Never miss an opportunity! Watercolour painters must be tenacious by character. The challenges of the medium and the multitude of things to remember when painting can test even the most experienced of painters. The process always starts with the choice of subject, even at the point when inspiration strikes the painter’s mindset will start to analyse and devise the best way of getting that moment onto paper.
The town of Amalfi, Italy balances precariously in a tumble of houses, stairways, and passages, clinging to the cliff edge bordering the Italian Mediterranean. Picturesque and bathed in warm summer light there are so many subjects to choose from. The best choice is to try to take as much information as possible home with you. Take photos from every angle, and pause to try quick on the spot sketches. If you have the time and inclination, record impressions and colour ways with a portable painting set – just as my first inspiration J.M.W. Turner did on his travels. Plein air sketches can fix those first impressions in your mind for later studio work.
I decided to focus on this cast iron streetlamp which is typical of the wall furniture in Amalfi. Part of the attraction to me was the crumbling texture of the wall which had wonderful dry warmth and a pink glow. The four structural elements, lamp, wall, cast shadow, and wires, needed to be painted in a way which knitted the whole together. Sometimes it’s too easy to get distracted by one feature of a subject, this can lead to a disconnected result. Always keep the whole scene in mind, even when working on individual elements.
This demonstration is in pure watercolour. We will work from light to dark and avoid using white or black paint. There is no white greater than the white of the paper, a little careful planning to preserve whites, one of your greatest resources, will pay dividends down the line.
Bockingford 200lb (425GM) NOT surface paper stretched onto plywood board
B pencil, A3 Copy paper
Schmincke Horadam artists watercolours (Raw Sienna, Rose madder, Cerulean blue, Cobalt blue, Alizarin Crimson)
SAA Blue masking fluid and steel nibbed pen
SAA synthetic wash brush, Rigger, small detail brush, Rosemary & Co. Hogs hair brush. Escoda Synthetic number 10.
STAGE 1 – Drawing for accuracy
Spend time rehearsing the drawing on cheap copy paper. Use a ruler and flexi curve to get strong confident lines and practice the cast shadow placement. Drawing time is never wasted time. You are practicing 2 elements, the lines which will provide the scaffolding for your painting, and the tonal definitions which you will aim for in the painting. With the pure watercolour technique you do not need to get to the darkest tones first time. You can build multiple layers stepping down through the tonal register.
When you have an accurate drawing of the subject on copy paper transfer it to your watercolour paper, only use lines which are necessary. To transfer you can either use a sheet of artists carbon paper, or the old-fashioned way is to cross hatch in pencil on to the reverse of your copy paper, place this onto your watercolour paper, and trace the lines down.
STAGE 2 – Preserve your whites
Use a steel nibbed pen to apply masking fluid in straight lines around the edge of the lamp, and any other high lite you want to preserve. You can also use an old paintbrush handle sharpened to a point to apply the fluid. Spatter a few random drops of fluid onto the old wall. It’s always a good idea to preserve more whites than you think you will need. Unwanted areas can be blended away later. Wait for masking fluid to dry.
STAGE 3 – First big wash
Mix 2 thin washes (consistency of milk) one of Rose madder, and the other Raw sienna. Tilt your board away from you at an angle of 30%. Wet the whole of the paper with clean water.
Starting closest to you alternate strokes of rose madder and raw sienna covering the whole of the paper. Rock the board slightly. Allow to dry completely.
When dry, repeat this process, gently apply the second wash with care being taken not to disturb the under painting. Allow to dry.
STAGE 4 – Lamp
Wet lamp area with clean water. When almost dry, drop in a mix of rose madder and raw sienna. Allow this to blend naturally. Wait for this to dry then mix Cerulean blue and Rose madder to give a lavender blend. Apply first shadow areas in lamp glass with this colour.
STAGE 5 – Wall shadows and texture
Work on shadow areas of the wall. Using your madder and raw sienna mix, apply to the wall with the board tilted. While this wash is still wet, spatter in some spots of Cobalt blue in the darkest areas of the wall. Rock the board to encourage blending and granulation. Let this dry flat and repeat 3 times until sufficient tonal depth has been attained in shadows. Notice how the areas of pink wall left with only 2 washes now start to glow in the sunlight.
STAGE 6 – Lamp bracket
Mix cobalt and alizarin crimson to get a dark lavender colour. With a rigger or detail brush start to define the details of the lamp bracket and the lamp casing. Let this dry and repeat until you are happy with the dark values. When dry, apply more shadow areas with cerulean and madder into the lamp glass. Wait to dry completely.
STAGE 7 – Softening Edges
Remove all masking fluid.
After masking has been removed, review the painting. You may not need all the reserved whites so these can be gently blended into surrounding areas with clean water.
Some of the edges in the wall and lamp glass need to have soft transitions into the surrounding tones. With a barely damp hogs hair brush, carefully manipulate the edge to be softened until the effect has been achieved. Leave to dry and repeat as necessary.
Stage 8 – Final painting ‘Amalfi Lamp’
Work on the cast shadow areas using a mix of rose madder and raw sienna. Several washes might be needed, and edges are a mix of hard and soft. Hard towards the light source, fading to softness furthest from the lamp. Tidy up any details that may have become lost, softening some of the shadow edges in the bracket areas with cobalt blue to give a lost and found feel. Our centre of attention is the lamp, but it is the components that make the whole painting, each supporting and unifying the scene and providing us with a lasting impression of a summer’s day in beautiful Amalfi.Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in