Let It Snow!!!

Painting snow can be tricky.  Most people think snow is white, but if you look closely, snow is full of color.  Many factors can affect how snow appears, including time of day, temperature, atmosphere, the quality of light, and perspective.  Is the day sunny and bright or overcast?  Is the snow freshly fallen and fluffy or heavy, wet, and dirty?  Do snow shadows appear blue, gray, or purple?

In a landscape painting, much of the color of snow is found either in shadows or as a reflection. You can look for the colors reflected by the sky and nearby areas to determine colors to use in your painting. Sunlit snow may benefit from a very pale warm-colored wash to suggest that sun is shining on the snow. In the shadows, a cool (bluer) color combination will suggest shade. Using both warm and cool tones will increase sparkle. In contrast, an overcast day tends to create grayer snow shadows. Edges may be hard on one side and soft or lost-and-found on another.

Check out the following hints for painting snow from several experienced artists:

John Pike has painted many amazing watercolors of snow scenes during his lifetime.  He says that the “tendency in painting snow scenes is to make the shadows too blue.”  Pike creates snow that glows subtly with color by pre-wetting the entire white snow area.  While that area is still wet, he drops in small spots of the three primaries (red, yellow, and blue), then softly blends the whole together “to gain a subtle spectral quality” and ”to kill the deadness of pure white paper.”  He creates soft upper edges of snow shadows by “applying clear water in just that area” and painting shadow color “upward to the water.”

Frank LaLumia believes that snow is “like a laboratory for studying light.”  He says, “In my opinion, using only white paper to depict snow is inadequate.  Light is color.” (www.lalumia.com)

Winter is Coming.jpg

Gordon MacKenzie has said that painting a winter scene offers many opportunities to play with color temperature and purity.  The snow is “a mirror for the subtle atmospheres that surround it, from the pure warm and cool colors of a bright sunny day to the dulled subtlety of a snowstorm.”  He describes two techniques to create the snow shadows that define the contours of the land they fall across.  The first method is a quickly laid-down wash wet-on-damp for the first layer and then wet-on-dry for the final layer.  MacKenzie suggests mixing a large enough batch of paint that you will have enough of the same color for both layers.  The second method of painting snow shadows involves painting the entire snow area with a non-staining blue-gray (cobalt blue or ultramarine blue plus burnt sienna).  Once the surface is dry, you can remove bright sun spots by scrubbing them off with lots of water and blotting away the paint.  (www.gordonmackenziewatercolours.com)

Robert O’Brien uses both warm and cool colors when painting snow.  He will wash in a very pale cadmium yellow light where sunlit highlights fall, but for other sunlit areas, he tones down the white of the paper with a very light wash of brilliant orange mixed with quinacridone rose.  For a cooler, more-shaded area, O’Brien uses a light wash of French ultramarine.  He notes that the color of snow shadows will vary based on sky conditions.  On a clear, sunny day, O’Brien likes to use French ultramarine mixed with a small amount of cobalt for snow shadows, sometimes mixed with brilliant orange to tone down the color a bit.  An overcast sky tends to bring about grayer snow and shadows.  Mixing quinacridone violet and new gamboge with blue creates his desired gray.  O’Brien’s snow shadows can have soft or hard edges, or both.  To paint softer shadows, he may rewet an area of snow, let the water soak in, and paint a shadow when the paper is damp but not shiny.  For harder snow shadows, he may wait longer or let the paper dry completely before he tackles a snow shadow.  He also softens hard edges in appropriate place.  (www.robertobrien.com)

Cecy Turner imagines “key words” that will describe her snow scenes and then tries to use painting techniques to illustrate those ideas.  She likes to use glazing – layers of transparent colors (letting each layer dry before adding another layer) – to “create more interesting colors and nuances.”  The blues that Turner prefers are French ultramarine, cobalt, Antwerp, and cerulean.  She uses a No. 8 Cheap Joe’s Fritch scrubber to soften edges on snow shadows, particularly as the shadows progress farther away from the objects casting the shadows.  (www.cecyturner.com)

