2011 Archive


I have a hard time painting city scenes, any suggestions?

The thing to avoid when painting city or street scenes is painting individual colors for each building, and... every window painted too perfectly. Many painters will put down a loose colorful wash for a group of barn buildings, but when it comes time to paint city buildings, they tighten up and paint parts without much color variety.

A few suggestions when painting city and street scenes:

  • Start with a loose, colorful wash.
  • Value change for close and far buildings.
  • Only suggest windows and doors (don't paint a perfect rectangle or square).
  • Apply diagonal cast shadows across the buildings to break up the repetitive rectangle walls.
  • Dress it up with trees, balconies, flowers on window sills, awnings, open doors, etc.; to again break up the sterile boring look of walls and windows.


I heard you don't paint your skies first, why?

You are right, and this goes against the most common suggestion that teachers give. I paint the sky last for the following reasons:

  • Unless it is a sky painting, I want to start with the more important (landscape) parts.
  • I use the sky to unify the painting.
  • I choose the color of the sky to help exaggerate the focal point.
  • I paint the sky last so it will overlap the most distant objects to mute their hard edge and show depth.

If I painted the sky first, it would cause me to adjust any and all colors to harmonize with it. I want the reverse. If I painted the sky first, I also might cover too much of the white space; i.e. I would want to leave some white (paper or canvas) showing on the sunlit side of a tree; and I would want the sky color to overlap some of the shadow side of the tree. It may be a little more work to ad the sky last, but I never made a decision on how to paint based on what was easiest.


Is it important to leave white in watercolor paintings?

It was a common practice in early years of watercolor. There was even a name for it: "vignette". Now a days it is not as prevalent but... I always recommend... it is easier to leave a lot of white and later there are four great things you can do with it.

  • Fill it in with the appropriate color.
  • Leave it alone, as it can give the painting a clean, fresh, "crisp look" to the painting.
  • Put a light glaze of permanent yellow-lemon to the white space and it will give the look of sunlight highlighting to that area or object.
  • Put a light glaze of blue over the white areas and it will give a feeling of the clean, cool, temperature of shadow.

So my answer is... It's a personal choice, and don't do the same thing, the same way, all the time. Now you have options.


How do I best show depth in my paintings?

There are four key ways to show depth in your paintings:

  • A strong value change between the objects in the front, and the objects in the back. i.e., the layer that is close in dark, and the layer in the back is light (or vice versa).
  • Warm colors makes objects seem closer and cool colors makes objects look farther away.
  • Exaggerate the difference in size between the objects in front vs. the objects in the back.
  • Hard edges make objects look closer and softer edges make objects look distant.

I rely on value change as my primary way to show depth. In smaller paintings I keep to two layers (two values). In bigger paintings no more than three layers. I avoid having mid tone occupy too much of the painting surface. Don't let the photo be your guide, it will show lights and darks in front; and lights and darks in the back. A small value study before painting will be your best solution.


Why do I have trouble with darks?

Most people have trouble getting good, rich, and clean, darks, because of one or more of the following reasons:

  • Fresh paint was not put out
  • The selection of color for dark was wrong, i.e:
    • Do not use black or payne's gray
    • Do not use a cheap brand of paint because they are dull, dirty, and colorless.
  • Try and get your dark with one mixture and not a build-up of layers. (It will be more colorful this way.)
  • Don't mix warm and cool colors. When making darks stay with one or the other.
  • Avoid complimentary colors mixed together when making darks.

The base color for my dark is BLUE INDANTHRINE by SENNELIER.

I use the sENNELIER brand of paint; because theirs have a higher level of pigment in them (no fillers or sediment). they  use honey  and no ox gall !


How do I keep my colors clean?

Clean, fresh, bright color is a hallmark of my work. The secret to achieve this is the following:

  • Always put out fresh paint daily. Somebody once told me they were told, "Put out enough paint as if you owned an art supply store."
  • Have a tall bucket of clean water and clean out your brush thoroughly and often, between color changes.
  • Don't rely on old color lying in the mixing are of your palette to be "good enough". Always put "new" color in your brush when making a color change.
  • Apply the color to the dry white paper area in your painting, then overlap it to the previously painted spot.
  • Don't pre-wet the paper and paint on it. This will only dull the color and lighten the value.