Hello friends, I am Saswati Chakraborty, currently living in Detroit, Michigan. I was born in a Bengali family in Kolkata, India and grew up in an environment where education and art are of paramount importance. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to see more of my watercolour painting and art tutorials at the links found below.
Background and Inspiration
From my childhood, I always felt an irresistible attraction towards brushes and, with time, I realized my love of watercolour painting. I mainly work in pure watercolours. I focus primarily on photorealistic, detailed, nature paintings.
In my childhood days, I was introduced to the world of colors in terms of school projects where I had opportunity to paint with pastel colors and learn a few basics about primary and secondary colors.
In high school, I had explored sketching, lino, acrylics and, of course, watercolour painting. However, for my career, I followed the traditional path of education and pursued a Masters in Microbiology and Business Administration. The desire of chasing my dream to become an artist somehow took a back seat, and I got lost in academics and my career. It took a few more years for me to fully dedicate myself to following my destiny.
When I started painting after 15 years, I found that the basic process is still the same. However, the means of painting and medium have expanded a lot. For the first year, I struggled a lot to find my genre, hopping from one subject to another, not being able to find my own style. Eventually, I started focusing on the process and learning afresh.
Alwin Toffler rightly remarked; “To educate yourself you have to learn, unlearn, and relearn”.
Why Watercolour Painting?
Watercolour is the most simple and spontaneous medium to work with. I found it is a versatile and magical medium. There are many disheartening myths regarding watercolour painting and its challenges. However, once mastered with proper knowledge, techniques, planning and research, combined with patience, it can produce surprising results!
Why Photorealistic Paintings?
In photorealistic paintings, the artist strives to paint the intricate details observed in a photograph in his paintings. He also tries to give the light and shadow effects exactly as shown in the photo. I love taking up challenges and paint intricate subjects like macro details of a flower or the detailed foliage in a landscape. I have seen excellent photorealistic paintings in watercolours, which highly inspired me to focus on the same.
Talent is God-gifted, but it’s the perseverance that makes one stand out. Talent, aided with relevant knowledge, creative thinking and a systematic approach – that’s all it takes to create magic. It’s not so difficult after all, as long as you have hunger to learn and improve. When it is accompanied with a knack for perfection, anybody can create a masterpiece!
Over the years, I learnt, one needs to have a right plan to bring the image in mind onto a canvas. Generally, I follow a three-phase approach for my projects.
- Planning – It is often essential to create good compositions and plan the color schemes.
- Research At Each Stage – This enriches me with the knowledge of the right techniques and tricks to handle difficult stages of my painting.
- Execution – The above two stages being conducted appropriately, gives me enough confidence to enjoy the watercolour painting process.
I am self-taught and I am constantly learning new methods of improvement. To make photorealistic paintings, one needs to have the right knowledge of light and shadow, colour theories, basic knowledge of sketching, and techniques to produce the detailing on paper or canvas. I discovered the huge realm of You Tube online instructional videos and demonstrations.
Gradually, I learnt new processes, brush strokes, and was more attracted to realistic paintings with detailing. I will be happy to share with you a few significant factors, which helped me to increase my knowledge base and improve my watercolour painting style.
Watercolor Painting Tips
- Understanding of Color Theories and their Properties
- Use of Good Art Supplies (For e.g. Light-Fast Pigments, Good Brushes, professional quality watercolours)
- Use of Good Watercolour Paper (Professional Grade)
- Finding the right subject or Genre for painting
- Using the right photo reference (if painting from a reference photo)
- Knowledge of techniques like Glazing, Wet on Wet, Wet on Dry, Lifting.
- Concept of Light and Shadow
- Open to feedback or criticisms
At First, I was shy in sharing my art as I thought it was amateurish. Then I realized that in order to progress further, feedback (positive or negative) is mandatory. The feedback essentially helped me to develop my skills and to produce professional quality paintings.
The final breakthrough came when I joined social media groups and actively started taking part in the monthly art challenges. I was not sure whether I was prepared for it, but I started planning for them right from the beginning. They gave me the momentum and confidence, which I needed at that moment. After this, I did not have to look back and started my own official page on Facebook. I am grateful to the master artists, who endowed me with the skills and knowledge of watercolour painting techniques and for whom, today, I am capable of offering my own tutorials and demos.
I love to experiment with materials but my favorite professional brand of pigments are Daniel Smith Professional Watercolours, Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours and Kokuyu Camlin Watercolours. I tend to use a limited palette technique.
My palette ranges from warm to cool shades with a few earth colors, which I use very rarely (mostly for landscapes). I love to derive my colors and mix my colors mostly on paper rather than on a palette.
