Waterfall Exercise 2: #1

This is the next exercise in Ron Hazell’s Painting Water with Watercolor.

The composition here kind of didn’t make much sense to me, I don’t understand the waterfall – it almost looks like a stream running down the side of a termite hill. But, I’m not about to question Ron Hazell, so I tried to be a good student and just followed his direction.

Before I painted this I did a value study. I started taking my sketchbook and cutting each page into quarters. Then, I try four value studies in each quadrant. Because these are all small, I can do them really quickly, and try a few different things to see what I like and what I don’t.

Look at the background in these. In the upper left, lower left, and upper right, there is very little value contrast in the background. The backgrounds on the left have little detail, while the backgrounds on the right have a lot more detail. So, I get to see how different value structures, and sharpness impacts the overall composition. The difference is most recognizable between the top left, and bottom right. By looking at both of these, you can see that reducing detail causes the background to move back, and increasing the value contrast forces the background back. So, even though I haven’t drawn it – I now know that I want my background to have little detail, and a lot of contrast.

Now look at the bare trees. In the bottom right the trees are very dark, everywhere else they are more of a mid-value. I think the dark trees really add interest to the composition, so I know to paint these very dark. By playing with values and details in these studies I am able to quickly try a lot of different things and make decisions about how I want to structure the final painting.

Once I was done with the value studies I started the painting. I pretty much straight-up followed Ron’s directions as best I could, so none of this is my idea.

First, I applied a clean wash to the sky, leaving the waterfall dry. Then, I painted trees into the damp paper by dragging ultramarine blue from the horizon into the sky, and let it feather on its own. On the left and right the pigment was very heavy, and lighter in the middle. I then dabbed in some Hansa Yellow and burnt sienna to add interest, and knifed our some light tree branches..

Once that was completely dry, I painted the rocks. In the past I have tried to paint the colors I want in the initial wash, and then knifed highlights into that primary wash. This time, I tried leaving that primary wash, and coming back with a shadow wash later, which I knifed to reveal the colors in the primary wash for the highlights. I think I prefer the other way.

Then I painted the water, and dabbed some yellow ochre and new gamboge to make the grass on the far side of the stream. Once those dried, I applied clean water to the stream, and once the sheen was gone, I painted Prussian blue into the damp paper to add ripples. I feathered the edges of the ripples with a bone dry brush, and let it dry. Then, I painted the reflections.

Ron’s instructions recommend painting the reflections into the light spots, but I think I prefer adding reflections to the darker spots. I don’t think this is correct – in real life I think Ron is correct, the light areas are where you see the reflections. But adding reflections to the light spots makes them the same value as the water around it. If instead I paint the reflections into the dark areas, I keep the brights bright and add dimension to the dark areas. I think I’ll continue doing it this way until I don’t like it.

When this was dry, I painted in the dark trees, then added the pine trees in the middle of the background. I was worried this would flatten the composition, and it did a bit. But, I like the impact this has on the composition because it forces the eye from one focal point to another adding interest to an otherwise fairly simple composition.

Overall, I like this painting, though I’m not a huge fan of the composition. I was supposed to lift out some submerged rocks, and I tried, but it seems my brush isn’t stiff enough, or the Daniel Smith Ultramarine stains more heavily than the brand Ron uses, so they didn’t lift much at all. Next time, I’ll have to lift them before the blue dries.

Here’s the example.

And here’s my attempt at it.
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