Sometimes when you don’t feel like painting or don’t have the time to work on a painting, it can be helpful to just play with color mixing; this is also great for a beginner in watercolor (or any medium!) or if you haven’t touched them in awhile and feel rusty.
Watercolor practice mixing - pages 1+2 of sketchbook
Here is my small field sketchbook opened up to show you my color studies. I wanted to experiment with greens and then various blues for landscape painting. It can be great fun to do this, it’s relaxing and loosens you up with the paints. I find it good practice to try to copy from life, that is the landscape right in front of you, but also from pictures of paintings you like in books.
Watercolor - practice mixing - pg 1
I made this nice and big so you could read my notes, I abbreviate the names of my colors and put (+) plus signs where I mixed a new color in.
Watercolor practice mixing - pg 2
The blues at the bottom of this page are from looking at watercolor paintings and trying to copy the color and study how the artist (A. Heaton Cooper) made it look like water.
Having these pages in my field sketchbook is great reference when I’m in the field painting or at home in the studio, you can refer to your color notes when searching for the right color. This was a great exercise and glad to share it with you, give it a try no matter what your level of experience, remember even virtuoso violinists warm up and practice their scales everyday!
My finished miniature watercolor painting of a Great Grey Owl, measuring a mere 2″x2″! Be sure to check it out in my Owl Gallery too. It’s an owl named “Aspen” that I photographed at the Keilder Water Bird of Prey Centre in Northumberland England. I’ll show you the stages of painting and talk about how I did it below.
"Great Grey Owl" -first washes
This shows the first stages of painting, the beginning washes to lay down the values, color hue and expression of the painting. I first started with a light sketch in pencil, lifting it as much as I could with a kneaded rubber eraser before painting. Then I painted the washes and sprinkled salt on wet areas to see how it would ‘pull’ the color and create interesting patterns. It is at this stage of the painting that you can get a feel for how the painting will go, will you be loose and expressive? Will you go for more details? Sometimes I think we have to let our intuition guide us, or perhaps our mood.
First wash set up
This picture shows you my set up for the first washes, I always start flat on the table so the color doesn’t run. Many times on larger paintings I stand up and work loosely with my brush. (check out this short Utube video of me working on the “Screech Owl” painting, it shows how I paint loosely when standing). This set up shows my photo reference to the left, the salt above that, then my field palette to the right because I’m right handed, the water bowl above that. I keep a white paper towel folded nearby for wiping off excess water and it allows me to see if there’s paint left on my brush. You see my magnifying lamp which I find good because the light is cool and matches daylight; but I don’t use the magnifier on it as I find it clumsy to use my brushes under it and I bump into all the time when I lean in super close! Sometimes I use a hand held magnifying glass or you’ll see pictures later of my glasses.
Great Grey Owl -stage 3
Now here in stage 3 you see I’ve jumped ahead with lots of details and color. As you work, squint your eyes at the photo and your painting to catch large areas of value that need to be developed and notice color hues. At one point I felt my owl was too brown so I washed a very watered down blue grey over areas, but only on very dry areas. In areas you need to lighten you can either lift color with a damp brush and blot with a paper towel, or you can add it using white watercolor or gauche mixed with your paint colors.
Now on purpose I’m going to point out some things that I found to be unsatisfactory in my painting and I changed. At stage 3 here, I felt like I did a pretty nice painting! I was feeling like it was done, ah….no such luck. If you let it sit a day or two and return to it, or if you show it with the photo reference to a friend with a sharp eye, they’ll be sure to catch something ‘off’ with it. If you’re a conscientious artist, you’ll be bothered by it until you fix it and you probably already knew it was wrong to begin with but wanted to ignore it! Well lets just say my boyfriend has a good eye, sigh, well now he ‘did’ pick me didn’t he? We both agreed the beak wasn’t right, I pointed it out to him then when he agreed it was back to the easel with it. I can’t believe how much I was able to amend the beak being that this is watercolor after all. People are afraid of watercolor because they think it’s unforgiving, wait until you see the changes I made.
