What is good composition? It’s a tricky question. Not because there is no answer. Not because the answer is so difficult only masters can learn.  It’s tricky because asking it implies there is an answer, and if you can just find it, study it, figure it out, it’s gonna be a piece of cake after that. Masterpieces? No problem. You’ll just whip ‘em out…once you know all about composition.

"That Look"
• 3rd Place - Northwest Watercolor Society 2018 Annual International Juried Exhibition

It took me quite a while to figure out that there isn’t an answer. There’s maybe ten million of them. Maybe more. You can memorize and experiment with some basics, like the O composition, or the Z, or the diagonal, or the V, or the hook….   It’s a very long list. Start there, and you’ll learn a lot. 

But before you do, lets start with an easy one: a portrait, which is most often presented as a V or pyramid composition. I’ve set up one of my favorite painting subjects in a square format with his eyes (an automatic eye magnet, compositionally) a little north and west of center. The diagonal tilt of his head broke up the space around him in an interesting way that would make his gaze hard to ignore in the finished piece.

It looked good; it felt good. It excited me, so I drew him in and started to paint. So what’s wrong with that?

His eyes are very close to the middle of the painting, and they are the painting’s center of interest. How many times have you been told that’s a problem? Lots. 

So how do I get a good composition out of this?

I solve the problem.

That Look A

First I got a good handle on Chef Johnny’s features so I could compare everything else—value, relationships, mood—to them. Then I placed my most important darks: his cap and his collar. At the same time, I worked the cap’s darks out into the background and began working there.

Because I’ve done a lot of square-formatted paintings, I already knew that in this one I wanted a light shape extending from one side of the painting, behind his head, and out past his ear on the other side. Once I had decided on green as a main color, I kept it light and exciting, then let the darker background shapes soften into the partially dry light greens.  I also joined the background to the figure by allowing it to bleed down into his jacket via its folds and shadows. In contrast, I made his rightmost shoulder line quite hard…for now.

Then I scared myself. My arm felt red to the right of his head…bigtime. I pretty much always listen to my arm when it yells like that, so in it went. Fear struck, so I…did NOT grab my paper towel and blot. I left it there long enough to check and see if I liked it deep down. I did. The red felt right and pointed across to the important orange pop to the left of him, so I left it there and called it a challenge instead of a mistake. 

Another thing I left was the dark mustache-hair mark beneath his nose. It’s always tempting to quiet things like that down at this point by blotting, so don’t. Ask yourself if there’s another way you can calm it down. There is, of course, because that side of his face will be in shadow. If I had lightened it up, I would just have had to paint it in again later.

That Look F

After scaring, then committing myself, I had to face The Problem. It couldn’t be a simple pyramid composition anymore. Even when I have a firm plan (thumbnails and everything), sometimes the painting grabs a hold of my brush. Sometimes it shouts. I’ve learned to listen. Here’s how.

I take a picture of the painting as-is, digitally turn it to black and white (desaturate it), then import it into a blank word processing document. I size it down so I can get at least six images on it, print it out, and play with the shapes using a china marker, grease pencil, or a black crayon. A white crayon can also be useful. While I didn’t actually produce The Perfect Plan here, the bottom two both had elements I liked. Grease pencil isn’t erasable, so I combined the two in my head and went to work.

If you are a newbie to design work and thumbnails, take the time to print out another sheet of images and Get It Right. Or do it by hand, thumbnailing the painting as it stands directly onto your paper. You’ll learn a lot more. Thumbnails are best made small, no larger than 3 x 5”. These are about 2 x 2”. Even better.

That Look HBWpdf

In for a penny, in for a pound. I mixed some good, near-blacks and black on my palette and plunged in. Note that both shoulders are softened, the left side more than the right. Variety is a good thing. So is the fact that his cap edge still disappears in places. This is variety of line. You’ll see the same thing in the lower edge of the dark abstract shape.

