Working in watercolour from a photo reference (with unexpected outcomes)


I decided to try a couple of things for my painting of this Fig leaf.

First, I had wanted to work on something off one of my own references. -You know the feeling of being stuck in trying other peoples techniques, and never really doing something that is uniquely your own? yeah – I wanted to break away from that.

Secondly, I have been reading ‘Drawing on the right side of the Brain’, where the author Betty Edwards, has exercises where you draw things from observation, but with the subject upside down, to take away and distract from the abstact constructs we have of familiar objects and shapes, like faces and eyes, to enable us to really just draw what we see. Not what we think we should see.

Thirdly, I wanted to do a detailed study of something. I have been doing a lot of fast loose sketches recently, and wanted to see how different a slower pace would have on the outcome.




So, heres what I learnt.

First, working from my own reference is a great idea. I had to only rely on what I could see, and what I already new. The focus was not on learning something new, it was on using the skills I had already.

Secondly, having a leaf right side up, or up side down. Makes no difference what so ever! I didn’t even think of this when I started. There are no recognisable shapes to influence the left side of the brain, that want to follow rules and put things in boxes. The right side brain can play. I feel really silly for not having figured this out until I started painting.

Thirdly, working slowly in detail was great. And, the finished painting looks nothing like I had imagined it would. I did a pencil outline of a square on my page, and devided it into 9 squares. The photo was on my iPhone, and when I opened the image, and edit it, a 3×3 square appears as an overlay to help you crop the image. I would have this overlay ‘on’ and visible as I was sketching to get the skapes sketched in pencil as accurately as I could. I then layered washes of green, adding yellow for the lighter areas, and blue for the darker. I found it really hard to manage the different shades, and wasn’t really able to get washes that were only slightly darker or lighter, I think the contrasts are too big. This is partly because I was working quite small, the painting is only 11cm x 11cm.

On the photograph the background is really dark, and a great contrast to the green of the leaves. I mixed a dark neutral, and thought is would be a great contrast to the green, but it really isnt. The blue areas of the bachground provide a nice contrast, but the brown areas don’t. I quite like how the colours have seperated back out, and you can see the reds and a bit of yellow. This happened because I didnt have a nice puddle of neutral mixed up, I just added random colours that I thought would make ‘mud’ to the wet page

All in all I am happy with this sketch. And, it turned out nothing like I had expected 🙂


Leave a Reply