I ran a series of Watercolour Workshops through autumn 2005 for a group of complete beginners which has sent me back to the basics of watercolour painting – a careful line drawing as a first stage and then laying down a series of controlled transparent washes.
This is a traditional studio method which requires a quite different approach to the direct methods employed in plein air painting. It’s a way of working which I have tended to neglect for some time but returning to it was a marvellous relaxing experience. It needs time it is fatal to apply the next wash until the one beneath is thoroughly dry - the hairdryer gets plenty of use. Better still is to leave the work overnight and greet it like meeting an old friend the next morning!
Another long neglected aspect of using transparent watercolour I discovered was the use of unmixed colours in my washes. A dilute Alizarin Crimson wash applied over the whole picture took the harshness out of a Cerulean Blue sky and brought a subtle harmony to jarring colours in other parts of the composition. I would never have thought of applying this unifying wash had I not left the painting overnight and come to it with a fresh eye the following day.
There is no better way for the beginner to get into watercolour painting than by practising this method.. Another spin off is that on your leisurely way it is easier to accept the challenge of drawing directly with the brush to add variety and enhance the initial outline drawing. It is the most relaxing and rewarding way to paint with watercolour