used quite a strong paint to get the dark trees on the left whilst the distant hill was still damp, showing the use of strong thick paint on a damp surface.

The branches were put in later but before the surface had completely dried. The contrasting bank on the left corner and the bank on the background is given a light wash. The stream was then painted over with clear water and the dark reflections dropped in.

You will observe a small hut on one corner to give depth to the whole picture. Notice the sky a uniform blue all over. Due to the effects of atmospheric perspective it normally appears bright and warm directly overhead becoming increasingly cooler, showing how clouds too, obey the laws of perspective, appearing to get smaller as they reach the horizon.

It's a typical wet-into-wet painting with sharp touches added for contrast.

Use of Dry brush techniques

The first thing to say about dry brush technique is not to over do it. It's very useful to produce textures and to suggest detail. The paint is put on with the brush quickly skimming over the surface of the paper, leaving the colour on the ridges of the irregular surface.

Dry brush techniques are generally used on rough paper, allowing the textural surface to do much of the work. Load a flat brush with water colour and squeeze most of it out in to the palette. Blot the brush on the paper toweling or other paper and stroke it lightly across the work.

The surface texture will grab some of the colour, leaving a pebble trail that reflects the paper's surface with white flecks shimmering through the colour. Dry brush passages can be put on clear white paper or a dried wash.

Washes can be flooded over the dry brush work to fill in the white specks or they can be left alone. The dry brush has many uses - to suggest the bright shimmer of the sun on water, the texture of pebbles on the shore, the rough bark on a tree trunk or the weathered surface of a plaster wall or rocks.

Observe the scene titled a 'Windy day'. I have used mostly the dry brush technique. Textural details suggested with dry brush strokes highlight a light base wash and then brush in a dark tone. Heavy pigments of dark brown (Burnt umber) used as dry brush strokes expresses the leaves blown towards the wind.

The background trees with dark shapes echo and emphasize the impression of space and depth. If you look carefully you will observe some human figures standing front of the hut. Attention to small details like this increase the sense of form and also make a painting fall of life.

I have introduced a pale yellow wash to the ground to express the light fading away at sun set. The appeal of this painting lies in the delicate transition from strong colours of the picture to pale, delicate tints.

When painting trees is to look look, and look again, simply the tones and colours to be used especially as they get further into the distance. Do the absolute minimum characterised detail and then stop before you over work them.

Use these effects with discretion

Do practice these techniques, although it probably won't come off at first. In any case, it's always a good thing to have a spare piece of paper by your side so that you can try the effect to see if you have got just the right amount of moisture in the brush before you put it on your painting.

All the techniques when combined in one painting provide a whole armoury of textural contrasts. The combination over comes the inherent limitation of each, and they all compliment one another. Finally it's rather like an orchestra with the big, bold, rich brass contrasting with the mellow strings and clear tones of the reed instruments to form a complete and satisfying all-over sound.


 Tissa Hewavitarane


Wednesday, 9 January 2008