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Art Masterclass - 

April 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;

Texture techniques

Paul Riley

spring flowers 

Spring flowers


Masking preserves white paper – either for white flowers or flowers that are very pale. This is often referred to as negative painting, ie leaving behind light shapes. When you have a lot of small flowers masking is the way to go. There are two approaches:

* The one-hit system, in which you apply one layer of masking fluid. I only use the colourless removable fluid. (The coloured version puts me off and, in the event that it’s difficult to remove, you are literally stuck with it.)

* Successive layers. Apply the first layer as a mask for white flowers, then apply very pale paint. When dry, more masking fluid can be laid for pale flowers, grass etc. When that is dry more masking is applied, more colour added and so on.

* Masking tape can be used for big petals, using a scalpel to cut out the shapes, whilst masking fluid is applied using brushes. It’s best to saturate the brush in washing-up liquid first to prevent the fluid from adhering to the bristles. Applicators include wooden stirrers, quills, pens, folded or screwed-up paper and sponges (not your best quality natural sponge.)

* How to remove the fluid? Wait until everything, including the painting, is utterly dry – don’t accelerate the process as this will bake the fluid into the paper – then rub the dried fluid off with a very slightly moistened finger or an eraser.


* This is a useful technique for creating the havoc of small details. For this I use a hog hair fan brush, which is usually used in oil painting for blending. Sometimes I use it for white or purple dots by splattering with masking fluid at the outset of the painting. These dots can either be left white, or tinted during the course of the painting. Towards the end of the work I might splatter with dark colours or, on occasion, light ones using designers’ gouache, tinted accordingly.

Over washing

* When the painting is nearly finished the whole thing looks a little spotty and lacking in depth. Over washing achieves the effect of blending or tying together areas, thereby producing depth and creating light and shadow. You may be horrified at the prospect of a large brush of colour sloshing over a myriad of detail but believe me it works, provided that the underpainting is dry, the brush soft (I use a hake) and the colour transparent. The colour I most often use is a dilute phthalo blue or, for sunshine, a mixture of permanent rose and raw sienna.


* My final strokes are invariably done with a soft natural sponge. This produces further depth by softening edges of distant elements, creating bands of light where appropriate or to suggest light around flowers when seen contre jour.

Paul’s colour tips for painting flowers

* Keep all colour clean and intense. Avoid wishywashy, muddy or dull colour. I use tube colours for maximum intensity, and limit myself to two colour overlays.

* Avoid semi-opaque and granulating pigments, they will make the painting look dirty and are not really suitable for flowers. Mix your greys for white flowers using stains: phthalo blue, permanent rose and lemon yellow. If you want to add a little sunshine to your greys, add a little dilute raw sienna while the grey is wet. These three colours can give you blue, violet and green-greys. Green-greys are good for adjacent reds, violet-greys for adjacent yellows and blue-greys for adjacent oranges.

* Keep your primaries clean when mixing, eg when darkening cadmium red, first add dilute permanent rose, gradually adding darker permanent rose (ie less water), then a little violet.

* Darkening yellow is more complex as the results seem to alternate between orange and green, so each one needs to have a mixture of each. I make up some pale green (the same tone as the green to be darkened) using lemon yellow (transparent) and a very dilute phthalo blue. I then make a pale orange with cadmium red and cadmium yellow (or cadmium orange). The tones of the two secondary colours must be the same – these two colours are then used to tint either cadmium or lemon yellow. For a very dark orange, use cadmium red mixed with permanent rose. If you want black in your flowers, use violet or phthalo blue rather than black. It will have more vibrancy. Violet is very useful for darks. For the centre of sunflowers I use burnt sienna plus violet, whereas for markings on flowers I use violet and permanent rose.

Wild white roses

Wild White Roses,
watercolour on Saunders Waterford Not, 140lb (300gsm)
22x30in (56x76cm)

This extract is taken from Paul Riley's article in the April 2011 issue of The Artist


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