Technique of Watercolor Painting: Planning
By: John Blenkin
Plan or not to Plan? The outcome of the painting will be vitally affected by the decision to either plan the work or starting head down without any idea how the painting will finish.
It is not a matter of preference but of personality. To a great extent the subject will decide the issue. A painting of a building - a design - a specific place - a record painting - a commissioned painting - will usually lead the painter into an approach where pre-planning naturally results.
In this type of work pre-planning will reduce errors and the target idea will more likely to be realized. Any measured work - enlarging - portraiture - anything technical - animal bird or plant illustrations - are usually best planned beforehand. Professional work to deadline is a pre-planning must
In general where the subject of the painting has to conform to the requirements or standards of others or to a specified known standard for a fee by a certain date it is best to pre-plan.
In this context the painter will no doubt feel less creative but the painter must have the technique and professional approach to match demands.
This is especially true for the watercolor painter as reduced errors means fewer destructive demands on the paper ground and less repainting over previously washed out work. Please note that a professional buyer will approve the work by viewing it as it were dead - without glass - mount and frame.
Overpainting dulls the light reflecting back through the pigment. Without overpainting the work looks fresher and the craft of it looks easier and under greater control in your hands as a result to the painter's credit.
There are probably three main valid approaches to painting in any medium!
- FREE CREATIVE
Each one of these is strictly valid in pure painting terms because the approach is determined by the nature of the project. The end dictates the way forward.
In passing it is wise to note that with watercolor painting on paper each painting should first be covered by a blue tint all over wash. This blue tint wash kills the red inherent in white watercolor paper. Even the whitest watercolor paper will be improved by this slight blue wash. The tint should be so light that it seems to be pointless doing it. Use a blue that has no red in it.
These paintings do not appear to be particularly creative - they are! This is a good way to acquire the essential geometry involved in transposing small images from one surface and enlarged onto to another. The process comes in handy too when paintings of imagination need a structure to bring them to fruition.
Planning is not only the best option for some types of painting but also perhaps the only option. Graphic works for publication on short time scales are the norm in the printing industry. These works have to be planned and even the way of achieving the desired result be decided in a flash. There is no waiting around for days mulling over the philosophy of the issue because others are waiting to make money out of the work you are commissioned to paint.
Often the idea of a painting changes during the work. If this happens too often more thought should be given before committing time an effort to your projects. Careful planning brings focus and therefore clarity to the final painting and this is conveyed unconsciously in the quality of the work.
For the general painter a coordinated grid method is used to transform a small image into an enlarged exact scale drawing to become a guide for a larger watercolor painting.
This system uses a very light pencil grid of convenient unit size drawn on the watercolor paper. The image ultimately to be painted on it is added in outline either by hand or ruled or both. This outline drawing provides an exact line where the different colors are to be applied as a wash or as a series of watercolor detail areas.
Soft pencil drawn grid lines when erased later will leave immovable smudge marks. Too hard a pencil will scribe into the paper surface and show up later as dark colored lines. It is best to use a very hard pencil frequently sharpened to a very fine point. Practice before starting the work.
The grid lines help to judge if the relationship between the features in the original image are matched on the larger drawing and is a correct to scale transfer. This must be assured before any watercolor is added otherwise it will be necessary to start the work again.
The size of the grid spaces drawn for the original image is determined by the complexity of the detail.
The vertical grid LINES are lettered across from the top left corner beginning at A and continued through the alphabet to the end of the top vertical grid line.
The first top horizontal grid line starts at the top left hand corner and is denoted 0. As the first vertical grid line too starts from the top left hand corner and it too is denoted A the top left hand corner of the grid is denoted by coordinates A0. From the top left corner the grid continues horizontally A0 B0 C0 D0 and so on. Vertically from the top left corner the grid down the left hand side is denoted A0 A1 A2 A3 and so on. Any point of the grid can now be defined by looking at its position in relation to the top and left hand sideline coordinates.
It is better and easier to make a square grid. This avoids errors in transfer. Also a square grid of whole numbers makes it easier to fix interpolations within the grid space.
Any straight or curved line or shape will be seen in relation to the allocated numbered and lettered coordinated gridlines.
The same grid to a larger scale is drawn on the watercolor paper ground to the larger size. If the original measurements and grid size have been carefully judged a simple increase to the new grid size from the original is all that needs to be done.
There is no need to draw all the gridlines - in sky areas for instance where there is no exact detail to be transferred only draw the position of the gridlines at the edge with their letters.
Remove the grid lines and unwanted marks from the paper with a putty rubber before painting. If the lines have been finely drawn on the paper surface they can be easily removed without damage to the paper.
The above method is ideal for painting a large picture from a small photograph. I use a thin piece of glass sheet over the photograph on which to draw a thin inked-in grid direct using a technical pen. To protect the ink from rubbing off apply back adhesive transparent film. This is like sheet grade invisible tape. Protect the edge of the glass with paper drafting tape. This is lipped over the face of the glass and back of the photo up to but not touching the grid lines on the face. The coordinates top and sides are marked in ink on the tape.
This method is ideal for Architectural building renderings and perspectives - still life - portraits - lots of mechanical drawing subjects such as cars - large paintings of birds. The preparatory outline work is part of the technique. It is not a necessary evil to be got through as quick as possible. It is an enjoyable part of the whole process.
This general type of painting is based on a combination of feeling - reason and logic to inspire the painting. It is the way most painting is realized - a jumble of many things brought together with a subject finally emerging from unrelated ideas having titles added later to justify their political correctness.
Get to know the language and vocabulary of painting. This includes color balance - color temperatures and the various forms of perspective such as in the use of line tone and color. Paintings need to be subjected to intellectual checks during painting by assessing the balance of colored areas of the painting in percentage terms - of brightness - and average tonal value. Understand the meaning of balance between areas of the painting in terms of its effect as seen by the viewer at normal medium and close distance and in relation to the inner perspective construction of the work.
The avoidance of black and white is very important in watercolor painting but it is important too to know if and when the any rule can be broken. The tonal balance of areas of the painting is vital and how high and low tonal density of colors both warm and cool affects balance. Another issue is the use of color of plane surfaces when these appear both in and out of shade. Further it is useful to know how to direct the attention to the focal point of the picture by each aspect of technique. It is important too to know how to use a range of colors sympathetic to each other to avoid unwanted inexplicable tensions in the picture .All of these have to be automatically applied within a working discipline of Technique.
These disciplines are necessary to produce any type of painting. The medium of watercolor painting shows any deficiency in technique rather more than any other painting medium. Those whose technique is complete and dependable can ignore technique if by doing this they gain extra power in their work.
Free creative work allows its justification to emerge as it were by itself. Here the painter must break loose from ego to free the mind from its blocks and limitations for the painting to be ready to be painted by someone or something other than the painter. The picture flows into the painter and onto the ground from surrounding energies.
The best way to do this is to bring the mind to a point. Remember to relax - not to tense up or prejudge anything or anyone in any way. There should be no sense of what the painting is or should be about. Sense the moment. Mix the paint and let it flow as and where it will.
Paint whatever the energy in the arm guides you paint.
If you are really free and devoid of achieving or prejudging or critical of what you are doing you will be completely and utterly refreshed when you are through. Pure creation never tires or depresses but restores.
Paintings are truly finished after the Title Signature Date and Picture Sequence Number have been added.
My very best wishes.
About the Author:
John Blenkin is a retired architect and is now a watercolor painter and article writer. His interests are wide covering both technical and philosophical subjects. He also writes online articles on the technique of watercolor painting. [http://www.freefolios.com/ -- this site may no longer be online]
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