Planning a Watercolor With Confidence – Part 1


This street scene which includes a popular coffee spot “Esmeralda” in Hayama Japan is a great little study that we can review and learn from. Planning is everything when it comes to painting in watercolor and the basic discipline of developing a preliminary value study just can’t be emphasized enough. It is admittedly tedious to slow down and study the values that we observe: what’s darkest? what’s brightest? what’s intermediate and can more or less be joined in to one shape?

The value study is valuable! Notice that the original photograph is overcast, shot for reference. I passed by this location quite a few times, noting the lighting at certain times of the day. I was really after bright sunlight and cast shadows, so working at returning to a location pays off. So again, the photograph is for reference. But now the artist in me gets to play with the values, simplifying yet dramatizing. Notice how the eye is drawn to the contrasts, the darkest darks and lightest lights. If we can get those values working for us, color is secondary. Color, by the way, is the most “emotional” design element, but it still needs to be conveyed with the correct values.

Note next that the drawing on this half-sheet of watercolor paper is in some ways quite detailed when it comes to the architecture and people however this is a place to exercise restraint. If the drawing is too highly detailed it is so easy to get locked in to painting everything drawn. Hard to let go of those beautiful shapes and lines! So it’s best to make a mental note before the actual painting process – they are there only for reference.
Note also that more detail was given for the figures. They require the most thought and planning. Poor figures are the sad downfall of paintings. I find it a real challenge to not paint them over-accurately, yet they need to be well-proportioned and describing “gesture” – what are they doing? That goes for the lighting as well – what is dynamic about the lighting? That is what I’m after, and I don’t want to lose the main reason I felt drawn to paint something. Light and life!
You are most welcome to use this image if you want to work along with me. Watch for Part 2 as we begin to lay in the washes and develop this painting.

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