A little ‘cheating’ . . .

January 25, 2012

Watercolour has its limitations and its unique requirements. About the biggest challenge is the understanding that anything white in a watercolour is the paper left blank. So white clouds are achieved by painting blue around them. Whitecapped waves are accomplished by painting the dark part of the wave and leaving the paper white for the crest. The same goes for snow, of course, and really anything at all that’s white.

The famous British painter, J. M. W. Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) is widely regarded as the artist who took watercolour to its pinnacle–who forced it to be considered a serious medium, alongside oil (though even today watercolour is not treated with the same gravitas as oil). His work is nothing short of astonishing. And apparently he often achieved some of his whites by ripping at the paper with a long fingernail.

My training was such that the use of opaque white was absolutely forbidden. It was considered a breaking of the most important ‘rule’ of watercolour: that only the white of the paper (called ‘reserved white’) was acceptable in a pure, transparent watercolour.

I have, though, been talked into letting myself experiment with a limited usage of opaque white. A great many watercolourists use it, though sparingly.

The following picture was my first attempt at using a bit of opaque white in the branches of the trees. The clouds, grasses, snow, and other whites were achieved by reserved whites (leaving the paper blank) and/or scratching out with a knife (my fingernails aren’t nearly long enough).


"Snug"

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43 Responses to “A little ‘cheating’ . . .”

  1. Its okay as long you don’t hurt any human beings or animals, I say. 🙂

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  2. YOU always need to break the rule–I’m a good boy.

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  3. We always need to break the rule
    🙂

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  4. ShimonZ said

    I understand what you’re talking about, both because of the intrinsic personality of the water colors, and because when one learns from a fine teacher, it seems there is ‘the right way’ to work. Still, I believe that when one comes into one’s own… and the painting is a personal expression of how we’ve seen something in our head… then each of us has to use the tools at hand to create the image that is right for him, and no longer is their an issue of ‘cheating’. It just becomes personal style.

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  5. Francina said

    You are welcome and thank you!

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  6. I love your poems, Francina–thank you for your compliments on this painting!

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  7. Francina said

    beautiful!

    Francina

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  8. I’m honoured to have your commentary, ‘Bosartis’, for you have not only mastered painting but are now pioneering new territory in bringing what’s called ‘computer art’ or ‘virtual painting’ to a level which equals or surpasses traditional methods.

    I do believe based on your abundant portfolio that a new, pithy term needs creating to describe your sublime achievements. ‘computer art’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s a medium all its own.

    Thank you very much for stopping by and helping us all understand more the challenges of this very current ‘new canvas’.

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  9. Bosartis said

    I always found watercolor a difficult medium so tended to manage oils or pastel, though using background white when using w/c, only made a success in skies for me, instead opting for paint. In the other mediums of course the white or highlighted areas need the texture of the medium used, so background paper or canvas was never an option.
    In virtual imagery however the idea of “cheat” white is almost a normal feature as the software detects only what is required and if white is already there, as in a blank canvas/desktop area, then that’s what’s used.
    There are interesting parallels and even techniques when attempting virtual replication of actual painting as I’ve discovered over many years and one of the reasons it can for me still be a creative process.
    As always an excellent painting and interesting post.

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  10. Gilles, your photos are so very interesting and full of life. I love the ones of Viet Nam. Thank you for coming to see my site.

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  11. You make me feel very happy. Thank you very much for your words, Nia.

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  12. niasunset said

    This is my favurite… I fall in love with this little houses… So beautiful. I love your artistic sytle, Thank you for sharing with us, with my love, nia

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  13. Wow–I feel great hearing that. It gets me motivated to continue the one I’m into. Thanks, ‘kerryl29’!!

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  14. kerryl29 said

    Another gorgeous painting…man…your work is simply sublime. I’m going to have to slowly go back through your archive of posts and enjoy the paintings one at a time.

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  15. BoJo Photo said

    Thanks so much and your paintings are awesome as well.

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  16. I do! I admire anyone who can do a mural.

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  17. Thank you for mentioning Hubert Shuptrine–his painting “Sea of Snow” is so lovely, among others. But I’ve never seen an original. And Paul Murray’s “Aunt Emily” is so wonderful. I appreciate your photos a great deal. They are so sharp and alive.

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  18. BoJo Photo said

    That is what I did when I painted in watercolor, I went too far!!! 🙂

    I got to study quite a few of Hubert Shuptrine’s originals up close and I was always amazed at the beautiful texture he captured as you do.

    Another artist I love is Paul Murray! I bought one of his prints that reminds me of my grandfather holding a shotgun! 🙂

    Thanks for the compliment on my photo!

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  19. Thank you—your photographs are stunning! The one of the child in the owl hat is so wonderful. And yes, the background trees are drybrushed by using a fan brush and tapping it lightly over and over again. I almost went too far.

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  20. BoJo Photo said

    Such a beautiful painting with lots of life and movement. Do you drybrush?

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  21. Knowing your photographs, Robert, my guess is you’d make it seem all the more warm and inviting! Thank you again for your kindnesses.

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  22. You’re very kind!

