Tonight, the goal was to paint a creek, paying attention to perspective, and atmosphere. When I started, there was no bridge in my mind, but a bloom seemed to suggest one, so I went with it.

See that bloom in the middle? I thought it looked like a bridge… so I made it a bridge.

I don’t have a reference sketch or photo for this one, I’m just kind of laying down layers and standing back to see what happens.

My five year old daughter wanted to paint with me tonight, so I set up here easel and let her use my paints. This resulted in a large puddle of almost every color on the palette in my mixing tray, so I just mushed it all together to get a cool grey, and used that.

At first, I watered it down a lot, and painted some rough patches of clean water on the paper, and then dabbed pigment into the clean water. I wanted to suggest some hazy trees in the distance, but I didn’t really have a plan for where they would be. I knew I wanted a creek in the foreground, and I wanted a lot of hazy atmosphere. Because I wanted a good bit of hazy mist, I decided to leave the sky entirely white, thinking it might read as overcast. That seemed to work pretty well on this one.

I decided that the bloom in the distance looked like a bridge, so I defined it a bit, and painted some figures walking by. I also added some more layers of very thin pigment, just kind of walking from the horizon to the foreground to see what happened. Those sharp angles on the right I liked a lot… which is why I destroyed them later on. Because I’m an idiot.

Oh, you liked the right hand side? Ok. I’ll hide it.

I continued adding layers of pigment, still using the giant puddle of everything grey. Where I needed to warm it up a bit, I just saved some new Gamboge, or perinone orange and dabbed them in there. These yellows mixed well with the puddle of grey, and created some really nice neutral greens. Blind squirrel finds a nut!

At this point I realized that I needed to start defining the water with some reflections. First, I painted some grey blotches of color, and just dragged them down in ragged strokes. I was more pushing the pigment downward than painting, which seemed to work.

I then used clean water and a painted brush to lift pigment in horizontal strokes, hoping to create the impression of a glare on the surface of the creek. That turned out really well. So, I decided to do it over and over and over until it was a big puddle of overworked mess. Again, because I’m an idiot.

I needed to warm up the foreground in order to bring it forward, so I brought in some raw Umber, and dragged out across the bottom. I really should have left the foreground alone at this point. I guess I know better for next time.

Then, my brain fell out of my ear, and I just painted and painted and painted… every technique that I knew, I added in. The end result is massively overworked, but there are some real gems in there. I I like the glare on the surface of the water. I really like the trees on the left. And I like the bridge.

The shoreline was a disaster. I wanted nothing more than to get a really nice perspective going on, and somewhere along the way I ended up making the little peninsulas right down the middle of the composition. This cut the whole thing pretty much in half, and flattened it out a lot. If I had omitted the middle peninsula, I think it would have worked much better.

The rock just looks like a potato.

The trees on the right hand side in the foreground were just some bare branches, and that worked really well. You’ll have to just take my word for it because I was so deep in tunnel vision that I didn’t think to stop and take a picture of it.

Somewhere along the line, I realized I was overworking it. So I kept overworking it.

Oh well. I take solace in knowing that this is a heck of a lot better than anything I could have painted from my imagination a year ago. It’s not where I want to be, but I’m progressing, and that’s all that matters to me. If I decide to try this again sometime, I can tell that I know how to do the techniques that I need to do in order to get the results I want. I just have to remind myself to stand up and walk away more often. If I can force myself out of that tunnel vision, I’ll be able to put the brakes on before I overwork things to death.

Writing this now, I think overworking a painting is really a manifestation of insecurity. I put slime pigment down, and get something pretty good. Then, I tell myself that it’s not good enough, so I try to add something. I put some lipstick on the pig.

Instead, I should trust myself more. I want to become a very skilled painter, and I’m on my way there. But I’m not there yet. Instead of trying to hide my inexperience by painting more and more and more, I should just let it be what it is. In the moment, I should tell myself that it’s ok that rock looks like a potato, I’m learning. Sure I know how to knife out highlights, and I know which pigments on my palette will granulate and lift easily, but that doesn’t mean I need to use that knowledge.

A carpenter might have a thousand tools, that doesn’t mean he should use them all to build a box.


4 responses to “Creek Bridge: #1”

  1. Thanks so much Josh! I’ve bookmarked all your reccomendations as I’m sure they will steer me in the right direction. Meanwhile, I’ll be following your blog! I know it’s a common trait amongst artists to be hard on themselves but I do appreciate your own commentary about your work e.g. what you liked/disliked about it, how you can improve. It shows alot of self awareness which I think is great when one is trying to elevate their art. As a reader, it’s also something I can note down and take away as well for my own future exercises in watercolor later on. So thank you. You are doing a wonderful job and keep posting please!

    1. Thanks Nancy! One thing I found frustrating starting out was the death of information for people who are just starting, and then experienced painters. So I decided to just document every step of the way. Maybe it’s the history degree. At any rate, this has been very helpful for me, and I’m happy if it’s helpful for a couple other folks as well.

  2. Hi Josh!
    Im looking to delve into watercolours (normally a oils type of person) and stumbled on your post in the reddit forums and that has led me to your blog. Just wanted to drop a comment and say how wonderful your progress and artworks are. I’m in complete awe! I truly hope I’ll be able to get to the level and skill at which you are one day! Just wondering what resources do you find has helped you the most in all this? Instructional watercolor books, youtube videos or perhaps actual watercolor classes? Watercolors are definitely intimidating, I don’t even know where to begin honestly!

    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for the compliment! I have not taken any classes, but I wish I could. All of my learning has come from trial and error, and lots of YouTube. I particularly like Rick Surowicz’s YouTube channel, he has a way of teaching that seems to make sense to me. I also found Stan Miller’s channel to be helpful, and I regularly watch Liron Yankonsky, Tim Wilmot, and Gary Tucker.

      I have painted through Ron Hazell’s book “Painting Water with Watercolor” which I found very helpful. I love Joseph Zbukvic’s book “Mood and Atmosphere” here:

      I highly recommend Rick Surowicz’s podia Rocks and Water, here:

      Finally, I spend a good bit of time practicing drawing. I’m working my way through Bargue’s “The Drawing Course” and I regularly watch Proko on YouTube.

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