The Watercolor Workshop: Still Life Sketch Conclusion

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Lesson Description

The conclusion of the watercolor sketch that was started in the last module. Colors are layered and intensified to create a loose sketch that implies the form of the objects. In this lesson, we complete a watercolor painting of pears.

Lesson Materials

140 lb. Cold press watercolor paper, watercolor paints (Prussian Blue, Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Yellow Ochre, and Burnt Umber), nylon brush, mixing palette. *Cotman tube watercolor paints are used.

Lesson Resources

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Lesson Discussion

  1. This layering of color is crazy fun!! Working with water is such a challenge, though. After working with mostly pen/ink and graphite, it feels so Out Of Control! Thanks for developing this course, Matt. It’s just what I needed!

  2. Really fun working with the water colors. I would have been happy before pushing all the colors. So glad you are there for guidance!

  3. Oh my goodness. I felt almost fearful the more colour you added. It was good to see and feel your confidence to keep going and to make decisions on stronger colours. I only hope I can learn to be brave and give it more. 🙂

  4. I had a great time with this still life painting. I wanted to upload a photo of the finished pears but my photos are in jpeg format and this is not supported? I know jpg is the same thing but for some reason I can’t up load pictures. It was fun painting it though.

  5. Good info. Looking forward to doing the landscape course. Wanted to learn watercolor for awhile, mostly to use as underpaintings for my pastels, but I’m slowly getting hooked on watercolor~!~ The colors are awesome!

  6. I’ve never tried layering color on color on color. The overall result was just OK until you added the dark darks at the end, and the Cadmium Yellow/yellow ochre over glaze. The pears really popped. I love it and so does my husband.

  7. I really enjoyed this module. It gave me a lot experience understanding how much water and paint to use. I tended to over work mine a bit, but definitely am anxious to go on with the next module. Excellent course as usual. You are an amazing teacher! Thanks!

  8. I was a bit surprised by the approach…like an oil painting. It seemed that , for a while, we were muddying the colours by using so much pigment and lessening the reflected light bouncing off the paper. Spontaneity was lost completely…for a ” loose ” approach…

    I’m here to learn…I followed the directions and tried to analyse the washes that were being built…I hope this is not thought of as critical…I need to understand why we are doing this. Could we have ” worked ” the painting a little less and tried to get our volume …and left more reflected light ? { and brighter colours } I felt like I was driving pigment into the paper when a few light ,but well place touches could have got me the volume and a lighter ” feel” to the work ? ? Ah… I don’t know…Can you help me out here ?

    • Hi Dale,

      Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to address each of the points you’ve made. We’ll start with oil painting…oil paint is opaque of course. With any opaque medium, lighter values can be added over darker ones. This allows the artist to work from dark to light. Watercolor is the opposite. We typically work from light to dark, allowing the white of the paper to create the tints (lighter values). This watercolor sketch is created in this manner. The painting progressively becomes darker as layers are added.

      For some folks, this painting may seem too controlled – for others, it may feel completely loose – even to the point of being “out of control”. This is rather subjective. “Loose” also doesn’t mean spontaneous. Many artists that create looser paintings are very deliberate with their decision making. The action may seem spontaneous, but the thought behind the mark isn’t.

      That being said, we also should be careful not to over-analyze things too much. Colors are layered to simply build up the intensity, darken the values, and add complexity.

      There are varying levels to which a painting can be completed. Some may feel that this painting is overworked, while others may feel that it is underdeveloped. Again, this is subjective. There is no “perfect” and if you try to spend your time chasing it, it will drive you crazy. We could have worked it less, and we could have developed it more.

      The illusion of volume or form is usually communicated through value. If we have a broad range of value in an image, with values placed in appropriate positions, then we usually communicate the form of the subject. In most cases, this means that we need to include darker values. If we have less of a range of value, or mostly lighter values, then the illusion of form may suffer.

      The term “muddy” color is typically used when many colors are mixed and the resulting color becomes brown, like mud. As each color is added, the intensity is also lessened. This usually happens when mixing goes awry. For example, if we mixed a blue with a yellow, and then a little burnt sienna – we’ll most likely get mud.

      With watercolor, we can layer washes, which results in “glazed” applications. For example, we can layer blue over an area and cool it down or create a subtle shadow. This only works however, by allowing layers to dry. If we layered all of the colors used in this painting without allowing layers to dry – we’ll definitely get mud.

