Birdhouse Frog

Yesterday I decided to practice some more with watercolor, particularly focusing on color mixing on the palette and how different pigments can interact with each other. Watercolor paints have so many different types of interactions that, as a beginner to the medium, appear to be almost random and unintuitive. So, rather than trying to achieve the “loose” look coveted by so many watercolor artists, I purposely went very slow with this painting, absorbing all of the information that each different brush stroke provided.

Additionally, I was able to obtain some “real” watercolor paper rather than the cheap Canson paper. I purchased a small block and medium block of Arches 140 lb cold press, and I just cannot believe how much of a difference paper makes! Eventually I’ll try some hot press and rough papers to see what techniques they lend themselves to.

The reference for this painting was a photo I took almost five years ago in my backyard when I was living in Miami. I thought that this would be the perfect reference for this exercise, since since this photo is chock full of bright colors and simple shapes.

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Within the first few minutes of painting I had already learned something new: it’s very easy to lighten an area when it’s halfway dry simply by rubbing it lightly a bit with the brush. I also learned that if you make some marks on the page with the tip of the brush handle the paint will flow to settle in those areas, as shown by the leaf.

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I also encountered my first true difficulty. Since I was working so slowly with a medium that dries so quickly, I couldn’t simply go back to that area and rework it like I would do in an oil painting. This definitely clashed with my style, as I’m very used to building up the entire image evenly over time rather than finishing one piece and moving on to the next. The results of this change in working is evident in the finished painting; the values didn’t always match well with each other and the piece looks a bit cut-and-pasted.

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This painting also gave me a feel for how much colors lighten when they start drying. Several times I had to go back and add another layer of green to the middle leaf because it just would not stay as dark as I wanted it to be. I had almost the opposite problem with blue mixes, as they tended to stay as dark as I put them on the paper.

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Birdhouse Frog,” watercolor on Arches 140 lb cold-press, 7″ x 10″, Daniel A. Alfonso

I’m quite pleased with how this painting turned out, especially since my goal was just to learn, not to obtain a “successful” painting. I spent a good four hours on this painting, which is much longer than I would’ve spent on a similarly-sized piece in any other medium with the exception of graphite and colored pencil. Eventually, as the properties of watercolor become more intuitive to me, I’ll purposely branch out into more expressive styles that will teach me how to work more quickly and loosely.

Also, I want to thank all of those who have generously left me tips in the comments, as critiques and ideas are absolutely crucial to helping me learn efficiently.

Until next time,

-Daniel

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12 comments

  1. In my view, you did create a very “successful” painting because you accomplished your objective of learning from the experience. What better definition can there be of “success”? I do like the colors you’ve used to create this bright little scene.

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  2. My first love was watercolors and although I use acrylics now, I do sometimes dream in watercolors. Love the experimental blow by blow of this painting. Keep having fun with the medium.

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  3. Beautiful, stunning image. I am really in awe. Very generous of you also to show the working method. I have a fond place for frogs – I think they meditate most of the day away. Great painting!

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  4. Hi, Daniel. Thanks so much for the follow! I admire your sense of adventure with colors and pigments in this painting! I tend to stay in my comfort zone of black and white so I love seeing someone who ventures out 🙂

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  5. Hi Daniel, I started to poke around in your blog and realized that I don’t think that I see your posts on the feed, I am following you, I don’t have a clue. Anyway, I wanted to encourage you and I really love the fact that you moved on up to Arches! yes! There is a huge difference between Canson (cheap crap, sorry) to Arches and beyond. I bought some over a year ago thinking that I would like the cheaper variety but boy was I disappointed and I ended up hating Canson (again!). There is nothing like a good watercolor paper. I love how you started out systemically and slow with this painting and you will learn loads by doing so, at least in my opinion. It helps to get a handle on how watercolor behaves before you let it out of the stall and into the great wide open, because boy, the filly can run! lol You mentioned that you are wanting to get loose with it eventually? I prefer looser but I think doing some tight work is a good way to start. 🙂 anyway, I’ll keep my eyes open to make sure I see your posts.

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  6. I was a bit hesitant to try Arches when I learned that they were owned by Canson, but nobody seemed to have anything bad to say about it so I ended up choosing Arches over Fabriano. Yes, my aim is create fluid watercolor compositions, but I know that if I go straight for that look right now I’ll just end up throwing colors at the paper at random and that’s definitely not the best way for me to learn at this point.

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