I’ve been reading a lot, lately, about the benefits of trying to complete a watercolour in 3 washes. I’m finding that it forces me to combine and simplify shapes and it gives me a focus to my painting process. Today I went plein air (on location) painting and consciously tried to apply this method.
I’ve been very influenced by a book I’m reading by my watercolour hero Joseph Zbukvic (Creating Mood And Atmosphere In Watercolour). He says that your painting starts the minute you begin looking at the scene, not when you first apply paint to paper. When you first look at the scene you need to simplify the scene into as few shapes as possible (5 or fewer is very good). Also you need to organize these shapes in terms of their value and colour. This preliminary thinking can be amongst the most valuable moments in the painting process.
So in version 1 my first wash identified the 3 main shapes: the sky the hills and the road. Much of the wash on the main hill is in fact a final wash as can be seen in the final version. In this first wash I also left a few white highlights to add interest and contrast later on. In wash 2 I added nearly all the shapes ie the trees, the accents on the hills and various grave stones. In the final wash I added the shadows, the dark tree on the right and various bits and pieces. So the entire painting took about an hour and a half and I think captures the feeling I was after.
Another idea I’m trying to keep front of mind is to have the painting tell a story. In this simple study I want you to be drawn up the pleasant curve of the road and up to the top grave stone and the flags. Interestingly the flags are at half mast because today was the Ralph Klein Memorial Service. So I think that that is also part of the story of this painting.
For me, however, the main point of this was simply as an exercise to further develop my understanding of this 3 wash process of painting a watercolour.