      There are several layers of colors in this painting, but they are applied in phases. Sometimes, we want colors to bleed or transition into one another. In these cases, we apply colors while the surface is wet. Other times, we need the color underneath to show through without mixing with the color that we apply on top. In these cases, we should wait for the layers underneath to dry before applying our next layer.

      • Hi Matt:

        Thanks for taking the time to make a full explanation for me…Your answer helped me quite a bit ! I think I will try again { it’s a good exercise } and keep in mind what you have said about values…and how they must be present if we are to get ” volume “. I think I got a little too heavy with my pigment somehow. I tried really hard to stay light…and I wanted to stop because I felt that…:

        ” Geez…I’ve got a lot of pigment down already…How can I keep doing this? ”

        I saw at the end that you got a ” well formed ” picture…so there was clearly something I was missing.

        The other point that I feel helps me is…letting the image dry ! I understand the basics of glazing …but once again, the painting got away from me and I ended up being unable to control the pigment that I felt was ” too much “…and it did turn muddy. { I was working too wet on wet I think }

        I will try again… this time with these thoughts in mind. Keeping the pigment light, painting glazes and letting each one dry before proceeding…and working my values as I go. I’ll let you know how I do.

        Thanks once again Matt…..Dale

  9. I’ve gotta be honest. I’ve never seen a watercolor done with so many layers and I really don’t like the final product. The reflections look more like holes than reflected light. Lastly, I don’t have the patience to paint like this. I’m hoping the next modules show different techniques as I’ve found several on YouTube that are done more to my liking and quicker to boot.

  10. Thank you Matt. As I mentioned in the Acrylics course, you are a great teacher.I am not an expert,I use to draw and paint oil, when I was a teenager, long time ago, and wanted to paint again, not oil, is too dirty, jaja. However, as I have been watching different tecniques on line aquarelle is a very challenging art. I think your courses are the best, because they teach the different approaches and guide us step by step.
    This lesson teaches a lot: art can be subjective and this technique of layering and overwork is another interesting way to send an impression to the viewer.

  11. I was getting pretty worried about the end result of my painting with so many layers of colors over each other, wet on wet, with few drying portions…but I must say my painting turned out better than I expected. Interesting! My concern has been the muddy results I have gotten in the past. I read your comment about “muddy” so perhaps it is the particular colors I have used that has allowed my painting not to look so muddy here at the end.

  12. I had decided at the end of the first half of the lesson that still life was not for me and my painting was heading for the bin. Then I came back a day later, it had dried and suddenly looked like something! So I was inspired to carry on and I am absolutely delighted with the outcome! I’m so glad I didn’t bin it the day before. Thank you Matt!

    • Hi Diane,

      Yes, so glad you held on to it. Sometimes this sort of thing happens to me too. Sometimes we just need a little time away from the work to appreciate it.

  13. Hello Matt!

    This is my second course running with you, the first one being “25 days to better drawing”. The way you explain things and also the way you speak allow me to really focus on my drawing and painting. I have recently discovered watercolor and I find your explanations a true joy! I really appreciate how you always insist on doing, rather than doing things *perfectly*. To me, that is a monumental shift that allows me to enjoy my creative impulses.

    Thank you for having the kindness to share with us your knowledge!
    PS: My pears look delicious haha. Thanks!

  14. I noticed that after yuo show the finished painting the final picture you show is very different looking. This happens on all the paintings. Watercolors, pastels…. What is the cause of this?
    David Kawecki

  15. Learning so much! Thank you…

    like always putting on five layers of colors with other media.
    So with watercolor, doing a layer…
    coming back doing another layer…
    Felt normal
    Not in a hurry.

    learned a lesson about having the work dry flat!
    It didn’t seem that wet
    but when I stood it vertical..
    well the next morning there were colors
    where they weren’t intended!
    But learned to fix it also..
    thanks again

  16. I did some watercolor landscapes years ago but in a very unsophisticated direct color application approach. I had no formal training in watercolor painting. I like your approach of layering and using wet-on-wet. I noticed that you seemed to be using tube watercolors rather than cake watercolors. I will be trying the layering approach on a landscape – the desert scene that you used for pastel. I followed your pastel landscape lesson approach and it came out excellently. Then it occurred to me that the picture might be suitable for rendering in watercolor. I’ll be going through the next section on watercolor landscapes as practice for the desert scene watercolor.

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