Three-step Watercolor Process

I would like to take some time to explain the process I use to create my watercolor paintings.  I use what I call the 3-step process. It is simple, easy to understand and yields pretty consistent results.

The steps are:

1. Save the whites and paint everything else on the paper with an under-painting of a mid-tone value (left image)

2. Add mid-dark values to everything except the white space and areas that will remain mid-tones in the final painting. (right image)

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3. Add the final dark values to only small areas that will be the darkest darks. (left image)

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This results in paintings that have an abundance of light because I have saved the whites at the very beginning.  The under-painting is done in a mid-value color that captures the lightest value colors and ensures that they remain a part of the painting. And finally, by putting in the darks in two steps, I keep the number of washes to three at the most.  This helps to keep the painting fresh and not overworked- basically it eliminates the dreaded “mud” that so many watercolor students complain about!

This process does require that you understand the value process and create a value sketch to use as a  road map. In order to proceed, you need to know where the whites are, what the mid-tones are going to be and where the darks will be placed. By creating a value study, this all becomes clear.

The photos show the progression from the first wash to the last. My initial under-painting went in as a #3 value, followed by the mid-darks at value #5 and the final darks at value #7.  When I paint the sketch in color, I use the same process. The initial under-painting wash was a light yellow-orange at value #3, followed by the appropriate colors in values #5 and #7.

In future posts I will be talking about the concept of value and different ways of doing value studies and of course, will talk about how to avoid mud!

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