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This week I started a new beginning watercolor class.  We talked about our supplies and how to use them. When we started to paint, we practiced wet-in wet applications of pigment:

  We learned that our colors would look different if we mixed them on the palette than if we applied them to the wet surface of the paper. Palette mixing rendered a flat color and mixing colors on the paper allowed for the pigments to mix with the help of the water and often appeared vibrant. We learned how to encourage the creation of cauliflowers by dropping in extra water as the wash began to dry.

We practiced drybrushing by using very little water and more of a creamy consistency of pigment :

  We angled our brushes and dragged them across the paper. We commented how this would be a nice technique to use for barn siding, fencing and any area where we may need to add texture.

We practiced painting wet on dry:

    We decided this would be best used to create detail areas in our paintings.

In order to be able to concentrate on these skills, for a week, they were asked to paint a monochromatic painting using one color, only, and build their watercolor from light to dark.


Monochromatic Studies


  1. As always, Leslie, your discussion of technique is interesting and informative. So much to learn and so little time! I enjoyed your monochromatic studies very much and especially the subjects. Thanks for sharing. Kathleen

    • Thank-you, Kathleen. I know the feeling of little time. I often think on all I would like to do and other things get in the way. I am just glad I have the time to paint! 🙂

  2. I wish I could do your class Leslie. It sounds wonderful. Have you ever thought about creating an online version?

    • Thank-you, Kirsty. I hope what I do share helps some people working on getting started or just dabbling in watercolor. I have seen some really good tutorials online that are much better than what I am doing. I wouldn’t even know how to do an online version. My skills on the computer are so “beginner”! Speaking of creating….what are you up to???? 🙂 The suspense is killing me!

  3. Interesting I should try that exercise myself. Those students are lucky to have you as there teacher. Great looking monochromatic studies by the way 🙂 Its like everything you do is real art.

    • Hi new neighbor!! Thank-you for this. 🙂 Try one, when you get settled in, Alonso. Choose a dark color like phthalo blue, sepia, alizarin crimson so you can start really light and get a real good dark.

  4. Of course you’ll know my favourite image here, won’t you? The bird!!

    • Ha! That bird is from a painting I posted previously, Val. It’s here: I think I posted it before I started visiting your blog. Thank-you for the visit and the comment. Of course I knew because you are a wonderful friend to birds!

        • Val Erde
        • Posted October 17, 2010 at 9:44 am
        • Permalink

        I’ve just commmented on it – the painting’s brill, thanks for the URL, Leslie.

      • Thank-you! 🙂

  5. Neat studies! I always loved monochromatic stuff. I frequently find it to be much more dramatic than color. Of course, these are wonderful exercises, and at the same time – beautiful works in their own right.

    • Thank-you, Alex. These are very simple and quick but I agree with you that they can be worked furthur into dramatic pieces. I also offer this exercise, first, because I want my students to have time to play with the water and pigment some without worrying about “mud”.

  6. Thanks for sharing Leslie, it is a nice way to start my morning today with this little class,keeps me motivated through the day!

    • Frank Eber, here: left a comment a few posts ago about “less is more”, Padmaja. Sometimes it is hard for us to remember that when we are in the thick of an extended study. Thank-you for your comment because I need to adopt that policy each morning. It will make the day seem like it is unfolding instead of rushing at me!

  7. I cannot wait to see that horse and rider sketch painted. The composition on that one is fantastic, no? You said they were simple and quick. Quick you may have been, but simple? That would be a “no”. Breaking down the creative act is always fascinating to me even tho I’m not a painter!

  8. Of course I enjoyed the small wren study! It dawned on me when I read your posts and their comments how much pleasure artists derive from the materials and their applications.

    • You make me smile, Al. That came from a painting I did quite some time ago, here:
      They were in a reference book on birds for artists. I selected a few of them in different poses and designed a setting for them based on their name. I thought they appeared to have so much personality.
      I have tried acrylics, pastels and a little oil but have come running home to watercolor everytime. I think it is the challenge and enjoying seeing things happen with the water. I think it is because we gravitate to what we really like just like you say. Thanks for this as I never thought of it quite that way. 🙂

  9. I love the effect of wet-in-wet particularly on the leaves as it creates such an “after the rain” experience around the natural leaves. Beautiful!

    At first, I thought that example was a full painting of enlarged leaves and loved the composition. Parts of things blown up and placed creatively intrigue me.

    • Thanks, Nancy! I don’t take enough time to frame off different parts of my compositions and see the paintings within a painting. You are right! A long and narrow wet-in-wet of leaves would be gorgeous!

