As I’m still in the process of becoming acquainted with the basics of watercolors, it’s important to keep things as simple as possible. And, for me, pastels are about as simple as a colored medium can get, as I can layer colors over each other near-endlessly with minimal amounts of mud. Therefore, before beginning the watercolor piece, I did a separate piece using pastels.
My goal with this exercise was to build up form with only three colors plus white without trying to mix anything. This allows me to focus on values, which is at the core of building up form successfully.
For my subject, I chose to paint a shark tooth I had laying around, mostly because I knew the grey color of the tooth wouldn’t influence my decision making and would clearly highlight the values.
The pastel piece was a fun study to create because the bright colors I used made me feel as if I were screen printing a t-shirt.
Once I got all the layers on, a bit of cleaning up led me to the final result. I do regret my paper choice, as I’m not at all a fan of Canson Mi-Teintes for pastel pieces, and I only had access to a dark grey color which detracts from the contemporary effect I was trying to achieve.
Now that I finished the pastel study, I had a good idea of how to go about the watercolor piece. However, this time I knew to go from light to dark rather than from dark to light. And since I was treating this piece as a screen print, I let each layer dry completely before adding the new one.
The colors I limited myself to were ultramarine, yellow ochre, and raw sienna. I wasn’t satisfied with using pure ultramarine, so I made a purply-grey mix of ultramarine and raw sienna to use for my dark value.
I was very pleasantly surprised with how this study turned out. I didn’t quite expect this limited palette to have nearly this much depth, but I suppose that using earth-tone red and yellow along with a potent blue provides a good compromise between muted tones and vibrant hues. It also really supports the idea that less is more when dealing with watercolors.
More importantly, I learned that the white of the paper is such a valuable component in making this piece work. While in other mediums leaving parts of the paper white can come across as jarring and distracting, it appears to be incredibly effective in watercolor pieces.
For my next few watercolor pieces, I’m going to stick with this same palette and see just how far I can take it. Eventually I’ll work my way up to combining wet and dry techniques as I learn what methods they suit themselves to.
Until next time,