The Ixora plant


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† This plant grows at our house here, and I took advantage of an untimely morning¬†nap of my son to paint this, in a loose style,¬†as a study of the effect of light.¬†The plant itself is fuller and thicker that how I had painted it but I had to fit it into a two¬†hour time slot. The¬†upper part of it catches the eastern rays of the sun in a delightful way for an hour or two every morn and I had been meaning to paint it for quite some time now.¬†Unfortunately, because of an advancing cyclone,¬†it was¬†quite an overcast day yesterday and there was no strong light or shadows.¬†It still makes an interesting subject because there’s quite a pleasing value difference between the¬†new yellowish green and the older bluish green leaves.



¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† I started with a 300 gsm 12*16 inches paper in a block and sprayed it with clean water¬†with a mister. Then I went over it¬†with a wet brush with¬†more water to keep it evenly wet.¬†(I found the sprayer is a good way to work quickly when working wet in wet) With a large flat brush, I brushed in premixed puddles of translucent orange, raw sienna, pthalo blue, krapprot tief, sap green, green gold and indian yellow¬†and let the colors blend by moving it this way and that. I kept the consistency of the orange a little thicker than the others so that it wont spread too much. I didn’t do much of drawing except for the main stem and some branches.

initial wash


        Before the wash started to dry, I started painting a few leaves with a round brush, these start to diffuse and look like leaves at a little distance. at the back of the tree.  

some leaves


The paper has already begun to dry completely. I paint the lower leaves with a thick mix of sap green, pthalo blue and a little bit of krapprot tief (red tending towards blue, not sure of the name in English) letting the colors blend on the paper. Schminke’s Raw sienna works well for leaves that¬†are just beginning to age and starting to turn brownish yellow. For the flowers, with a small¬†round, ¬†I¬†dot with a mix of indian yellow and translucent orange and¬†then towards the¬†left side add¬†the orange pure and again towards the end drop in¬†a little bit of the red. The light is coming from the upper right. The¬†blossom behind¬†is a bit redder because of shadows falling on it. Added the branches;¬†first with a wash of burnt sienna and then, a thicker mix of a drak color on the left hand side of the branch. ¬†¬†

lower leaves


more leaves and flowers

     More leaves in the same way with a few dried leaves with burnt sienna. Some foliage at the bottom of the tree.



¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Hit the handle of a brush loaded with orange¬†for a spray of¬†bright dots¬†to add some texture to the plain area. Didn’t like the bluish gray spot at the top left hand side of the paper and tried to scrub it out with a stiff damp brush.



       I actually found a cute little nest hidden right at the centre of the tree! I think it has been abandoned, since I do not see any bird coming to it. Though it must have been a small bird that had built it, it had used quite thick branches as nest materials, there is even a leaf woven into it. I have taken a snap of it for you:


       Here are the Ixora flowers. They age and fall away all at one time and the tree puts on buds and in no time, the whole tree is covered with fresh beautiful blooms. Sometimes, they grow as large as your two hands cupped together and become quite red in the right conditions. A sight to see! But this is at the time when they are starting to fall.


¬†¬† This particular variety is called Ixora Javanica and named ‘Aspiration in the Physical for the Supramental Light’. The pink variety of Ixora Chinensis is called Psychic Aspiration. The red one, Ixora coccinea, Aspiration in the Physical. It’s interesting that a very similar looking flower called Egyptian Star cluster (which I had also painted) is named ‘Psychic Light in the physical movements’, ‘Light in the Vital movements’, ‘Light in the material movements’ according to its color. The flowers are softer and less pointed with five petals as opposed to four¬†in Ixora¬†and the leaves are also softer¬†drooping a little.¬†When there is the ‘Aspiration’ from below, it brings down the Grace from above¬†enveloping us in the ‘Light’. Is that what the two flowers symbolize?


