My Process for Watercolor Painting

Invariably, when I say I am an artist, I am asked what medium I work in. "Watercolor" often elicits comments of, "Oh, watercolor is hard." I don't find it difficult, so I thought I would share my process:

1. Take an intriguing photo. This one is of the Pope Leighey House in Alexandria, VA. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is an example of Usonian architecture.

2. Convert the photo into a line drawing. "Back in the day" I used to photocopy it over and over lighter and darker until I got the result I wanted. Now, I use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Each photo is different, but typically, I adjust the lighting to increase middle contrast, convert to black and white (adjusting each color to my liking), then apply a filter (Find Edges is my favorite).

3. I like to paint on very heavy, very rough watercolor paper that does not have to be stretched. I use a soft lead to measure the border and tape it off with masking tape or painter's tape. Then, I project the image onto the paper. I do not try to acurately render the image, but prefer to draw interesting shapes based on the image.

4. My favorite part! Start painting. I start with a wet brush and wet the whole shape that I want to fill in. Then, I pick up the color with the brush and feed it into the wet shape. I do not use any masking fluids or frisket.

5. As the image becomes more complete, I try to use each color to draw the eye across and around within the painting. Each shape is next to a contrasting color or a white space. If colors next to each other are similar, then I want them to read as one mass.

6. Once I "think" the painting is finished, I remove the tape and view the painting from across the room. Especially if the tape is blue or green, it may look completely different. I often need to add a few more dark areas to strengthen the composition. Done!

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