Interview with Mitzi Sato-Wiuff
A Sea Monster in Watercolor
A Sea Monster in WatercolorBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Watercolor is a perfect medium for painting water scenes. The pigments, when applied properly, create subtle blends of colors and shapes that lend themselves to water beautifully. Here's just one example.
This painting started with a line drawing on 140lb cold-press watercolor paper. The lines are dark, but that's okay; the paint is going to be dark enough to hide the lines completely.
The initial base layer was done completely wet-in-wet; that means that I was using wet paint on paper that was already wet. I used warm colors around the head, repeating them in parts of the tail to move the eye around. Cooler colors prevailed elsewhere. Although I usually use mostly low-staining colors in my paintings, in this one I am favoring the stains. They are very brilliant and strong, and that is something I wanted in this composition. I will not be able to lift as easily, though, so it is something I have to keep in mind while I am painting. This initial layer is Winsor green and red, with some tints of burnt orange and apatite blue.
This layer was also completed wet-in-wet, although I left the areas I planned to leave alone dry to protect them from the paint. I used stronger mixes of the same colors, adding in viridian green as well. I painted around most of the head, neck, and forequarters, although I did apply paint to the thick stripes and the gills. Although I worked in one, wet layer, I did start to indicate the darker areas of the stripes on the tail as it curled up. In some areas, a drop of clean water into the round area at the top of the spines pushed out the color, leaving it paler than the surrounding areas. I also sprayed the painting with water to add some texture before I let it dry.
I worked wet-in-wet again, this time refining the contours of the dragon: the head, neck, and many of the spines. I also painted in the rear leg, the fin running up the back tail, and painted in some shadows on the ribcage. The mixes were similar, although stronger, and I stared using Winsor blue in addition to the rest of the colors.
In this layer I mainly outlined the rest of the tail, using a bright mix with Winsor green. I also defined the stripes a little more on the tail, and the dragon's underbelly. Notice that while the water around the dragon's head is definitely a green-ish color, the warmth of the warm colors underneath shines through, adding interest and depth.
Here I added in a very simple background. This layer was not done wet-in-wet; I kept the paper dry. I started by painting in a line of the coral, and then used clean water to dilute the paint, creating a seamless transition between the layers. I varied the heights and ridges to create visual interest and to keep the eye moving.
With the base layers finished, all that was left to do was refine the edges and add detail where necessary.
I started by scrubbing the areas around the round tips of the spines. I used an old, stiff brush, dipped in clean water, and dried the spot afterwards with a paper towel to pick up unwanted pigment. This gives them a slight aura of luminescence. I painted in the dark colors of the spines, using clean water to transition them to the background color as before.
I also used scrubbing to tidy up the contours of the spines as much as I could, but, with staining colors, there was only so much I could do. Once those areas were completely dry, I went back in with the greenish mix and cleaned up the contours a little more. I used a similar technique for the rear foot.
After that I just did a little detail work on the head, painting in the eyes and some more refined, darker shadows on the gills. Some shadow areas on other parts of the dragon were darkened as well.
And there we have it, a finished composition. A variety of colors, values, and curving lines keeps the eye moving, yet trapped inside the painting. And while you can instantly look at it and understand that it depicts a creature underwater, I didn't have to resort to using just boring blues and greens to do it. Try experimenting with your own work. Try painting a desert with barely any yellow or orange, or a forest with barely any green. You'll be surprised at how your creativity soars when you impose some restrictions you have to work around. Good luck!
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