Planning a Watercolor Painting

“I don’t bother, I just copy what somebody else painted and people call me a good artist.”  This is what I hear from my students all the time.

Whether you are going to paint in abstract, realistic or in another style, a plan creating a blueprint is essential.
Good artists from all over the world, Chinese, Russian,  and Japanese, yes, everyone starts with a blueprint (plan).

What do you do? Create a plan of action – no.

Skip this idea altogether, most do. I hear this “well I copy other artist’s work, so I don’t need one.”

Would a home builder need a plan?  You know the answer.

I know it’s a pain, but you do need a plan. Put it this way, 95 percent of professional artists make a plan, 95 percent of “copy” artists don’t. We just copy some professionals work.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely nothing wrong for students to copy works of the masters when you begin to paint. But just keep two thoughts in mind, copyright laws, and don’t do it most of your painting years.

So let’s start (painlessly) in organizing a plan. You don’t need to spend a lot of time  – 10 to 30 minutes might work. A small 3- by 4-inch value sketch is a minimum.

First quickly decide, does a vertical, square or horizontal format suit the idea that you might have in mind. Basic rules for a home

Basic rules for a home:  The builder might place the kitchen close to dining area. It is similar to painting.  Place the “impact area” (center of interest) in a strategic position on the paper. Where? THIS IS IMPORTANT.

Divide the picture into thirds, vertically and horizontally, where they cross.  You have four choices.  Choose only one. That’s the center of interest. The center of interest – the spot that the eye (brain) goes to first when looking at a painting. But Jim how do I show the “center of interest” to the best advantage? Emphasize.

This is where you need your brightest colors, the highest contrast, the sharpest edges, and the most detail. Total area should be about 1/16th of the total area of the painting (plus or minus).

TIME OUT, RE-CAP.

You make a thumbnail sketch, showing the shapes, where darks and lights go. Decide where the impact area goes. Decide on the color scheme (more about this later).

LAY THE FOUNDATION

“Values” (lights and darks), are the foundation of a painting (period – not color).

Like the rooms in your house, the “shapes” must be linked together. The builder creates a flow pattern, linking an area with a hallway to the next area. You do the same, linking the light and dark areas together for rhythm, balance and movement.

NOW DO THIS.

Simplify your painting idea into a few major shapes that will form the overall design – big large joining shapes. Don’t use little “non-joining” shapes scattered all over the painting. Now, we have the plan and foundation in place.

PUT UP THE FRAMEWORK FOR THE HOUSE (PAINTING).

Once your values are “planned,”  you are ready to construct the framework, – the color plan.

Ask yourself, “What color or colors set the stage for the mood of the subject?” Those should dominate the painting.

This formula works for me: (1) mostly, (2) some, and a (3) bit. Also, I have seen it expressed as Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.

The color distribution should roughly follow these proportions.
(1) “Mostly” – the colors should share the same characteristics.
(2) “Some” should differ from the “mostly” main color.
(3)The “bit” should be completely different from “mostly” and “some.”

Perhaps the “mostly,” “some”  inand “bits,” are most obvious in color; but, remember there is M, S & B in values, temperature, and intensity.

EXAMPLES FOR “M,” “S,” AND “B”

Mostly Dark Colors
Some Middle Tones
Bit-Light

Mostly Blue
Some Yellow
Red

Mostly Warm Colors
Some Cool Colors
Neutral

Please note that you can interchange the order or arrangement of the examples above i.e., “mostly” – middle tones, “some” dark, and “bit” light.

WHY DOES THIS IDEA WORK?

There are two ideas at the heart of this strategy.

  1. It makes sure that all color properties in your painting are not all the same., such as all greens everywhere (I know you have seen this) will be boring. Painting with all similar values will look bad; try it. Paint a landscape with some green in the trees and the same green in background and foreground. What a mess. Also, full of intensity colors would be overwhelming (bet you have seen those).
  2. Contrast which when carefully applied can be the key to a compelling visual image. The “bit” is especially important. Bit is a perfect choice of the impact area (C of I).

RAISE THE WALLS

Use a large brush to keep it simple. Start with a “broom” and finish with a “needle” Don’t get hung up on the details yet. In other words, don’t put the wallpaper on a half-built wall. Paint large shapes first, then and only then, paint the details.

WALLS UP

Only now can you decorate your structurally sound painting to your heart’s content, even with a small brush. It can be left impressionistic or developed to photo realism. You will find that a good painting does not require a genius. All it takes is a good blueprint.

A HOUSE WITHOUT A PLAN?

A PAINTING WITHOUT A PLAN? – GOES NO WHERE.