I let the background shapes, light and dark, seep into his chef’s jacket on the shadow side, leaving only little bits of the shoulder line hard there. I also placed a small, dark triangular shape behind his shoulder on the right. At this point, I could definitely see a hook shape in the darks, and it became even clearer to me what I would do to finish the painting.

That Look I

At this point, I focused on bringing the hook shape of the darks around through his jacket without losing the feeling that the jacket is made of white cloth. To accomplish this, I had to add more value to the triangular patch, soften it for variety’s sake, then let it bleed down into the jacket in the lower right corner. Also, you’ll notice that I painted completely over the left-most eye, leaving highlights where they existed. In the end, I lifted a Tiny white fleck out of that eye, something I almost never do, in order to balance the painting. It was the last mark I made on the piece. 

So is it a diagonal composition? A hook? A pyramid? I don’t know. More and more, my paintings demand complex, unnameable compositions. The learning never ends. All I can say after years of researching composition is that I listened to the painting and I followed a wonderful piece of advice shared by another painter in the pages of “Watercolor Artist Magazine” several years ago:

I solved the problem.

Main Triad:
Richeson turquoise (Quiller brand)
Permanent orange (Quiller)
Quinacridone violet (M. Graham)

Along with:
Cadmium yellow light (M. Graham)
Cadmium red light (Quiller)
Cadmium red (M. Graham)
Pthalocyanine blue (M. Graham)
Ultramarine blue (M. Graham)

That Look

In my portraits and figure work, the first wash is both the most important and the most fun. In a lot of ways, anything goes, which is why white paper doesn’t generally scare me. No matter what I do, what “mistakes” I make, they are all just part of the foundation that allows me to do whatever this painting needs. Drips, runs, spatters, they’re all OK at this point. My colors are all pure hue or very close to pure hue mixes.

"Still Point"
• 1st Place (Best of Show) - Northwest Watercolor Society 2019 Waterworks Amplified
• 2nd Place, Watermedia - Cape Cod Art Center, 2019 Bay State Open Exhibition
• Isabelle Wilson Memorial Award - Watercolor Society of Alabama 79th Annual National Exhibition, 2020

I probably don’t need to point it out, but see that streaky little splot on the right side of the painting? It’s definitely not cause to rip up this painting. It looks pretty scary right now, but that’s because there are so few medium and absolutely no dark values on the paper yet. It helps, too, that I have a plan for the background that will pretty much swallow it up if it’s not useful.

Also, it’s important to note that I continue my flesh tones and some greens into the background in such a way that they create some balance within the composition. Even the scary splot balances the painting a bit, planned or not. The sooner you think about composition, the better your painting will be.

Still Point A

The next thing I pretty much always do is paint in the eyes to as finished a point as possible as soon as the first wash is dry. It’s not because everyone should always do that, but because the eyes seem to be my personal touchstone, the thing against which I compare and measure everything else in my portraits. I have tried painting the mouth or some other feature first, but seem always to lose my way and start doing odd things with my paints that don’t support my vision for the painting.

In this case, I’ve also done some major work on the nose and mouth. Sometimes I go into the background or the hair at this point instead. The decision is kind of a gut one, but I’ve learned over the years to really trust my gut.

You’ll notice the eyes are very different colors. Keep that in mind, just like you’re keeping the stray splash from the first wash in mind….right? Hmmm. It’s not nearly so offensive anymore, is it? Those darks really help.

Still Point B

At this point, it was time for me to commit to a compositional structure by working in some of the background darks, then pulling those darks into the main subject. Because I’d painted this model from life several years ago, I already had the structure in mind.

Looking at the photo I took at the time (with the model’s express permission), you can see that the background has some interesting, yet kind of awkward elements. I liked them, but painting them the way they were? Well, let’s just say I didn’t enter the first painting in any competitions. I could never walk away from her though.


