Motto 15. Make use of co-ordinates to find your key elements.
When it comes to translating a drawing into a painting, I begin by using co-ordinates to find my lightest places. I understand watercolour painting to be, in many ways, a mathematical process. You are trying to convert three dimensions into two dimensions - from the 3D world to the flat surface of your page. You are trying to understand the relationship between one element of your subject and another. You are thinking about the various depths of tones and the ‘distance’ in contrast between one tone and another. You are thinking about scale; a tree in the foreground looks very different from a tree in the distance.
1. I begin by making a working drawing of a funny white ceramic frog within a defined box. I think about the tones of the frog and its surroundings and look hard for the lightest places. I build up the tones, finding the darkest tones in its wide-open mouth.
2. On the drawing I outline the lightest places so that I can see clearly what and where they are. This is my working drawing.
3. I mark some key co-ordinates on the drawing. These are the co-ordinates that relate to the lightest places in my drawing. I draw a box with similar proportions on my watercolour paper. This means that when I mark the co-ordinates on my watercolour paper they will relate to the co-ordinates on my drawing.
4. I make a first pale-yellow wash which reveals the lightest places. As they are a complex collection of light places, I do my best and then, with a clean squeezed brush, I lift a little bit more paint from the page to find some more light. The whole painting will ’hang’ on these light places. They become a reference for where everything else sits.
5. As the first wash dries, with a new yellow ochre wash, I begin the next layer in which I reaffirm the lightest places but also leave some small areas of the initial wash showing (i.e. un-painted).
6. I mix a wash of sap green (a very yellow-green) and make my next wash which both begins to find the outer edge of the frog but also travels across the frog where I need more tone on its body. It means that many of the frog’s edges are currently lost and will be found at a later stage.
7. With a well-watered-down wash of light red I begin to find some of the frog’s lost edges but continue to take some of this wash across the frog’s body. I avoid painting into areas that have previously been left white or light. Importantly, I soften many of my edges. Only the edges I want left crisp get no softening treatment.
8. My next wash, a turquoise, continues to reveal shapes, find edges and have some edges softened. I decide the mouth is not square enough on the nearer side so I soften it with clean water and will re-negotiate its edges once it has dried.
9. A raw umber wash redefines the mouth and finds a few more shadows. A last wash of dark blue finds a last few dark places on this funny open-mouthed frog.