Jack Reid uses transparent watercolors to make snow translucent and capture its subtle variations.  He likes to mix a soft gray with cobalt and burnt sienna.  If he wants a pure, luminous, warm gray, he adds more burnt sienna.  He varies this color by adding more cobalt for a cooler gray.  Reid’s palette is permanent alizarin crimson, aureolin yellow, cobalt blue, viridian green, raw sienna, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and the staining Antwerp blue and quinacridone yellow.  He prefers to use Winsor-Newton paints except for Holbein viridian.  For painting the illusion of falling snow and the suggestion of trees disappearing in drifting snow, Reid lifts color from the bases of trees with a tissue while the paint is still wet.  He also uses a lot of graded washes on damp paper to create roundness on a mound of snow.  Color lightens and softens (in the graded wash) as it progresses from deep snow shadow up into the light.

Early Thaw.jpg

Debi Watson spatters masking fluid to create the effect of falling snow.  She paints her light values wet on wet, explaining that “most great snow paintings have hints of color in their whites.”  These initial washes are painted with soft, transparent red, yellow, and blue.  Watson moves on to dark areas, then to medium values once the lights and darks have been established.  She states that snow shadows can be kept soft by working on damp paper.  (www.debiwatson.com)

Cathy Johnson paints snow full of color.  If it’s tightly packed in a drift, she says it “may look almost blue; if it’s fluffy and freshly fallen, it can appear blue-gray or lavender.  Old snow on city streets is gray with soot; while in the country, snowy roads may become streaked with brown.  You can achieve either of these street effects by painting wet-into-wet with gray or brown, as appropriate, then adding spatter to suggest splashes.  When the sun is shining on snow, you may see the glitter of light on a billion tiny reflective surfaces.  To recreate this look, try combining all three primaries – red, yellow, and blue – in your underwash.  Wet the paper first with clean water, then drop in pure colors such as cadmium yellow pale, [permanent] alizarin crimson and phthalo blue.  Let the colors mix a bit on the paper – I stir them with the tip of my brush, or by tilting the paper.  These colors shouldn’t be too saturated or they’ll look garish – the goal is to create a light-filled look.  While the initial layer is still wet, add some shadow colors.”  Johnson reserves warmer blues (for example, ultramarine, cobalt, and so on) to suggest the shadow shapes on snow.  “Once the first washes have dried, glaze over them with your blue or lavender snow color” to shape and form the snow.  “To further enhance the prismatic effect of snow, you can also spatter on a bit of each of the three primary colors . . . make sure that your primary spatters aren’t too juicy.  This ensures that the paint spatters remain tiny,” whether into a wet wash or onto dry paper.  (www.cathyjohnson.info)

Fire & Ice.jpg

In his article “A Wintry Mood” (Watercolor Artist, February 2018, p. 82), Geoff Kersey has pointed out that “Just because it’s a snow scene doesn’t mean it has to feel bleak and make the  viewer shiver.” When painting snow, Kersey tries to include bright light and warm color.  He has developed several palettes in various color schemes to alter the feel of an image and suggest different moods.  His COLD PALETTE creates wintry grays and darks.  He mixes a cool gray with phthalo blue and just a touch of burnt umber, a dark brown with ultramarine blue and burnt umber, and a dark green from phthalo blue and burnt umber.  The LIMITED PALETTE includes cobalt blue, neutral tint, burnt sienna, and raw sienna to produce a simple, harmonious feeling.  A WARM PALETTE employs the warm glow of raw sienna and cadmium red, grays mixed from cobalt blue and vermillion, and dark greens made with ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and viridian.  Kersey echoes the sky colors throughout his snowscapes to oppose the rich winter darks he finds in trees and hedgerows (and to ensure color harmony).  He also uses the hard and soft shapes in a landscape to create contrast in his many snowy landscape watercolors.  (www.geoffkersey.co.uk)

Snowy Croft.jpg

Don’t be afraid to use color in a winter snow scene, both warm colors and cool colors.  The light and sky conditions will determine the colors with which you choose to paint.  In snowy conditions skies often require deeper tones than usual in order to make the snow appear lighter by contrast.  On clear, sunny days, snow shadows are bluer to echo the blue sky.  Grayer snow and snow shadows reflect an overcast sky.  As you evaluate your snow scene, look for opportunities to add color and exaggerate color if doing so will improve your painting.  Use snow shadows on the ground to describe the shape of the land under the snow.  Rough ground may need shadow shapes that are bumpy and uneven.  Rocks, twigs, and tufts of grass may stick up through the snow.  Reflected light can be everywhere, sometimes creating glitter and sparkles.  Often snow shadows repeat the sky color, just as a reflection in a body of water can reflect sky colors and the surrounding landscape.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Campbell Smith, Ray.  Developing Style in Watercolour (1992).

