Experimenting with Watercolour, Part 2

watercolour painting

In the original post of “Experimenting with Watercolour” I was showing my first attempt at this painting of a gateway at Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia.  In the second study I have painted the picture without a pink sky and I have tried to focus more on just the stone heads.  I wanted to express more of the feelings of serenity and awe that I felt looking up at these massive stone heads in the forest.

These pictures were a great practice exercise and will be left at that.

















Experimenting With Watercolour

watercolour painting

A couple of years ago I was visiting the Unesco World  Heritage site of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  It is an amazing place to explore.  I was hoping to paint some watercolours of this place as soon as I got back.  I did some sketches while I was there but soon realized that it was going to be a challenge to paint.

This week I have decided to give it a shot and see what I come up with.  Painting moss covered, crumbling ruins requires some thought and a little risk taking.  Getting bogged down in all the detail would be very easy to do.  I have taken a more impressionistic approach to focus more on the mystery of this place.

I am not finished exploring the possibilities of this picture and so I will paint it over and post the results soon.

The Yin and Yang of Painting Portraits

Portrait Sketches


Most of the time I am painting landscapes from Canada and my travels.  The last couple of  weeks I have been focusing on watercolour portrait sketches as a way to practice accuracy.  I find doing these sketch book studies a lot of fun and at the same time challenging.  I think for the style of art that I do that drawing is foundational and always will be.  I believe it is really important to develop the spatial drawing skills that just comes from practice and close observation.

The Yin and Yang of painting portraits is for me a way of describing the relationship between accuracy to form and detail and at the same time keeping the pictures loose and allowing for the organic nature of watercolour.  I have heard it said of painting portraits that  “the soul is in the details”.  With that in mind I usually put more detail into the face and specifically the eyes.  While I am working carefully on the details of the face I am at the same time putting in loose washes in other parts of the picture.  It is a challenge to be loose and accurate at the same time. At the end of the day I am making a piece of art and so I am hoping to convey a little of the spirit of the person.

A Fresh Approach To My Watercolour Painting

Travel Sketching

When I am painting outdoors and time is limited, I will often sketch and paint in a different style than I would if I was in my studio.  The style that I use in my sketch books is often pen and ink with watercolour washes or pencil drawings with watercolour washes.  Its all fun either way and to approach a piece of paper as if it doesn’t matter about the outcome of the art work is liberating.

I think that the field sketches done while I am traveling are a big part of what I do and so I recently created a new gallery on my web site called “Travel Sketches” under the Painting Galleries section.  Not all of these sketches were created on location in some distant land but were recreated in the studio in this “lighter style”.  I have included a few examples from a trip to Nepal where my wife and I were hiking the Annapurna Circuit.  The picture at the top of this post is an example of one my studio paintings.

Travel Sketching

Travel Sketching

Travel sketching for me is a great opportunity to motivate and improve as an artist, as well as creating a visual diary of the places I go.

Two years ago I was fortunate in being able to travel for eight months to South America, Africa and Asia with my wife Lyn.  We visited fourteen countries on this trip and I sketched and painted as much as possible along the way.  At one point in Africa I no longer had a camera to back up my sketches and it was at this point that I really started to sketch in earnest as I had no other way to record visually what I was seeing.
This was an important moment of understanding for me in that it made me realize that I should approach all of my sketching moving forward as if I don’t have a camera and this is the only opportunity I would ever get to record what I was seeing.  This idea is a gentle reminder to me to do my very best while sketching on location and not to think that I can complete the picture later in the comfort of my studio.

When I look at the sketches I did on location on this trip I am transported back in my mind to that experience.  For me these drawings and paintings are very personal, in the same way a written diary can be.

Today I would like to show you some sketches from India and Nepal.  These two countries are enough to keep me busy producing watercolour paintings for a long time.

Painting with limited colours.

Plein-Air Painting, watercolour painting


Yesterday I painted a cemetery scene in watercolour in North Vancouver.BC. I was painting this picture in response to an on-line challenge by James Gurney, who is a great plein aire artist, author and illustrator. He is hosting a challenge to paint a cemetery in a restricted palette.  See his blog http://www.gurneyjourney.blogspot.com and look for Graveyard Challenge, October in the index.

Painting with limited colours forces you to work a little harder to mix your colours and the result is a more harmonious painting.  If you normally have 15 or so colours available to paint with it is easy to end up with a painting that lacks harmony when you start adding colours all over the place.

It is also more difficult to get contrast and deep colours when you are only using three colours to mix. The colours I used for this painting were cobalt blue, cadmium red and aureolin yellow.  I found this a great exercise for painting and will practise this more often. I also appreciate painting something I would not normally consider.  On line painting challenges are a great way to get out of your comfort zone.  Thanks for that James!

Finding a good subject to paint.

Plein-Air Painting

Sometimes I find that the best way to find a good subject to paint in the woods is to walk off the trail a few hundred feet and just stop and sit down.  Trying to find the perfect scene seldom works for me.  There is always something interesting to paint if I take the time to slow down and really look at what is around me in the forest.

On a recent hike to Mt. Seymour near Deep Cove, BC. I was looking for a stream to paint that would be cascading down through the woods. Normally this would be easy enough to find as there are dozens of streams in this area, but it has been a dry summer and so I wasn’t finding  what I was looking for. Ok; time for plan “B”.

Plan “B” in this situation for me is to just walk off the trail, sit down and start painting.  It sounds ridiculous but it works.  Finding subject matter to paint can be really difficult if you over think it. The water colour study I did that day I also made into a studio version.  I do this just to explore my visual ideas with out time restraints and mosquitos.  The painting below is the field study.

IMG_4002 (2)

Painting at Goldie Lake, Mount Seymour

Plein-Air Painting

The weather has been great for getting out on location and so I have been hiking and painting in several locations on Mt. Seymour.  The trails can be a little rough and so it’s helpful to take your time.  On my last two day trips to Mt. Seymour I managed to get temporarily lost one day and the next trip I sprained my ankle on the way home.  The trails here definitely demand respect.

The trail to Goldie Lake from the upper parking lot is short and relatively easy and made for a great day.  The lake is a little low on water but still beautiful.   The watercolour painting that I started here I finished at home in my studio.Goldie Lake, Mnt. Seymour

Painting on location in North Vancouver, BC

Plein-Air Painting

Looking North from Dog MountainMystery Lake, Mnt. SeymourIMG_3928 (2)Lynn Creek StudyFor the last couple of months I have been painting on location on the north shore of Vancouver, BC.  I enjoy getting out of my studio and capturing first impressions of the streams, trees, and mountains.

Some of these plein aire sketches were used to create studio paintings but I find that for me, painting outdoors is a great way to learn and improvise. Time and weather force you to keep the paintings simple. Most of the time I work outdoors using the easel that’s in the photograph of Lynn Creek.

I have included a few more examples of recent plein aire paintings.Stream Study, Mnt. Fromme

Lynn Creek Photo.

It’s Only Paint and Paper

watercolour painting

With the weather starting to improve, I have been eager to get outside and paint on location. The last couple of weeks I have been sketching and painting in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver.  It’s still cold but I have managed to paint a few nice creek studies. I find with the cold it is easier to finish these painting studies in my studio where I can control the drying process.

Sometimes I find that my paintings come together without any fuss but the three paintings I did were all painted twice and one three times.  At the end of the day it is just paint and paper and I feel this approach will help me to improve by not being so invested in the outcome.  I am trying to focus on direct painting as opposed to glazing. By painting the right colour and value with one layer of paint I am more likely to keep the glow from the white paper shining through, which to me is the most attractive quality of watercolour.