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Art Masterclass - 109

How to Paint Glass and Ceramics in Watercolour with Sue Sareen

Containers for holding flowers are desirable objects in their own right and can be delightful to paint.
Moreover painting them is something that can be done in the quiet of your own home, undisturbed, knowing that the objects will stay put! This subject can also be particularly good for training the eye and improving your drawing skills.

In the painting of dried poppy heads (below), the containers are simply white objects against a white background. The only reason that you can see them at all is because of the effect of light, which creates shadows and highlights on the pots, the wall behind and the poppy heads themselves. Observing how the light affects the objects is therefore fundamental to the painting, giving the containers substance and form.

The grey used to paint the objects was a mix of cobalt blue, ultramarine and burnt sienna. Blue and orange are complementary colours (opposites on the colour wheel) and, when mixed together, will make interesting greys. Mixing your own greys makes for exciting changes in colour. Different quantities of these colours can make bluish greys, perhaps pure greys, or brownish ones; it all depends on the proportions of each colour used.

A touch of yellow ochre was also included in some of the mixes, particularly to paint the poppy heads.

White Containers and Poppy Heads,
watercolour on Saunders Waterford
NOT watercolour paper, (26x32cm)

Highlight the differences

Crucial to painting the objects is an understanding of the difference between pattern and colour, and light and shade.
Exploiting this understanding can often make paintings of the simplest objects very effective. In my painting of a little white bowl (below), light is fundamental in giving an impression of substance and form. I observed how the light mainly came from the right, causing the bowl to cast a shadow on the left-hand side of the table and behind on the wall.
I drew the bowl lightly in pencil first then painted it in three layers, from the lightest to the darkest tones, allowing each layer to dry thoroughly before adding the next. Again I used a mix of complementary colours, this time cadmium orange, ultramarine and cobalt blue. A little masking fluid was also used initially to reserve the smallest highlights, and to ensure that these weren’t painted over accidently. This enabled me to paint more freely.

Little White Bowl, watercolour on Saunders Waterford NOT watercolour paper, (15x20cm)

Little Grey Pot (below) was also painted with a mix of two complementary colours: burnt sienna and ultramarine.
The granulation achieved with a mix of these colours helped to create the texture of the pot. The pattern of loose brushstrokes on this simple subject was achieved by painting with slightly thicker paint when the paint was almost dry and the paper was still a little wet.

Little Grey Pot, watercolour
on Bockingford Rough watercolour paper

Choice of paper

Generally I use either Saunders Waterford or Bockingford papers for painting in watercolour. Bockingford is a cheaper option and the surface is more heavily sized than Saunders Waterford, which means it takes longer for the paint to soak in and therefore making it easier for beginners to use. Bockingford is generally more forgiving than Saunders Waterford but, nevertheless, the latter is my preferred paper, as the lighter sizing makes it more absorbent and enables it to dry more quickly.
I always use 300gsm or heavier paper, and a NOT surface, which is the most versatile. Sometimes, however, a Rough surface can work for you, particularly in a painting that requires more tooth and texture such as Three Jugs (above). On the background of this painting, I dragged a dryish brush over the Rough paper surface to create a sense of the wall’s irregular texture.

I generally use a mix of different brands of watercolour, however, I have been using QoR watercolours recently, which are vivid and lightfast, and new to the market. Many of the colour names are different from the more traditional names, which reflect their chemical components, but I have kept to the traditional names here to make it easier for you to marry up the colours you already have in your paintbox.


To paint something similar to my Two Patterned Containers (below) draw the teapot and mug on the paper in pencil then apply a little masking fluid to protect the highlights. Paint the patterns on the containers next.
I used mixes of ultramarine, indigo, Winsor violet, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, sap green and yellow ochre. After painting the patterns, wash light, dilute yellow ochre over the background wall to represent its off-white, magnolia colour.
When all is absolutely dry, add the middle tones and shadows. The shadows and tones are generally mixes of ultramarine and indigo, although occasionally a small touch of one of the other colours can be mixed in to vary the colour. Apply a very pale blue glaze over the background wall to make it tonally darker and slightly greenish, because of the original yellow ochre colour.
Finally, add much darker tones to strengthen the sense of light and dark in the painting.

Two Patterned Containers, watercolour on Bockingford
NOT watercolour paper, (22x28cm)

Brown Patterned Mug, watercolour on Bockingford NOT watercolour paper, (16x16cm). A completed painting, with darker tones added and masking fluid removed. Painting the objects in three stages helps me to separate out two very different and important aspects: colour and pattern; and light and shade. It is so easy to confuse these two aspects if you try to paint them together. The difficulties in trying to handle both at once can create problems in controlling the paint, which in turn leads to an unsatisfactory and muddy picture. Colours used: yellow ochre, cadmium red, burnt sienna, cobalt blue and green.

