Watercolor Tip: A Plethora of Green

A palette of green can be both a joy and a bane to the landscape artist. Green can be a difficult color, if just because there are so many shades of it. Take a look at a distant forest.  The subtle difference apparent among the different tree species is evident. Notice too the differences among the grasses — manicured lawns or not so well tended lawns, fields and prairies.  Take time to notice too how those greens change on a sunny day versus a cloudy day or a rainy day. The atmosphere can affect these colors dramatically. I mention all of this so that as you’re planning your landscape painting to draw your attention to the effect of weather on a scene. Exaggerating these effects can add great impact to your work.

What observation should also convey is that one tube green isn’t enough. Granted, tube green like sap green or hookers green won’t necessarily give you realistic color, but for me, I like the convenience at times of beginning with one of these and making variations on the theme.  Some of my favorite mixers with these two are some of the earth tones like raw umber, burnt umber, and sepia. The umbers add a nice granulation that adds texture.  You will probably find that these colors give a more realistic tint to your mixed greens. When laying a first wash with these mixes, I also like to add a few bare patches of the earth tone for contrast.  Adding ultramarine blue can also add a nice touch, especially for creating cool distant greens or darker greens. I tend to use this palette of greens when the mood of the painting is more somber, more realistic.

Having said all this, I do need to mention that all that is labeled "sap green" is not the same. For this particular color, the variations can be quite different. My personal favorite is from Schmincke.  It’s a nice green to start with — good color that isn’t too bright and is transparent. Sometimes I will use it "as is", other times mix it. 

My favorite green of choice these days though is a mix of cadmium lemon and payne’s gray. It is an opaque mix, so is not right all of the time, but by varying the mix, I can create the wonderful greens of spring, an variation of oxide of chromium for heavier applications, and some nice cool greens.

For my painting, I like lots of options because I never know what mood the scene will be calling for or the mood that I’ll be in!

Watercolor Tips: Drawing Tips

Drawing can be the bane of many artists and maybe the one thing that can intimidate budding artists.  I wanted to pass along some tips I’ve learned through the years.

For most of my work, I draw directly on the paper.  I try to keep my lines light, since I do erase them after they’ve served their purpose.  A personal choice, of course.  If you don’t want to see the lines after you’ve painted, here are a couple things you can do.  Use a neutral color watercolor pencil to do your drawings.  The line will blend with your paint and remove any traces.  A light gray works well for this, but use your judgment.   If for example, you are drawing something that should be bright yellow.  A different color watercolor pencil may be better suited.  I’ve also read of using invisible ink that fades after coming in contact with water or just after a few days.  This has me intrigued and I will be checking this out.  A kneaded eraser will be gentler on your paper if you do have to erase.  Try to do your erasing though before the paper has gotten wet.  The lines will be harder to remove afterwards.

For the drawing itself, a few tips can make the process easier for you. This may seem so obvious, but I think it’s one of those things in which a reminder is helpful.  When drawing your image, turn your paper so you are drawing left to right.  If you are drawing a lighthouse, for example, don’t struggle going up to down.  It’s more natural for you to be drawing left to right.  Go with the flow.

For more complex drawings, I will use tracing paper and trace the finished drawing onto the watercolor paper.  Not all transfer paper is created equal though.  Make sure and get graphite paper at the art store and not carbon paper.  You’ll be able to erase those lines from the graphite, but the carbon paper (sometimes labeled transfer paper) will be a more permanent and obvious line.  Don’t trace your lines too hard either.  You don’t want to be leaving indentations on your paper for paint to seep into.       

Like the painting itself, you want part of the process of drawing to go with what is natural and use it to your advantage.

Know Your Sources

Just as in writing, painting challenges the artist when it comes to subject matter.  We have our favorite subjects, our favorite sources for inspiration, but do you really.  Photo references are a great thing.  They can be the spark that ignites the fires of imagination.  Your vision suddenly springs to life.  There are even books just filled with photographs.  Of course, there is the Internet.

Google has a helpful search tool to allow you to enter a search term for an image, but what are you getting?  There is a plethora of results to be sure, but are these usable?  Sometimes, trying to click to view the actual image will point to the dreaded 404 page, but other times you will view the image in its actual and perhaps more usable size.  Does that mean it’s fair game just because you found it on Google?  No, no, and again no.  Internet content is copyrighted and owned by someone.  The virtue of you finding it does not transfer ownership.  So where do you look?

Flickr, of course, is a good source.  Their search engine allows you to filter the images that are free to use.  You can even refine your search to include those that are free for commercial use.  Other sources are websites such as MorgueFile whose mission is "…to provide free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits."  You can’t go wrong there. 

Don’t forget government photos such as National Park Service.  These photos are in the public domain.  State Departments of Natural Resources are another source.  The fact remains that there are so many legitimate sources of reference photographs that there is no excuse to use someone’s else’s work.  It just takes a little digging.


"Through the Shadows", watercolor on paper, 6" x 4"

Available on ArtByUs