Also, part of the reason she was so compelling was her eye color. They were like crystal, so light a blue that the studio lamp actually turned her lit eye to a light topaz, yet if I’d painted it that way, it would have made people’s skin crawl.

So I rearranged and exaggerated the linear background elements a bit and added a hint of green to her unusual lit eye. At this point, I also adjusted the cropping for the additional visual tension that a narrow vertical format gives.

Still Point C

Building depth in the face and hair is an important process of multiple glazes for me. Faster would be nice, but I find I cannot achieve the kind of emotional depth I love when I take the rapid, more simple approach.

So beginning at the point where I have my basic background pretty defined, I start adding darker glazes in the face and neck. To give you an idea of how that works, note that there are additional darks in the upper right detail corner which correspond to and balance with additional dark patterns in her unlit hair.

Then I treated the bright hair along her cheek as part her facial glazing, sticking mainly to glazes of pure hue (cadmiums and pthalo blue) as I painted both the hair shadows that define her cheek and the skin tones around the tendrils of hair catching the light over the shadowed side of her face.

Still Point E Detail 1

After the previous glaze was completely dry, I repeated the process in the facial and neck shadows, building mainly with my cadmiums, especially cadmium red (due to its darker value), pthalo blue, or a mixture of both.

The danger of mixing the warms with the blue while still building mass in flesh areas is that the skin can easily start looking blotchy, as it does here in her forehead and between her eyebrows. To avoid this, I used straight cadmium red and cadmium red orange on her chin and cheek.

It is important, too, to paint over the shadowed eye in order for the eye socket to recede and the nose to stand out. I glazed over it with my cadmium red so the blue iris would move toward gray as it does in facial shadows. Too much pure blue here would imply sunlight, popping the eye too far forward unless it was applied thickly enough to read as a dark value. Remember, details go away in shadow.

Still Point E Detail 2

I could have stopped earlier and had a lovely painting, but I would have missed the drama very light lights against very dark darks produce, so I kept laying down mainly cadmium red glazes with some cadmium red light and permanent orange where facial shadows rolled into the light and especially over those bruised-looking blue areas on her forehead.

Only when I had the depth I wanted did I paint over the shadows with a light pthalo blue glaze. This popped the loose hair strands as well as the wonderful mass of her hair forward, and voilá! Drama.

Mother color:
Richeson green (Quiller brand)

Along with:
Cadmium yellow light (Quiller)
Permanent orange (Quiller)
Cadmium red light (Quiller)
Cadmium red (Quiller)
Quinacridone rose (Quiller)
Magenta (M. Graham or Quiller)
Pthalocyanine blue (Quiller)
Richeson turquoise (Quiller)
Ultramarine blue (Quiller)

Still Point

I’m not sure what happened, but one day after decades of painting other people, I woke up wanting to paint…myself. In my rule book, paintings may only come from my own material, so I stuck my camera on the tripod, went into the bathroom where the notion had hit me over the head as I looked into the mirror that morning, and took a bunch of photos of myself (and the camera) using the camera’s timer. I came up with a couple of poses that I liked. This is the first one.

As usual, I laid out the drawing after deciding on a square painting format, then applied my first flesh-tone wash. One unusual thing about this is that I didn’t take the flesh tones out into the background, although I did bring them up into the hair. This should have been a little pink flag telling me that I was holding back. I was treating the background like I used to many years ago when I didn’t know how to do them well, but I didn’t think about that at the time. Now I realize something silly: I was nervous.

At the time, though, I just plunged into painting the eyes once it was dry, as usual, then some hair strokes using cadmiumss mixed with my green. Then the second unusual thing happened. I moved down to the jacket and direct-painted one entire shoulder and the blouse. Direct-painting is a term I use for plunging in with rich, intense, dark colors wet-on-dry, then let additional colors melt into those. My aim is to complete the entire shape (or object) in one application. I find myself doing this more and more, almost first thing in a new piece. Because it’s different (and therefor a challenge), the paints do great things, including lifting more easily for highlights. It also lets me “lock in” the emotional aspect I’m shooting for so I don’t forget. And It’s Fun.

