How to Look at Watercolour Painting

© Copyright 2018 Shiana Puri, Ryerson University.

When you look at a watercolour painting, it is common to identify the subject matter first. Our eyes are drawn to the imagery of things including the objects painted and paper used. Although these are essential elements of a painting, the fine observational foundations which contribute to the various stages and process of a painting, frequently go unnoticed. They are the particulars that display the success of a watercolour artist; that is, knowing how to balance control and fluidity in their work.

Yellow and blue watercolour paint diffusion.
Puri, Shiana. “Verdant Flow.” Photograph, Ryerson University, 14 February 2018.

Using watercolour is a process of painting with a choice of pigments that are mixed with water. The strong relationship between these two elements carries out the intrinsic delicacy and charm of a watercolour painting. Using a thin wash, with a large amount of paint or a deeper pigmentation will intensify the hues. It was also expose less of the paper beneath and allow for more control for the artist. To contrast, using a greater amount wash and less colour, or a lighter shade, will expose more of the paper and its texture. It will draw out the flow of water, allowing for more freedom when painting. The association between water and pigments can truly intensify or diminish features while also allowing the artist to practice their take on controlling the paint or letting everything flow.

Watercolour painting welcomes a variety of techniques to enhance its subject matter. The wash technique, also referred to as wet on wet, is most used by artists. Its beautifully unpredictable process consists of wetting an area of the paper and then applying the watercolour pigment, allowing colours to stream and blend with one another. Wet on dry is a technique used to create clean, sharp shapes by applying wet paint onto a dry surface, whether that be dry paint or fresh paper. Amongst these two techniques, there are plenty more including dry brushing, lifting off and glossing, however, what these techniques are capable of is so much more.

When painting Cadmium Yellow over Ultramarine Blue using the wet on wet, or wet on dry techniques, as in Figure 1, you will find your clean slate of paper scattering and diffusing the colours into an endless movement of a variety of greens, that you likely did not expect. However, to your surprise, overlapping colours not only has the potential of creating, but is also an indication of time. The visionary process is careful as it is undertaken by applying one colour onto the page and then gradually building up and adding another colour overtop. Alternatively, the first colour is let alone to dry a little, and then the second colour comes into effect. Although the artist can use time to try and control the colours in this imaginative technique, in order to visualize the striking effect of colour overlapping and diffusion, it is important that the artist has a sense of freedom when it comes to creating their work.

To look at a watercolour painting can simply be to look at a luminous splash of colour on a piece of paper. However, you must look closely at the imperative foundations that contribute towards that splash of colour and deal with the painter’s balance between controlling the medium and letting it flow freely.

Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to use your Eyes. 1st ed., New York, Routledge, 2000.

Puri, Shiana. Verdant Flow. 2018, watercolour on paper, Ryerson University, 14 February 2018.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.