Saturday, June 06, 2015

Painting light to dark or dark to light?

Most watercolourists paint from light to dark. Most instructors, books and videos teach us to start with the lightest colors and tones, and build our way up to the darkest. I find that the traditional method of applying watercolor with light washes and building with darker layers of paint certainly has its benefits.  However, this approach has a few disadvantages:
  • Some of the darks often become muddy and lose their naturalness through the layering process;
  • It’s difficult to have a point of reference (light vs dark) when everything is light, consequently you may lose some of the areas you might have wanted to keep lighter. You may not have enough different values;
  • It's sometimes difficult to see that the darkest areas could be darker. 
You might want to experiment with putting down dark colors early on in the process of painting as it takes care of the above challenges. Often this leads to paintings that are rich and have brilliant lights. 

Probably fewer artists paint completely dark to light.  Take a look at this video from Jake Winkle as he demonstrates his dark to light technique:
What’s your preference?

For the most part I paint light to dark, however I do like to insert a few darks early on in the process. It helps me anchor some large shapes and in some cases it creates early linkages within the painting. For some landscapes, I like to block in certain shapes, such as darker tree trunks early on in the painting process to help establish a relationship with the values that come after.  Applying darks early also helps me in visualizing my painting more fully. As I’ve experimented with some paintings that are a bit more complicated, such as a branch of apple blossoms (many petals), painting a first coat of darker greens on the leaves helps me see through the multitude of petals, as all the shapes start looking like petals.
Tell me about your experience.
Today's artist find is Wayne Mueller:
WAtercolour by Wayne Mueller
Have  a great weekend,

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