Echoes A

At that point, reality caught up with me. I didn’t have a composition in mind at all except for the basic triangular shape so ubiquitous to portraits. How silly of me. I seldom let that happen anymore. So it was off to the drawing table with a set of black and white thumbnail photos of the painting on printer paper to play with different ideas. I used a black grease pencil (a china marker works, or a black crayon).

And I certainly did play. With lines and shapes, high key and low key, curves and angles, simple and complex. Being me, I chose the complex. I knew I might have to tweak the composition in the lower right corner some more, but it felt both exciting and moody, which was what I was feeling inside.

I taped this sheet up on my painting board so I could see it easily and got to work. It’s important to make it easy to see because people, myself included, usually forget to look at their plan once they have one and so paint themselves even further into a corner.

Kate’s Compositional Rules

  1. Remember to plan.
  2. Actually look at the plan as you paint. Constantly.

Echoes A Thumbnails

At last! A plan! Confident now, I put down my yellows wet-on-dry first, softening edges or melting in oranges and greens as I went. That layer moved from middle value through to light, then white paper.

The pops of orange and red were placed mainly by paying attention to my gut feelings plus whether they would balance the existing warms compositionally. I put them where my hand and arm told me it felt right, with maybe 5% of the decision being made in my head. It sounds weird, but it’s true.

While all that was still damp but without a sheen, I came back in with deep, mixed darks, most warm, some cool. I wanted a basically warm painting with less than a third of it painted in cool colors. So far, so Good. There were plenty of good, strong darks to compare the rest of the painting with. It was time to go to work on the figure in earnest.

Echoes B

I finished up the features and the rightmost shoulder in three layers of glazing, each glaze applied after the preceding glaze was completely dry. I chose red, green, and ultramarine blue as my main triad because two of the three colors I used are either partially or heavily sedimentary (opaque) when heavily applied. That means they run together on the paper in ways that make wonderfully soft fabrics and surfaces, and they lift back beautifully when needed. Ultramarine blue is also a great color for the shadows in hair, eyelashes, and Caucasian skin tones. On top of that, green and reds/oranges make beautiful browns and earth tones, which I needed for the hair.

Once I got her…er, me…pretty well finished, that big light shape over the rightmost shoulder bothered me. It was too big, too regular, and too…well…boring. Since that side was short on squared-off brushmarks, I decided to put a greyish one in as a counterbalance. Then I lifted the granular dried paint up below the orangey mark to give the mark a 3D effect and a downward pull. Was I done?

Echoes E

No. Not quite. Although I only made one change to this painting before taking this final shot of the finished piece, it was an important change.

Go back to the previous image and look at the last squared-off brushmark I told you about. Now back off and just look at the whole painting in that previous image. Rotate it, look at it in a mirror or through a reducing glass. Do you see how you keep wanting to look at the rightmost eye, skipping over occasionally to the grey, squared-off mark? It feels a little uncomfortable when I look at it for too long, like I should be looking somewhere else (because I should). But I keep going back to that eye. I’m stuck. So after less than a minute, I’m ready to walk away and find another cool painting to look at.

Any way you look at it, that’s not good. It means your composition is off. What’s doing it? It’s that squared grey mark. It’s hard-edged in a background of soft. And it’s isolated, sticking up too far into the only large, nearly white space in the painting. So I made it blend in. It didn’t take much, just a softening of the upper edge as I removed some of the height. No problem with the granular paints I chose. Now when you look at the painting, the center of interest is the leftmost eye, not the right. For the first time, I also see all kinds of delightful marks and colors elsewhere in the painting that I didn’t see before because I’m no longer stuck on the wrong eye.

This is what I mean when I talk about balance. At the end of a painting, it’s usually accomplished with one simple and fairly small change like this.