‘Painting the Allure of Nature’ by Susan D. Bourdet


       This book again is a visual treat to the eyes. These are the four complete demos, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter that I had done from the book, with only a small amount of masking: (done in late 2007)



‘Capturing the magic of light in watercolor’ by Susan D. Bourdet


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† When I saw the paintings of Susan Bourdet, I was fascinated by her style¬†of painting, the fluid beautifully blended background washes,¬†the¬†simple but striking compositions, the lovely bright colours and the¬†beautifully rendered foreground subjects of nature. I bought both her books as a next step in my learning process. She shows¬†various mini demos for building a painting and finally four complete compositions. There are also sections on how to choose reference materials to make a good composition. I had the most magical time looking at her gallery of paintings and thought it would take a lifetime to be able to do anything like that. I mustered up enough courage finally and started on the one titled ‘warblers and wisteria’ on a very small sized paper.


Final (hopefully!) version of the ‘Cygnets’


          I have added some red and brown tones at the bottom of the painting. It was quite tempting to keep adding more details but stopped myself in time before it got overworked.



           Swans are such popular birds and there are many myths surrounding them; here are some facts about them:

   The male swan is called a cob and the female is called a pen, their offspring, cygnets. There are many types of swans Рthe mute swan which I have painted here has an orange bill with a black triangular shaped area in front of the eyes and a black knob above the bill more prominent on the cob. It is less vocal than the other types, hence its name but more territorial than the others chasing any intruders agressively many feet away from the nest. The trumpeter swan has a black bill and its neck is not as curved. The black swan has a bright red bill with a musical call and is the most social of all during nesting and the cygnets sometimes ride on their parents back. The black necked swan has a black neck and bill and white plumage. The whooper swan is large with a deep honking call and is a powerful flier with a yellow and black patterned bill.

    Information compiled from

Finished painting of ‘Cygnets’


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† This is the photo that I had used as a reference, thanks to ‘missmouse’ who had contributed in the reference image library of¬†



¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†And here is¬†my version of it. I made the rocks a little larger and put¬†the reeds in the background in order that, there is¬†a feel of a secluded niche` for the swan family.¬†I think now though that, a little more earth at the base of the painting would give it more stability. One more step then….¬†¬†¬†

cygnets painting

     Here is a quick look at how I made this:

           The sketch is just a quick outline with no details which I had posted previously (along with the washes for the swans). I was too eager to start on the colors. I think, this allows for more spontainety, with this painting I lost my fear of backgrounds and of making mistakes. Really, even splotches and cauliflowers can be made to look like textures.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† For the cygnets, I just wet individual areas and dropped in the same colors that I had used for the swans.¬†For the rocks, I added other colors to the palette, usually I don’t use more than three or four but this time, I decided to break the rule and see if¬†the painting still turns out harmonious. Scminke’s walnut brown is a color I like because it is opaque but still doesn’t look dull compared to the transparents. It is rich and thick and gets darker after drying, so I no longer have the problem I used to have in trying to get the ‘darks’ dark enough. It also has a nice texture. Mixed it with a delft blue that I got as a sample and never used, which is also opaque to get the blacks. Other colors that I used are raw umber, gruen erde (green earth)( which is creamy and light valued and which I still haven’t figured out¬†what best to use it for), green gold and sap green. ¬†

          Masked a few stems and leaves at the base of the rocks. Then, I dropped in light values of walnut brown, raw umber, sap green, krapprot tief (its a dark bluish red but still very bright) on a wet wash on the thin vertical strip of sunlit rock allowing the colors to blend. The top face of the rocks reflects the sky and looks bluish, so I dropped in weak mixes of pthalo blue and krapprot tief, again on a wet wash. The left portion of the rock is a little hollow and therefore in shadow, so I brushed in walnut brown and delft blue with a bit of sap green in the centre. While that area was still shiny, I sprinkled some salt. Wet the centre rock, and dropped in raw umber, weak mix of pthalo blue and krapprot tief and made streaks with walnuss braun. Soften the edge at the bottom with a damp brush. The rock at the right hand side is mossy and the texture looks spongy. Wet the area and dropped in most of the same colors, also adding green gold. Sprinkled salt evenly while it was still shiny. For the legs, layed in a weak gray wash made with pthalo blue and walnut brown, while it is still wet, moulded the form with a stronger color and after it got completely dry, drybrushed with the stronger color of walnut brown and a little delft blue.      


