Painting The Light In Watercolour

As a well known artist said, ‘No matter what you’re painting, you’re painting the light’.  More and more I am coming to believe that.  What interests me about this idea of painting the light is how different artists interpret it.  A very accomplished artist that I know said to me that when she goes out to paint if there isn’t bright sun light and strong shadows she turns around and goes home and waits for the sunshine to return.  Now,  paintings that feature strong contrast between sun light and those marvellous dark shadows are often instantly appealing and certainly commercially more successful.  However, the truth is that no matter what the conditions are there is always light.  Night time,  over cast days, rainy days, mornings, mid day, evenings all have their own light.  It’s just different light.

I’m always impressed by the watercolour painting of Alvaro Castagnet who will paint in any  condition and can always produce a wonderful, lively painting.  On one of his DVD’s he paints a Paris scene on a rainy, cloudy day and the painting is completely captivating.

I mention all this because I find it interesting and challenging to try to capture the light in whatever form it comes.  I set a goal this week to go out every morning just to see what I could make of the light, whatever it was.  I went about 2 blocks from my house to a place with a nice view over 37th Street and the T’suu Tina reserve.  This morning when I went there it was very early, and very overcast.  The sun was just coming up but since it was so overcast there were no real shadows, not a lot of contrast and much subdued colour.  Since my goal was just to record the light that I saw I did a painting anyway just trying to capture the feel of that kind of morning.

This  is the view I was painting.morning mts photo





And this is the painting I did.

Rex Beanland, Morning Mountains, watercolour 9 x 13

Morning Mountains






The whole point of this exercise was not to create a bright vibrant painting but just to capture what I saw.

We may identify strong contrast between light and dark and vibrant colour as being more attractive or appealing but to an artist any light condition can be worthy of capturing.  It’s all just a chance to experience life and light as it is.  Life is made more worthwhile by having variety and we can learn much from coming to appreciate that variety.

This painting is the one I did yesterday in the same location with again no sun but it is made more ‘appealing’  by the beautiful yellow of the morning sky.

Rex Beanland, 37th Street Morning, watercolour, 9 x 13

37th Street Morning


This final painting was done about a month ago, again in the same location but this time it was foggy, creating a beautiful looseness to the background.

Rex Beanland, 2 to 1, watercolour, 5.5 x 8

2 to 1 

Any judgment about which painting is better is of secondary interest. For me the most important factor  is that I had a lot of fun doing them and  in each case I learned something – and that is enough.

Happy painting!

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