Monday, December 17, 2007

Art Lesson: Painting Detailed Watercolors

People ask me how do I paint such small detail in my watercolors. The images on my website, although accurate, do not represent all the detail of the originals.

If painting small detail in watercolor, here are a few things to do to be successful.

When I know I am going to be painting in great detail I always paint on a good quality hot press watercolor paper. Hot press papers have a smooth surface, whereas cold press papers have a textured surface. When painting details, the texture of the paper can get in the way. The hot press process uses hot paper pulp and then, as it cools into a sheet form, it shrinks and becomes smooth. Arches and Fabriano are my favorite brands of hot press paper for watercolor painting.

To paint small, you need small brushes, or at least a small point on your brush. The smallest brush I use is smaller than "000". But the brush I use most often is a "4" that had been worn down over the years to a very fine point. When I need a lot of control to make the detail, I use a small brush. When the detail can be freer, like hairs or some leaf veins, I use the bigger brush with the fine point.

Visual Aids
The number one necessity for painting details is to be able to see them. If you don't see it you can't paint it! This will mean having the object in front of you in a manner that allows you to investigate it. If you can do this with your eyes alone, great. I still can, but I also see the day for reading glasses is not far off. Sometimes I will use a magnifying glass to see the object better and also to look at my painting while I am making detailed strokes. Using a camera to capture detail and shape is helpful, too. Using an extreme closeup photograph of an object "freezes" the details for you to see.

Using the right tools is necessary for creating detail, but using certain techniques when painting is also improtant.
- Sketching: When needing to create small detail it is helpful to draw the image accurately first. This allows you to know exactly where the detail is, what it will look like and how to portray it in two-dimensions. With watercolor, if you start by painting a detail in the wrong place, even a sixteenth of an inch, your detail can be ruined. Because of the transparent quality of watercolor, most everything you paint will show through in the end. If your detailed edge needs to be crisp and you have started it in the wrong place, it will not be as crisp as starting in the right place. So, get in the habit of making studies and sketches to know exactly where your details are going.
- Layering: Layering is a tricky technique for beginners to understand. One can create detail by creating different aspects of the detail in different layers of paint. In this cabbage detail, I first painted the values of the leaf, then I painted the color in the veins, then I painted the bluish color on the surface of the leaves and in the shadows, and finally I added more veins on the topmost layer. It is hard at first to understand how to paint different aspects of detail using different layers, but if you can break it down into two or three easy steps it is easier than trying to do it all in one layer. With the layering and transparency of watercolor it is often more visually pleasing to create details with layers.

What's beautiful in your life?