Kersey, Geoff.  “A Wintry Mood.”  Watercolor Artist (February 2018).

Kersey, Geoff.  Geoff’s Top Tips for Watercolour Artists (2010).

Kersey, Geoff.  Painting Successful Watercolours from Photographs (2015).

Hendershot, Ray.  Texture Techniques for Winnign Watercolors (1999).

MacKenzie, Gordon.  The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Keep Painting! (2017).

MacKenzie, Gordon.  The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes (2006).

Metzger, Phil.  Watercolor Basics: Perspective Secrets (1999).

O’Brien, Robert J.  “Winter Whiteout.”  Watercolor Artist (February 2015).

Pike, John.  John Pike Paints Watercolors (1978).

Pike, John.  John Pike Watercolor (1973).

Ranson, Ron.  Watercolor Painting from Photographs (1998).

Reid, Jack.  Watercolor Basics: Let’s Get Started (1998).

Reid, Jack.  Watercolor Basics: Painting Snow and Water (2000).

Reid, Jack.  “The Snow Scene.”  Watercolor Magic (Winter 2002).

Ryder, Brian.  Painting Watercolor Landscapes with Confidence (2005).

Strickley, Sarah A.  “A Revolution of Snow.”  Watercolor Artist (February 2010) .

Szabo, Zoltan.  Zoltan Szabo, Artist at Work (1979).

Szabo, Zoltan.  Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques (1995).

Watson, Debi.  “It’s Snow Time.”  Watercolor Artist (December 2010).

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Prevent, Correct, And Reframe Your Painting Mistakes!

      

Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts.                                                                                                                          Nikki Giovanni, poet, writer.

                                                                                                      

It is a common misconception that experienced painters don’t struggle or make mistakes. Not true! We all inadvertently make wrong decisions at times when painting and get outcomes we don’t desire or intend. Failing in this way is unavoidable. If recognized early, however, many mistakes can be corrected in watercolor. You can lift colors, blot, scrub, scrape, disguise mistakes, change values by lifting or glazing, reevaluate and change course, or even adjust a composition.

YOU CAN CORRECT MANY MISTAKES.

One of the simplest techniques to correct a mistake involves BLOTTING AND LIFTING wet paint. If while you’re painting you accidentally smudge or paint over an area you intended to keep white, quickly blot up the wet paint with a paper towel or tissue. As long as you have not painted with a staining pigment, the color will lift. (Suggestion: Become aware of which paints on your palette are considered staining. Common staining colors that cannot be easily lifted include Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, some of the Sap Greens, Gamboge, Permanent Rose, Prussian Blue.)

Another technique for altering wet paint is using a THIRSTY BRUSH to remove some color from your painting — e.g., to lighten a wash, create a highlight, or lift out clouds. The painted surface should be damp, with the shine just about to go dull. A ‘thirsty’ brush has been moistened but squeezed nearly dry before the brush is moved over the moist painted surface. After each lifting stroke with a thirsty brush, wipe the brush clean to remove wetness and lifted paint from the brush before continuing to lift.

If your paint has dried, WETTING AND LIFTING can remove areas of dark color. To lift at least some of a staining color, you will need a stiffer brush and stronger scrubbing. Use a very wet brush to wet the area where paint will be lifted.

Work in small areas to loosen and lift paint, before moving and moistening a new spot. SCRUB until the water loosens the dried pigment. Quickly blot to absorb the liquid with a paper towel or tissue, removing the loosened pigment along with the water. Do not let the loosened color remain on the scrubbed surface. If the damaged paper fibers reabsorb the color, you will not be able to lift it. Be sure to have a wet enough brush when using this technique – using just a damp brush may rough up the paper and scrub the paint deeper into the paper. A slight variation to the above scrub-and-blot technique would be WIPING OFF COLOR with a paper towel or tissue.