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† I let the whole painting dry thoroughly and brushed away the salt, which for some reason stuck¬†resolutely and made hard white spots after coming off. This wasn’t the effect I was after,¬†and I layed in deeper colors on the rocks,¬†with¬†just a bit of salt while it was very wet. As it was starting to dry, I stroked in lines with walnut brown and green gold. The¬†other roacks are painted in the same way but in lighter values.¬†The tops are kept bluish and lighter valued than the sides to give them form. Cracks are painted dry with the pre mixed brown black.

 more rocks

              I started on the foreground by first wetting the area, and laying in a mix of translucent orange and krapprottief and a small bit of blue. Also painted in some grass shapes in the left corner and some blue green for the water. A little red-orange-brown mix for the dried leaves. Let it dry and removed the masking.

stones and earth

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The area beneath the swans is a bit of earth covered with dried leaves, twigs all sorts of things, and I wasn’t sure how to go about it. It is in shadow, so I layed in darker values of the colors that I used before and made some leaf shapes with darker shadows underneath and some twigs. Wet the entire white area of the bg, and layed in pthalo blue. Painted small plants with a mix of pthalo blue and indian yellow.


          Painted the dried leaf on the rock with a weak mix of orange and red, then dropped in a little blue and brown and red for the shadows and the vein. Wet the bg again and stroked a few upwards strokes for reeds with blue greens and browns. Worked on the swan a little to get more roundness of form.

         I had a lot of fun with this painting, this is the first time that I did rocks and used salt for texture. It got over quickly too, apart from the swans the rest of the painting took only a day, as my son was out most of the time with my mom.




Update on the swan in the ‘Cygnets’


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The colors that I have used are Schminke’s indian yellow, translucent orange, pthalo blue and krapprot tief. Masked a few stems. Wet the upper wing area and brushed in the blue and red, then wet the body area and stroked the same colors in curves to show the roundness of the body. I find this¬†white round plate a lot more useful than¬†the regular palette with wells. This allows me to mix many subtle variations of colors without the hindrance of wells. The whiteness of the plate also helps me to see the mixes without testing them first on a swatch of paper. For large washes, I bought another tray with 3 divisions and¬†a couple of white shallow¬†dishes. ¬†¬†¬†¬†


   Painted the head with a mix of the orange and the blue on a slightly wet area, taking care to leave white edges. The black is a mix of all the four colors.


    The cob (male swan) behind the swan is in sunlight and painted with a weak wash of indian yellow. While this is still wet, I sroked in a mix of red and blue for the shadow at the right hand side and a grey mixed with red, blue and yellow at the neck area. 


   Deepened the colors and added shadows along the belly of the swan. I have decided to leave this at this stage and move to the rest of the painting before adding any more details. The photos have been taken at different times in different lights, hence the difference in colors. The background is still white in all 4 photos.


Sketch of the third in the “The story of the Swans” series


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Here’s the sketch I made for the last painting in this series. The reference image is from the RIL of (thank u ‘missmouse’). Its such a beautiful scene of the parents preening and looking after themselves after the cygnets have just hatched. Initially, I wanted this¬†painting to be very colorful with a¬†number of lotus and water lilies but later decided that it would just distract¬†attention from the quiet touching beauty of the scene. ¬†¬†

sketch-third in the swans

Watercolorist’s A to Z of Trees and Foliage by Adelene Fletcher


       This is another book by Adelene Fletcher that I had found useful. Here are some of my paintings done from the book:


