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Before you begin painting in watercolor

Hi all,

I am taking a watercolor class from an instructor here in Alexandria, VA.  His name is Peter Ulrich and he is terrific.  Check out his work at www.ulrichart.com.  The method he taught us in our first class makes sense to those of us who are coming at this right brain activity with an overactive left brain.  The process before beginning is as such.

  1. Tape a photograh to the top half of sketchbook page.  Use your tape to crop the picture into the format you desire.
  2. Draw two rectangles the same size beneath your picture, one under the other.
  3. In the rectangle just beneath the picture, capture just the shapes in the picture.  Only spend a minute or so doing this.
  4. Look at the shapes.  If the composition doesn’t make sense, or there is something you want to add or delete, do so now.  Once you have a solid composition move to the next step.
  5. Replicate the shape drawing in the bottom rectangle.
  6. Last, in looking at your photograph, and with either pens or pencils of different darkness, color it in to establish your value study.  I put a key next to mine and only used 4 values (yes, I know there is an infinite number and the common scale is 10).  Mine are black, dark grey, light grey, and whites.  You may have three, you may have five. I used my whites to help me decide where to use masking fluid.

I am convinced that my painting skills will be better as a result of nailing the composition first and then doing the value study before putting any paint on the pallet. 

The next step is to choose the colors you plan to use in advance of diving in (at least have an idea hwa they will be).  As soon as possible, move your focus away from your photo and let your painting tell you what makes sense.  Remember, just becuase something is a certain color in your photograph, doesn’t mean it has to be that color in your painting.  If you colors are all very close and there is little contrast, stretch the contrast with your colors to make your painting more interesting than the photograph.  This is artistic license and we all have one!

Here is an example of the end result.

Watercolor Instrution: Rocks at Lake Tahoe

Rocks at Lake Tahoe



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