‘Mountain Stream’ watercolor painting, using scrubbing and lifting.

SCRAPING can help you recover a lost highlight or create sparkle. You can scrape with a variety of tools (for different effects), either before your applied paint dries or after. To add texture to tree trunks, for example, scrape wet paint with a palette knife or hard brush handle. Scraping can form dark marks on wet paint as the paint flows into the scrape. Or, on less wet but still damp paint, scrape in lighter marks as you push paint away from the scraping.

‘Red Canoe’ watercolor painting, using scraping and lifting.

‘Waves’ watercolor painting, using scratching and scraping.

Rocks can be highlighted and textured with a knife or palette knife by scraping and pushing damp paint. An X-acto knife can scrape dried paint to reclaim highlights, generate sparkle on water, or repair unsuccessful dry brush work. Keep in mind that scraping can damage paper, so it should be one of the last adjustments made to your painting. (Sandpaper can also remove pigment and bring back the white of the paper, although it also damages the paper.)

Hazel Soan, in The Essence of Watercolour, maintains that errors in “light-toned early washes are NOT a problem. As soon as darker tones are employed the eye is distracted from the pale tones.” Soan goes on to suggest that sometimes you can reclaim your watercolor by disguising or DISTRACTING from a mistake. Add a dark-toned accent, such as some grasses or reeds, near or over the error “to distract the eye away from the problem.”

OPAQUE colors, if not overdone, can be used to cover some painting mistakes or recreate lost highlights. Edges can be redrawn with an opaque color. Titanium White, full strength, can hide a mistake against white paper, while a matching opaque color can reclaim a colored background.

Too many layers of paint will eventually destroy transparency, so consider GLAZING to preserve transparency and improve color harmony. Tame overly bright colors, make shadows interesting, or even enliven dull dark color by glazing with a TRANSPARENT pigment. When glazing, make sure the surface of the paper is thoroughly dry. To calm bright colors, choose a transparent NON-STAINING pigment and apply it quickly (without scrubbing). To rescue dull, dark colors, use transparent STAINING pigments (such as Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, or Phthalo Green) for glazing. As Jean Dobie explains in Making Color Sing, “turn an error into an asset!”

‘Apple Blossoms’ watercolor painting, using glazing to tame background and create depth.

MISTAKES HAPPEN. HOW YOU REACT AFFECTS THE OUTCOME.

While no one enjoys or aims to make mistakes, the way you react to an unintended outcome makes a difference. Will you respond with upset, embarrassment, and self-criticism, and feel that you’re a failure as a painter? If so, you will lose objectivity and be unable to learn from your mistakes. Instead, try to remind yourself that mistakes can actually be good things (even though it may not initially feel that way)! Making mistakes is a clear sign you’ve moved beyond your “comfort zone” and are challenging your abilities. In other words, this is exactly where you NEED to be so that you can learn and improve your skills. Remember, to improve your skills, give yourself a challenge.

MISTAKES SHOW US WHAT WE NEED TO LEARN.

If making a mistake upsets you, stop painting and take a break. If you don’t know what the painting needs, you should stop. Avoid an emotional response by giving yourself some distance from your painting so you are able to regain some objectivity. A mistake does NOT mean you’re a failure as a painter or a person. When you regain your calm, you’re ready to REFRAME your thinking about your mistake. The best artists are problem solvers. Remember that mistakes are unavoidable, no big deal, and they present us with clear lessons. Looking at your work with fresh eyes, evaluate what happened and think about how best to correct and learn from this mistake. (Look for an upcoming blog post on how you can critique your own work.)  What specifically isn’t working? How can you improve what went wrong? (One or several of the above techniques might be useful.)

REDEFINE ‘MISTAKE’.

Yet another way to look at mistakes is as gifts. What just happened on your paper may not have been what you were planning to have happen, but… it may be something good, if not even better than what you intended. It may be a chance to change the direction of your painting if you let go of a preconceived idea that is not working – it’s okay to be open and change your mind. Perhaps the paint is moving in an interesting way, creating a pleasing effect. Is the ‘mistake’ truly a mistake or instead an opportunity to take the painting in a different, better direction? Letting go and allowing the painting to lead requires trusting in the PROCESS (rather than stubbornly trying to control the paint and force a desired outcome). It’s not easy, yet there are times when you might wish to rethink your initial intention and let the painting begin to ‘paint itself’. Try it! (This option can result in a looser style of painting.)

