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Combining all the techniques

We have looked at basic watercolour techniques of wash, wet-into wet, dry brush and calligraphy in the previous articles. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Wash, for example, is the most positive way of indicating shapes. Its strength lies in its simplicity, but it can get a bit monotonous.


A painting done using the wet-into-wet technique.

Wet-into-wet is the most spontaneous and exciting, but too much of it can be vague, and look like candy floss. However, wet-into-wet is a bit of a misnomer because if you do actually drop wet paint on to wet surface you then get two lots of water and the result it weak, runny and out of control.

Experiment

Apart from describing the main pit falls, there is no way one can really explain the technique. You just have to experience it and experiment yourself. Try it out with just one colour first, say burnt amber and be prepared to waste a few sheets of drawing paper. Let yourself go fearlessly, do not be timid.

Always have the painting on a gentle slope and use gravity, to help you, which can be rather like swimming with the current. It's so much less effort and you'll need less strokes.

The technique is ideal for doing such things as cloudy skies, mists, trees and surging surf, but do not attempt to do the whole painting in wet-in-wet, it will just look out of focus.

It's much more effective when the soft edges are contrasted with sharp-edged areas and calligraphy applied after the paper has dried or almost dried. When running colours on to a saturated paper, be sure they are quite intense, since they will dry lighter.

Remember that the water in the paper dilutes the colour as if flows from the brush, so the fresh colour needs to be put on relatively dry paper if it is to stay in place. No verbal explanation can tell how it is the process. Must be experienced.

The wet paper is usually worked on while flat, because a slanted surface will cause colours to run towards the bottom of the sheet. This could be desirable in some cases. Rough or textured papers generally work better than smooth.

A word of warning is needed here. Never use wet-into-wet for foregrounds, they at least, should be crisp and sharp, otherwise it will look as if you are wearing the wrong glasses.

Rich colours

Looking through my own painting, I find that wet-into-wet techniques have formed an important part in most of them, perhaps because they always seem to sell (It's what most people think of watercolours) but mainly just because I really enjoy doing it so much.

The stream here is a good example of the use of wet-into-wet, reproduced. I used quite a strong paint to get the dark trees at the far end showing the use of strong thick paint on a damp surface. The contrasting bank on the left corner and the bank on the background is given a light wash. The stream was then painted over with clear water and the dark reflections dropped in.

You will observe the small huts at the distance give a depth to the whole picture. Notice the sky a uniform blue all over. Due to effects of atmospheric perspective it normally appears bright and warm directly overhead becoming increasingly cooler, showing how clouds too obey the laws of perspective, appearing to get smaller as they reach the horizon. It's a typical wet-into-wet painting with sharp touches added for contrast.

Dry brush technique

The first thing to say about dry brush technique is not to over do it. It's very useful to produce textures, and to suggest detail. The paint is put on with the brush quickly skimming over the surface of the paper, leaving the colour on the ridges of the irregular surface. Dry brush techniques are generally used on rough paper, allowing the textures surface to do much of the work.

Load a flat brush with watercolour and squeeze most of it out into the palette. Blot the brush on the paper towelling or other paper and stroke it lightly across the work. The surface texture will grab some of the colour leaving a pebble trail that reflects the paper's surface with white flecks shimmering through the colour.

Dry brush passages can be put on clear white paper or a dried wash. Washes can be flooded over the dry brush work to fill in the white specks or they can be left alone.

The dry brush has many uses to suggest the bright shimmer of the sun on water, the texture of pebbles on the shore, the rough bark on a tree trunk or the weathered surface of a plaster wall or rocks.

Your willingness to experiment with colour will yield many surprising results, the most rewarding of which is when selecting the opposite of the actual colour turns out to be exactly what you want to say.

Do practise these techniques although it probably won't come off at first. In any case, it's always a good thing to have a spare piece of paper by yourside so that you can try the effect to see if you have got just the right amount of moisture in the brush before you put it on your painting.

All the techniques when combined in one painting provide a whole armoury of textural contrasts.

The combination overcomes the inherent limitation of each and they all compliment one another.

Finally, it's rather like an orchestra with the big, bold, rich brass contrasting at the mellow strings and clear tones of the lead instruments to form a complete and satisfying all-over sound.

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