The Watercolor Flower Painter‚Äôs A to Z by Adelene Fletcher


            I found a Deutsch copy of this book at a library in Cologne. This is the first book from which I seriously started to learn to paint. It shows how to paint 50 different common flowers in an easy to follow step by step approach. There are two pages devoted to each flower.It has a few pages at the beginning of the book describing different techniques and these are further highlighted whenever necessary for each flower with step by step mini photos. The paintings are well executed and it was a delight for me to turn the page and see a brand new lovely flower after every two or three days of painting a flower.  It also had the added advantage of taking my German language skills to a higher level! Here are the first few that I had done:



¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† After a gap during which I had my baby and shifted cities, I found this book again at a library in Basel. Even though I hadn’t picked up my brushes for many months, I had grown as a person and this reflected quite surprisingly in my painting. I painted quickly and confidently and where before I was gropingly copying each color and value from the book, this time I had the ‘artist’s vision’ and I understood about the placements of darks and values to build forms. If your passion is painting flowers, then I think you will love learning from this book. Here are¬†the ones that I had painted after my break:



Color theory


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In case you are a little vague about your primaries and secondaries, you can start understanding them by building¬† your own color charts. The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. When you combine two primaries, you get the secondary colors. Red and yellow gives orange, yellow and blue gives green, and red and blue gives purple. When you combine all the three primaries, you get a grey or a neutral color. When you combine a primary with a secondary that is made with the other two primaries, you will get a neutral color beacause, basically all the three primaries are present in the mixture. For e.g¬†when you mix yellow (primary) with¬†purple¬†(secondary made with the other two primaries, blue and red), you get a neutral hue. This yellow –¬†purple pair¬†is called a complimentary pair. Similarly, the complimentary of red is green and the complimentary of blue is orange. You can get pleasing neutrals, if you use single pigment transparent colors when mixing. These neutral colors can be pushed towards muted grayed pinks, reds, blues etc by favouring those colors in the mixtures. These can be used as shadow colors, for dried foliage, walls, stones etc.

               Reds and yellows are warm colors and they appear to come forward while blues and greens are cool colors and they appear to recede away from you. Observe trees in a wide open space. The trees near you will look greener (green has yellow in it which makes it warmer than blue) , with increasing distance away from you, the trees look more and more bluish-grey. In fact, towards the horizon, all the elements on that line are sort of merged into a  uniform bluish gray with no detail to tell one element apart from the other. This is called atmospheric perspective. In a painting, you translate this reality by using mainly warm colors in the foreground and cooler colors in the background. The foreground elements should have more detail and get fuzzier and fuzzier as you move towards the horizon.



            Take a red from your palette and add very little blue to it (donot make it into a purple). Take the same red in a separate well and add very little yellow to it (donot make it into an orange). Now paint these colors in two swatches next to each other. The first red which has a blue tinge in it is cooler than the second red which has an yellowish tinge in it. Thus, even though red is a warm color, the first red is cooler than the second red. You can paint this cooler red (my making it a little more muted by adding its complimentary) into the distance in the background without making it look as though it is coming forward or sticking out. Observe the two reds and see if you can make out that one appears to come forward while the other recedes. It helps to paint these swatches one above the other (the above one being smaller) rather than next to each other. In the same way, you can have a warm blue when you compare it to a true blue which does not have red in it. The colors that you get from the manufacturer contains warm versions and cooler versions of a single color. When mixing, if you want a bright color, see that both colors are either warm or either cool. If you want a slightly muted color, you can mix both warmer and cooler colors.

    It helps a lot to make your color charts with the colors that you have. Here are two that I have made with Schminke colors: the first one consists of auerolin yellow (neither warm or cool), dark red (bluish) and ultramarine blue; the other triad is made of indian yellow (warmer than aeurolin because it has some red in it), ruby red (which tends towards pink) and pthalo blue (warmer, has a little yellow). The colors donot come up accurately on the monitor, try doing your own charts.

color triads

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† You really cannot see¬†much difference in the primaries on the monitor, though there is a discernable difference in reality ……..see how different the secondaries are;¬†You can make beautiful violets with reds tending towards pink and warmer blues as seen in the second triad. In the first triad, a deep purple is formed by a bluish red and ultramarine blue.