‘Pitcher and Pears’ watercolor painting, a picture that wanted to ‘paint itself’.

SUMMARY.

Try not to rush to correct all your painting mistakes. It is sometimes best to evaluate your work near the end of the painting process when you can see how one area affects or supports the other sections of a picture. While many mistakes can be corrected or improved, at times it can be best to start a picture over. Try to learn from any blunder. Identify where and how you can improve your work. If you’re not learning from your mistakes, you’ll tend to repeat them. With experience you will become confident about what you can correct as well as know when you probably should begin anew. Continue to enjoy the process of painting, without trying to force the watercolor to always bend to your will. Part of the beauty of the watercolor medium involves its flowing, unpredictable nature and its ability to create beautiful, transparent blended color. Don’t get discouraged – becoming frustrated or giving up could be the worst mistake of all.

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Banish Imposter Syndrome, Self-Doubt, And Perfectionism.

I reach a point in every painting where I begin to doubt my abilities and decisions, however briefly. My painting may not be turning out as well as I’d hoped, one of the techniques I tried wasn’t very effective, or a color that I mixed wasn’t what I wanted. Or I may just find myself in the ‘difficult middle stage’ of a picture, after the initial layers of color but before painting any details. This self-doubt can lead to anxiety and second-guessing. I think almost every artist feels a similar emotion about their art at one time or another. And I believe this is very normal. 

Do you worry about small mistakes or flaws in your work? Do you sometimes attribute your successes to luck or happenstance? Are you sensitive to even constructive criticism? Do you ever feel that people will inevitably discover that you are not as knowledgeable or talented as you pretend? Do you ever downplay your own expertise, even when you are genuinely skilled in an area? This kind of self-doubt, although quite common, has been called imposter syndrome or imposter mindset.

Apples Watercolor Painting.

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone! In fact, scientists suggest that as many as 82% of all people experience the self-doubt and lack of confidence of imposter syndrome at one time or another. 

Perfectionism can play a significant role in Imposter Syndrome. Steven Pressfield discusses perfectionism in his book The War Of Art and describes perfectionism as a type of resistance and fear. Perfectionists fear failure and not being good enough. They may also procrastinate, making it difficult to get started on anything new, or to continue a project when encountering difficulty.

Porch Rocker Watercolor Painting.

Imposter syndrome and resistance can hit unexpectedly, out of nowhere. I can be painting along, having fun, secure in my progress so far, when that self-critical voice suddenly screams at me. “What were you thinking? How could you possibly think you could paint this? Really?” It can be deflating.

I have to remind myself that these doubts are just thoughts in my head. Everyone feels unsure at times, but I’m trying to train myself to step back, evaluate the situation, reassess my painting, and engage in some positive self-talk. “Let me be realistic and try to be objective here,” I tell myself. “It’s time to adjust my  attitude.” 

Beach Cottage In Fog Watercolor Painting.

How exactly can you overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt? I have some suggestions that have worked for me. Try them and see if they help you.

