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Aquarell praxis nummer eins

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Last month or so I started taking watercolour classes at the Victorian Artist’s Society. It’s a beautiful old heritage listed building that’s recently undergone renovations inside to restore it to its former glory. They have regular exhibitions in the impressive exhibition space upstairs, and in the downstairs workshop area, they run a constant array of painting and drawing classes throughout the year.

I’m not new to watercolour, having splashed some around in the diary comics, and being generally somewhat accustomed to wet media in my experience with ink washes, but I haven’t had anything in the way of formal training. The first class had us moving paint around, using wet on wet, wet on dry, glazing and removing paint. The next class we had our first proper assignment, a simple scene with a few boats. This term, apparently, is a focus on marine subjects.

The main thing I’ve learned so far is that watercolour painting benefits from a procedural, planned approach. The first wash needs to be the lightest in value, usually the sky and in this case, the ground, from a lemon at the top to a darker value orange toward the bottom. Much of the best results come as a result of chance and from the mixtures of the initial wash. Pictured below – Jutta’s hand and painting.

The next step is to add darker values and other colours. I’ve always gone too hard with different colours, and in this beginning painting, it was no different. Restraint and patience are key in watercolour, among other things (probably everything, actually).

As the painting builds layers I reassessed my sky and added a blue wash. At this point, I’m ready to start blocking in final values and finish off the boats. For some reason, this feels like the riskiest and hardest bit, going from light wash to distinct darkness. No risk no reward.

I got pretty into it and didn’t take any more photos in between, with the final result below. I added a wash of green to the sky which gave it a nice look of an incoming storm and balanced out the orange sand. Some of the bushes and vegetation needed more time in between washes to allow the paint to dry; as a result of my impatience the wet paint mixed into the previous wash of still wet paint and it all ran together. Many of the shapes and masses are indistinct and there isn’t really enough contrast of value to give much of an impact. I also didn’t leave any white areas, which I have since discovered are invaluable for adding an extra range of contrast and highlights. 

As my first attempt in planned watercolour practice (with all my previous watercolours being a splash and hope for the best approach), I’m not too unhappy with it.  Anyway, that’s watercolour practice number one, and more to come.