Some Secrets to Watercolor: A step-by-step painting example

A step-by-step description through one of my new paintings, "Boys and Baseball."

Usually I start by seeing something I want to paint, and I sit there and paint plein air, or I take a photo to work on in my studio. This watercolor was created from a series of three or so photos that I took at a recent baseball game.

Why these Photographs?

First, I consider what story I am going to tell in my painting. This story is about 4th and 5th grade boys.

I love the postures. They express so much personality. They're standing together but thinking their own thoughts.

I included the ubiquitous cellphone used behind the coaches' backs. It's a scene that is both contemporary and it's classic too.

Secondly, the human body is so beautiful -- at all ages, in all shapes and sizes. There is a line in the body that is one of my favorite lines. (That probably sounds crazy -- to have a favorite line. If you've never drawn the human figure realistically it might seem daft.)

If you DO drawing, let me know if you have a favorite line in the body and tell me what it is :-)

Anyway, for me, my favorite line is the line that goes on the outside of the body from about the hip bone to the ankle. It's satisfying to get that line just right.

When we love something we tend to add more of it, like whipped cream. But when drawing, do not interpret it or add to it. Allow yourself to follow exactly. Just glide. When I teach drawing, this is a curve I use to instruct: "don't exaggerate the curve OR minimize it; draw it exactly as you observe it."

The secret to drawing the body is to let you hand and pencil virtually glide over the surface exactly as it is.

Do You Have to Include Everything?

Make decisions about what to include. For example, my interpretation of these photos is a painting about young lads in their jerseys, in their pre-teen postures, as well as a sense of baseball, and that whole summer ambiance. I wanted to include the suggestion of a ball field and some bats for context. To suggest the field, I needed a dirt-colored area, as well as a cyclone fence.

It's not necessary to see anything on the field like other players, bases, chalk lines, etc. That's not what this painting is about. It's about the boys.

I started with them and the tree line...

Boys and baseball, (c) Jane M.Mason, work in progress.

I spattered some mud-colored watercolor on the ground around the kids so it looks like regular dirt clumps, gravel, sticks, etc., which you'd find by any normal midwestern baseball park for youth sports. To spatter in this case I am using a toothbrush. I am protecting the boys and the rest of the painting, so spatter doesn't fly everywhere.

Using a toothbrush to flick droplets of paint around the boys at the fence.

Spattering is completed.

I knew I couldn't draw every single line and cross hatch in the fence. No fun for me -- or you. UGH. I covered my guys with painter's tape this time to protect them from my next technique to create the fence.

I used a piece of the old-fashioned cardboard that used to be in packages of lightbulbs. I put watercolor on the high ridges. It's "by guess and by golly' about how much paint to put on. Sometimes it's too dry and doesn't print; sometimes it's too wet and leaves some blobs. It's practice and patience, Grasshopper.

I press the paint into the areas where the fence needs to appear.

Pressing cardboard with paint onto the painting.

In this painting, as I am finishing the fence, I am "rounding third" so to speak... LOL.

Next, I put in the horizontal support poles for the fence.

I used a T-square and drew them in with watercolor pencils. It's easier for me to use a T-square to create areas that need to look straight, or manmade, rather than free-handing them with a brush.

Then, I go over the watercolor pencil lines with a brush loaded only with water (because the pigment is already on the paper from the watercolor pencil). I lightly brush the lines to soften them. That changes the bars from looking too mechanical, and back to a look that is more compatible with the rest of the painting; as if I had free-handed it.

I let it dry completely.

Then I take a picture of it on my phone to look for errors in composition or value (darkness and lightness). I will set it up where I can see it and "live with it" for a couple days to see if it needs anything else. Sometimes it does. Sometimes not. Sometimes at this point, I tear it into pieces and throw it away. Or, sometimes at this point I might salvage an area I love and tear off the parts I don't. I'm quite ruthless at this point.

On this painting, I made quite a few adjustments in values so the kids stood out more against the background. I emphasized some of the shadows.

So for THIS painting at THIS point, I was charmed.

It claimed a warm spot in my heart. It made me think about all those hours I've spent at baseball and softball games with kids, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors, other parents, and other grandparents. Truly some of my most precious hours spent on this earth. I could look at this painting all day and enjoy my time. That's when I'm done with it.


Some people ask me, "How can you sell them? They are so precious to you." To me, I feel I have been blessed with a gift to create art. I love sharing my gift. I know my work brings pleasure to others, too. For me, I can always make something new.

And, it is a HUGE treat to walk into a home or office and see my work on the wall. It's like seeing an old friend. I smile and think, "Hello, you. How's it going?"

What do you think? Was this step-by-step helpful? Have you spent a lot of times at ballparks and sports events as a supporter? What are some of your memories? Send me a message below -- it goes directly to me -- and let me know your thoughts.

Did you like this information? All of my blog posts start as an e-letter and my next e-letter is due out soon. Don't miss out!

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