Great Grey Owl -stage 4
Stage 4 shows the beak changed, I totally moved the angle of it and lengthened it! (see the enlargements below of these final stages too) If you take a damp brush and gently re-wet an area, and only the area you want to fix, you can then repeatedly rub it gently with a damp brush tip, blot it with a clean paper towel (I prefer Viva!) then clean your brush, wipe it off and repeat. Do this over and over, you’ll be amazed at how much you can lift. When I repainted the beak I thought like an oil painter, I laid down a more opaque yellow layer to clean and brighten the beak, then I kept putting washes over this dry layer to affect the color. It ended up with an unusual translucent look like a real beak would have.
As I did this, of course I started to notice other areas I wanted to improve upon. Sigh…such is the plight of an artist with a picky eye! Notice the area of light tan below his beak, I needed to bring out the lightness of it so I added white watercolor to some cad.yellow, and browns to create a tint for an underlayer. Another note about this painting, next time I will pick a much smoother paper, working with this much detail you need to keep your paper super smooth with no distracting texture.
Great Grey Owl -stage 5
Stage 5 shows how I painted detail on top of the tan area under the beak and the beak has more details added. The owl has an overall lighter look, this is because I kept stroking on little feathers with a tint of whitish blue grey to add detail. Now I thought I was done here, but remember that boyfriend of mine with the good eye? Well he helped me notice I had painted out the nostril! SIGH….yes, when I was adding the little hairs by the beak I must have done that so back to the easel. The picture at the beginning of the post is the final stage, fixed and finished!
Working with my magnifying glasses
This is me working with my reading glasses on and a little set of clip on magnifier lenses. In the photo I have the magnifying lenses lifted up so I can look at the paints in front of me, if they were down I’d need to get much closer to see what I was doing. So I would lift the lenses up when I would sit back a bit and take a look at the ‘whole’ painting and the photo, looking for areas that need attention. Then I’d flip them back down and get close for the detail painting. I wouldn’t use them for the initial stages of painting, you don’t want to focus on details at that point.
Also you notice here my setup is different than before, I have another pan of watercolors and have them set up on some jars so they are closer to my painting. Working with a tiny brush ( 10/0 liner) it dries out super fast and keeping my pallet nearer seemed to help. The nice thing about working on a miniature painting was being able to mix small amounts of color right in the pan lid. (the brush in the picture is not my liner brush)
The pictures below are so you can look at one section close up to see the changes I made to the beak and area around it.
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 3
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 4
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 5
Great Grey Owl -close up detail finished
I hope you’ve enjoyed my post about my painting. I looked forward to showing you my mistakes and how I fixed things as I painted because this is how it goes, it’s a process and doesn’t always go as easy as it looks. I like to encourage my students and others to keep looking at their paintings for more detail but most of all a good beginning drawing is crucial. As you can see here, I missed the beak angle and had to fix it later, but the more you paint and draw the better you’ll be at catching these things in your work. That’s my two cents! Please leave me some comments and if you are interested in note card or prints please let me know.
For the fun of it, here’s some Utube links with owls!
This is a watercolor study I did to as a demonstration for my fall Nature Sketching and Painting Indoor class that just finished up. I used it to show the stages it took to make a simple study, step by step, layering washes, values etc. Posted below are the steps it took to make this 5″x5″ study head, be sure to click on pictures to see larger views! Enjoy!
Detailed sketch – Shown below, first I started with a light gesture sketch of the shape of the bird, then rechecked placements of things and refined details.
Darkest Darks-This is one approach to watercolors, start by laying in your darkest darks and blacks. If you start with a confident sketch it should work out fine, when you work this way you set out from the beginning with a defined dark end of the value range. You can then judge all other values against it as you paint. You won’t have to go back and keep “pushing” your darks to make them pop.