  • REALISTIC GOALS: Set realistic, attainable goals. Step back and try to regain some objectivity about your situation. Stop expecting yourself to be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. Mistakes actually help you learn and grow. They define a problem, and now you can solve it! Think of each mistake as a puzzle to solve, a challenge to improve.
  • SMALL STEPS: Break up overwhelming tasks into small and manageable steps. In a painting, don’t try to paint everything all at once, including all the layers and details. Focus on one task at a time.
  • BE POSITIVE: Focus on the positive. Even if you notice something you don’t like, make a conscious effort to notice all the good work you’ve done. This approach will start to change your critical focus and build a positive new habit. Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at.
  • NO NEGATIVE SELF-TALK: Cultivate self-compassion. Be kind and encouraging to yourself. You’ll enjoy life more and begin to appreciate yourself and your work. Enjoy the process of painting.
  • AVOID COMPARISONS: Avoid comparing yourself to others. You are unique. No one has had the experiences you’ve had, or has your viewpoint, which is as valid as those of others. If you look to comparisons as a way to gauge your successes and the quality of your work, you will always find others more skilled than you (as well as less skilled). Believe that you are progressing at the rate that is right for you. To compare your progress to someone else’s will only increase your insecurities. An environment where you feel safe, comfortable, and accepted rather than ‘lesser than’ is vital for your creativity.
  • FOCUS ON PROCESS: One important way to recover from perfectionism is to begin focusing more on the PROCESS of reaching TOWARD a goal, rather than just focusing on results and the goal itself.
  • ACTION: Self-doubt feeds on inaction, so choose your best option and get something done! Stop overthinking. Stop ruminating, worrying, or second-guessing yourself. The people who push through imposter syndrome have one thing in common: they don’t abandon the situation that they find themselves in — they don’t give up. They turn their fear of failure and embarrassment into a motivational tool to keep moving forward. Your achievements do not define your self-worth. As Fred Rogers might say, “You’re perfect just the way you are.”
  • SEPARATE FEELINGS FROM FACTS: What you’re thinking and feeling about yourself is not necessarily the ‘truth.’ Don’t believe every thought you have. Having a thought over and over does not make it fact. When you FEEL inadequate, it doesn’t mean you ARE inadequate. Never define yourself as a failure, because what you believe will then become reality. Examine your self-doubts. If you can change your thoughts and your internal beliefs, you will break through your feelings of imposter syndrome. What you think and believe creates your results. Let go of the pressure that you’re putting on yourself to be great. Doing your best work will be just right.

In summary, most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions. The trick is doing what you do ANYWAY, despite your insecurity and anxiety. Don’t deny your strengths, or you will remain trapped in imposter syndrome. Give yourself credit for your efforts, and celebrate all the improvements you make.

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LUMINOSITY AND CREATING GLOWING COLOR.

TRANSPARENCY OCCURS BETWEEN PAINT PARTICLES.

Many people say that the way to create a “glow” in watercolor is to paint pale glazes of “luminous,” transparent hues so that the white of the paper underneath passes through the paint particles “like light through a stained glass window.” Apparently, however, light passing THROUGH a layer of watercolors is not the way luminosity actually works! That description is just a myth! 

According to several color scientists, chemists, and Bruce MacEvoy (handprint.com), little light actually passes THROUGH the particles. Instead, transparency happens when light reflects off the paper BETWEEN the particles of watercolor paint.

We know that watercolors don’t form a solid paint layer the way acrylic and oil paints do, as discussed in this post: ‘Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…,’ (9/7/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/09/07/some-watercolor-pigments-lighten-more-than-others-when-they-dry/ . Oil and acrylic paints stay on top of the painting surface and dry in a solid paint layer. 

In contrast, watercolors (made up of various sizes of suspended paint particles ) end up “on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers” (Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com). More of the white paper is therefore revealed as the water evaporates. The most transparent of watercolor paints produce a thinner coating of smaller pigment particles on the paper. These pigments in a smaller particle size seem to hide less of the paper (or other pigment particles) underneath, making the color appear more transparent. Thus, transparency happens BETWEEN these pigment particles and NOT THROUGH them ( see http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html) .

ACHIEVING THE GLOW OF LIGHT.

Although transparency and glow may not work the way we once thought, achieving a glow remains a goal for many artists. We want to paint the light! We wish to highlight brightness, glow, radiance, luminosity. But to create a luminous glow, don’t rely on using lots of ‘bright’ colors that may not work together. Bright colors can be intense but also may be dull and opaque, and they may not set each other off to advantage. For example, yellow is a bright color, but if applied too thickly, even a transparent yellow becomes LESS luminous and will no longer be a light value. 

‘Golden River Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

Instead, although transparency is essential, luminosity comes from choosing colors by their effect on each other; that is, you should choose colors that create a reaction with nearby colors. Remember that paint colors change their apparent brightness, transparency, and hue depending on the context in which they appear. 

To bring about a glow, you will want to create CONTRAST in both VALUE and TEMPERATURE by surrounding a transparent light color with a COMPLEMENTARY dark ( a dark leaning toward the complement of the light color, NOT an unexciting, flat tube black such as Ivory Black, or purchased mixes such as Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint). Colorful darks can therefore enhance the effect of light in a painting. The function of a dark color is NOT JUST to create value contrast, but to help the light-valued color (whether warm or cool, muted or intense) to glow. (For more information on complementary colors, review ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing In Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/ .)

