Some Watercolor (and Photo) Challenges

Watercolor presents its challenges at times – or maybe it’s this artist. Today the hurdles are conveying a sense of depth in a simple landscape, emphasizing a white subject against bright sunlight, maintaining warm and cool colors, and just trying to stay warm while painting outdoors…

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

As green wetlands turn gold in autumn, they seem ablaze. Egrets stand out here because, as their long legs enable them to rise above the grasses, they contrast in color. For this motif, I first establish a shadow wash on the bird and keep a line of light on its neck and back.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Now I must simultaneously make the bird visible and suggest a sense of space and depth. To Naples yellow and Aureolin at top, I quickly add, dry-on-wet, Quinacridone Gold and some Brown Madder in vertical strokes behind the bird. Paint bleeds across white shapes of illumination (on the neck), but that happens a lot in watercolor and shouldn’t inhibit fast painting. Since the brush has little to no water in it, this same wash appears more spotty at the bottom of the paper where it’s dry.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

The next challenge is to keep the chroma of the grasses bright while melding their different color temperatures (warm and cool, or red and green). Yellow is the unifying color, so I start with that, and push bright green into gold. Because water in the foreground is also planned, I leave patches of white (reflecting unseen sky) among the green stalks.

Of course, a sense of depth in this scene must also still be maintained. Here, grasses appear short and in horizontal patches in the distance, and longer and greener in the foreground.

Perhaps I should’ve left this painting’s background as is at this point because I like the loose brushwork…

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

But here’s the next problem: The dark pockets (in the image above), painted fast on rough paper and while freezing my fingers off in a biting breeze, don’t work well. The reeds’ reflections are uninspiring, too.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

And finally, digital photography takes away from the more yellow-orange glow that actually dominates this painting, as seen in the previous shots and in the original. Though this painting and its final photo disappoint, this particular bird (Great egret, Ardea alba) and its cousins will always make me happy.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Some of my dedicated students on a warmer day…

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

2 thoughts on “Some Watercolor (and Photo) Challenges

  1. Hi Bivenne,I don’t think this disappoints – the background looks like a tapestry.  The background is certainly more interesting than many egret paintings I’ve seen. I love it!Jo Dongweck

    Liked by 1 person

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