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Anatomy of a Watercolor with Caren Hackman

Artists paint them and viewers admire them, but do art patrons understand the anatomy of a watercolor?  Fine artist, Caren Hackman, shares a behind-the-scenes look and step-by-step process with our Rickie Report readers.





Caren Hackman:

Anatomy of a watercolor painting




On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes area of New York State I was captivated by the lovely old homes. I decided to paint a watercolor of my friends’ 19th century home. When I am commissioned to paint a house, I generally draw the home out very carefully in pencil using my drafting tools to avoid distortion. For this painting, I elected to keep my drawing and brush strokes looser and more spontaneous looking. I penciled the outline of the home onto an 11” x 15” sheet of  Arches 100% rag watercolor paper. For a more personal touch, I added the family’s golden retriever to the front porch. Most paintings begin with a larger, very wet brush, and work through to a smaller, drier brush for the final details.







01-The first step of the painting process is to simply create an under-wash to distribute the three primary colors; yellow, red and blue, through the composition. I brushed and splattered a loose, transparent wash over the composition.






02-After allowing the under-wash to dry completely, I began blocking out large areas that are in shadow and applied some the wall color of the house. I used red for the shadows because it is the color compliment of green. During a later part of the pairing process, green foliage will be added. The red areas will take on a muddy neutral tone and appear as shadows.








03-04 The process continues by blocking in color and identifying the shadow areas on the house and surrounding greenery.






05-At this point I’ve been looking at the painting for nearly two weeks and I need to take some time to step back and review the work.  One way that I do this is by using a mirror. The mirror removes visual prejudice. Viewing the image in reverse offers an opportunity to spot flaws and imbalances in the composition.  Seeing the piece in the mirror makes it obvious that I will need to add more detail to capture the charm of the house. I decided to tape the painting to my drawing table. Using a white colored pencil and a straightedge to draw the borders of the columns and window trim will help enhance architectural detail. The small amount of wax laid down by the colored pencil can keep the watercolor paint from adhering to the areas that should remain light.






06-I added finishing touches to the painting, such as details in the hanging baskets and street-side lamp. At this point I photographed the painting and viewed it for a couple of days to decide if it was finished. I concluded that there was an imbalance in the piece that made me uncomfortable.





07- I emailed the photo to my friend Elaine, who has a very sharp eye for design and balance. She saw immediately that the large dark shapes on the left were detracting from the character of the house. She also thought that the dog needed some work. I used a small natural sponge to scrub off some of the dark areas of the driveway and garage. Next, I used a small sable brush to sharpen the features on the dog and dimensional shadows on the house.  After another review of the work, I determined that I am very happy with the piece. It is finished.



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Caren Hackman is a graphic designer and fine artist living in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. and author of  a book about Graphic Design and Good Business practice. Design Exposed  Be sure to check out Caren’s wonderful artwork –  Caren is a talented artist in her own right!  She is a founding member of the Artists of Palm Beach County.

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