Posts Tagged ‘Giverny’

Changing Key, Part 2

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

After having already completed two versions of the same scene, I wanted to see how much white paper I could maintain for an even higher key of this same shadowed subject, a quiet cove in Monet’s pond in Giverny. In order to allow the white paper to represent the warm sunlight, I chose a cool color palette to “key” the white paper, causing it to appear to take on a warmer cast. This time my palette choices included Indanthrene blue, perilene violet, viridian, and permanent sap green.

I also chose to keep the colors more discrete, often separated by white space. This meant there was less intermingling of colors and a higher proportion of hard edges than in the previous versions.


As with every new version I create of the same subject matter, I made a few changes in my third version. In this case I specified the previously rather generic trees in the background as being bamboo. In order to allow the most light to shine through the bamboo canes, I painted only the darkest shadows, leaving the lighter areas unpainted. However, that area began to look too spotty, and strong contrast there called attention away from the focal area of the boat and central tree.

I modified the spotty effect and subdued the stark contrast by applying a unifying wash of blue and violet to suggest open shade in the distance. As I had anticipated, the cool shadowed areas did serve to “key” the unpainted whites to appear warmer, suggesting sunlight filtering through the bamboos. But merely suggesting the warmth of sunlight in this way, through complementary juxtaposition of cool hues, wasn’t enough.

Overall, the new painting resembled an old print in which the yellow ink had faded out. This result should not have been surprising, since I had actually used no yellow paint in it at all. At that point I realized it was more important to sacrifice the whiteness of the paper to obtain richer color throughout than to try to prove a point, so I applied a wash of quinacridone gold over selected areas to perk up the “faded” impression and to provide the warmth and richness the painting was crying for. The revision of “At Pond’s Edge 3” (below) proved much more satisfactory.


Do you prefer painting #1 or #2 from the previous post, or #3 shown here? Send me a message through my Contact page or on Facebook at to tell me which you prefer … and why. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

Changing Key, Part 1

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

This summer I was strongly influenced by all the fine art I was able to see in person. The old masters weren’t afraid to experiment, to try new approaches, to play with ideas their colleagues were investigating. It inspired me to do further experimentation of my own, and motivated me to apply myself even more diligently to refining the skills so critical to achieving a fine artistic product.

Back in the studio this fall, I’ve been playing with different approaches to watercolor. Basing my studies on one of the photographs I had taken at Monet’s lily pond in Giverny in August, I experimented to create similar paintings in different keys. One is low key, with a good proportion of dark values; the next is much lighter, or high key.

141001w At Pond's Edge 1, Giverny

The low key version, “At Pond’s Edge 1” (#141001, above), is closest to a realistic color and value range. The look has a richness similar to that found in oils or acrylics. The lowest values are very dark, with little transparency. Even the high values are tinted with fluid washes so that very little unadulterated white of the paper peeks through.

My working palette for this painting included phthalo blue, burnt umber, burnt sienna, brown madder, permanent sap green, and quinacridone gold.


“At Pond’s Edge 2” (#141004, above), painted in a higher key, is more typical of my usual watercolor style, with intermingled pigments and a mixture of hard and soft edges. Darks are transparent; and although I have incorporated thin washes in many of the high value passages, the paper is permitted to shine through, providing white highlights to brighten the mid-value areas. The overall appearance is one of delicacy and airiness.

My palette choices were very similar those I used in the previous painting, only substituting a warmer Indanthrene blue for the cooler phthalo blue.

Next time I’ll show a third approach to the same subject, using a very different color palette, and will discuss some of the difficulties I encountered and how I addressed them.