Watercolor Painting Demonstration - Basket of Lilacs

Welcome to my studio at Zeh Original Art. I've been really looking forward to when the lilacs bloom this Spring. I have a basket that inspired me to do a painting of a basket filled with various colors of lilacs.

This demonstration is of an 8"x10" watercolor. I begin with some reference photos I've taken of lilacs since they are not yet in bloom and, of course, my basket. I will use a limited three-color palette to paint this piece:

On my watercolor easel, I keep a masonite board coated with white gesso. For 8"x10" or larger watercolor paintings, I first soak the watercolor paper in water and then staple it down along the edges. This stretches the paper and keeps it from buckling later on. The masonite is a perfect surface on which to staple the paper and stretch it.
Once dry, I sketch out my idea directly on the watercolor paper putting in as much detail as possible which will make the painting easier as I go along. Watercolors are transparent, so the sketch will show through.
Here it is! The drawing is finished to my satisfaction. You can see that I've taped the edges with artist's tape. This helps to keep the staples in place and will leave a nice clean edge on the painting.
Now to start painting:
Painting the Background: I like to paint the background first, so I wet the area and paint pale blue and yellow colors letting them blend together. To make a watercolor hue paler, I just add more water to it. I keep my board tilted at a 30 degree angle throughout the painting stages so colors will flow downward.

Below you can see the three colors I am using for this painting:

Primary Palette of three colors: In the upper photo, you can see the red, yellow and blue paint I am using as they look when first squeezed from the tube. Nice and neat! As I paint, the palette becomes messier as I blend colors to make green, brown and purple.

Now that I have some partially mixed colors, I can paint the basket and leaves:

Basket and leaves: I've put in some brown colors where the basket is, but no detail yet other than some shadow areas. You can see that it's not solid brown. That's because I've mixed the brown from red, yellow and blue, but not completely. I let colors mix on the paper as well as in the palette. This makes for much more interesting color and texture.

To paint the leaves, I use a mix of the yellow and the blue.
Once the leaves are done and I've added details to the basket, I'll start painting the flowers:

Painting the flowers: The two left flowers are white lilacs, the rest will be purple and reddish colors. I've decided that the light will be coming from the left so I paint the shadow side on the right of each bloom before adding details. When painting with watercolor, the white areas must be left and painted around or masked to keep paint off them. I prefer to paint darker colors around the white and light areas, rather than using any kind of masking.

Now that I can see how the painting is coming along, I've changed my mind about something. I'll show you what I do to change the painting below:
Making a change: I've decided that I want to make the basket more full of lilacs by adding a reddish one above the others. In order to do that, I need to remove a green leaf and some of the colors around it.

Making changes with watercolor is not impossible, although it is not always as easy as just painting over an area. That's because watercolors have a transparent quality. The underlying colors will probably show through. But with water and gentle scrubbing with a special brush for removing paint, I can sometimes get close enough to the original white of the paper to make a change. Using high quality watercolor paper is essential for this.
The new addition: Above you can see the beginnings of a new lilac blossom nestled among the leaves that have been left in place. It will be a reddish color to add a little more life to the painting.

Once I've added detail to this and the background flowers, there are only a few things left to do:

Final details: The painting could actually be done, but there are some dark areas I'd like to enhance to bring the flowers forward and give more depth to the painting.

When it comes to representational painting, I believe one of the major differences between artists has to do with at what point they feel a piece is finished. Some are more interested in design and want a flat, abstract quality to the piece with or without detail, so they are not concerned with giving the subject depth. Some want an impressionist quality and will leave details out. Other artists are not finished until the painting has a photo realistic quality with every detail tightly rendered.

My watercolor paintings are usually somewhere in between the extremes. I do often use detail, but what gives them their unique quality is not just detail. It is my desire to add form and roundness to the flowers and other objects to give them a lifelike appeal. This involves the use of light and shadow. The painting tells me when I've accomplished this goal.

Below is the finished watercolor - amazing what can be accomplished with red, yellow and blue, isn't it?

Thanks for stopping by my studio - it was delightful to have you visit. I hope you enjoyed this demonstration and that you'll return for the next one in a week or two.


Kessie said...

Oooh, that's really interesting! I love how you can get so much detail in just watercolors. I wondered how you did it, so it's really educational to see the steps you use.

I see what you mean about needing the pink flowers to liven up the painting, and the way you erased a space for it is very clever.

What colors are you using? The yellow looks like a cadmium variety, and I'm guessing the blue is ultramarine, but I can't pin the red.

Janet Zeh said...

Ooh, you're good! You are right about the yellow and the blue. The red is also Cadmium.

Flowers said...

WOW!!!! This is stunning! Thank you so much for the tutorial!

Janet Zeh said...

You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it!

Pat said...

Watercolours scare me, but I think they're beautiful. Your basket of lilacs is amazing. I am trying to read and learn about watercolours and try it out one of these days.

Janet Zeh said...

Thank you Pat. No need to be scared of watercolors. Just get out some paint and paper and a nice watercolor brush and play!