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Medium: Watercolor
Category: Drawing/Composition

This tutorial and demonstration is from the book, "Daring Color" by Ann Abgott, published by North Light Books, an imprint of F + W Media. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All steps included.

Composing with Photographs and Sketches

"Closed for the Season" by Anne Abgott

When nature doesn't provide you with the perfect photo, you need to know how to create a good composition. I keep files of sketches I do from life and photos. You never know when you will need an interesting tree shape for a landscape or an active person to add life to a street scene. I transfer these drawings to transparent tracing paper and lay them over my photos where I need to. They are a valuable source of material--just as important as the photo.

___________________________M A T E R I A L S___________________________

BRUSHES - Nos. 6, 8, 12, 16 and 36 round, no. 6 scrubber

WATERCOLORS - Aureolin Yellow, Brown Madder, Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue, Gamboge Nova, Mineral Violet, Permanent Blue, Permanent Rose, Permanent Sap Green, Ultramarine Blue, Verditer Blue

SURFACE - 300 lb. (640 gsm) Arches cold-pressed paper

OTHER - Absorbing pad, commercial masking fluid remover, masking fluid, old no. 12 round, razor blade, soapy water

Reference Photo
I have many photos of the shutters in my neighborhood, but none of them had any exciting shadows. So I went to my file of shadow shapes, on transparent paper, found a shape I liked and laid it over the tracing of the shutter to create a composition I liked.
Shadow Shape
Here I tried another shadow shape over the shutter and drew it out on paper.
Final Composition
This is the composition I chose to paint. I drew the shutter and the shadow shape out on plain drawing paper about 5" x 7" (13cm x 18cm) in size. I placed this drawing in my projector and traced it onto my watercolor paper.
Keeping Reference Photos Organized

I keep all my photographs in antique boxes that double as end tables. I have them divided into subject matter. I bind like subjects together with rubber bands. For instance, flowers are subcategorized by a specific flower type. This is my system:
Things that breathe (people, animals). Things that don't breath (still life). Architecture (buildings, chairs, etc.).


Lightly pencil in the shadow and shutter design on watercolor paper. Dip an old no. 12 round in soapy water and apply masking fluid to the shadows' negative spaces. Let this dry. With a no. 12 round, dampen some areas of the shutter. Mingle Verditer Blue, Permanent Blue and Cobalt Blue over the shutter area. While this is damp, pick up some Aureolin Yellow with a no. 16 round, touch the brush to the absorbing pad and gently drop the color into a few areas of the shutters to suggest sunlight hitting them. Let this dry, then use a no. 6 or 8 round to apply paint between the slats of the shutters, mingling Brown Madder and Ultramarine Blue to get these darks.


Mingle Brown Madder and Ultramarine Blue to create dark slats. Paint two strokes of one color then two of the other allowing the Brown Madder to show where the sun hits the subject. On dry paper with a no. 12 round, underpaint the branch with Gamboge Nova, then drop in a little Brown Madder. While this is wet, mingle Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue and Mineral Violet on the shadow side of the branch. Once the wet glisten of the watercolor disappears, scratch off some paint with a razor blade to suggest the texture of wood.


Start at the left upper edge of the shadow area of the leaves. Use a no. 36 round loaded with Verditer Blue to cover a few inches of paper. Then clean your brush and pick up Permanent Rose. Join Permanent Rose to Ultramarine Blue. Let them mingle together. Paint over the dry masking fluid. Change and repeat the colors until the entire shadow shape is covered with mingled colors. Clean the brush each time you change colors. While the shadow shape is still damp, add Permanent Sap Green where the leaves reflect back into the painting. Add more Cobalt Blue to the areas of the shadow around the shutter. Let dry.


Paint the tree's shadow on the upper part of the shutter with a no. 12 round, mingling Verditer Blue, Cobalt Blue and Mineral Violet. Pull the wet paint up into the dry shadow shape on the wall and blend the paint with water. Complete the shadow under the shutter using the same colors. Let this dry and remove all of the masking fluid with a commercial masking remover. Run your fingers over the surface to be sure you have removed all the mask.


Paint the leaves on the tree using a no. 12 round, mingling Gamboge Nova, Permanent Sap Green, Brown Madder and Permanent Blue. To add more shadow shapes to the shutters, use a no. 8 round and mingle Cobalt Blue with Mineral Violet. Finish by cleaning up areas and softening ragged edges with a no. 6 scrubber.

Closed for the Season
22" x 30" (56cm b 76cm)
Watercolor on cold-pressed paper

by Ann Abgott

Tutorial/demonstration from Daring Color by Anne Abgott and published by North Light Books, an imprint of F + W Media. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Anne Abgott's Website

Artwork and Text Copyright 2013 by Anne Abgott. All Rights Reserved.

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