How I Painted San Pareil Simplicity

How I Painted San Pareil Simplicity

Title: San Pareil Simplicity
Medium: Watercolour on 100% Rag Cotton
Image Size: 406 mm (16 in) x 304 mm (12 in)

En plein air painting just can’t be compared to studio painting. They are equally beneficial yet uniquely different. The experience of being outdoors taking in the fresh air and watching the scene change moment by moment is exhilarating.
A peaceful seascape such as this is minimalist, yet so full of life. The location is San Pareil on the East Coast of Vancouver Island BC Canada. Like hundreds of other little bays, nooks and crannies that form the coastline, this estuary is prized by all. 

How did I paint this?

I started with a limited palette of Quinacridone Red, French Ultramarine Blue, Viridian and Raw Sienna I mixed up fairly large pools of paint about the consistency of coffee cream. 

Start With the Drawing for Watercolour

The scene is drawn minimally with a 4B or so mechanical graphite pencil. A mechanical pencil serves well since it doesn’t have to be sharpened. Just a simple indication of placement of shapes is all that is needed, keeping in mind that the shapes should link as we flood in the first washes. The paper is 140 lb Arches Rough, an excellent surface for textural marks. The tooth of the paper holds colour and “glows” more which helps when creating a simple minimalist scene such as this:

The First Wash in Watercolour

A pale Raw Sienna wash the consistency of skim milk or less was painted into the sky to warm it up just at the horizon. With the paper tilted I worked the paint down into the distant mountains, middle ground and foreground, linking shapes and working around dry white paper in order to show the brilliant snow, distant buildings, fence lines. etc:

The 2nd Watercolour Wash

The sky area at this point is still wet from the pale Raw Sienna wash which was painted with quick brushwork, deliberately leaving dry unpainted areas for clouds. My goal was to paint “lost and found” or wet and dry edges for the clouds. A pale wash of French Ultramarine Blue the consistency of 2% milk was added to the first Raw Sienna wash. Note the direction of the clouds – these were dramatic wispy and ever-changing cirrus clouds, the main focal point. This is the reason I drew the scene with more sky area and dropped the horizon line lower in the picture plane.

In this case the weather was pleasant enough and the surface was drying fairly quickly so I still had time to work the blue down into the mountain shapes and lower with soft and hard edges. While the paper was drying, the paint in the palette was drying quickly which caused the consistency to become more dense and darker. With the same colours I loaded my brush – a #6 Quill with alternating mixtures of warm and cool darks to create trees. The brush work in the trees is “scumbled” – quick strokes that have feathery edges:

Glazes in Watercolour

Glazes help when evaluating colour, darks and details. It is helpful to see what you’ve painted so far in a value range – what would it look like if you photocopied or edited it in black and white: darks, middle tones, lights. The painting must be completely dry before introducing a new veil of colour or value on top of prior dry paint. When assessing values and the urge to paint details, keep it to a minimum – “less is more”. I added a few glazes in the foreground to warm it up. Warm colours come forward, cool colours recede. You may notice some texture in the foreground. This is from spattering clean water into the paint as it is slightly dry:

The Final Details in Watercolour Painting

To finish this painting I added a few small details and once again tried to keep things minimal. Reflections in the water and birds fluttering by add to movement and mood and often can be invented:

“Art is an aspect of God and there is only one God, but different people see him in different ways. Though He is always the same, He doesn’t always look the same.”

Emily Carr

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