Back to watercolour basics…

After last week’s somewhat disappointing watercolour efforts, I was casting around in a rather directionless fashion when I came across the YouTube channel of watercolour artist Nitin Singh. I was already familiar with his work from following him on Instagram but had no idea about his many YouTube videos and tutorials.

I subscribed to his channel on the spot and was particularly taken with one particular exercise/demonstration. I think it appealed to me because of it’s back to basics nature. I suppose there’s something in the premise that if you can make an image work in one colour, you can certainly make it work in many colours. I don’t know why, perhaps because of it’s immediacy and simple effectiveness, but I must have watched this two or three times before feeling compelled to have a go it myself.

Aside from the obvious skill, I really enjoyed watching how Nitin (I hope he’ll forgive my first name informality!) handled his brush. It’s always held high up the handle, and often very upright, much like I’ve seen many calligraphers hold their brushes. I have tried a few Chinese brushes but I’ve rarely got on with them. Seeing him paint so deftly using his Chinese brush did remind me of some Da Vinci series 5535 brushes I bought a while back that I have been using on and off but hadn’t mentioned on the blog.

As is so often the case, they were one of my EBay indulgencies/bargains. An indulgence because I probably don’t need them but a bargain because, well, they were an absolutely brilliant bargain!

It appears that they come in only three sizes, 16, 20 and 24 – so all quite large! They’re made of a mix of natural and synthetic hair but are longer than most brushes and, reputedly, have a firmer and more resilient tip than other similar brushes. I’ve mainly been using the size 16 and thought it would be a good exercise to limit myself to this brush.

For the quarter sheet studies below I only used the size 16 brush and, for the pigment, some neutral tint.

Each of these only took about 15-20 minutes to complete and I really enjoyed painting them. Neither are masterpieces but nevertheless, these quick simple exercises brought back a joie de vivre to my painting that I feared may have gone for a walkabout!

Long term followers of this blog may recall me mentioning an artist by the name of Ian Potts. His work is very different to what I’m usually drawn to but I love the saturated colours and graphic quality of his paintings and I’ve often marvelled at his technique, which I’ve never quite been able to figure out!

It seems to consist of some amazing planning, the building up of transparent layers of wash and the best and most effective use of masking fluid or some other form of resist that I’ve ever seen!

My Ian Potts Pinterest Board (scroll through to see more images)

I’m still not sure what led me to embark on an Ian Potts painting and I’ve long since given up trying to reason with myself on such matters!

I also rarely use masking fluid. When I have, I’ve usually used Winsor and Newton masking fluid. On this occasion, however, the first make that I found was by Vallejo. First off, it’s blue, so easy to see where you’ve applied it. Even more importantly though is how it behaves. It seems ‘thinner’ and much more fluid than the Winsor and Newton. I actually quite enjoyed working with this and was even able to get some quite expressive brush strokes with it!

Vallejo and Winsor and Newton masking fluids

Here’s a quick gallery of how I got on (you can see on the Pinterest board the image that I took for my inspiration):

Once I had the initial sketch and the masking fluid applied, there was a considerable amount of planning to be done. What order to approach the painting in, what colours to use, when should the masking fluid be removed etc.

Once I’d started, however, everything rolled along rather nicely. I really enjoyed mixing up such a variety of greens, from those barely-there yellows and greens to really dark juicy mixes. I also really enjoyed playing around with different brushstrokes to create variety in the foliage and tree forms. At this point, I wasn’t trying to strictly copy the original, only to capture the feel of it, but in my own manner.

I really enjoyed painting this, am pretty pleased with how it turned out and it’s a bonus that I feel as if I learnt a great deal in the process!

A watercolour painting after Ian Potts, 'Sun touches trees with the first-fired heat of the day' by watercolour artist John Haywood
After Ian Potts, ‘Sun touches trees with the first-fired heat of the day’

Thoughts on Back to watercolour basics…

17 thoughts on “Back to watercolour basics…”

  1. Pingback: Same bar, similar view, different, watercolour painting

  2. Nice work, John. Sparkling. I don’t know Nitin but ought to have a look since I, too, exclusively use calligraphy brushes. In my case it’s because they’re cheap and I had a few from time spent trying to learn calligraphy when I lived in Korea – but mainly because they’re cheap and cheerful. I also use quite a lot of masking fluid. I have a little masking fluid in an egg-cup next to an egg-cup of concentrated washing up liquid in water and dip the brush into both alternately. This both protects the brush and dilutes the fluid so that it flows better and doesn’t sit proud on the paper – although it can dilute the effect of the fluid, too. I’ve had the same problems with the full-strength thick stuff. Oh, and of course I’m a purist and wouldn’t be seen dead with white paint anywhere near my kit! This Ian Potts chap seems interesting. Nice chunky pictures and yours has the same feel. I’ll have to follow them both up. Thanks for the leads.

