GUEST ARTIST: “The Dynamic World of Watercolour Painting” by Saswati Chakraborty

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting by Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 1. Lost In Dark Woods. (Photo Reference: Jacobs ATV)

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 2. Title: The Colourful Poppy (Photo Reference Wendy Sinclair)

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?

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 3. Zinnia Detailing with Winsor and Newton Kolinsky Sable Minitaure Brushes (Photo Reference: Morgue File)

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.

My Approach

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!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 4. Title: Wild Flowers of Farmington (Photo Reference-Own Photo)

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.

  1. Planning – It is often essential to create good compositions and plan the color schemes.
  2. Research At Each Stage – This enriches me with the knowledge of the right techniques and tricks to handle difficult stages of my painting.
  3. Execution – The above two stages being conducted appropriately, gives me enough confidence to enjoy the watercolour painting process.

Learning Stages

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Iris Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 5. Title: Sunkissed Irises (Photo Reference: Self)

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
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Figure 6. Title: Pink Plumerias (Photo Reference: Wendy Sinclair)

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Dahlia Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 7. Title: Dahlia Painting (Challenge Entry)(Photo Reference: LiveDan330.com)

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.

Materials Used

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Blooming Holly Hocks Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 8. Title: Blooming Holly Hocks in Watercolours and Watercolour Brush Pens (Photo Refernce: Self)

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.

Watercolour Paper

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting Grape Leaf - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 9. A Botanical Study of Grape Leaf in Arches Hot Pressed Paper (140 lbs)Photo Reference (Self)

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 10. Begonia Painting in Detail. Reference: Self Study

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.

2. Sketching

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 14. Layering and Painting the Darkest Darks and Lightest Lights according to Value Ranges

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.

Watercolors Green Foliage Plants Flowers - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 15. Colour Swatch of Green for Foliage

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 16. The Final Layering of the Painting

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.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 17. Finished Painting after Glazing (Photo Reference: Myoho Dane from Indulgy.com)

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

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Painting - Saswati Chakraborty - Doodlewash

Figure 18. (Photo Reference: Self)

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

  1. Planning the work ahead and doing proper research for the painting.
  2. Making a thumbnail painting and creating your own composition.
  3. Finding the value ranges and making the colour swatches.
  4. Mixing the colours according to the colour wheel.
  5. Paint every day. Analyze it by standing at a distance, which helps to locate the flaws. Correct your mistakes with a fresh eye.
  6. 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!

Saswati Chakraborty Misra
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Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!

40 Comments
  1. Darina Valášková 1 year ago

    Thank you Saswati Chakraborty. It is saying that when the student is ready, the teacher is found. Your exact words I needed to read.

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Hi Darina!! Such lovely words you have said. I second with you!! If you need more help, feel free to contact me through the social links given below!!

      • Darina Valášková 1 year ago

        Thank you. You are very nice. I do not speak English and I use a translator. I hope you understand me.

  2. Indira 1 year ago

    Beautiful watercolor art!

  3. Jean Marmo 1 year ago

    Such wonderful information. Your works are just so beautiful!

  4. smzang 1 year ago

    Each piece is perfectly splendid…breathtaking work!

  5. Sandra Strait 1 year ago

    Your work is amazing! Thank you for the many tips and technique information.

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you dear Sandra!! I liked your featured article and artworks too!! I am glad you liked the write up and artworks!! Greetings💐💐

  6. Kaye Boggs 1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. Your flower renderings are beautiful and your words speak of what we knew all along but have somehow forgotten along the way. I enjoyed hearing them once again & will remember them again.

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you so much Kaye!! Very true… we tend to learn and then we forget…. i am happy to share these with you all… feel free to see more of my techniques in my official pages!!

  7. Susan Walsh Harper 1 year ago

    Saswati, what a lovely article!! You express yourself just as beautifully with words as you do with paint. Congratulations on being a guest artist on Doodlewash. Thanks to Charlie O’Shields for giving us this venue to introduce the world to the magic of watercolor. With much affection, ~ Sue

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you so much Sue!! When I say I have learnt from master artists, then off course you are one amongst them and you are one skilled artist, who inspired me for realistic paintings!! Much happy to know that you like my write up… I myself learnt a lot from your group “Watercolour Forum” and thanks to you for everything!! Cheers!!

    • Author
      Charlie O'Shields 1 year ago

      Aww cool! Thanks, Wendy! I didn’t have the link… just added it to the post! 😉👍🏻

      • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

        Isn’t it great Charlie?? Wendy is a great photographer and she provides wonderful photos for artists like us!!
        Best Regards!!

  8. Nay Aung 1 year ago

    I admired your beautiful detail works.Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge on techniques.Look forward to see more on DW!!!

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you so much for the wonderful words Nay! More coming up on DW!!

  9. Yvonne Reeder 1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your lovely work and expertise. We all appreciate it very much!

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you so much Von!! I feel sharing is the best way by which an artist or a person can grow exponentially!! That’s what I try to do and I am glad my little effort made everybody happy!!
      Cheers!

  10. Jill Gustavis 1 year ago

    Beautiful work! I love the “Lost in Dark Woods” especially.

    • Saswati Chakraborty 1 year ago

      Thank you so much Jill!!

  11. Clare Willcocks 1 year ago

    Very interesting reading and beautiful paintings – thank you for sharing your tips and tricks!

  12. Elizabeth Metz 1 year ago

    WOW, your stuff is amazing! I love all the detail. (I’m kind of one of those “splash it all over and hope for the best” types, so this kind of attention to detail is fascinating to me.)

    LOVE the idea of the swatches of mixes, too. So helpful! <3

  13. Susan Cuss 1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your work. Such detail, and so beautiful.

  14. Sharon Nolfi 1 year ago

    Just reading this post today after reading your tutorial post. The care and time you put into your work really shows in the final paintings.

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you so much Sharon!! Yes each of my paintings are done with lot of time, patience and care!!

  15. Jennifer McLean 1 year ago

    incredibly beautiful work. Your woods painting, the first one, is stunning and makes me feel like I’m hiding in a treehouse.

    • Saswati Misra 1 year ago

      Thank you for the beautiful words… if I can give you this feel, then I am successful as a painter☺️

  16. Teri Casper 1 year ago

    Beautiful art and an inspiring story. Thank you.

  17. Pamela Smith 1 year ago

    Inspiring journey,beautiful work,thank you for sharing…

    • Saswati Chakraborty 2 weeks ago

      Thank you so much Pamela😊

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