Portraying Three-Dimensionality

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

After creating a carefully rendered contour drawing, I begin almost all my watercolor paintings with loose, drippy washes, letting colors bleed. This image shows some defined edges where I want a colorful shape to contrast a white one. Also, since green will dominate background shapes, I did not let pink bleed out too far. (Pink is a red, which neutralizes green.)

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

The first shadows are added next: blue, which appeared too dark while wet, completely covers the yellow anthers at left. But by using plenty of a transparent pigment with lots of water, I knew yellow would peek through once dry. I use the words “first shadows” because developing three-dimensionality usually requires painting in many transparent layers to convey the slightest nuances – in the mid-value range – of shadow and light.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Here is now another shadow layer of blue on the white flower; note that this time it’s painted behind certain yellow anthers, some of which are also darker. Clean blue shadows on white objects help their illuminated parts appear brighter.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

And yet another layer of blue and some pink…

The first shadowed layer of the pink flower is really one saturated wash of pigment, which varies in temperature from cool to warm as it encircles the center. Note that the lit petal parts remain untouched by saturated color.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Now to the background! Usually I integrate the subject and background early on with color harmony. But this time I want the flower subjects to greatly contrast; therefore the dominant green foliage color is applied right up to the subject shapes as (largely) one great mass. (The same was later done on the right.) This sizable, plain mass is at its palest and warmest for now.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

The background is getting darker… This kind of (background value) contrast brings life to almost any subject, and whether neutral or brightly colored. Suggesting shadowed shapes, which are secondary shapes that support the subject, takes both planning and intuition. Here they are the leaves and stems, most of whose defined dark (negative space) shapes are planned, but I also randomly add more blues and richer darks here and there and dry-on-wet. This sort of combination of defined plus nebulous shapes helps minimize background distractions so that supporting shapes like these don’t take attention away from what’s important – in this case, the flowers.

Three Peonies, Watercolor, 22×30″ ©Bivenne Staiger 2020

I’ll probably tweak this just a bit more, but it’s essentially complete. This is one of a series of peony paintings I’ll be posting in the weeks ahead – and as time allows 😉

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