Demonstration How to paint patterned ceramics
You will need:
• Bockingford NOT watercolour paper (16x16cm)
• French ultramarine
• Yellow ochre
• Green
• Light red
The grey tones were created by a mix of French ultramarine and light red

Step 1

In the first step, apply the first layer of paint and the masking fluid. When painting patterns and colours on pots I usually paint these first. Apply a little masking fluid to protect the small, sharp highlights. At this point, ignore the effect of the light, which creates the shadows and highlights. Simply paint the colours and pattern on the pots then allow the paper to dry


Step 2
1. In the second step lightly glaze bluish-grey shadows and tonal colours onto the dry paper. Tones and shadows are found in the mug, the table and the wall behind. Be careful not to disturb the underlying colours and paint. Blot occasionally with soft tissue to dry or lighten areas.

2. Finally, add further darker tones before removing the masking fluid.

The finished painting Blue Patterned Mug, watercolour on Bockingford NOT watercolour paper, (16x16cm)

How to paint plain glass

Before I began painting Glass Containing Water (below) I began by observing how the water and the glass distorted the positions and shapes of the colours and tones. Painting like this makes acute observation essential, as what you can see is very unpredictable. I noted how the brush appeared to bend, due to the refraction created with the water and glass.

After lightly drawing the glass and brush, I used a little masking fluid sparingly on the sharpest highlights. It is very easy to paint out these small areas accidentally, which would be difficult to reclaim. Masking fluid should be used moderately, however; the effect can look hard and contrived if you apply it badly. If this should happen, try softening overly harsh edges by rubbing gently and carefully with a soft tissue or the edge of a brush.

Once more, I worked from light to dark, concentrating on the colours to begin with. First, I painted the colour of the wall behind, which is seen through and reflected in the glass, and the colour of the brush. When all was dry, I added the tones and shadows, and finally added touches of the very darkest tones to the painting.

Glass Containing Water, watercolour on Saunders Waterford NOT watercolour paper, (18x16cm)

Another opportunity to paint glass can be found at this time of year, as can be seen in Wine Glass and Mince Pie (below). Again the colours were painted first. There aren’t many in this picture, mainly found in the mince pie and the wine in the glass. The painting was then brought to life by the painting of the shadows and tones.

Wine Glass and Mince Pie, watercolour on Saunders Waterford NOT watercolour paper, (24x24cm)

How to paint coloured glass

When painting glass we are often painting the colours seen through it, with dark accents and light highlights that give definition. The distortion of the table’s edge, caused by refraction, can also be seen through the glass in Five Green Bottles(below). After some initial drawing in pencil, a little masking fluid was applied to protect the highlights.

The first layer of paint was then floated over the bottles and background using mixes of viridian, indigo, lemon yellow, raw sienna and burnt sienna. A little gentle blotting with soft tissue helped to lighten some of the colours when they became too strong.
When all was dry, the middle and darkest tones were painted. Then the masking fluid was removed, and any overly hard edges created by the fluid were softened with the use of a damp brush or tissue. A little light colour was used to tint some of these exposed highlights, as only a few were a hard white then the painting was finished.

Five Green Bottles, watercolour on Bockingford
NOT watercolour paper, (28x38cm)

Flowers on Windowsill, watercolour on Saunders Waterford
NOT watercolour paper, (40x60cm).

This more complex painting combines flowers with containers of different shapes and qualities, and was painted using the same approach outlined in this article.

Demonstration Three Jugs

Step 1
I initially noted the shadows and tones falling on the right of this subject. I lightly drew the jugs in position allowing for this interesting aspect of the picture. I painted the jugs’ rusty texture by first lightly dampening the jugs, which allowed the paint to smudge and run a little. Rust-like colours, such as burnt sienna, light red, yellow ochre and cobalt blue were used. The wall behind and the foreground tiles were then painted with light washes and mixtures of the same colours.

Step 2
When all was dry, the middle and darker tones and shadows were added. The texture on the wall was largely completed using a dryish Round brush, dragged sideways on the paper.

The finished painting Three Jugs,
watercolour on Bockingford Rough watercolour paper,

Sue Sareen has an MA in fine art. She exhibits widely and has won several awards for her work. As well as her own painting activity she frequently runs workshops and demonstrates for different art societies. She can be contacted on 0115 9141145 or by e-mail at Much more information about Sue can be found on her website,

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