Turning a trip to a favorite place into a painting
The way I work has been slowly evolving over time. Gradually, I have come to realize that the advice of my teachers to do a value sketch before I start to draw on my watercolor paper really IS a good idea. I am trying to do more of my sketches plein air, but often, when on vacation, that is not practical. The day we visited Cerro Castellan, in big Bend National Park, it was August and very hot, so I tried to take the best photographs I could of this dramatic volcanic formation.
Recently, I have added the step of making a color sketch before touching my watercolor paper and paints. This allows me to experiment with color combinations and object placement. These sketches are small, only 5"x7", and done in watercolor pencil. I draw the shapes in lightly with pencil, then add color with the watercolor pencils. Next, I wet the colored areas with a brush, and spread the paint around a bit. When the paper dries, I add final details with watercolor pencil, and sometimes pen and ink. Since these are just experiments, I can work without much stress.
My goal with this little sketch is not to record details, but to work out the placement of shapes and values. I decided that Cerro Castellan had to be the darkest value in the picture. I moved the mass of vegetation from left to right to better balance the picture. I also moved "Santa Elena Canyon" a little to the left, so it would be a recognizable element of the picture. It is a landmark that is visible from many points in the area.
The Final Painting
Now that I have a clearer idea of how I want the painting to look, I can draw my image on the watercolor paper. I use a 3B graphite pencil to draw the image on 140 Lb Saunders Rough watercolor paper. No matter how well you plan, a watercolor painting takes on a life of its own during the painting process. I like the scattered blue passages, and the way they stand out against the orange/sienna colors.
Marsha Reeves is a watercolor painter living in Austin, Texas