Watercolor – Eucalyptus Up Close
Last week we created our under painting for our eucalyptus and at this point you might wonder where I'm going with this but I start out many paintings with an under painting similar to this because I know that by using the transparent qualities of the watercolor, the under painting will show through and have a subtle effect on the final product giving it much more interest.
As you will get tired of hearing me say, it is best to have your reference material close at hand even when you are doing the drippy under painting. By knowing where you have changes in light and color, you can plan your drips accordingly. I looked to see where my shadows were, where the smooth new bark was where the warm old bark was peeling off and where my light was brightest while I was seemly throwing paint at random. It was more like controlled chaos. Another thing I was aware of was to not make this first wash too intense in color, this is a subtle step and your colors should be in the pastel range, if your colors are too dark or intense, you have no where to go with them. You can lift out some color but it is more time consuming and the results not as satisfying if you start out light. You can – and will – add color where you need it to deepen or intensify the color but it should be at your choosing; watercolor is a subtle dance between the artist and the paint not a WWW smack down.
Once my under painting was dry (this is very important) and I got my drawing on my paper, I looked for my shadows or basically the darker and lighter areas of my reference photo. I noticed that most of that knot and all of the right side (as you are looking at it) had shadow as well as the left upper and lower corners plus some subtle shadows just behind the main knot, this was my first wash area.
I mixed a shadow color using ultra marine Blue, Purple and burnt Sienna (I will just call these blue, purple and sienna from this point and will specify if I use a different blue or raw sienna), this is my primary mix for shadows, I may mix other colors into it but this is what I start out with, the more water I add, the lighter it will become, the more paint (pigment) I use with little water the darker it will become so that it will look almost black. For this step, I wanted it to be a thin wash so I added a lot of water.
Use the biggest brush you can to cover an area quickly, you don't want to spend a lot of time going over and area or you run the risk of stirring up the paint underneath and loosing it as well as the chance you'll mix mud. Get it covered and leave it alone. I was using my 1" angle brush to apply this wash so I could get it on and be done with it. Even if you are working on a smaller size paper, it is best to use a larger brush. Save your tiny brushes for the detail, this step is big areas and you need to get them covered.
While I was waiting for my shadowed areas to dry, I was able to add some color into the bright areas and into some of the peeling bark areas. First, I added some color into the top bright area behind the knot. To do this I used a technique called "dry brush". What this means is I had color on my brush with little or no water. First, I rinsed my brush to clean it then I dried it completely using my paper towel. Next, I picked up some sienna and worked it into my brush on my palette but before I went to my paper, I used my towel and squeezed my brush right at the base to one, get out any more water I may have picked up in my paint and two to help spread the bristles of my brush, this will help to create texture.
When I applied this color, I looked at my reference and saw that the texture of the bark ran more or less up and down so I lightly dragged my brush in this area to create subtle grain for the bark. This takes a very light touch, if you press too hard, you will get more paint off your brush and it will fill in the spaces you need, if your brush is too wet, you will also fill in these spaces, so you need to be dry of brush and light of touch.
With practice, you can work a long time on a watercolor just by avoiding the wet areas until they dry by working in the dry areas, which is what I did and by the time I was finished adding color into the already dried areas, the wash was dry enough I could work into it and not worry about lifting or creating blooms (wet paint moving into a drying area that creates a"bloom"). Using a mix of orange and sienna I added color to the peeling bark areas. Some of this I used the end of my brush in a choppy stroke to create texture, sometimes I used water to soften or blur this color, I was looking at my reference to see where I could put this color and also the direction of the bark's grain so my strokes would follow accordingly. This takes practice which is why this is such a good teaching subject, there is a lot of repetition in this tree but you do need to pay attention. At this point I let it dry completely. I may not be done adding color but I have a good start on it.
Once it was dry, I mixed more of my shadow color but this time I used more paint than water so my mix looked very dark. One note: if your color looks to brown or warm, add more blue to it, if it seems too transparent you need more paint less water.
With this mix, I looked for my dark shadows, I loaded my brush so most of my paint was on the tip (this can be done with flats and round brushes as well) and starting in the darkest part of a shadow or crack laid down my color. If I needed it to lighten as I went, I just picked up a little water on my brush and lightened the edge to blend it out. With this dark color I could start to define the different pieces of the bark or the cracks and I tried to work around and through my painting so I didn't over work one area and neglect another.
We should finish up this painting next week, there is some more shadows and cracks and you should have a liner brush or a round brush to do detail. You might want to start looking for something you want to paint after we are done with this, I will be doing short demos and helping you with your own projects.