In today’s painting of a river kingfisher I purposefully chose to eliminate much of detail that I saw in my reference photos. I let the colors mingle on the paper and used salt while the paint was still wet on the head to suggest feathers. The splattered background was added to break up the page and add another layer of depth without having to draw in details. I used negative painting to suggest the lighter back feathers. All of these techniques help me to break out of my tendency to over fiddle when it comes to watercolor.
I think this turned out rather well. I like the mix of hard and soft edges, they contribute to composition by creating a change in value which helps give the bird volume without me having to work as hard. I like the personality of this bird, it is like he is intently watching the river for signs of a tasty fish treat.
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After months of drawing and painting on white paper I thought it was time to break out of the routine and work on black paper. And, what better way to celebrate this change than to paint a Coelogyne mooreana, a beautiful white orchid that grows in the mountains of Vietnam and is appropriately called “The Queen” of its genus.
If you have not worked on dark colored paper there are a few things to keep in mind. The most important one is that you are emphasizing the highlights. For example where the light hit the petals I used heavier pressure on my white pencil to create the highlights and lighter pressure in the shadowed areas. Think of it as working in opposites. For highlights on white paper you let more of the paper show and add more color to the shadows. With black (or dark) paper you let more of the paper color show in the shadows and add more colored pencil to the lighter areas. If this seems confusing, take a piece of dark paper and a light pencil (white or cream) and draw a circle. Now color the circle so that it transforms into a sphere. Remember, add more pencil to the areas in direct light to create the lighter values and less in the darker areas to create darker values.
Another point to consider is that dark paper shows everything – stray pencil shavings, eraser bits, and smudges seem to multiply exponentially so be sure to keep a scrap piece of paper under your drawing hand and use a soft brush to remove any stray bits. Most dark paper is also good for pastels so it has some texture (even the smooth side of pastel paper is textured) so you will want to burnish your finished work to push the pigment into the paper tooth to create a more even surface. Personally, I like it if some of the texture shows through so I don’t burnish until the surface is polished, I stop before most of the paper tooth has been filled in.
Working on dark paper can produce elegant results when combined with colored pencils. Give it a try and share a link to your work in the comments section below.
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I was flipping through my copy of The Watercolor Flower Painter’s A to Z book the other day and was inspired by a still life that included a glass vase of lilies. This is my interpretation of a section of that scene using Derwent watercolor pencils.