HOW? VALUE CONTRASTS AND COLOR COMPLEMENTS.

What painting methods actually work to create glowing color? First, choose a pure, transparent color, well diluted to a light value. Second, mix your dark surrounding values to be complementary dark colors. If your light value is a pale yellow, you might try to use a version of deep purple or dark purple-gray. 

‘River Flowing Forward’ Watercolor Painting.

ADD COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

To further exaggerate the glow that is forming, you can adjust your dark by taking into account color temperature. That is, establish a warm-cool relationship between your light and dark by remixing your complementary dark, altering proportions of pigments to move the color to be cooler or warmer. If your light valued yellow is WARM, the best complementary dark to set it off would be a COOL bluish-purple dark. Or for a COOL light valued yellow, contrast it with a WARM, reddish-purple dark. Always judge a color in relation to the colors next to it. A blue, for instance, will feel even cooler next to a warm color.

‘Rocky Maine Shoreline Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

TRY MID-VALUE CONTRASTS ALONG WITH COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

At times, a strong dark can overpower your composition. In such a situation, a mid-valued color contrast can also enhance and complement the glow of light values in the painting. Mix the complement of your light color, shifting it into a warm or cool variation, as needed, to create a temperature contrast. But instead of a rich dark, strive for a mid-value mix. If you mute this mid-value mix somewhat by adding a bit of its complement, you will gray the mixture, thus setting off the light-valued color. A cool purple (which you gray slightly with a touch of warm yellow) will cause your warm yellow light to glow even brighter. In the same way, you can gray a warm red-purple with a bit of its cool yellow complement to make a cool yellow light look still brighter.

‘White Primroses’ Watercolor Painting.

OR CREATE AN ILLUSION WITH UNTOUCHED PAPER.

Perhaps you want to leave the untouched white paper as your light value. It’s possible to make this white begin to glow depending on what you choose for a nearby accent. Whatever mid-tone you pick creates a subtle, optical or color illusion as it nudges the white paper into appearing as a complement. There is actually no need to alter the white paper, even though that might be your first tendency. Cool nearby colors will make the unpainted paper seem warm. For example, cool blues create a subtle orange glow, while cool purples move the nearby whites toward a yellowish glow. In this way, you can establish a glowing contrast, instead of merely a simple dark-light contrast.

(Much of the above information on how to create glow through complementary darks and dulled mid-valued colors is presented in  Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons on Color And Design.) 

‘Clouds Over Dales’ Watercolor Painting.

IN SUMMARY.

The mechanism producing “glow” may be different from what people say, but you as a painter don’t need to DO anything differently as a consequence of your new understanding of how that mechanism works. You can create the illusion of glow in a watercolor painting in several ways. 

Remember that paint colors change apparent brightness, transparency, or hue depending on the colors that are nearby. Therefore, you can establish luminosity by building color relationships (through value and temperature) between lights and darks (or mid-values). 

Try to use transparent, single-pigment paints to maintain the impression of light. Opaque paints are thicker and duller, and can become lifeless in mixtures, causing you to lose ‘the light.” Also avoid using lots of bright colors hoping that ‘brightness’ (without contrast) will create luminosity.

Learn to use complementary colors to create color and temperature interactions that produce glow. Your goal when mixing luminous color is to combine unequal proportions of the two paints in a mix, so that the final color is either warm or cool and can be used to complement another in value, as well as color and temperature.   

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Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…

Don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting. I see too many watercolor painters whose paintings could be improved by using stronger mixes of paint in their art. A watercolor painting needs contrast, strong lights and darks, to create impact (unless, of course, you’re painting fog, mist, or similar types of weather).

Make your colors vibrant! (EerieLight Watercolor Painting).

Watercolor paints change their color appearance as they dry. Colors that look to be the right value and color when painted and wet, may shift as they dry, creating a ‘DRYING SHIFT.’ Expect almost all watercolor paints to appear paler, duller, and less bright when they dry. 

DRYING SHIFTS VARY BY PIGMENT.

