Masters Highlights, Watercolor Basics

My Masterclass with Dan Marshall – Second Day

So, today, we really began to get into the meat of watercolor painting.  We started the day with setting up my palette and discussing tones and color mixing.  The main focus today was tone, color mixing and composition.

While getting some things ready in the studio, we discussed some watercolor history.  He gave me a few books to thumb through including Andrew Wyeth (At Kuerners Farm), an excellent book.  Other books included John Singer Sargent Watercolors, Venise Aquarelles de Turner and watercolors by Bonington.

Our first exercise today was a discussion on composition.  This included some of Zbuckvic’s watercolor clock.

This is crucial in understanding the consistency of paint in the washes and also when to put them down.   Timing is obviously everything to get a successful painting.  When you put down a certain paint consistency on dry, damp, moist and wet paper, we get different effects.  It’s important to try and combine these effects in your painting.  A successful watercolor will have a combination of the clock in the final work.

We discussed wet on wet, soft – controlled edgers, dry brush strokes , lost and found edges and more.  This is basically taking the watercolor clock concepts and putting them to paper.   From here, we went into some exercises on tones and created a tone bar with a single color (neutral tint).

Another thing we discussed was composing a painting, some of the elements of a composition and general concepts.

I found an interesting video  concerning composition, as described by Joseph Zbuckvic.

The video is self explanatory.  Z describes various letters to describe the core of composition:


Z or ‘zeds’ lead you through a painting and drags your eye back and forth across the painting. “It takes you into the picture”.  A river of road that will take you into the distance.  A powerful tool in composition.


A for “Alvaro”, they are great friends.  However, in this sense it is like a pyramide.  It takes you into the picture.


L can be a strong vertical.  You can combine them with and A or even a Z.  Typically, the L may be a church.


H for “Herman Pekel”.  The H is usually a vertical with 2 sides and a connecting middle.


Looking through something, arches or trees in the picture. “Looking through a tunnel.”   It leads the eye usually to a vanashing point.


Another point to composition is distribution.  He describes this as “Picasso”.  Uneven distribution of hay bales or chickens, people and birds.  They are random and not even.  Not like “soldiers”.  Many students tend to make these too symmetrical.  Asymmetry is king.  Just like tone.

This painting combines almost all of these elements:

Joseph Zbuckvic

And, if you can combine the different times of your watercolor clock, the ZALHO and PICASSO into ONE PAINTING, you have created a MASTERPIECE like the one above.

Another important concept in composition was our discussion of the Golden ratio or Fibonacci swirl.  

This is somewhat similar concepts I learned in photography class when I was in high school, but is also important in painting and composition.  The rule of thirds is also a basic concept in composition and Dan showed me an easy way on my phone to adapt this concept to a photo to get an idea.  Most advanced painters will find this second nature.

I found some view finder aids when I googled this on the internet such as artwork essentials.  However, when you go to your edit screen to adjust and crop a photo, a nice grid will come up on the screen that will show you a simple grid to aid in your composition.

So, my first real painting using some tonal qualities was a single painting we did from a photo of the Lexington Aircraft carrier on a sunny day, where most of the colors were washed out by the sun. This was a good exercise in tones, some washes and my first introduction in getting that water effect.  I used Payne’s gray to paint this one.

It was not a bad effort.  I added some simple red highlights to give it some life.

On my second effort, I combined tones with a simple color wash using ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and a touch of neutral tint.  I found mixing the colors a little challenging, but it just comes down to understanding your washes and use of brushes.

It’s important to use large brushes (big shapes and washes) that hold lots of water and work your way down to the final stages of your painting using little brushes (little shapes) that holds little water and more pigment for the details.  It’s a simple concept, but it’s amazing when you start painting, that I had to consciously think about it.

I did OK with this one.  I found some of the calligraphy challenging since I never really drew a chicken before.  Anyway, I’m excited to move forward with these concepts.  It’s obvious it will take lots of practice and reinforcement to get it right!

This was a super productive day for me!  I now have some concepts and things to work on that will help to improve my results.



3 thoughts on “My Masterclass with Dan Marshall – Second Day”

  1. Wow Al – I think both of these (and especially the second one which is fab!) are huge strides forwards for your painting! Great to see you making the most of Dan’s expertise!


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