Warmup – Use of White

The next master watercolorist reviewed in the Tate Watercolor Manual, Lessons from the Great Masters,* was Thomas Girtin. Girtin was a contemporary of Turner, but as his life was cut short, didn’t rise to the same prominence. One of his most famous paintings is The White House of Chelsea, a perfect demonstration of the use of white in watercolors. The white is so stark in this painting, even though minuscule in size, it is the focal point of the picture.

Today’s warmup exercise:

The exercise provided by the Tate Manual was designed to show how to make use of white in a watercolor painting. The white of watercolor paper is the brightest tone in any watercolor painting. Any pigment applied darkens tonal values. Therefore, the white of the paper must be preserved if one wants the brightest tone possible in a watercolor.

The study below shows the sequence of painting a white house by a body of water.

The first panel (upper right) shows a light gray (neutral tint) wash surrounding the silhouette of a small house.

Below this panel, I brushed in a darker gray, taking care to leave the white of the reflection. Also, I used a cobalt blue/yellow ochre combination for the beach.

The manual recommended a slight yellow ochre tint for the house, ‘broken up and echoed in the reflection below.’

The final panel (upper left) contains all of the first three steps plus the result of dragging a clean moist brush across the section left clear for the reflection.

Watercolor: Use of White for House and Reflection

Warmup – Use of White for House and Reflection

I have always wondered how watercolorists achieve wonderful reflections in ponds and lakes. I will need much more practice to achieve this effect, but I started on that path today.


Tate Watercolour Manual, Lessons from the Great Masters by Tony Smibert and Joyce Townsend

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