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 – the 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’s 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.