Watercolor Basics

My Masterclass with Dan Marshall- Final Days

On my final full day with Dan, we started this day again with a nice breakfast and went straight in the morning to the studio for a demo on beach and water/boat scenes.  I asked Dan for this lesson in particular because I live in a city that has a large harbor/boats and also a beach.

Even though I had already painted my series of ships and attempted a harbor scene, I really didn’t know how to go about it.  I desperately wanted to also improve my rendering of water.

The first demo involved the beach scene.  So we chose a simple beach scene with some figures, sand, water and waves.

This scene as well as all other scenes begins from top to bottom with the sky to the horizon.  The steps are crucial creating a successful watercolor.  We leave a small separation on the horizon and it key to keep your lines straight.

Our reference photo (from a beach in California from one of Dan’s recent trips) was angled with a slight hill.  We discussed and hammered down the importance of perspective.  This is true even for waves.  Waves starting near us recede away in the distance towards a vanishing point on a perspective line.  The white in the waves have purpose and should stay connected.  I began to realize that even with waves, as well as anything else, brushstrokes are important to get some sparkle and leave a little white for the waves.

Once we have our waves, we work right through to the foreground.  I also quickly realized and learned that you don’t want to completely cut out your figures and the ‘actors on the stage’.  They all need to be connected.  If your wash completely cuts around them, the actors will appear stuck on the paper.

As we work our way down to the foreground, you can texture a bit and increase your wash from a tea to coffee consistency ever slightly increasing the tone.  This is the first wash and should be completely dry.

Now we began to work on the stage and it’s actors.  Again, it’s important to keep them interconnected.  They way they are connected should also be planned way in advance when composing your painting.  Actors that are disconnected will only confuse your audience.

As I continued to paint, I began to realize how important calligraphy is in this stage.  Your painting will not look convincing without good, solid technique and brushstrokes.

When placing people on the page, Dan showed me how to ‘hang them on a cloths line’.  It’s important to keep their body ratios and places in the painting accurate and not displaced.  Depending on your perspective, heads need to remain on the same line.  If we are looking down on figures this will be different.

So for this first exercise in a beach scene, I just took it all in.

I wasn’t particularly happy with the final result.  The perspective is off on the waves and I learned some crucial lessons.  Hopefully, this exercise will come in handy in my next beach painting.

On our second painting of the boat, we took a photo from my phone of my harbor in Corpus Christi bay.  It was a simple picture with a bat on the left and some distant buildings.  Again, we started by composing the painting, adjusting our actors and looking at light.  Here, we wanted light on the water in the distance and the boat in shadow (light coming from behind).

Again, we start every painting the same way, from top with a tea wash to horizon line.  Then we work our way through the water, leaving light in the background.  There is a pier with boats under the horizon line and we left a little highlight with paper, but it’s not that important.  I just continued to bring the wash down through to the bottom.  An important point was to leave a small highlight of paper on top of the boat roof where the light reflects.

I realized now that light, tone, shadows, etc. need to be planned in the composition and then executed accordingly while painting.  Once these highlights are gone, they are gone, so I tried to capture them in the first wash and anticipate them in our composition stage of the painting.

Now, with water it’s important to add some ripples while the paper is still damp, but not completely wet.  This water scene was intended to be calm, so the ripples need to be calm and not too angles and busy.

At this point, we are also not worried about the reflection of the boat in the water.  This will come later.

We now let the wash completely dry.

The most distance objects should be painted in next and the tone needs to be correct.  Not too light, and certainly not too dark in tone.

The pier and boats are next and then our focal point (the actor on this stage is the single shrimp boat).  Here, again, brush strokes, technique, and tone is king.

The top of the boat is done first and then we concentrated on the reflection.  This is done by painting the hull of the boat in a wet on wet technique and extending the shadow and reflection along the bottom of the water line.  The boat needs to be anchored to the water with a strong, dark line.

This pretty much ended our morning session.  We then headed up to the mountains for some plein air painting.

I found this exercise the most challenging of all.  Not being outside, but doing a landscape properly.  I really forces you to look at tone qualities rather than color.  We ended our day with a wonderful dinner in Golden, Coloroado.

It was a good day!

On my final morning with Dan, I got up and attempted a quick landscape painting again.  It was a good exercise, but far from good.

We grabbed a quick breakfast at a local diner and then headed to downtown Denver close to Union Station.  He we painted a street corner.

Again, this was a great exercise that covered just about everything I learned through these past few days.  (1) The process of composing a scene.  (2) Looking at light and shadows and where they go in your painting, (3) Sketching a thumbnail sketch of your vision for the painting, (4) where to place the actors on your stage and (5) the step by step washes and tones required to make a great watercolor painting.

This was a helpful week and the importance here is to persevere and continue.  Watercolor can be frustrating, and for me, it’s finding a style that you can call your own.

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