En plein air, from representational to experimental

The 8 week watercolour course I’ve been going to has now finished. The final session was outdoors – my first watercolour outside.

It started off as a representational piece, of some trees. However, it started to go wrong and ended up as an experimental image, to put a positive spin on it.


These were the steps I intended to follow:

1) Use index fingers and thumbs to frame the composition.

2) Very dry sketch of the skeleton of the image, almost like a pencil drawing.

3) Apply dry paint to fill in the bits and gradually build up the image.

If it were sunny, I could have used this tip: Put the shadows in at the same time because they’ll move over the duration of the painting. Also put them in first because the effect will be better than painting shadows over existing paint. This also applies to other dark areas.

So, I was doing fine, painting the trees, bush and fence, when I got distracted by an inquisitive seagull that was walking around the playground. What could go wrong if I did a quick sketch of the bird? Well, since it is white, I needed to add a background. The playground I painted wasn’t true to life as I neglected the bank of grass, but it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately it got me wanting to fill the rest of the canvas with sky – a sky that came out brown instead of grey/blue. From that point, as I had lost the representation I was originally aiming for, I just did what I could to make the colours work.

It has got better with time, and looks better on-screen than off, but I still don’t like it much. I think I’m currently too focussed on seeing what I didn’t do, rather than seeing the image for what it is. After a while, I may try bringing out the trees a bit more strongly.



  1. Pingback: Third watercolour course with David Forster | art fn
  2. Pingback: En plein air, continued | art fn

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