So. What’s my next challenge? Not being so darned careful the next time I paint a portrait of myself!

Main Near-Triad:
Cadmium red (Quiller brand)
Richeson green (Quiller)
Ultramarine blue (Quiller)

Along with:
Cadmium yellow light (M. Graham)
Permanent orange (Quiller)
Cadmium red light (Quiller)
Quinacridone rose ( M. Graham)

Echoes 1

Some paintings, like some people, you just don’t want to let go. I surely didn’t want to let Bill go. We met at a Wednesday painting group on Cape Cod, all of us painting, teasing, critiquing, and sharing what we knew. During the two plus years we both attended, Bill and I became friends.

When I asked him to pose for me in his matching Christmas fedora and shirt, he said yes. We spent a wonderful afternoon in the sun while he spun stories and I snapped photos like some insane fashion photographer. He never told me he wasn’t feeling well. Instead, like always, he spent the time making me laugh. Not to be outdone, I did my best to return the favor. This is from one of the photos from that gloriously silly day.

Sunlight was going to be important, yet I wanted to capture the rich softness of his felted hat, flannel shirt, and chamois shirt-jacket, so I used my true primary yellow and Naples yellow (Quiller) in sunlit areas, and cadmium red on the shirt and hat. Because of his very fair skin, the skin tones include those same colors plus some quinacridone rose and pthalo blue.

Cliffhanger A

Once the first wash was dry, I put in a second wash to bring the background and subject together. Most importantly, though, I added more intense cadmium yellow light wherever I wanted the light to glow. Now you can see the importance of those first touches of blue in his glasses to indicate both reflections and his eyes as they are refracted through the lenses.

The intensity of yellow is very important in achieving the effect of sunglow, which is why I’ve included this extra step in Bill’s demo. The yellow must be graded gradually from very light to very intense. Otherwise, it won’t show through subsequent glazes properly to get the glowing effect. Keep watching what happens to the yellow-painted areas compared to the areas I didn’t glaze yellow into.

Usually, I paint the eyes at this point because I need something to gage my color and value choices against. The glasses warped Bill’s eyes too much to work that way, so I found myself adding in some shadows, the glasses frames, and his chin, where I brought my first green into the painting.

Cliffhanger B

While there’s a lot of glazing in the skin and chamois jacket, I started this glaze wet-on-dry with the reds of Bill’s hat and shirt. I call this process direct painting. Things get wild when I direct-paint because I’m going in with what I think will be my darkest darks and the attitude that I’m going to finish whatever section or piece of clothing I’m working on.

Working at a steep slant (about 45 degrees), I started fairly thickly at the top of his hat with my cadmiums. I was careful to leave some of the previous intense yellow glaze showing at the shadow’s edge, then I worked toward the back of his hat and downward using increasing red cadmiums. Where the shadows deepen, I added some ultramarine blue to the cadmium red.

Still painting wet-on-dry to maintain hard edges where I wanted them, I worked rapidly, pulling the intense pigments downward and allowing them to melt into each other as I went. (Note: If I simply Must stop partway through, I end at a section edge where there will be a hard line so the softness of the hat’s fabric isn’t destroyed. That said, though, it’s best if you keep on going so your colors are all cohesive and your edges melt nicely where you need soft lines, like there in the transition between Bill’s hat brim and his temple.)

Then I kept working my way down the back of his neck and into his red flannel shirt.

Here’s where the going got rough. I wanted a different red background shape at the top than the one shown here.

Cliffhanger D

The background red had already dried, but no problem. I just pulled out my adjustable spray bottle and sprayed the red loose. Or I tried to. Usually, this works quite well on Saunders Waterford paper because it’s sized internally and externally. Unfortunately, there were invisible sizing problems and some kind of machine marks from the manufacturer’s mill on this sheet there at the top. The paper took the original application of red paint well, but when I sprayed it, all kinds of weird marks were left behind.

