The Creation of "Paris on the 25th" 

A Commissioned Original Watercolor Painting of Michael and Helen Dowdall
on their 25th Wedding Anniversary celebrated August the city of Love.. Paris, France.   

This Watercolor Painting Lesson completed on January 17th, 2008

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The Photograph selection is the most important part of your layout.  In the case of this photo, it was submitted for a Commissioned Piece. It is critical in working from someone else's photograph that I achieve almost perfect positioning..but in studying the image, I need more blue sky which will enhance the foreground images since they are mostly warm colors .   Utilizing Photoshop, I created a second image to allow my clients to see and approve what I am trying to achieve.  I then enlarge the image to 8" x 10" and tape it to my board.

Now I am ready to begin.  I felt that to capture this image, I would need to have my painting on the large size since I wanted to focus a lot of detail on Mike and Helen's facial features.  Although I had quoted a painting size of 18" wide by 14" high, I felt that the images would not stand out as I wanted to, so I increased the overall painting size to 21-1/8" x 15-7/8".




I establish the centerline of the painting as shown in the photo to the left.  Although I love assymetrical portraiture as in my paintings " Cold November Rain" and " Zebedee and the Serpent", I felt that it was important that Michael and Helen be centered in this painting.  With this centerline, I removed a portion of the Cityscape from the far left of the photo as shown in the cut away.  The metal strap on the parapet wall is a nice feature and I cut it out in the inset and will draw it in to the painting to break the horizontal lines of the parapet wall..

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Drawing completed November 26th, 2007

#1. The Setup and Drawing Phase

At this point I have selected my paper, 140lb Winsor & Newton Hot pressed Watercolor Paper (My personal favorite). I have determined the size of my painting and I have all of my reference photos taped to the board.  Using a 2H Lead in my drafting pencil, I begin the positioning drawing. I use a very light touch on my pencil ensuring that I do not break the surface of the paper and just create an outline of the important areas of the image.   I will do the details with my paints and paintbrushes.  Once I am convinced that the positioning of Mike and Helen is correct, I add in darker lines to outline the edge of the  image area of the painting and this will help my gallery framing shop in matting the correct image area.  At the base of the painting, I use my parallel arm to draw light lines for my Log.  I am one of the few artists in the world that keeps a running log of the dates and my time for each painting.  This log will always remain intact with the original painting. and has really helped me in determining how much I charge for my paintings and for pricing out all of my Commissioned pieces.

At this point I feel confident that I have just the right amount of detail.

Tips and Hints

Lighting: Ensure you have adequate lighting in your studio area.  I use both halogen and fluroscent lighting above my desk.

Drawing Table:  I have used the same drafting table that I used in College almost 30 years ago. The parallel ruler is important for drawing straight lines. I use an Architectural Square for drawing my vertical lines.

Draw as lightly as possible with my Berol 2H drawing lead....I will use a charcoal pencil to layout large shape areas...which  mixes well with the watercolor washes...Take care of white areas of the paper.   Be very careful when erasing to not break the surface of the paper at all.

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Masking completed November 28th, 2007

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Notice how far in the image area I paint in the masking fluid.  I am very generous with the amount that I apply. To the left of Mike's moustache, I reapplied a good coating of masking where I had identfied a bubble after the masking had dried. 




#2 Masking

This pic gives you a better idea of how little details that I draw in prior to painting.   This is my favourite time...the masking.....I always work my painting from background to foreground...never in reverse....I begin to lay down my masking fluid around the outline of the the sky area...the column on the left, the city scape to the bottom and Mike's head and shoulders that protrude into the sky area.  At this point I do not worry about the background sky colors moving down past the masking line into the cityscape.  Where there is a danger of a brushstroke entering an important area of the painting, such as flesh tones in Mike's face, I will paint the masking fluid deeper into the image area as I have shown in the pic on the left.

I allow the masking at least an hour minimum to setup before I begin my background washes..but the majority of the time I will not touch the painting until the next day.