      Make a chart with all the colors that you have and see what mixes that you come up with. You can use this as a reference for your paintings.

        Here is mine:

color chart


      The inner circle consists of the store bought primaries and the circle enveloping that are the secondaries formed by mixing these primaries. The outermost colors in the scattered circle are store bought secondary colors.

Short Cosmos demo


            Before we move on to the flower demo, lets have a quick look at building forms. In fig 1 below, the violet circle is painted as in a basic wash, It looks flat because the value is the same through out the circle. In a solid three dimensional object in the outside world, light falling on objects causes them to have a number of values. Value is the degree of lightness or darkness in a color. To build the circle into a 3-d object, we need to add highlights and shadows and atleast some values between them to make the object look real. When a light source (the sun in the open, a light indoors) falls at an area on a circular shaped object (which is uniformly colored), that area looks the lightest valued, the area surrounding it progressively increases in value and the opposite side of the object which does not receive the light directly and which falls in shade is the darkest valued.   

       To paint such a circular object, let us first assume that the light is falling on the object from the front a little towards the right. Thus that area has the highlight, while the farthest left portion is the darkest value. Draw a circle and wet the circle evenly with clear water. Mix a watery solution (that is, light valued) of any colour. Carefully stroke it on the circle, making sure that you leave a white highlight at the area where the light is supposed to strike. Since the the paper is wet, you will have a soft edge around the highlight. See fig 2. Let this dry completely. Wet the circle again. Wait for a sec or two till the water is absorbed a little. Now take a stronger solution of the same color and drop it carefully onto the edges and a little towards the middle of the circle. The color will spread because the paper is wet, so take this into consideration. Donot let the color completely cover the first wash. This is your second value (fig 3). Let this dry completely. Now wet the circle again using a gently stroke, donot use too much water. Mix a stronger solution of your color but this time, add a little of its complimentary color to darken it. Drop this at the extreme left taking care not to cover the previous washes (fig 4). All these washes are called glazes because each wash has been applied after the previous one has completely dried. If you find that the area under shade is not dark enough, you can add another glaze. The more values you are able to reveal in a soft gradation, the more realistic will the object look.


 My sis takes photos of flowers for me whenever she can, and asks me sweetly if I can use them for my paintings, so I have decided to use hers for this demo.

  Make a sketch out of this flower and whatever other elements that you find pleasing in this photo. I have kept mine simple:

¬†¬†¬† Take a good look at the photo and pick out the colors on the petals. They are mostly pinks and bluish violets for the shaded areas. The sun is casting its light from the upper right hand side. Wet each petal at a time and drop in weak washes of brilliant purple and pthalo blue (Schminke) or the equivalents in your pallette.¬† Paint alternate petals because if you wet an area next to a damp petal you will get a back run. The stem looks really lovely with muted pinks and violets¬†at the bottom and yellows and green near the base of the flower. With a small round brush wet the entire stem and drop in colors accordingly. Let them blend gently and don’t worry about getting it exactly right. The water creates beautiful effects if we learn to leave it alone at the right time.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Let these glazes dry completely. You can use a hair dryer for this but don’t fan it too close to the paper. Now repeat the above step for the alternate petals and the one in front. This one is more bluish and it helps to put in a wash of pale blue in the beginning itself. Wet the small area at the base of the flower and drop a weak wash of sap green. Before the sheen goes away, drop in a slightly stronger mix of sap green and pthalo blue in the darker areas. Let dry.

   Wet the petals one area at a time (not adjacent ones) and drop in stronger mixes of the same color. Look to the photograph and not at the painting. While the petal is still damp, take a zero sized brush loaded with the vein color and stroke it in following the curve of the petal. Glaze the stem with a weak mixture of sap green. Once this is dry, wet the stem and wait till the sheen is just about to go. With a zero sized brush pick up a strong mix of sap green, pthalo blue and brilliant violet and stroke it along the right hand edge of the stem and under the sepal which is casting a slight shadow on the stem. Also observe that there is a cast shadow on the first petal from the right thrown by the petal above it. But this shadow is pink in color and not greyish.

