Inspiration – Original Watercolor

INSPIRATION. Original Watercolor by Woody Hansen
Title: INSPIRATION – Original watercolor by Woody Hansen
To see a framed version of this painting or to learn more, click image)


What does a watercolor artist do to create inspiration and interest beyond slavishly  replicating that which is before him. It is an interesting and challenging problem.  No small amount of caution and thought is required to avoid falling into the trap of producing  just another trite, mundane watercolor paining.  Of course the answer is always a subjective one.

While I don’t pretend to speak for every artist, what follows is simply one man’s approach to dealing with the subjective problem of avoiding mundane subject matter.

Photograph of site scene

The day on which this particular watercolor begins is rather dark, cool and overcast. As I set up my painting gear it is obvious the river scene is engulfed in the most bland and boring earth colors imaginable (see above).

Initially, I haven’t a subject matter in mind. The main thought is to first set up the watercolor equipment, then to select subject matter from the immediate surroundings, or from one of several previously accomplished value plans, which are carefully tucked away in my backpack.

Photograph of painting site along the American River, Sacramento, CA.

NOTE: For purposes of illustrating this blog post,  I returned to the location the following morning to photograph both the far left and far right groups of trees that provide the basis of this watercolor composition (see above image).

Photograph of a tree used for design purposes

I forego the aforementioned sketches. But what to paint? I have painted this spot for numerous years. How can I inject something new, something beyond the obvious? Then  I notice a group of easterly facing trees, twenty to thirty yards to my right. These trees are not new to the river. Their residency is decades old. What’s so different about them this time? No leaves. Two clumps of tree limbs and branches suggest interesting shapes, each of a different size. this makes an ideal starting point for today’s watercolor.

Photograph of a tree used for design purposes

The photo above, isolates and  illustrates the larger of the two groups of trees. I note the overall tree shape which is composed of many smaller trunks is visually divided into three smaller shapes. By imagining the elimination of the right and left shapes, the center most group of trunks becomes a large design element.

Below is an overlay, a rough illustration of what will become the dominate watercolor shape discussed in the previous paragraph. The selected shape is seen loosely outlined in bold, black ink.Graphic overlay of design element

Below is a close-up view of the second grouping of trees, which are situated to the right of the main, or dominate grouping.

Photograph of trees for use as a possible design shape.


Below is another  overlay, a rough illustration of the less dominate shape mentioned in the above paragraph. The selected shape is seen outlined in bold, black ink. It is helpful to keep in mind these are only suggested shapes. At this point in the creative watercolor process there is no attempt to develop any recognizable subject, only unique shapes that inspire or in some way energize  forward progress. If anything, this early attempt  is only to find shapes that might result in a non-objective painting.

Photograph of American River, Sacramento, CA.

The next step is to freely draw the shapes on watercolor paper. In this instance, I use watercolor  line to outline three shapes of various sizes, two of which are based on personal observation and the third of arbitrary origin. The three positive areas and single negative area appear to meet the definition of an interesting shape. The result is seen below.

Linear outline of interesting shapes

The firs watercolor layer is achieved wet-on-dry, using primary colors purposely kept light in value (tints). Once the first layer is dry, a second layer, consisting of a mid-value mixture of reds and blues (purple) is laid in. In short order, the watercolor pattern of light and mid-values are loosely established (see below).

Beginning of watercolor washes.

At this point the painting itself gives the impression of a subject, so I willingly disregard the non-objective concept.  The next step is to suggest the pattern of darks. With the use of a three-inch, flat brush an eventual value pattern is established, followed by a period of compositional evaluation and adjustment.

The third layer is applied.

While  one can see a definite value pattern above, this painting appears to lack finish, as well as the visual “snap” I imagine. It falls short of its potential. Among other things, this watercolor could use bold darks to energize the light and mid values.

Therefore, it seems wise to lay in additional darks. Sometimes I hunker down and apply the darks directly with assured strokes.  Other times I use a more cautious approach,. This is accomplished by placing a piece of glass over the dried watercolor painting, which allows one to easily add and remove dark shapes or calligraphy, made with a black, dry erase” pen.

This technique of drawing on glass also encourages free experimentation without the concern of error. Any mistakes can be easily, and quickly brushed off with a cotton rag. Lots of fun! (see below).

Adjusting the dark pattern

Once the glass is removed from the watercolor a clear checkerboard pattern of darks, along with additional calligraphic marks can be seen and evaluated. This pattern then serves as a guide for further development of the watercolor. The same process could, of course be technologically adaptted (Photoshoped), but I prefer the “hands on” approach.

Black ink watercolor shape overlay

Now the darks are added to the watercolor. All that remains is the final adjustment here and there of shape, value, color, line, texture, etc. The finished painting is seen at the top and bottom of this post.

SO, WHAT’S THE POINT? The point is that we don’t need the perfect view, the ideal subject, an exotic location, to make a painting.  With a little imagination, we can find inspiration, and interesting shapes (the foundation of all painting) nearly anywhere.

NOTE: If you found this information informative, entertaining, or helpful, and would like to see more posts of this nature, please leave a comment here, or contact me by way of my web site’s Contact Page. Obviously, the amount of feedback I receive will determine future postings.

 Questions? Leave a comment here, or contact me personally via my Contact Page.   To learn more, or to purchase this painting please click on THIS LINK.

INSPIRATION. Original Watercolor by Woody Hansen

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