Well, you know me and mistakes. I loved what I’d already done, so I changed my plan. I added more green up in the background to pull the red toward browns and greens in a shape that would work compositionally, then brought the green on down through the painting as I had intended originally. I just had to make the painting darker and more detailed than I had intended, which necessitated making it more realistic.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it just wasn’t the painting I had in mind when I started. Still, I didn’t want to loose whatever freshness I could keep, so I stopped, let it dry, then looked at it in black and white to make decisions about what it needed for compositional balance.

Cliffhanger E

The black and white photo showed me where and how much I needed to darken things to tighten up the composition and so the upper background wouldn’t stand out. To get better connection of the figure to the painting’s bottom, I brought more darks and therefor more detail into the hands. It also brought a good deal more drama to Bill and the story he was telling.

Having added so much red to the figure, I had to tone down the upper green background with another light glaze of red. It was tricky because how the paper took the paint was very unpredictable, but I got it to work.

Now let’s talk about painting eyeglasses. First and foremost, Paint What You See, not what you think you should see. Curved glass warps whatever is behind it. That includes eyes. So paint shapes and values and colors, not eyes. The second most important thing is edges: they Must be a mix of lost and found. And thirdly, glass reflects, and the reflection almost always wipes out some of what’s underneath. Leave them white or, as in this case, very light blues and yellows. Use the reflected colors you actually see, not the skin tones that you know lie underneath.

I am honored to say that even though I expected and wanted to keep this painting, Bill’s family purchased it. And that’s the point after all, isn’t it? Paintings exist to touch others’ hearts, not just your own.

Main Near-Triad:
Cadmium red (Quiller brand)
Permanent green light (Quiller)
Ultramarine blue (Quiller)

Along with:
Cadmium yellow light (Quiller)
Naples yellow (Quiller)
Cadmium red light (Quiller)
Cadmium red (Quiller)
Quinacridone rose (Quiller)
Magenta (Quiller)
Pthalocyanine blue (Quiller)

Cliffhanger 1

People often ask me how I paint things like steam and fog. They make amazing subjects, adding mood and beckoning the viewer to let go of what is and allow what might be. Painter or viewer, it doesn’t matter. In a word, they are fun.

There are a few things to remember when painting smoke and its relatives. First, remember that it is real; it contains water droplets and tiny particulates which cast shadows and add color. Second, those molecules and particles block the view. Third, it is almost never the center of interest; it’s too diffuse to draw the eye, so don’t overdo.

"Been There"
California Watercolor Association 2018 Silver Medal
• Watercolor Society of Alabama 2019 Award of Excellence (Best of Show)

Here is a wonderful man, the father of a dear friend, who sat for me with one of his favorite things: a cigar. (Don’t criticize. He lived well into his 90s after smoking at least one every day—outdoors. Even after his wife died.)

The important thing here is that you notice where the lines of his face, shirt, and hand stop. If you can’t see a line for all the smoke (or fog), Don’t Put One In.

 Been There A

As usual, I started with my first, very light wash of cadmiums and pthalo blue over the figure and extending into the clothing and background. This wash took about seven minutes, so I was moving fast and letting the watercolor do its thing. Notice that I used the same near-complementary base colors in the smoke, leaving irregular white spaces within it, and fuzzing the edges in places. I encouraged it to bleed right down into the shirt. As the upper portions dried, I continued on down through the shirt and hand. 

Once I had a thin wash over everything I wanted to cover, I added quinacridone magenta to my colors-in-use and went back into the shirt, then the hatband to add some detail. Notice that the first wash was still wet, but the shine was definitely off the paper, more so in some places than in others. I was able to get some fairly hard lines along the shirt’s shoulder seam and collar edge but the blues still melted nicely elsewhere. The only way I know of to learn how to do this is to try it over and over again in your paintings until you learn what the fine nuances of surface dryness and brush wetness are. Sorry, in watercolor there are no magic bullets…except maybe this: The more you paint, the better you get.

