Our usual level of looking is in front of us. Generally we look ahead. When you start to draw outside, you will find that you will be looking down, on to the ground, and up, into the sky.Both the ground and the sky are important to an artist. They are part of the world he is looking at. It is important for him to look at them.
The ground is fairly static, though it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the change of tone or color on the ground as it recedes from us. It is a good thing to study the ground and find out what changes do take place.
The sky is another matter. It is always changing, full of life, full of color and movement. But it alters so quickly that it can be difficult to grasp. As with drawing figures, it is better just to look carefully at the sky and then paint it quickly from memory. It isn’t necessary to know the names of the different cloud formations to be able to paint skies successfully. It is better to look at clouds, enjoying their colors and forms, noting the changes and the way the sun affects their contours and shapes. And it is also good to switch your eyes quickly from the ground up to the sky and see how they balance one to the other.
The ground is firm. It should look firm and solid in your drawings, unlike the sky which should look light and spacious.
LAND AND WATER
The land is fairly static. The only changes that occur are caused by the change of light which are easily seen. They move slowly and regularly. This is not so with water. Water can be fast or still, rippling or gently undulating. Water is fascinating to watch and paint. Everybody at some time will want to paint it. If the water is very still, you will be able to see the reflections clearly. The water will act like a mirror and, except for a darkening of tone, will repeat more or less, upside down, what is around it. When the water is moving it is not so easy. The best way to tackle water is to study small sections of it, using your memory to put down what you saw. Then refer back to the water again until you have built up some sort of image in your mind. Then paint it completely from memory.
Certain rhythms will occur time and time again. Certain formations will repeat themselves. The light will affect the waves in regular patterns. And it is in observing these regularities that you will be able to capture the fleeting image of water.
Colored inks can be bought at any artists’ supplier and they have the dual quality of being used with a pen or a brush.
When used with a brush and diluted with distilled water they behave almost exactly like watercolor except that they are far more brilliant in hue. Used with white ink they have all the sparkle of oil, especially if you glaze, using transparent washes of ink over solid white underpainting, as you do when painting with oil. They are easily transported and make a good addition to your outdoor drawing kit.
A mixture of yellow and blue will make an olive green. The red and blue will make a form of purple or violet. Should you particularly want a good purple or violet I would suggest the addition of a purple lake or alizarin crimson. The alizarin will make a good purple with the monastral blue.
You won’t have too much difficulty in mixing watercolors on the palette. They readily fuse with the water. The snag comes when you apply them to the paper with washes.
HOW TO APPLY A WASH
Mix up some blue with plenty of water. Take your large brush for this. Then, on a piece of stretched paper, slightly dampened, put a broad brushstroke across it and observe what happens. Underneath do the same with some red, only this time, after it has started spreading, try to curtail the spread with a clean dry brush. Keep your board tilted while doing this, watch the color spread and find its own level.
You won’t be able to control the behaviour of watercolor very much, consequently it is better to know what the colors do when you apply them and so allow for their caprices. And watercolor is very capricious. It won’t let you overpaint very much. Try doing so over those first washes when they are dry, by placing further washes in the same way. The more you overpaint, the duller the colors become.
Next try gradating a wash by tilting the board after you have placed a full brush of color at the top of your paper, letting it slowly spread downwards, then, by taking a clean, dry brush, try gradating the wash. It is not easy to do so.
Watercolor easily becomes streaky and patchy. To get over this nuisance, J. M. W. Turner, the great English painter, who lived during the last century, used to dip his paintings into barrels of clean water to wash them out a bit. Then, when they were nearly dry, he would start on them again. He is reported as saying that the best brush in watercolor painting was the tap. He had a point there.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a vast collection of pure watercolor paintings by Constable, Cox, De Wint, etc. who all painted in the pure, transparent way. If you like pure watercolor you will be able to see all the best examples of the way in which different people have used this medium here.