    You are lucky to have had such a mentor. I am for the most part self taught. When I took art at school, our Art Master (whose own paintings were truly brilliant) seemed to be obsessed with acrylics… or maybe that was what he was given to work with in the budget… I’m not sure. Still, I will be returning to acrylics (admittedly with some trepidation) to do the mural I have planned. Wish me luck!

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  23. This is very well done. Looking at it really does make me wish I came across it, even just to photograph it. Warm and inviting. Thanks for sharing!

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  24. Wow…cheat more! I want to visit that house and have a grand cup of tea with its owners! I always have loved the white space on watercolour works…but I did not realize the art in the use of opaque white versus the white paper. Thank you so much for your post today…..I look forward to viewing it daily but have missed a few days so I’m catching up tonight!

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  25. Thank you very much for commenting and I love your photographs. The one of the canoeists in Wyoming’s Grand Teton Park is incredibly inspiring. And I love the deer–well, all of them actually.

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  26. Fergiemoto said

    You are very talented and I am enjoying looking at your artwork! Thanks so much for your visit and subscribing to my blog!

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  27. thank you for taking the time ‘dou dou’—your bird fixation is shared by me. I’ve had multiple canaries over the years–most recently the Belgian Wasserslager. Like you, though. I had a loss, when a pair in my office died in an arson fire. So I’m sorry to hear of your losing yours (though under different circumstances). Your sculptures are very cute and imaginative!

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  28. dou dou said

    Gorgeous!

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  29. How nice to have you commenting and your compliments! Yes, I do believe a house like this would be a haven for one or two or three of your kitties (smile), but your glass studio is probably every bit as warm and cozy. Talk about techniques–I’m sure you glassmakers have a lot of inhouse discussions about this-and-that . . .

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  30. A beautiful painting and I think I could move into this house. I don’t know anything about your techniques, I’m not going to pretend. I do know what I like, though.

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  31. I value your insights, ‘itsallmanana’! The use of opaque white is certainly no longer frowned on as it used to be. I still can’t quite do it, though, if only because I feel the spirit of my first instructor and mentor hovering about. He always insisted I plan my paintings to the ‘nth degree’ before putting brush to paper.

    However, when it comes to falling snow, there’s no other way except to spatter masking fluid all over the place, which is not something I enjoy. I use opaque white for that, and with no apology!

    I appreciate having this discussion with other artists. It broadens my experience and makes my time in the studio less lonely! I do love your flamenco pieces, ‘itsallmanana’.

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  32. I’m glad I posted it–and it helps to know that someone like you finds it worth looking at. Technique is always fun to learn about, as I know you yourself feel is true. Thank you, Jane, for once again helping me see things through your eyes!

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  33. hahahaha–much appreciated! btw, I love your photo of the ‘green elephant’. I would have snapped him up too, if I’d been in that enticing store.

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  34. I’m pleased to hear you like this piece–I hesitated before posting. This is far from a ‘lesson’, but I hope you include some photographer’s challenges when you post, because it can’t all be sweetness and light when you go out to do your thing. Thank you for your helpfulness.

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  35. I must admit to “cheating” quite regularly. I use opaque white quite often. It comes in handy for highlighting very dark areas once the painting is dry. It can also add something interesting to backgrounds etc if mixed with another colour. It makes things take on a different dimension. By the very nature of it’s “opaque-ness” though it cab sometimes make colours dull.

    I like the painting of the house! Well worth framing in my opinion – though equally I know how frustrating it can be when you just aren’t happy with something – even if others disagree!

    Happy painting. (Am very jealous that you have the time to indulge – if only!)
    x

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  36. I like this, it adds a different dimension and gives the painting a textured look!

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  37. sandy said

    That little house is very appealing!
    Thanks for the lesson. I will remember that.

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  38. futlooz said

    If cheating can be this good, you should cheat more 😉 I just love the detailing.

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  39. I always enjoy seeing your comments appear ‘magsx2’! And yes, the leaving the paper blank to achieve white makes everything a bit more complex. Watercolours are most easily ruined by over-working, so that the white of the paper is no longer visible. This painting is itself somewhat overworked in that regard. In oils, if one isn’t that pleased with an area, the artist simply scrapes it off and re-does it. In watercolour, if an area is over-worked, it’s over. The painting is ruined.

    This painting is borderline, and therefore I’m not comfortable framing it. But aspects of it are acceptable, and worth posting.

    I do hope the rains have let up some for you there in Brisbane!

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  40. Lynn, your work is beyond description. Thank you for commenting on mine. I hope everyone that passes through here goes on to ‘Willows Branches’ and views your Mixed Media.

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  41. magsx2 said

    Hi,
    You are so right about watercolours and oils, to me it really doesn’t matter what the artist used to paint the picture, I either like it or I don’t., it really is that simple for me. 😀

    Very interesting about the white, I would never have guessed that, I assumed that white paint was used, so I have learned something new today. 🙂

    Your painting above, I must be honest and say I really don’t see the difference in the white. I love the house of Victorian Era, with the fancy wood verandah in the front, and the 2 chimneys, perfect for that setting.

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  42. That looks amazingly inviting – well done

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