We had a good session painting a watercolor barn this week. I chose to do a watercolor painting of this old barn as it had clear areas of different values that show the form and make the scene look three dimensional. This was a session on values so there wasn’t much finesse in the final study we did. My painting hand was itching to have another go at it so I did a quick sketch this afternoon. This was never going to be a finished piece as the paper was a bit damaged where the printer ink got smeared on it which actually frees you up a bit as it’s not as precious. Quite happy with this. If I were to do it again I’d take a little more care on the sky and tone down the blue a little. I was trying to cover up the nasty smear but to no avail.
Below I outline what we did in the lesson:
First a Value Study
We started by practicing mixing up values. Knowing how to mix the right consistency of paint for a middle value is one of the most valuable skills to have. With watercolor it’s pretty much impossible to know how the paint will look just by looking at a mix on the palette. We have to judge by the consistency of the paint and it takes a bit of practice. Well worth it though. We used pretty much 3 values to paint this value study. The forms and the light are all there and it reads well visually. We’re good to go with the color version!
How not to paint a barn watercolor
This was me demonstrating how I used to paint before I discovered how important values are. I’ve pretty much identified the colors – sky blue, grass green, barn red – but none of the values are right. The sky is too dark, the grass too light and there’s no difference between the light and the shadow side of the barn.
Values First – Color Second
Where I went wrong is that I focused too much on color and not enough (if at all) on value. If the value is right then you have a lot of leeway with the color. The next version paid much more attention to the value.
This was our final study of the day. Keeping the areas pretty simple but really trying to nail the values. The sky is still blue but much paler. The grass is now a much more realistic green and now a darker value. The shadow side of the barn has a much better contrast with the light side and shows the form.
Everyone did really well with this. This is a beginner’s class so people are very new to watercolor. It’s a lot to take in but so fundamental and rewarding when it works.
I always enjoy it when I do a barn painting. A scene out in the country with farm buildings is always a pleasure for a watercolor artist. If there’s a wall or a fence around to include so much the better. It’s true that a barn painting like this is not the most original of subjects but it’s great for teaching and has a timeless quality that is always a pleasure.
Demo Video Available
I have a number of real-time demo videos on my youtube channel (and you can access them from this site here).
A similar barn painting (also part of a lesson) can be watched below:
Online Watercolor Classes
I run weekly watercolor classes regularly. If you would like to join me please check out my teaching page.
Available Original Barn Art
The original painting is also available from my shop.
I was pretty happy with yesterday’s sketch but wanted to get closer on the colors. The sand especially was a little too *pow* for me so back to the color swatches to get closer. The changes I made were to push the sky a little more towards green, the water a little darker and the sand with way less chroma. It’s still the same color which is mostly yellow ochre with a little permanent rose. But to take the chroma down I added some lamp black and a little water to bring the value back to where I wanted it.
Here’s today’s and yesterday’s side by side.
Now personally I prefer today’s version. However other members of the household prefer yesterday’s.
It was definitely worthwhile doing the same scene twice. It takes the pressure off when you’re doing the first one and you can experiment with a few things that you might not otherwise.
How fast can you paint a watercolor? I had 30 minutes before the Newton Watercolor Society zoom call and a bridge scene to paint. The picture above had about an hour longer but I got a lot of the main areas in in 30 minutes. Brushes were flying and there was no time for detail or hanging about. To be honest it looked pretty good before I started noodling with it. As always the jury is out on this one until later.
But Don’t Forget the Basics
Edit: It’s a day later and I’m still on the fence. The drawing is a little dodgy (make those verticals vertical!) and the value pattern isn’t quite as well defined as I wanted. The color is good – I like the blue of the sky which works well with the sandy brick and the maroonish shadows. I think it needs another attempt.
Scaling Up a Watercolor
I’m thinking it could benefit from being larger. The composition is strong – hard not to be with that bridge. I struggle with larger paintings but no time like the present to get better. I find scaling up watercolors hard. Watercolor on paper behaves the same whether you’re working large or small. It blends and spreads on the paper similarly whether you’re on a 5×7 or a 22×30. Just using a bigger brush (although it helps) doesn’t make the paint behave differently.
This is 16″x20″ which doesn’t sound that much large but I had to work a lot more interest into the paint than I would have done at a smaller size. I kind of like it but it’s not one of my favorites. Looks good on the wall though.
Landscape Demo Video
Due to time constraints I didn’t video this painting. However if anyone is interested in my process I have a number of real-time demo landscape videos on my youtube channel. A nice example is this one of a late afternoon English cornfield after harvest.
This is much more complicated than it looks. I had a great time with all that foreground texture but I’m in two minds as to whether I’m happy. Still not sure that the colors are muted enough. Time will tell.
This is another local scene from the Tower Hill Botanic Garden which is well worth a visit although we always seem to be there just before or just after a big display of color. Loved this stone urn though.
Boston Common – day 13 of 30 in 30. I used to walk through the Common on my way to get my hair cut at a fancy Newbury St salon. This was back when we both had the fancy jobs and I hadn’t had any mad ideas of giving everything up and painting full time. Can’t say I miss the hair cuts but I do miss Boston Common. I wanted to focus on the statue and keep the buildings (probably a hotel?) misty and in the background.
Intersecting shapes attracted me to the composition
One of the things that really attracted me to this composition was the way the horse’s legs intersect giving an abstract pattern. As the statue is against the light the values are very close on the figure and the horse. This gives it a subtle, misty feel which I really like. The added texture due to granulating paint (mostly cerulean blue) and some water splattering adds to the effect.
Verticals are vertical – do I really have to say this again?
But oh that lamppost! It’s gone past loose to sloppy and I didn’t keep it straight. Lost edges are fine here (in fact probably essential) but I didn’t keep my eye on the ball here and the painting suffers.
On balance a good outcome
But on the whole this came out rather well I think. I love the texture on the statue and the muted colors. I’m getting behind on a painting a day so they’re coming thick and fast right now. Helps in some ways as you don’t worry too much over details.
A video to end with
I didn’t record this one (wish I had done now!) but here’s a link to a another Boston painting which was livestreamed in November. If you want to be notified of any upcoming videos or livestreams please subscribe to my youtube channel and join my mailing list.
Another one from the archives and a view of the very popular Motif #1 that has a bit more compositional interest than most. As usual I’m not sure about this. I’m rushing these in order to get them done in one day so there’s some areas that I should have thought through more. But on the whole it hangs together well.
This Ogunquit coast watercolor has been in the pipeline for a couple of years. And I think today was a success. This view is from a visit to Ogunquit a few years ago. I like the big sweep of rocks and snow with the house right at the top. The rocks were a bit of a challenge but it all came together.