¬†¬†¬† After the last step has dried, you can add stronger glazes again…..

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† If you want to add a background, wet the entire area around the flower. Drop in¬†the same colors that you used for the foreground, in order to unite the picture. Use some of the shapes that you see in the photograph. Add a few stronger coloured shapes towards the bottom to ‘ground’ the picture. You can see that the cosmos which looked bright and delicate¬†against the white of the paper, now looks a little¬†dull against the bright colors in the background. For your painting,¬†try dropping in some muted colors in the background, instead of the brights that I have used.¬†¬†


Other useful techniques

Glazing: Glazing is a technique where you paint washes of color over already dried washes to change the overall color of the wash. This is primarily used to slowly build up form,¬†one layer at a time.¬†In¬†this sample, a¬†pathlo blue wash was painted and allowd to dry completely.¬†It is very important that it be dried completely, otherwise when you paint the second layer, this first wash will lift creating unwanted splotches. On top of that, brilliant purple has been painted (see shade in the ‘lifting with damp brush section’), the blue and the pink combine visually to make a violet. A green gold (yellowish) has been glazed below that. It shows as a dull green.¬†¬†


Lifting with damp brush: Some pigments are more staining than others, meaning that they are more difficult to remove once they have been painted. Here, I have chosen¬†Schminke’s¬†¬†brilliant purple (which is fugitive, so I donot use it much) because it is non staining and lifts readily. Paint a swatch of color and let it dry completely. Now take an old stiff brush which is slightly damp. Drag a line on the paint swatch. Blot on a tissue to remove the color which has deposited on the brush and¬†repeat this again and again¬†till you have lifted the color.¬†Lifting is useful for correcting mistakes, painting veins¬†on¬†leaves etc. ¬†


Lifting with damp or dry tissue: Paint a blue wash of sky of medium intensity. Before this has a chance to dry, lift patches of the blue with a damp or dry soft tissue to resemble clouds. Lifting with a dry tissue gives hard edges. Combining both methods gives a realistic look. Keep rotating the tissue so that the blue which you had lifted does not get pressed back to the paper. If you find that the paper is drying too fast before you have had a chance to do the lifting, wet the paper first evenly. Just as the sheen is starting to go, brush in the blue color. Wait for a second or two for the moisture to be absorbed. Now start lifting the clouds.


Salt technique: Paint a small swatch of a basic wash. The timing for this has to be just right. Take some table salt and sprinkle randomly on the wash, just as the sheen is going away. Donot disturb it, till it is completely dry. After it has dried, brush away the salt gently. This reveals a nice random pattern which can be used as textures for stones and rocks or for snow flakes. You will not get this effect if you sprinkle on a wet wash or wait too long before sprinkling. Experiment with larger salt crystals and see what textures they show.

Splattering: Snow flakes can also be simulated by splattering white gouche on a gray-blue sky. Take an old tooth brush and load it with white paint. With the handle of a brush or by using your hand, scrape the bristles of the toothbrush with quick strokes moving it around the paper. You will get a pattern of off white dots on the gray sky. Take care not to mix the opaque gouche with your transparent watercolors as it will make them dull. Splattering can also be done with different watercolors to give an interesting design to an otherwise boring large area in your painting.

Watercolor techniques – wet in wet washes and dry brush


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Wet in wet washes:¬† Mix small puddles of three or four colors which would look harmonious together.¬†Don’t add too much of water, they should be of thicker consistency than that of those colors you had used in the basic washes. Wet¬†the area of paper you want to paint on with a flat brush. Use clean water and see that¬†it is evenly wet with no pools or dry areas. Wait for a second or two as the water gets absorbed into the paper. Quickly start dropping in the colors. Donot stroke too much, let the water on the paper pull the paint from the brush. Quickly rinse and blot¬†brush in between colors or use separate brushes for different colors.¬†If the paper starts to lose its shine, stop adding any more colors. Tilt the paper in different directions to allow the paints to mix.¬†

        You have less control over the final look than the wet on dry method but it is more spontaneous and fun and it always a surprise to see how it will turn out. This technique is generally used for background washes since the soft, out-of-focus effect gives the illusion of receding into the background, pushing the foreground subject to the front.

