Each artist and teacher has his own pet methods for getting students started in watercolours, which seems to work best for him. There is no single "best way" to get going. Teachers have to try several ways and go with the methods that seem to accomplish their purposes.


Wash Drawing as introduction

Jumping directly to wet watercolour can often produce fear, a feeling of helplessness, or a reverting to grade school practices. Several days (or longer) working with wash drawings, stressing value contrasts and wet-in-wet techniques, is often valuable in overcoming these problems.


Line can be included in the process or not, but the use of limited values of wash tend to create the correct attitude toward the transparent application of colour.


Still life or student models make excellent subject matter for such drawings, and for later watercolours. Keep the values limited to three plus black, and work from lightest areas to darkest. Note the effect of wet into wet areas, wet over dry, white space left untouched and contrasts obtained by overlapping washes.


Work quickly and loosely to establish a painterly quality. Explore methods of stimulating textures by spattering or allowing drips to run their course. Keep painting sessions relatively free of restrictions so that exploration can take place and discoveries can be made.


Succeeding steps might involve the introduction of one or two colours, while keeping the subject matter and work methods the same. Apply colour washes over the three-value ink wash drawings.


Substitute watercolour for the washes, but work in the same manner. Keep the first pallettes limited in colour and stress transparency, overlapping and textural effects.


Emphasis on Water (Washes)

It seems improbable that student watercolours are often made with very little water. But this is so. Washes should be prepared in containers that will hold plenty of water, not only thimbles full. Painted washes are continuous areas of watercolour that take more than a single brush stroke to apply.


Succeeding strokes (of either colour water) should be made at the wet edges to spread the colour area. All must be done rapidly to keep the tones of the wash even. Colour and value changes can be made while applying washes, but try not to scrub or overwork a good wash - it will just be destroyed.


Ways to start a watercolour

Since no two artists paint exactly alike, they don't follow the same procedures in developing their work. But several steps might help get things started. Classrooms often provide still life and model material, while sketch books, and imagination can add hundred of ideas.


So the subject matter is chosen first. Small pencil sketches are valuable in preparing the composition of major elements. Here is where arranging and re-arranging should take place. Plan the design and provide for the centre of interest. Make several quick studies and select the one you like best. Transfer the sketch to the drawing paper, taking care to keep the same proportions as in the rough sketch done earlier.


The subject can be out lined in pencil with the line later becoming an integral of the painting. Don't get too fussy with detail in the drawing, concentrating instead on the placement of large shapes only.


Beging flowing light colours on in large areas with a big brush. The general colour of the area being painted. Use big strokes and don't worry about details. Wash in allsky and large shapes, negative and positive. Let areas dry before continuing unless you purposely want them to run together.


Dark areas are added next, working from light to dark. Paint colour and value shapes only-not leaves, boards or windows.


When these areas are dry, the details can be painted in with smaller brushes in dark values. Colour areas can be altered by applying colour washes over them, and textures line and characteristic features can be added.


Observe shadows fall and give a darker wash over the darker value areas. Use a similar grayed colour for all shadows washes in the same painting with slight modifications.


This will tend to pull the painting together and produce a more united result. Don't over work the surface! Don't scrub! Don't apply too many washes over each other, or muddiness will result! All the don'ts seem to apply to doing too much of something to the painting.


Notice the scene related to this article. I have titled "Getting ready for the catch." A perfect example of how the use of water colour with controlled freedom.


Here the simplicity is the key note. Observe the human figures (fishermen). Often figures are used in a painting to show scale, or relative size and balance.


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 three figures form the anchoring point for the whole composition. We look first at them, then, following the gaze, we explore the landscape beyond.


The focal point on this picture is the fishermen, and the boat, I have not shown any details of the fishermen nor the boat. Kept simple. The clouds become smaller, flatter and lighter in tone as they near the horizon. Warm blues bring the foreground sky closer.



Fluid and transparent, water colour is tailor made for painting reflections in water. There are number of techniques you can use depending on the effect you want to convey. Various artists use variety of styles and techniques in approaching the painting.


Washes, loose painting careful studies, sketchy drawings, design concepts and casual likeness are all proper techniques that could be applied. Notice the sea in the painting. I have emphasized the smooth glaziness of the water and the waves through the use of strong contrasts of light and dark tones. Transparent glazes are applied on top of the other to build up depth of tone and colour.


Many books tend to promote a single point of view, a single artist's work or how-to-do-it approach. There are hundred of ideas to turn water colour lessons into high adventure to help in the exploration and discovery processes. And that is what art teaching is all about.


 Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 19 December 2007