  10. You seem to be enjoying your classes and I love the way you show your various watercolour techniques.

    • The artists in my classes are so interested and excited about what they are trying that it fuels me to keep trying other ways of helping them to grow. I do enjoy them. Have you painted that tunnel of trees, yet? 🙂

  11. Poor horse, how long did it have to stay in the ‘jump’ pose for you to finish working on your painting.. He he.. You know me, and that’s a silly joke 😉 I love the bird!!! I hardly see once every week, Nature is a blank canvas where I live and I have to force myself to go to a park to see and hear birds.. ! Thanks Leslie for your nature subjects, as always! Rachana.

    • Ha! Forever!!!!!! That’s the answer, Rachana. I am truly the slowest painter on earth. Thank-you for this comment, Rachana. I am fortunate to awaken, in the spring and summer, to birdsong.

  12. I want to come to your class!

    • Oh, I wish you could and then I could see how you do some of what you do that I so admire; and the others would benefit from that, also! Thank-you, Carol!

  13. Fascinating. How long are your classes? I’m intrigued by the monochromatic studies. I tried one last week and found it harder than I anticipated. I love your examples.

    • I start them with a monochromatic, using only one color so they don’t have to think about too many things at once while they work with the fluidity of the water. They can be very difficult with one color if a strong dark pigment is not used.I suggest sepia, prussian blue, or alizarin crimson. Winsor green (red shade) is really dark, also. Try one of those colors. In a more advanced class we use burnt sienna and prussian blue to mix shades with and that lends some interesting value studies, Amber. My classes are six weeks long. Not nearly enough time to accomplish all I would like to, but there are several different classes offered that can be repeated as I change things up in those because I do get students who return. This is wonderful because we soon have all levels of skills working together and learning from each other. Thank-you, Amber!!

  14. I will try those colors. Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  15. I really love to read your technical explanation, firstly i never have a proper formal training in art so lots of things i could learn from your teaching and secondly your detail and patient in explaining is remarkable. Keep it coming.

    • Thank you, so much, Francis. Most of my training has come from classes I have taken, along the way, or through reading watercolor books and magazines. Try some of this. It is fun to try some of the exercises. They always help me to improve. 🙂 Love that Crab here:

  16. Great post, Leslie. I learned everything I know about watercolor from getting my brush wet and rubbing it around on that little square of pigment, then moving it onto the paper. Mostly, I learned by seeing results from other people then trying to figure out how they did things. Experiments, in other words.

    You are so generous with your studies and techniques that I am learning every time I come over here. Thanks so much for sharing. How fun! 🙂

    • That is a great way to get to know your watercolors. I don’t use pan paints because they restrict my ability to explore more freely. I’m constantly digging in to get that rich color. I started with the student grade of Winsor Newton and then jumped to artist grade rather quickly. I think it would be difficult to do some of the techniques I talk about with pan colors. But! Artist grade pan paints seem really concentrated…so don’t know. I love experiments!!! as you know. 🙂 Thanks-you, Beth.

      • I don’t use pan paints any more, either. I have lots of wonderful tubes of color. Daniel smith is one of my favorite brands. And yes, I LOVE your experiments. 🙂

      • Sorry! I took “rubbing it around on that little square of pigment” to mean “pan” paints. My mistake. 🙂

  17. Leslie, I’m really interested in your mixing of colours on the wet paper. It’s a technique I’ve tried often without much success. When the colours are wet it looks great, but once it dries it looks less bright (on my efforts). However, it’s so obvious to me you have a far better understanding of colour than I do. You approach to the subject is far more scientific as well as creative. I’d love a lesson from you on how to use colour, but more importantly how to mix colour. Great post. Love them all! Please teach me!

    • OK. I just talked with Beth, above, about pan paints. Do you use pan paints or tube watercolors? I would have a more difficult time if I had to swipe my color from a pan to the wet paper. I use tube colors, artist grade Winsor Newton or American Journey. I use Arches paper. There are some brands of paper (Fabriano and some Strathmore) that can muddy easier with multiple color because the pigment sits closer to the top and moves around when you re-enter the paper. There are two things I do when mixing on the paper. I sometimes wet the whole area to be covered and make light washes of the colors I want to mix in two separate areas on my palette. I then drop those washes of color, randomly into the area that I have wet with clear water. That is how I did the sky in Swamp Thrush here:
      The leaves were painted one at a time after the background dried. I wet each leaf, individually, and selected colors I wanted to run into them and scumbled around on the surface a little. These were stronger colors as you can tell. The colors run together on their own if you allow your washes to touch. Can you see there is burnt umber, Quinachridone gold and sap green in the leaves? After the leaves dried, I wet each stalk that the birds are on and swam in the same colors only lighter. Note that there are hard edges around each stalk and the outer edges of leaves. That happens because the paper on the side of the stalk was dry. If I were you, I would get some paper out and just try making some wet washes of color in two separate mixing areas of your palette. Trace a circle on your paper( I trace the base of a paper cup), wet the circle with clear water. While it is wet, stroke in one color on the left and another on the right allowing them to touch and mingle in the middle. If they don’t, you have not wet the circle enough. Next, try painting the shaded side of a wet circle in a dark color and while that is wet, feed in a lighter color on the other side and allow it to mingle. Mixing on paper is not so much brush action as water action and laying in your color in limited movement so the colors touch. You may encourage the pigment into each other but don’t swirl it excessively together. Let me know what you discover!
      Thank-you for the comment!