        In the left hand side of the sample below, the back run (orange) is caused by uneven wetting of the paper. On the right hand side, the paper had begun to lose its sheen (sheen is the reflection of light caused by water on the paper surface when it is wetted) before the colors were dropped, leading to the colors staying put and not getting blended.



¬†¬†Dry Brush technique:¬†You have a lot of control over this method. Take an inexpensive¬†or old¬†medium¬†round¬†brush, wet in water¬†and blot on a tissue till it is just very slightly damp.¬†Pick up a color¬†in which only a drop¬†of water has been mixed.¬†Drag the belly of the brush over the surface of the paper, without pressing in. The ‘valleys’ in the paper donot catch the paint and they remain white. If you have chosen blue, this effect will look like sunlight on the surface of water. With a¬†flat brush, you can do the same. Spread out the bristles a little bit and¬†paint with a shade of brown from top to bottom. Repeat with other shades of¬†grey and brown, and you get the texture¬†which resembles that of wood. Experiment with different brushes and colors. Sand can be painted with shades of raw sienna and brown. Little twigs and branches can also be painted with a dry brush as they are ragged and often donot appear as continuous lines in nature. Take a small¬†number round brush¬†loaded with paint that is of very thick consistency and paint¬†quick¬†strokes¬†with it on a dry paper. Dry brush technique is even more pronounced on Rough watercolor paper¬†but will hardly be visible on a HP sheet.¬†

Watercolor techniques – the basic washes


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† When you look at an oil painting, the words that you would use to describe it would be solid, dense,¬†dark … for watercolors you would use fresh, luminous, bright, clear, ethereal. The transparency of the paints¬†is what gives the¬†unique beauty¬†to a watercolor painting.¬†I know this now, but not when I started to paint. I¬†had seen this¬†lovely¬†book in the library – ”The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ by Edith Holden which was written almost a century ago. I was hooked onto it from the first moment.¬†More than the technique (which is quite beautiful)¬†, I loved the spirit in which it was done. She starts every month with some history of how the names of the months originated; well known poetry is interpersed with her¬†simple but captivating¬†paintings of¬†birds, flowers, plants,¬†toadstools, animals, anything that she found interesting on her¬†daily walks¬†in the woods around her home and during journeys. She started her career as an art teacher¬†in a girl’s school and she¬†made these diaries as a¬†model for her students.¬†There was also a video available in the library which I had seen over and over again.¬†Ah!! daily walks in the woods!¬†This was my first inspiration to put me on the¬†path of¬†my watercolor journey. Though¬†enjoying wild nature at its best and purest through¬†daily walks in the woods¬†can only be a dream for most of us, we do have¬†photographs and our own modest flower pots and local parks to rely on for inspiration.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

         Watercolor is a difficult medium to master, it has its own techniques distinct from those of other media. You have to learn to control the amount of water to be used both on the brush and on the paper to get the exact effect that you want. Once painted, it is very difficult to change it. Also, there is no white watercolor paint, the white of the paper is the white paint. (there is white gouche which you can use but it is opaque and it takes away the sparkle of the white paper) That means you have to think beforehand, about where the whites and low values are to be in your painting and take care to conserve them otherwise it will be difficult to get them back later. But with a little practice, these things can be learnt and you will love it that you have persisted and you will love the beautiful unexpected things that water and paint can do on the paper.

     To understand how watercolor works, think of the nature of a sponge. A damp sponge absorbs water much better than a dry sponge or a wet sponge. Thats exactly how a brush or a paper behaves. When an area that has been painted is just starting to dry, meaning it is damp, it starts absorbing water thirstily from the wet stroke of paint that is applied next to it making an unsightly mark that is called a backrun (because the paint is pulled backwards) or a cauliflower. Thats why a damp painted area is a no touch zone, if u want to correct it, let it dry completely and paint over it. These unsightly marks can also happen with a damp brush. When the painted area on the paper is wetter than the brush (that is, the brush has a thicker consistency of paint), the brush absorbs water from the paper instead of paint flowing from the brush to the paper! Watch out for these things while you are practicing.

