Serendipity contributes in large part to watercolor success.
If we try too hard to control watercolor to achieve the results we started out imagining, we can easily destroy the appearance of spontaneity that keeps a painting looking fresh. We try to correct shapes, fill in outlines, erase “goofs,” and otherwise fiddle with what we’ve already put on the paper.
This can lead to loss of “sparkle” where the paper shows through, or muddiness where paint has been rubbed off but has already stained the paper or where it has been overlaid with too many other colors. It can lead to trying to stop or correct inadvertent blooms and bleeds, which usually only makes matters worse.
We need to recognize where to adjust (without “correcting”) what has been happening on the paper, and when to let the watercolor do what watercolor does.
In “Strawberry” (#150115w, above), my goal was to show the temptingly delicious form and texture of the fresh berry.
I reserved the highlights with frisket. Starting with red/green complements, I blocked in the sepals and the shaded side of the berry, building it up with glazes and gradually extending color into the lit side.
Concerned that the shadowed side was actually too dark to indicate any reflected light, I lifted some of the color out of the area where I wanted to show reflected light, leaving only enough to keep it in the shaded-values range.
Meanwhile, the green sepals needed to be contoured with glazes. It was at this stage that I painted in the shadow area below the sepals and retouched the darker side of the strawberry where I had lifted out a little too extensive an area for the reflected light. Because I was using a mixture of red and green in the shadow, I used the red of the berry to shadow the sepal layers and allowed it to bleed across the edges, while some of the green seeped up into the berry. This had a unifying effect and minimized hard edges in the shaded areas.
After it had all dried, I removed the frisket and dropped in spots of yellow and dark green for “seeds.” The result appeared too hard-edged, so I used a couple of weak washes (one pale blue, one light green) to soften the entire shaded side, and a light yellow wash over much of the lit side (both of which lifted most of the still-damp “seeds” I’d just applied) and reapplied more limited seed spots into a still-damp surface. I didn’t attempt to retouch any hard edges where pigment had collected.
The actual berry, on which I’d modeled the painting, didn’t have a crease on the near side. Serendipity allowed this to happen. I could adjust the color, but I couldn’t have done this by trying to strictly control the paint. And any hard-fought efforts to “correct” the form would have made no improvement over this painting. It’s a lesson I try to always keep in mind.