In applying the masking fluid, I work from one direction and continue in that direction working wet to wet.  If you have missed a spot, wait until the masking is totally dry before applying new wet masking for touchups or else you will find the experience humorous.

Watercolor painting will teach you great patience, but the results will be worth every minute of extra time.











Tips and Hints

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The masking fluid that I use is  Winsor and Newton's Colourless Art Masking Fluid for Watercolour.  I use several old paintbrushes to apply the masking fluid.   Once you use a paintbrush to apply the masking, you should never use it to paint in watercolors again.

Hair Dryer...absolutely a necessity in watercolor painting...I use the Vidal Sassoon 1875Watt Professional model.  I can control the heat and speed settings with this baby.



Picture of the Watercolor Masking Fluid and a #0 Korea brush that I use for putting down the masking.

Take your time and pay attention here...Make sure you have no bubbles because this will leave holes in the dried masking and your watercolor paint will penetrate.

.Never remove the masking from the painting until the painting is completely dry. If there is any dampness in the paper, it will tear off the surface of the paper when you remove the backing.  This will be a challenge for you to correct.  Trust me on this....If in doubt...keep a hair dryer by your desk.


November 29th, 2007 5:00pm

Client sitting to view the completed drawing.


# 3 - 1st Viewing by Client

For Commissioned pieces, I request close interaction between myself and my client.  Close communication is vital for my work and it affords me the luxury of offering up changes that I would like to make to the painting and allow my client to have their input to my suggestions.  The client now has an opportunity to see the full image size. Although my quoted price was for a 14" x 18" original, the completed image size turned out to be almost 16" x 22".  There is no upcharge by me to the client for these decisions that I make during the course of the painting.

I made a strong suggestion to change the sky from the photograph since it only had a hint of blue and felt more light gray with no strength.  It was my recommendation that I prepare miniature studies of the sky formation.

The completed graphite/charcoal drawing completion is the point where I request the first client sitting.

It is critical to the integrity of the artist to honor quoted prices regardless of upward size changes by the artist.  Never go below the quoted size.

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#4 The Sky Studies...

In completing an original, sometimes it requires to move away from the painting, and by using small sheets of watercolor paper, I do a quick sketch of the area of the painting that I really want to analyze.  In this case, I did three small studies of the sky.  I have placed them over top of the original so you could see how tiny these studies are.   In selecting the sky that would best enhance the painting, I chose the upper left study and I will be using actual cloud formations as opposed to the soft washes in the other two.  This will allow significant texture to the overall image. 

Tips and Hints

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In working closely with the client, ensure that any changes are agreed upon before moving forward with the original painting.  I will have the client sign off on the studies as I have shown in the lower right picture with Mike's signature on his preferred selection..  I will file this study with the client information and contract.

After selecting which study I will be using...I go back to the original painting and I lightly drawing in the cloud formations shapes.  I will review the sky studies with the client tomorrow for his final input, but I am confident he will agree with this artistic strategy.  If they agree, I will mask out some of the clouds before I begin painting.

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#5 The Background Wash

The background wash is one of the most critical and requires extensive planning before beginning.  You will take into memory the position of clouds, trees, branches, light areas of the sky.  So memorize what you envision or want to copy for your background.

I use Pthalo Blue for my skies....a very thin wash...

Begin by saturating your entire background evenly with water with at least a 1" paint brush..I buy 6 of these at a time at the Dollar store...they work great for water washes Ensure the paper absorbs the water and it does not run.  Have a paper towel ready at all times.  You will have less than 5 minutes to add your Pthalo blue wash before the paper dries to the point where the colors will not disperse.......Take your #6 brush and dab the pthalo blue and let it run on its own...dab out the paint where you do not want it to enter a cloud or white area... 

Notice my first level Pthalo blue washes as to how transparent I apply it.  I will use the blue areas as my template to build the clouds and sky formation

Tips and Hints

When you have all your Pthalo blue down,,,take your hair dryer and dry out the paper quickly.  This will flatten your paper from the waving action after you have added water to it.  140lb. Winsor and Newton paper is exceptional for its laying back down quality.  Get really familiar with your paper, no matter what brand you use.   There are only two brands that I will use, Winsor and Newton...and Arches....I love the responsiveness and workablity of both these brands.