Been There B

At this point, I’d done some interesting things to the painting, and I had a lot on my mind. 

Just not where the smoke was concerned. One of the first things I did between the last image and this was bring one more light wash of pthalo blue, cadmium red light (Quiller brand), and permanent orange (Quiller or M. Graham) in over the existing smoke. These were mixed on the palette to produce warmer and cooler greys, then applied over some parts, but not all of the previous step’s dried smoke wash.

Then I left the smoke alone. The only things I painted after that were his face, hand, hat and shirt shapes and the background. And when I painted any of those, I was very careful to only paint as much as I could actually see. A good example of this is down in his shoulder area, which is almost completely obscured by smoke. I could only see a darkish shape, and it appeared warm instead of the cool you’d expect. I could also see the dark blue shirt shadow defining his hand. And all the smoke edges were soft.

Another important spot was the extension of a very light echo of semi-neutral skin tone to describe the hint of his cheek line within the smoke. Please also notice the outline of smoke against his darker cheek still has one softened place where the line disappears.

Been There E

Once I added some real darks to the background, the hat and figure definitely needed more darks/detail, especially in the hand. Also, the smoke appeared flat so that it looked like it was almost on the same plane as his cheek, which wasn’t the case. I popped it forward by darkening his cheek more while still trying to keep some softness in the smoke’s lost edge there.

After I was done building volume with darks, the smoke just didn’t stand out enough anymore, so I went in with another blue-grey glaze out to the right from his stogie, then again a little higher and closer to his face. I kept it light and small with ragged-to-soft edges, leaving most of the smoke already there untouched. I did go into the shirt’s shoulder areas which showed through the smoke and defined them a little more. Again, I worked to keep the edges soft and almost random most of the time. That way, the viewer gets the impression of a darker mass “behind” the smoke that the mind interprets as the shoulder. It is important not to overdo these areas, or you will end up with Swiss cheese instead of smoke. 

But he’s not done yet.

Been There H

 Painting over the eyes to deepen shadows is always a gut-twister for me, but the image was still too flat. It lacked the drama I wanted. The only way to fix that was by adding darker values to the face, fingers, hand, and forearm. I chose more of the same warm and cool palette-mixed greys, then added more cadmium red and quinacridone rose (M. Graham) on the paper. This was important here because non-Caucasian people - including those with a strong Native American heritage like this man - have red blood which shows in their warm skin tones, most especially in the cheeks, fingertips, hands and often the shadowed areas of the skin. Leave it out, and they won’t look quite real to the viewer.

Notice how darkening the skin between the smoke and his nose and adding detail to his fingers  and stogie pushes the smoke forward in front of him, then back behind his hand, giving it the feeling of puffing outward from his mouth into the air before dissipating. All this without adding any paint to the smoke, itself. And take a look at the top of his ring fingernail. Not darkening it allowed for an essential soft edge among all those hard ones.

At this point, I felt like I “should” paint a light wash around the smoke to cover all that white paper (you know, The Rule About White Paper Near The Paper’s Edges), but everything I thought of doing would have forced me to add more paint elsewhere to balance the change. If I’d wanted a more photorealistic piece, I would have done that, but the mood would have been lost. So forget the rule. I decided I was done.

Main Triad:
Richeson turquoise (Quiller brand)
Permanent orange (Quiller)
Quinacridone violet (M. Graham)

Along with:
Cadmium yellow light (M. Graham)
Cadmium red light (Quiller)
Cadmium red (M. Graham)
Quinacridone rose ( M. Graham)
Pthalocyanine blue (M. Graham)
Ultramarine blue (M. Graham)

1Been There

Watercolor on Saunders Waterford 140# Rough - 20 x 21 1/2”

California Watercolor Association 2018 Silver Medal

Watercolor Society of Alabama 2019 Award of Excellence (Best of Show)

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