I tried to execute my plan on my second attempt. I went off the rails in a few places. I’m following the “five steps” from Tim Wilmot’s video. The steps he recommends are pretty much the same steps I see again and again. Some say: “paint dark values over light values” or “sketch large shapes” or “forget about color, worry about tone.” All of these are really good points, and it seems every good watercolor artist agrees on these points. And they all follow these steps to one degree or another. The real value Tim Wilmot has contributed is to list these fundamental watercolor best-practices into five distinct steps. It’s something every watercolor artist probably does naturally, but to list them like this helps me immensely to avoid getting distracted in my process. Below are the five steps from Tim Wilmot’s video, just renamed for simplicity. And, what the hell – here’s a mnemonic to boot:

Please Don’t Wash Steve, Dad.

  1. Plan
  2. Draw
  3. Wash
  4. Shade
  5. Detail

Here it is, step by step:

Step 1: Plan

I wrote out my plan in the last post. Here it is in summary:

  1. Plan: This is what I’m doing right now
  2. Draw: Sketch the whole gazebo very detailed including shading, do not sketch any plants.
  3. Wash: Use simple light blue for the sky, warm earth tones on the gazebo, cool earth tones where the shadows will be, and cool greens where the plants will be.
  4. Shade: Add shadows, all one color and tone. Try to merge them all into one shape.
  5. Detail: Paint dark shadows under overhangs in the architecture, and the figure.

Step 2: Draw

Too much shading.

I followed my plan through the first step… though I’m not sure that was such a good idea. I thought sketching this out with this much detail would inform decisions I would make as I painted, but it did more harm than good I think. There was so much graphite in this sketch that I think it colored the washes, and it smudged the paper before the washes went down.

I’m still glad I did this because I noticed that there are a lot of places where the ambient light shouldn’t be lightening the values of the shadows. (See this video by Marco Bucci for a great description of ambient occlusion.)

Step 3: Wash

Wayyyy too defined at this stage.

This is the step where you basically just color the paper – and leave highlights untouched. This is both incredibly important, even though a lot of it will be covered up later. These preliminary washes lay the foundation for everything that comes next. I should have laid these washes more carefully, and I should not have tried to define the shadows with these washes. Next time, I’ll try to think only “warm/cool” at this stage. Maybe even reduce to two colors only – or three.

Step 4: Shade

This is the stage where I’m supposed to lay in the big shadows, and simplify into as few shapes as I can.

Unfortunately, I was much too precise, and much too saturated with my washes, so there wasn’t a lot of definition needed for this phase. And – because I shaded in the last phase, I had lots of large shaded areas, which didn’t use the same colors. Next time I need to lighten up on the wash phase.

Step 5: Detail

Nail that coffin shut.

Here I am forced to pay the full price for the overworked washes in phase 3. I went too dark on the washes and didn’t have the room I needed for the contrast I needed to create in this phase.

I also see now that there is a big mistake with my shadows. The photo I’m working off of has a building behind the Gazebo, which I’m omitting. That building is responsible for the very dark shadows in the gazebo – but because I’m omitting the building the shadows don’t make much sense. There should be light coming through the gazebo from the space on the opposite side. I’ll need to experiment with that on the next attempt.

I do like the trees on the left. And I like the brush work on the upper part of the gazebo on the center, that part where I didn’t paint the darker wash all the way to the left, leaving a few squares of the original wash color untouched. That worked well.

The figure is unredeemable at this point. I’ll need to reposition him in the next one so he is half in light, half in shadow. And I think I need to ditch the whole glowing match thing. It’s just not working.