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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.