Are You Afraid of the Dark … Side of Watercolor?

When it comes to watercolor, sometimes mixing colors — especially dark colors — can get a little tricky. But don’t worry, water media enthusiasts, because a true watercolor pro is here to share a few key tricks!

Below, artist and instructor Jean Haines discusses how to embrace the darkest of darks in your water media work without getting overwhelmed.

Embrace the Darkest Darks in Watercolor Painting

I have just taken a week of watercolor painting workshops, and I came across a problem that many watercolor artists have in common. Many of us start a wonderful painting but when we seem to be halfway through the creative process, we hit a wall of what to do next.

Often the problem lies in that the painter has gained such a beautiful result so quickly, he or she is terrified of ruining it by going any further. This can result in many half-finished paintings that never make it to a frame.

I can understand the problem. However, it is only by fighting through the fear that we can improve and grow in technique.

Carnations flowing in a loose watercolor with exciting watermarks and color effects evident within the composition.
Carnations flowing in a loose watercolor with exciting watermarks and color effects evident within the composition.

To understand how we should progress in any painting, we need to fully comprehend where we are heading. Unfortunately this, too, is a huge problem for many new artists who have yet to find their style. Picking up a brush and simply hoping for the best does not always lead to great results!

So before you begin painting, decide what you wish to achieve — especially if you are aiming to work in a loose, interpretative style of watercolor art.

1. Soft Results

The carnations above were specifically painted with a soft result in mind. The composition indicates a gentle flow of direction. It holds a sense of movement and leaves much to the imagination.

But is it finished? This is where a watercolorist’s personal opinion will make the decision on whether to add more detail or leave the painting as it is.

2. Drama and Definition

I decided to keep going. By working further and adding strong darks to surround the flowers, the composition appears more dramatic.

In the second image, below, where darks have been added as a backdrop they literally jump off the paper but is the original sense of movement that was so beautiful in the first version now lost?

Adding darks can add powerful impact and drama to a watercolor painting.
Adding darks can add powerful impact and drama to a watercolor painting.

Adding darks to sections of a painting can make or break the composition. Careful additions of a few brushstrokes can make all the difference to what otherwise could have seemed a boring work.

However, too much definition can kill the excitement and freedom that so many artists struggle to achieve when creating a watercolor painting.

3. Finding the Balance

Trying to create a fantastic masterpiece that screams of fascinating sections and is unique and interesting because of its originality is a hard task. But to the artist who is not afraid of the dark, who knows when to add strong colors and when to leave sections soft as a contrast, the pleasure involved in creating is endless.

Blue Rhapsody by Jean Haines, watercolor painting.
Blue Rhapsody by Jean Haines, watercolor painting.

Don’t be afraid of the dark. But do use bold brushwork and color additions wisely.

Study your paintings at different stages in their creation so you know exactly what is needed to either make your work fantastic or just a touch bolder. Most importantly, be unique!

–Jean

Need More Jean Haines?

For more insights into all the aspects of watercolor painting from Jean — an expert we know and love — be sure to get your Watercolor Workout with Jean Haines Video Collection today.

And, watch this fast and fun video tutorial below to discover how Haines works with opaque and transparent watercolor pigments. Enjoy!

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Artist Daily Blog, Watercolor Painting

4 thoughts on “Are You Afraid of the Dark … Side of Watercolor?

  1. Jean, a very encouraging article. When I plan out a painting with a pencil or charcol drawing I often write off to one side “Fear Not the Darks!” as a reminder to keep in mind the need for rich darks in key places to make my painting complete.

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