I also painted the eye, being carful not to touch the highlight area, black for the pupil, and brown put into the wet black for the iris. (I think I put my reading glasses on for this step! haha).
Below I started to lay in more darks of the cheek, as my brush was drying out I would ‘sketch’ areas I wasn’t sure about…just to start to lay in some value so I could see where I wanted to paint. Color Wash-Here I laid in a bluish grey, ultramarine and black thinned with water. After it dried I laid in some small lines for feathers.
Changeing the drawing– A pale yellow ochre wash on skin of eye area and nares. A wash over the eye highlight to tone it down and soften it. Here I also made a decision about the beak, now that I was putting values down, I thought the beak looked a bit too heavy. So before committing to paint, I erased! I reworked the curve then I painted keeping all areas soft and blended slightly. Feather details-I brushed on more feather details here, laid in more darks with repeated ‘feather’ strokes to top of head and all around eye. Nice spotty look at right edge, I like when the watercolor can been seen for what it is, it gives it a looseness. See the photo below for this step, just repeated tiny strokes. Yellow of beak and eye-Here I laid in the yellow on the nares and eye area, and it’s completed! See it on my Art Gallery Blog soon with prices for note cards and prints!
Well, late last night, I just had to play with my new little watercolor field kit I put together. I love making up new kit ideas to carry my art stuff around in.
A picture of it all packed up, it only stands 6″ tall and 4″ wide.
Here it is with all the contents laid out, can you believe how much stuff I can fit inside it?
For the painting, I actually painted it while laying on the bedroom floor! Sometimes I think I’m just a kid in grown up clothes, doing things I would have done when I was younger. In College I painted using an old bread board on the floor, all the time! I had no desk in my apartment and it was just easier.
Well, back to my tiny watercolor. It’s only 3 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ big! I used little brushes and the tiny little cup for water. I didn’t start with any drawing, I just started painting, looking for the shapes and laid them in lightly. As I started to add the face details, that’s when I checked using comparative measurements, where her mouth, nose, eyes all fell. Then I pulled the hood down a tad before putting it’s green color on.
Below, I added the background wash and more on the hood, washing some background blue onto the green of the hood. I lightened the eyes also, touching them up. And then darkened the shadows.
Last is the finished little painting. I worked on hair details more, adding some burnt sienna to add warm darker tones and more hair strands. I painted some purple in the shadow on her chest near my signature. The purple was a nice choice, darkened without making it look dirty colored. I added more greens and a light wash of cadmium yellow to the upper hood to warm it up. The hood on the left side (shadow side) got only blue washes. I added some darks on her upper chest and washed over her shoulder, then lifted the highlight by dabbing a clean paper towel after wetting the paper repeatedly. Then after deciding the eyes were as good as I wanted them, (sometimes a hard thing to let go of) I added a tiny white highlight with a dot of white watercolor paint. Finished little beauty!! Hope you like it!
Me painting with sketchbook and watercolor palette in one hand.
I decided to put that little travel watercolor palette to test. I picked up a gorgeous iris and lily yesterday, sketched it out and started the first stages of painting. My objective here was really to test out the palette, watercup arrangement and holding the light board all in one hand. I want to see if I can use it like this in the field without an easel for little studies. You can click on any picture to see enlarged views.
My travel watercolor palette with watercups attached
I show a close up of the arrangement so you can see the watercups; they are actually for holding mediums for oil painting, designed to hold the liquid even when tipped slightly on a hand held palette. They worked fantastic! I had to get over the habit of looking for my watercup on the table! You can see the ‘sticky tack’ or ‘blue tack’ in my palette. Yesterdays blog explained that better, so they get tested today and it worked wonderfully! Yay..two experiments that worked.My hand got a bit tired from holding the board and palette but this set up is supposed to be for quick studies, I worked on it longer than I would in the field.
The pictures are to show the stages of my painting, start to finish.
Iris pencil sketch
starting to lay in some colors
Putting on the blues, make sure yellow is dry first
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