    1. Nice tips on the masking fluid – I’ll try to have a little egg cup of washing up liquid nearby next time. If you haven’t tried the Vajello make before I’d definitely recommend giving it a try – I’m finding quite a revelation! I may have to get some Chinese brushes tips for you as I really like the idea of them, but don’t feel I’ve found the right ones with the right bristles so far (and I love the idea that you can get them cheaply!)

  3. I used masking fluid a bit but it was tedious and I didn’t always get the effect I wanted. I’ve been using 3M delicate blue painter’s tape (like from the home improvement store) and cutting it to shape and have really liked the results.

    Thanks for sharing that link to the YouTube. I’m now subscribed. I’ll check it out later.

    Have you tried the DaVinci Ethergraf brush? It’s a medium to large quill with a metal tip you can use for sketching. I love it so much I bought two extra to stow away for when they will inevitably discontinue it. It’s great for Urban sketching as
    the marks are dark enough to see but light enough so you don’t have to do any corrections and the brush can do both washes and some finer work. Allows me to carry just one brush instead of several, plus pencil and eraser.

    1. Thanks so much for this Mary. I have seen the DaVinci Ethergraf but haven’t tried one. Does the hardness of the metal tip damage the surface of the paper when you press down with it? Oh – if you fancy giving masking fluid another go, I really would recommend this blue Vajello brand a try. Thanks Mary

  4. It is comforting to hear you struggle with perfecting a technique….any technique! Your descriptions and processes, and your wonderful “confessions” on what went right/wrong, do-overs, into the rubbish bin…puts a pause on my own frustrations. I’m figuring I have a few more years to “get this right” or…..die trying. Again, many thanks. Raye

    1. Haha – thanks so much for this Raye! I do fear that we’re probably all going to ‘die trying’! Especially when it comes to trying to master watercolour painting! So pleased if my experiences some comfort (and hopefully some encouragement too!) thanks so much Raye

  5. Margery Griffith

    Nice thoughts! I will look up these people. I like the idea of doing a monochrome sketch, it should help me with values as I sometimes get lost seeing them in color.I hate using masking fluid! I always have problems with it and have tried several different brands.I have started using white as alast resort. I thnk the”purists’are extremists just making work for themseves!To each his own!

    1. Hi Margery and thanks for this. I should also do a lot more tonal studies than I do for exactly the same reason! I also usually dislike using masking fluid but I don’t know how I’d have tackled this approach to painting without it – and I have to say that of all the brands I’ve used to date, the Vajello masking fluid is the best I’ve tried yet! I do also use a bit of ‘pure’ white watercolour or gouache even if I need to put in a highlight here or there, but I try to only do this very sparingly – but then I’m not what you might call an extreme purist!

  6. Really enjoyed your blog, thanks. I’ve also been watching Nitin including his live tutorials on YouTube. Fascinating artist! As you say his brushwork is very calligraphic and gives immediacy to his work.
    Thanks again for your blog it’s so helpful.

    1. I haven’t sampled Nitin’s live tutorials but think his channel is a really rich resource (and I find his voice really calm, friendly and soothing too) . Thanks so much too for you kind words about the blog, I really appreciate it and it means a great deal to me to hear that you find it helpful!

  7. I really like these quick paintings using mono tones and neutral tones. Also appreciate the explanation of how you painted the trunks in the last painting.. I struggle with masking fluid. Do you ever use white paint in any of your paintings? You have tremendous light in all of them.

    1. Thanks Sarah, really pleased you liked the monochrome studies – I really should do more of them just to sense check my paintings. I see lots of other people do them and they often look better than my finished colour paintings! As for using white, no, not really. I’ll sometimes use the odd touch for a highlight (the sun catching the top of a head or a shoulder etc) but aside from that I try to use the white of the paper. Great to hear from you that the sense of light comes through in them, thank you!

    1. Hi Jo and thanks so much for your kind comments – I’m delighted at the thought that this may have inspired you to pick up your brushes again!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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