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Art Masterclass - A simple approach to watercolour

March 2011

From The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;

March 2011

A simple approach to watercolour

John Hoar

finished painting

People are always asking how they can make their watercolours look more watery without them becoming a complete mess. Part of the secret is to plan the painting in stages in such a way that each stage is dry before the next is started. When working in watercolour it is very easy to get bogged down with detail, to the detriment of the whole. Try the opposite approach: treat the whole composition first using broad watery washes and then paint in the surprisingly few details necessary to make it a satisfactory painting. You may be surprised by the results!


My materials were:

  •  Arches Rough paper 140lb (300gsm), 15322in (56335cm)
  •  Two brushes; a Pro Arte Series 50 large filbert for the big washes and a 1⁄2in (1cm) sword liner for the details
  • Colours Winsor blue (red shade), cerulean, raw sienna, burnt     umber, light red and alizarin crimson



Stage 1At Cley there is a magnificent church on the green with some cottages at its foot, backed by dark trees. It was a baking hot day and the paper blindingly white, so I adopted a more direct approach in order to get finished quickly. A very fast drawing was made with the church placed on the right-hand side, again forming an L-shaped composition. I went straight in with the sky wash; although the heavens were pure blue I let in a bit of light for contrast, taking it right over the church, thus forcing it into the background



I put a wash of raw sienna over some of the cottages and left the left-hand side pure white. I then painted the roofs light red. The green grass was a mixture of raw sienna and Winsor blue; I try not to use green out of a tube as it looks acidic and unnatural



Stage 3With the paper now quite covered, I painted in the shade sides of the cottages with a mixture of blue and light red, with very dark cast shadows on the roof.

The final stage was to very quickly put in the details of the church, again in blue and using the liner, and then the broad wash of the background trees was splashed in very freely but carefully, outlining the edge of the church. The light patches of roads in the painting were made up by me to help the succession of the composition. Remember, a painting is not a photograph – you can do what you like with it!



Church, Cley Next The Sea.

Watercolour on Arches Rough, 140lb (300 gsm), 15x22in (56x35cm)

Finished painting

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