I prefer St. Cuthbert’s Mill (Cold Pressed/Not) 140lbs mold-free papers when I am painting some photo-realistic works, which involve multiple washes and use of masking fluid. For Botanical works, I prefer Arches (Hot Pressed) 140 lbs papers. I also love Fabriano Artistico (Rough) 140lbs paper for landscapes.
Brushes & Palettes
I love to continuously experiment with new watercolour brushes. I mostly do my Botanical works with pure kolinsky sable brushes for their flexibility and water holding capacity. For large washes, I love the hake brush and squirrel mop brush. I also use the Black Silver brushes or Grumbacher semi-synthetic brushes for practice washes.
I use a ceramic palette with a large mixing well, and also love the Winsor & Newton travel size half–pan set which are good for a few botanical works. I’m a huge fan of masking fluid and masking tapes. As I do photorealistic paintings, I apply these in quantitative amounts to my paintings. I use a 0.5 mechanical pencil for my initial sketch in most of my works, and a kneaded putty rubber eraser, which helps to remove the extra graphite marks efficiently.
My Watercolour Painting Techniques
People often complain that their “Painting look Amateurish”! The right knowledge and the right technique can transform a painting from an ordinary one to an extraordinary one.
As I often demonstrate in my tutorials, I follow a few basic, simple techniques: (As shown through the steps of a Sunflower Painting)
1. Stretching of Paper
I always stretch my paper prior to painting, when I am working with 140lbs papers, and where the painting involves multiple washes and layering.
I often draw from reference photos, where I take my reference image from groups like Photos for Artists on Facebook, or Paint my Photos, or my own Photos. If I am taking reference from photos of other artists, I never forget to give due attributions. I make a light sketch in the main watercolour paper initially
3. Finding Value Ranges
I often find it very helpful to study the value ranges (value sketch) of the elements in my painting. This helps me to decide the darkest darks and the lightest lights and decide the light and shadow sources properly.
4. Using the Colour Wheel and Shadows
This helps me to decide the shades for the shadows and the complementary colors. This is particularly helpful in cases, where I am making up a composition. I try to compare the values of each shade to get the reference color range for each subject, thus choosing my colors for them. I use a rough strip of paper where I make swatches and test my colors before I finally paint with them.
5. Painting in Layers (Wet on Wet Washes) and , Dry Brushing, and Stippling
I paint in layers and allow each layer to dry properly before painting the next layer. This is essential for wet on wet techniques. For botanical works, I tend to use the dry brushing technique a lot with stippling and hatching too.
6. Lifting and Glazing
I do not use white and black colour in my paintings and tend to derive my black colors, if required. For whites or highlights, I prefer saving the whites of the paper and for that, I use masking fluid for my highlights. I also use tissue papers for lifting out certain areas as needed. Sometimes in order to give a smooth feel, I do glazing at the final stage after the initial layers has completely dried out.
In this Sunflower watercolour painting, I used very basic colors from Daniel Smith professional watercolours. I used the Primatek set and the Basic Set colors where my greens have been mostly derived by mixing blues and yellows. I like to use transparent and light fast pigments and avoid fugitive colors like Alizarin Crimson. In this example, I did not use black color but for the dark center, I mixed French Ultramarine blue with Raw Umber mixed with dash of neutral tint to get the dark tone. To see more about my watercolour painting process, follow me on my official Facebook page.
My Final Words
“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away. “ – David Viscott
Life is fun, when we do things that we are good at. To create good art, patience is the most important factor. The next most significant contributors are perseverance, dedication, and sincerity. As explained above, if properly planned, no painting is a difficult task.
6 Steps Towards A Great Watercolour Painting
- Planning the work ahead and doing proper research for the painting.
- Making a thumbnail painting and creating your own composition.
- Finding the value ranges and making the colour swatches.
- Mixing the colours according to the colour wheel.
- Paint every day. Analyze it by standing at a distance, which helps to locate the flaws. Correct your mistakes with a fresh eye.
- Complete the painting by adding the final touches.
Six years ago, I never imagined that I would reach this stage finally. However, I had the passion of creativity and reaching out to people through my work. Maybe that has pushed me to pursue my career in my favorite subject. I would like to say that if you have a dream or passion, live it, because you have just one life and life is short!!
In the end, I would like to thank Charlie O’Shields, who is kind enough to give me the opportunity to share my works and my processes with all of you out there!! I would also like to thank the photographers, especially Wendy Sinclair, for providing such beautiful reference images for my paintings.
Cheers! Happy Painting!