However, when drying, some pigments change appearance very little whereas others change a great deal. Not only does a watercolor pigment end up looking different from what you expected when you mixed the paint, but EACH PIGMENT changes to a varying degree compared to other pigments. 

Test Your Colors To Overcome Drying shift (Beach Shadows Watercolor Painting).

WHY DO WATERCOLORS LIGHTEN AS THEY DRY?

Oil and acrylic paints look much the same whether wet or dry, and stay on top of the painting surface as they dry, bonding with the paint binder and forming a paint layer. In watercolor painting, however, the combination of paint, water, and binder (whether gum arabic, glycerin, honey or a glucose humectant) behave differently (from oil or acrylic paint) as the water dries. 

According to Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com, when watercolors dry, all of the water evaporates, and the paint vehicle (BINDER) “along with the dissolved surface SIZING of the paper,” are drawn by “capillary action” into the tiny spaces between the paper fibers, where they harden and dry. Paint particles may be a VARIETY OF SIZES and DO NOT uniformly stay on the surface of the paper. Instead, MacEvoy says, “in many watercolor paints, smaller pigment particles tend to be less saturated and lighter valued than the larger particles. These duller, paler and smaller particles also remain in liquid suspension longer than the more intense, darker and heavier particles, which sink first to the paper surface and into the paper crevices” where they are more hidden from light. No solid paint layer seems to be formed. Pigment particles are “strewn on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers,” revealing more of the white paper. Thus, watercolor paints will appear to whiten or fade as they dry. (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html , and http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html .)

CHANGES IN PAPER.

The PAPER SURFACE also changes during this process. (Different brands of paper, weight, fiber content — e.g., cellulose vs. cotton fibers — and paper finish — e.g., hot press, cold press, rough — will each be affected somewhat differently.) But, in all cases, the wet paper fibers soften and expand, becoming thicker and fuzzier, especially with repeated brushing of the paper or ‘fussing’ and fiddling with the applied paint. In general, the less agitation of paint on the paper, the better. Lots of brushing forces a larger number of pigment particles into the scuffed paper crevices which will DULL the color. If you want to achieve bright, clean color in your painting, try to apply your paint in one brushstroke (or in as few as possible) and let it dry. Limit your brush strokes!

Avoid Over-brushing (Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting).

COMPENSATE FOR DRYING SHIFT.

Drying shift is one reason color mixing can be very challenging in watercolor painting. As a watercolor artist, you should be aware of drying shift and know that you must compensate for it by adjusting your paint/water ratio. More specifically, get to know which paints on your palette tend to have a great drying shift and dry lighter or duller. (See http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html for Bruce MacEvoy’s chart of Watercolor Paint Drying Shifts where he lists the pigments he has found to have the greatest shifts. For example, Prussian Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Lamp and Ivory Blacks show some of the largest drying shifts, whereas Cerulean, Hansa Yellow Light, Cadmium Lemon, and Benzamida Yellow have low drying shifts. Keep in mind that drying shifts may vary by brand as well as pigment, since different manufacturing and milling methods will affect the size of paint particles.) 

With some notion of which of your watercolor paints produce greater drying shifts than others, you can compensate for this tendency by mixing those pigments with LESS WATER (decreasing dilution) to create a more vibrant color mix. It is always a good idea initially to test your mixed color on a watercolor paper test sheet prior to painting, let it dry, and check its appearance when dry. With experience, you will become able to judge what the pigment will look like in a painting when dry.

Intense color (Iris Watercolor Painting).

IN SUMMARY.

Color drying shifts in watercolor pigments are highly variable. These shifts depend on several factors:

  • the pigment itself (different pigments behave differently), 
  • brand/manufacturer of paint (various milling methods),  
  • paint vehicle (type of binder), 
  • paint dilution (some paints can be made more vibrant by mixing with less water), 
  • type of paper (brand, paper weight, fiber content, and finish), 
  • and application method (try to limit repeated brushing). 

Compensate for large drying shifts by adjusting water/paint ratios when mixing your paint. Use more pigment (or less water) in your color mixing to intensify a color likely to produce a large drying shift. Feel free to check your mix on a watercolor test sheet to ensure your dried color will be the correct value or the value that you intend. 

So, once again, don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting!

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