Saturday, November 4, 2023

Still Lives in Watercolor (Pushing Past Competence)


10/30/23 watercolor in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

This week’s lessons in Kathleen Moore’s sketchbook watercolor class focused on still lives made with autumn elements. Since much of the weather was not hospitable for sketching on location, I was happy to have things to draw from life in the comfort of my studio.

The first lesson was to find a twig covered with moss and lichen (we did the same lesson during the winter sketchbook course). I spotted plenty of beautiful moss and lichen on my walks, but it was all still attached to living trees. The stuff I found on broken twigs was wimpy at best, but I did the best I could with what I found.

When painting cast shadows, Kathleen recommends avoiding hard edges, especially as the shadow and the object get farther apart, diffusing the shadow. This was the hardest part for me – I tried to soften the edges quickly before they dried, but I still got blooms and blotches, which look unnatural for shadows.

I was thrilled, however, by the subtle, natural hues I was able to mix with my current CMY primary triad (Winsor Newton Phthalo Turquoise, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Pink, WN Lemon Yellow), which looks so saturated and nearly garish straight from the tubes (see below). I also used a bit of Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencil (212) to give texture to the lichen.

The next lesson was to set up an autumn still life to paint from direct observation. We were also to do more memory sketching practice. I was OK with the still life until I got to both the form shadows (especially on the pumpkin) and the cast shadows, all of which I fussed with too much. The second hardest lesson to learn about watercolor is to put it down and then leave it alone. The first hardest lesson is to be OK with that, because every time I put the brush back in, it leaves a mark that I will likely be less OK with.

11-1-23 watercolor in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook

After I finished painting the still life, I took it down and put the elements out of sight. I took a short break, then sketched the individual leaves from memory (I used Museum Aquarelle pencils for efficiency). Compared to last week’s memory practice, these were a piece of cake because I had just finished observing them carefully to paint the still life.

11/1/23 Museum Aquarelle pencils in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook (from memory)

Over the next couple of days, I kept thinking about the still life. It is what I would call “competent,” but I was not happy with it. One of my goals with this class is to get away from the accurately rendered look, which I have become competent with, but it’s not always what I want to do. The 30x30 direct watercolor challenge taught me that the only way I can get away from the rendered, competent look is to skip the underdrawing. Shortly before class yesterday, I tried again, this time directly with watercolor, and I also used the same primary triad that I used with the twig. I like this painting better, and I especially like the cast shadow much better – painted with one wet stroke and left alone – the way watercolor wants to be.

11/3/23 direct watercolor in Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook


  1. Your lichen on the twig came out awesome!!! Your colors were perfect for it and the shadows came out great too. I like your first still life with the squash and leaves, but the second one that you did directly has a better feel to it. Nicely done! Tina, you are turning into a painter!

    1. Thank you, Joan! Ha-ha -- I'm not sure if I'm a painter, but I like to play with paints now. ;-)

  2. Yeah. All of them are fantastic. You’re turning into a painter, as Joan wrote. Everything about this blog, words and images, just hits the sweet spot. Congrats to my up and coming painter! -Roy


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...