How to paint an atmospheric watercolor

Progrees pic1 Progrees pic2 Progrees pic3 Progrees pic4 Progrees pic5 Progrees pic6 Progrees pic7

Today’s post is a bit of an insight about my painting process. For some reason, it is quite hard to remember to take pictures while painting! There should’ve been one more between the second and third shot. Oh, well..

As you can see in pic1, my initial drawing is pretty loose and all over the place. The only thing I am interested in at this stage, is putting the shapes and objects in the right place. I am paying close attention to perspective, design, the actually shape of the things (in this case cars and buildings). It is not about how accurate you can draw something.

In pic2 I am doing what I call the underpainting. Initial washes that determine the colors and what sort of a painting I want to see in the end. High-key, low-key, that kind of thing..

After all this is dry, I start in the background with the most distant buildings and work my way to the areas up close. It is one enormous wash that is not allowed to dry until I got the entire thing done! Yes, it’s quite  unnerving and you have to work quickly and decisively.

Once all the buildings are done I go into the details of the cars, pedestrians, wet street effects. The key word here is ‘vague’! I try to suggest these things and the only car I put more effort in is the taxi in the focal point and one other one. That’s it. (pic5)

I am very conscious of my edges and never say ‘too much’. I think it’s important to leave some mystery, room for imagination. When you look at the finished piece, it is remarkable what you think you see that’s not really there! For me, one of the most beautiful things about painting in watercolor!


12 thoughts on “How to paint an atmospheric watercolor

  1. cathy belleville

    Really nice series–thank you for taking your attention away from your painting to do the staged pictures. I am intrigued by how you resolved the people in the right from what seemed like dark blotches. Do you pay particular attention to not using staining colors so you can lift them up? Really lovely work keeping the brush strokes so minimal, esp on those cars! As usual, very inspirational.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Great observations, Cathy. Areas like you mentioned are what I call the ‘serendipity’ painting spots. I did not plan where the figure will go. I look for shapes once I rip my brush across and sometimes I find an opening to put something there. I am not kidding! I don’t use staining colors but I am not a fan of lifting! If I lift, it is during the damp stages where I don’t have to apply force, if that makes sense…

  2. lesliepaints

    This is fascinating. I have watched watercolorists work like you describe in step three. I love it! I, personally, cannot work that fast and admire those who can, Frank. There is intent, here. You are definitely a master at work, methinks.

    1. frankeber Post author

      not a master yet, but come a long way in the last few years. You’d know because you stuck around all this time! It is quite amazing what hard work can do. I know you’re no slouch yourself, Leslie…thank you for your support, I hope we meet someday!

  3. Carol King

    Hi Frank, these are wonderful. Thank you so much. I could go back and stare at each step to try and learn how you work. Like Leslie says, you do work fast, which is a discipline that I have not yet mastered. You know I love your city scenes with taxis and skyscrapers and rain. Are you sure you secretly aren’t living here and not telling me?

    thanks for the progress photos. I know it must have been difficult for you to stop what you were doing and take the pictures, but I do appreciate it.

    1. frankeber Post author

      You’re very welcome, Carol. I am glad you think I did well! You are right, it is very easy to forget to take pictures. You’re so in the moment, kind of on autopilot. The last thing you think about is stopping to take a photo. Thanks for the nice words..I know, the city scenes are def one of my favorite things to paint…this one is in LA, you can tell cause the streets are so wide!
      Next time I’m in NY, I’d like to meet up with you for coffee..

  4. Amy

    Thank you so much for this. It is very helpful for me, the drawing-phobic watercolorist….at least, that’s where I am now. I hope to move beyond and embrace drawing in some ways that i have not yet discovered. Thanks again for taking the time to share this.

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