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#1 Three layers of Pthalo blue and one water wash.

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#2 Addition of Payne's Gray layer

#6 Sky building

I have added two more layers of the Pthalo blue to the level of intensity that I am wanting to achieve remembering that I want the blue to be slightly darker than the final layer.   I will explain this further on.

I have located the cloud positiions.  Once you cover a white area of the paper with paint, you will never be able to recover the pure white of the paper, so use your masking fluid liberally.  It is better to cover an area with masking larger than you require, since it is easier to cut back a white area than try to blot out paint that has been applied.  I use two white Winsor and Newton paints...Chinese White and Titanium matter how skilled you are...these whites will not be able to help you return a section of your paper to look use the white of your paper to your best strategy.

In building my sky, I am wanting to achieve movement with the clouds, but keeping the clouds a light gray rather than a white.  I will use accenting splotches of white for a subtle effect as can be seen in areas of the sky that I have masked out.

In Image #2 - I add two layers of Payne's Gray to begin defining the cloud shapes..Remember the first layer of any color you add begins with wetting the area with water first, then adding the color of your choice as transparently as possible.  Then add as many layers as required to bring it to the the intensity that you desire.


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# 3 - The Chinese White wash blending layer.

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# 4 - The Opera Rose accenting layer.

In Image #3 - I call this the blending layer...It is the most critical because it is the point of no return.  Squeeze a generous quantity of Chinese White onto your palette and dilute it with water.  Take your #6 flat brush and totally saturate the background with this wash moving the paint in straight lines horizontally across the paper.  Don't be will look awful until it dries and your cloud shapes come back through. Use your blow drier to quickly dry the paper to reduce the waving effect of the paper after it is saturated.

Why I do this is that it provides me with such a beautiful softness to the background shapes and also the carrier in the paint allows me to blend in the next layers of color.







In Image #4 - I begin adding colors to the clouds.  First color is Opera Rose....It is nice and pinky...Be specific in locating where you dab...I am using my 15/0 brush to apply the Opera Rose.  I spot locate the paint and then in a circular motion with the brush, I massage the color in.







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# 5 - The addition of Mauve...

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# 6 - The final blues to the sky - Cerulean and Pthalo blue layers..


#6 A - Sky building

#5 - The cloud defining layer - Add Mauve to define the actual cloud shapes...the Winsor and Newton Mauve is a beautiful deep purple, so thin it out before applying and use the same technigque to apply it as the Opera Rose layer as described above.







Now I repeat step #3 and do another Chinese White Wash on the entire background to blend the colors together.


#6 - I now add a layer of Cerulean Blue to the sky area and then one more layer of Pthalo blue.  These layers coupled with the Chinese White carrier layers will blend so easily and gives me the effect of high level clouds...

Now I totally blow dry the background for several minutes...high heat and then I walk away from the painting for at least a good hour to ensure that the paper is 100% dry before I remove the masking.






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# 7 - Remove all the masking from the painting...

#7 - Remove the masking with an eraser.  You can use your finger to rub it off also, but the enzymes on your skin could affect the paper in a negative way, so limit this process to an absolute minimum.  I prefer a white drafting is almost a plastic texture and does not generate a lot of heat during the rubbing action.....I rub off the masking in one direction instead of a back and forth motion.  The watercolor paper will tend to appear a slight yellowish when the masking is removed...not to worry here..we will get it to disappear later.......and now to the final stage of the sky...the blending of the white masked areas of the clouds to take off the sharp edge after the masking has been removed........looking good...

# 8 - The completed Sky

I am pleased with the effects of the sky....creating movement but without distracting from the subjects in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background.  As I move into the cityscape, I will do some fine touchups to the sky when I blend the two of them together...and again when I move into final details when the painting is just about completed.

The next page is the City Scape.....

Got a question for the Artist.  Drop me a line using the Email button and I will add your question and my answer directly to the page.



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