Masters Highlights, Watercolor Basics

My Masterclass with Dan Marshall – First Day

So, as you well know, I flew to Colorado for a 4 day masterclass with Dan Marshall.  I arrived at his studio and was immediately taken by the space.  A large work area and many of his paintings hanging on the walls.  There are even a few Zbuckvic paintings adorned.  Conveniently, there is a coffee shop right next door.  Dan and I obviously share an interest in coffee as well as painting!


We first began to talk about paper, paper sizes and texture.  This is very important in watercolor.  Certain papers will allow certain things to happen when you paint.  We also touched on timing in the painting process while using certain paper textures.  I used Saunders rough, which is what he also uses, so I was off to a good start.


We started with some simple sketches and discussion on the way to sketch for a painting.  The point is to not get too overly detailed with your sketching, unless you want to frame a sketch or drawing.  In watercolor, it’s good to have your lines and loose shapes.  Some detailing, like windows on a barn, etc. can be sketched a little heavier, but overall, don’t get too overly detailed in your sketch.  We talked about sketching and how the pencil should stay on your paper.

I had already brought a few sketches from the plane ride and we went over some of those.  We went over the use of models and the importance of practicing your sketching techniques, lighting in sketches and how to effectively erase your sketch marks on watercolor paper without ruining it.

Color and Paint Mixing

We spent some time on color and mixing.  We used the Quiller Color wheel as an example.  The point here is to use mostly your primary colors in the correct amounts to mix secondary colors.  For instance, yellow and blue make green.  However, within that green, by adding either more blue or more green, you can get different varieties of green.  Another important point I learned was taking opposite colors on the wheel to make your grays.  For instance, on the color wheel , yellow and violet are at opposite ends.  Mixing these 2 will give you greys and direct you to a neutral color.

It’s obvious the a complete understanding of the color wheel is crucial to mixing the colors that you want in your paintings.  It’s no wonder many of my watercolors appear muddy and lack some of the lustrous colors from poor mixing.


The demo in real-time was eye-opening for me.  I finally realized that I wasn’t really washing the paper correctly and applying tried and true concepts in how to achieve the final look in a watercolor painting.

For instance, in many of my watercolors, I would start from the top (which is important), but I tended to remix colors and go over initial washes 2 or 3 times.  This is a recipe for disaster in watercolor.  The colors will just begin to mix and muddy.  We also discussed timing in the washes, which is crucial for you to achieve an initial wash texture.

Probably the most important thing I learned from this exercise was that the initial wash is the backbone to your final painting.  Without a good wash that takes into account your background, midground and foreground, you are doomed to fail.

Spritzing, spattering, dry brushing, etc in the initial wash is acceptable, but has to be done at the right times.  Time in watercolor is crucial to getting the right (special) effect.

We finished off the day with a complete demo and some techniques on brushstrokes and adding jewelry to the work.  All in all, this first day was full of golden information for me.  I have watched some videos on YouTube and films by APV, but there is nothing like a real-time lesson.  And having no formal training in painting watercolor, this was a great start for me.



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