  18. I love the little bird, but I also love the monochromatic paintings. I’m very drawn to them. Perhaps because I don’t produce them myself! That’s about to change though. Sorry I haven’t stopped by this past week Leslie. I’ve been up to my eyes trying to catch up on college work. So much to do, so little time!

    • Thanks, Heather! I’m glad you have fit me in at all. I know how the time fies as I have really been pushing to keep up with everyone! 🙂

    • Brilliant, thank you Leslie. I’m going to give it a try tonight. I use pans, but I’ll let you know how I get on. Thanks again for the wonderful help.

      • Once you see how the water mixes in those circles you make, Keith, you can become braver and apply a color over a color while the first color is still wet. You can lay strokes of wet colors next to each other to describe the varying shades in a rock or a lawn for example. Much of nature is made up of abstract shapes and various color running together. If you fear you are getting too dark, you can blot with a tissue and add water to the paper and blot again. The painting then begins to have an activity and life of its own reflecting the artist’s movements throughout his creation. Be patient with yourself and the water. You will begin to see technique and new color you can use. Make your wet areas large if the shape is large that you are painting, small if it is small. Note….the birds’breast, above was rendered wet in wet using a blue, a yellow and sepia and allowing for the water to help it mingle. I only wet his breast area when I painted that. Wishing you success!

  19. No matter how much natural ability or talent someone has, there’s no doubt that lessons like yours can shortcut the trial and error stages that often last longer than they need to.
    Even though I’m not a watercolorist extraordinaire like you, I’d love to take one of your classes too.
    Learning about technique is so de-mystifying.
    And are you ever so generous with instruction and explanation!

    • Thank-you for your praise of my watercolor skills, but I am learning as I go and sometimes feel as though it is not fast enough. I hope what I offer are some techniques that will work for others as they grow in their use of watercolor. I so much do not want to interfere with their natural ability to allow their own vision and style to come thru.
      I would take lessons from you in oil, Bonnie! I think there is a lot we could learn from each other that, who knows? may spark some idea to use in our own work. I would like to have a little more time so I could work in oil, as well.

  20. Hi Leslie the teacher – you have such a gift – I love the little bird and have just read your note about mixing on paper – I am going to work more on this as well.

    • I think you do an incredible job of allowing your colors to mingle on the paper. I see it in swoops of shoreline bleeding into sand and the colors of a mountain running together. I learn from you, too! Thank-you for this comment. 🙂

  21. You are enough to pull the painter out of any one of your readers. You are so able to express the techniques in such few words. You are an inspiration.

    • Thank-you, Amy. I just hope it helps some who may be struggling.

  22. Thank you for sharing with us your amazing work, Leslie 🙂

    • These value studies are sort of like you breaking down your poetry into couplets. 🙂 Helps us to see and hear better, don’t you think? Thank-you for the visit and comment, Marinela.

  23. A really informative lesson Leslie! I really like the wet on dry to create the ‘cauliflowers’ (heheh very descriptive) and the mixing on the paper! Very interesting monochrome paintings too. The bird is beautiful – it looks like an illustration from ‘The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ by Edith Holden 🙂

    • Thank-you so much, Lynda for that comment about the bird! You made my day! Thank-you for commenting on my descriptions, also. I hope, by sharing what I do, others will find ways they can create with their work. 🙂

  24. Good one, Leslie! I especially like your wet-on-wet technique. The monochrome studies REALLY help, I am doing them all them time. Like you said, when you’re in the midst of things it’s easy to get lost in detail stuff. You have to always step back and take a look, asking yourself: what am I doing right now? that’s perfectly fine…move on…

    • Thank-you, Frank. I have spent a great deal of time experimenting with wet-in-wet. I guess I did that because I love watching the water help me. I need to concentrate more on my drybrush technique and I think you “hit the nail on the head”. When I get a good drybrush stroke, I hastily cover it up instead of allow it to be just another piece of the composition.

  25. That horse and rider is fantastic.
    Such a wonderful sense of movement

    • Thank-you, Richard!!!! It is so kind of you to take the time to comment…we miss you, already, so this is a treat to know we will hear from you as we blog along. 🙂

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Wine & Chocolate « Aswirly's Place on 10 Nov 2010 at 10:56 am

    […] the pen lines speak for the image.  I tried very hard to mix the colors on the paper itself like Leslie teaches on her blog. What a challenge as it was contrary to what I wanted to do, and I often […]

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