       There are three ways you can paint on watercolor paper:

                    1. wet on dry          (wet brush on dry paper)

                    2. wet in wet           (wet brush on wet paper)

                    3. dry brush            (dry brush on dry paper)

      Lets start with the basic wash. Fill two containers with clean water. Rinse the brushes in one container and use the clean water in the other for mixing colors. Press out a small amount of any watercolor paint onto your palette. Take a small amount of this color in a well on the palette and mix with a little amount of water to make a medium to runny consistency. Tilt the board on which your watercolor paper is fixed, a little by resting the top side of the board on a book or something appropriate. (an angle of 30 degrees would be ok) This is so that the paper is not completely flat and the color travels downward as you paint. FIll a medium sized round brush with this color and paint a strip from left to right on the watercolor paper (if you are right handed). You will see a bead of colour forming at the bottom of the strip. Place the tip of your brush on this bead of paint and make another strip from left to right. FIll your brush with color if you run out. Do this quickly. Donot go back to what you have painted and fiddle as it might cause an uneven wash. Continue till you have a nice square wash. This is called wet on dry because you have painted with a wet brush on dry paper. You have a nice control with this method. Uneven streaks and backruns can form in the wash if the wash is beginning to dry and you are still adding color. Thats the reason you should do it quickly.  Here is how it should look like:   

Here’s an example of a back run: The magenta flared uncontrollably as soon as I put a spot in the centre. I had put a lot of water in a circle and¬†the backrun started to form along the edge as the flower dried quicker than the wet area around it.


Graded wash: If you have gotten control on the basic wash, then this should be easy. Start painting the same way as in the basic wash, but half way through, rinse the brush in water (blot the brush a little on a tissue if necessary), and immediately paint over the last bead of paint on the paper. If the last bead of paint was damp, that is, it has started to lose its shine (bend your head and look from the side of the paper to judge this), you will have a back run. If it had already dried, you will get a hard edge. If you have done it quickly enough, the edge will be nicely blended showing a soft edge. Here is how it should look like:


¬†Look at the top edge of the pink color (clearer in the bottom two photos). That’s a hard edge. ¬†The¬†line¬†¬†where the pink¬†fades to a¬†lighter tone¬†is called a soft edge or a lost edge.¬†¬†

You can vary this by¬†keeping the board on which your paper is taped to, flat on the table. Now take a brush load of paint with a large brush and start painting from left to right, continue this as you get to the bottom. Donot rinse the brush. As you keep painting the, brush loses more and more of its paint and the area that you have painted starts to get lighter and lighter as you go down. You should¬†see a soft gradation of tones from the brightest to¬†the lightest¬†from top to bottom. This is fun, isn’t it?

Graded wash with two colors:¬†Have two puddles of paint ready this time. They should be of the same consistency, that is, one should not contain more water than the other, this will lead to one area sucking moisture from the other area , leading to …….u know what. Start painting with the first color and half way through rinse the brush¬†in water, blot¬†well on¬†a tissue (you don’t want extra water mixing in the second color), and fill the brush with the second color. Do this quickly. Start painting over the bead of the first color. The two colors should blend nicely forming a soft edge. You can try another variation in which you overlap the second color a little onto¬†the first¬†color. Try¬†using an yellow and a blue and see if you get a green. (note that blue easily overpowers yellow, so take that into consideration).¬†This type of mixing colors is called mixing on the paper which looks far more interesting,¬†than mixing on the palette.¬†¬†¬†


For the left side sample, I dipped the brush directly into the second color without rinsing. The two colors have blended forming a beautiful violet. Now that you are a master of the washes, I will take you to the wet in wet techniques…… my next post.

Hope you had fun.