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Sunday, 16 February 2014





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Painting light and shadow in watercolour

From the day the sun set its eyes on the earth there was light. I think of light as something created by the sun illuminating the earth's atmosphere fitter, and falling gently to surface like snow. Therefore, artists need light to paint.

Light comes in many forms. Light has colour and different intensities; it can be direct or reflected; it can define local colour, obscure and after local colour. Becoming acutely aware of specific lighting conditions can make you a better painter.

A watercolour painting depicting light and shadows.

Before you begin to paint, take time to study the colour; intensity and other qualities of light. Ask yourself whether it's warm or cool, clear or hazy direct (such as a spot light) or filtered (such as a flood light.)


There is a big difference between going out to paint what you see and to paint the light you see. This is one component of painting we can't do without. A watercolourist who has worked with the medium is aware of its great benefits, permitting one to get the simple effects, an awareness of and sensivity to the colour of light be it natural or artificial.

Watercolour makes it possible for you to be spontaneous to pare a subject to its essentials, and perfect the medium for catching effects of lights. It transforms your imagination to reality. Through the ages artists have been concerned about these two major aspects of painting light and shadow showing how light strikes on an object and particularly in watercolours. How to capture the elusive luminous quality of light in painting.

We are out in that glorious light of the world where we experience until the hour when only man-made light is left. You will discover how to capture the grace and beauty of nature, how to paint the seasons, and how to harness the power of light and more.

Reflected light

Depending on the nature of the day, reflected light can be a very important part of your painting. The strong colour is the most expressive element in the artist's vocabulary. To relegate colour to a secondary role is to communicate with half a vocabulary. Notice the differences I have made on the painting.

I have expressed in colours what I felt and understood of the entire landscape. I have titled the painting "Evening shadows". You will observe a bluish yellow light appearing on the sky and the earth is lit with a very light yellow colour and the whole picture appears to sparkle with light and colour.

You can feel the colour of the road coming through the shadows. In the background a grove of trees along the bark cast very dark shadows. The foliage of the trees acts as an umbrella and prevents light from working its way into the shadows. Instead of trying to paint individual leaves let your brush strokes suggest them. The colours and tones in the background trees are of a dark texture to give strength and stability to the painting.


Notice now I have used rugged dry brush strokes on the tree trunks to suggest the texture of peeling bark. The painting is a remarkable of not only composition but also of light and colour. It is also composed entirely of greys ranging from palest tint to the deepest grey-brown giving an impression of consistent harmonious light.

One of the most attractive qualities about watercolour is the ability to express even the most transient effects of light, colour and atmosphere found in nature. The appeal of this painting lies in the delicate transition from pale delicate washes to strong dark colours.

Shadows play an important role in conveying an impression of bright sunlight. Since the foreground trees are mostly indicated by dark green patches they appear more intense and our eye is automatically drawn to it; thus they form the focal point of the picture.

The old rusty fence is part of the subject of my painting, but somehow it looks lost. However, you may observe how pale dry brush strokes indicate a broken fence. I have kept the greatest of detail in the foreground and simplified the background sky with a light wash. Tones and colours are much effective in the foreground than in the back ground. No other medium can quite match up to the unique freshness and delicacy of watercolour that is if you know how to mix the correct colour properly.


For a beginner to paint in this medium can be very frustrating when colours that sparkle like jewels on the palette end up looking like mud on the paper. So why do thing's go wrong? Mostly muddy colour is the result of muddy thinking. In an effort to make something look real; a novice painter tends to fiddle around on the paper pushing and prodding the paint and building up dense, chalky layers of colour. When pure unmixed colour is brushed on to white paper and allowed to settled undisturbed, the effect is clear and luminous.

So do not prod, dab or scrab your colours once they are on the drawing paper. Be sure of the colour you want before applying it, and then brush it on quickly and confidently. Watercolour is like playing golf; the fewer strokes you use, the better. Don't be a slave to your subject break lose from it and let your enjoyment of it come through in your painting.

To get more expressive power into your painting is vital to put more energy without losing control of the medium requires skill, and this can only be gained through constant practice. The more you paint, the more you get the feel of the subject many times so as to become familiar with it.

Learning to paint in watercolours is like learning to drive a car. The ride may be a bit bumpy and jolting at first, but the more you do it, the smoother it becomes.



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