Watercolor and Mixed Media Demonstration



For this demonstration we are going to work through the various stages of this full sheet, mixed media painting of early morning Paris. All the initial under painting is done in watercolour, stronger and more saturated than the final painting will be. Over this we wash varying mixtures of white gesso tinted with watercolour, leaving small patches of the underpainting exposed. These flicks of saturated colour breaking through what is essentially a grey painting, add life and vitality to what could become flat and drab.



1" Flat Taklon
1/4" Flat Taklon
#2 liner or rigger
1/2" Bristle 
2" Bristle
3" Hake
Full sheet Arches 300gsm HP 
Phthalo Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Alizarin Crimson
Burnt Sienna
Raw Sienna
Quinacridone Gold

White Gesso
Ox Gall (see note)

Most of the work in this painting is done with a couple of old Bristle house painting brushes. They add a wonderful ragged character to the brush strokes.
Paris Morning

A damp, grey morning in Paris certainly makes an emotive subject. There is nothing like a light shower of rain to saturate colours and extend the tonal range.

Paris Sketch
Our initial thumbnail sketch reduces our subject to a few simple tonal areas

Loose and Quick
We want to keep this painting soft and suggestive so drawing is kept to a minimum and the first washes are quick and accidental. The bridge is a mix of Quinacridone Gold and Alizarin Crimson. The trees are made from varying mixtures of Quinacridone Gold, Phthalo and Ultramarine Blue, and Burnt Sienna. An old 1/2" bristle brush gives an unpredictable, loose line.

These variegated colours are made by applying one colour then, while it is still wet, dropping in a darker colour.

Large Washes

To wash in a large area of sky and water like this, first wet the entire area you want to cover. Mix some Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson - enough to easily cover the area then apply it with your 2" bristle brush. Work it evenly over the surface then smooth it out with a dry hake brush. Keep drying the Hake as you work it over the surface. Once the wash starts to dry leave it to settle.

Don't be too concerned if your colour is a little strong. This is an under wash and only small parts of it will be visible in the finished painting.

Defining Darks
Let the large washes dry, then use your 1/2" bristle brush and a strong dark made from Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Gold and Alizarin Crimson to define some of the details. Pick out the arches under the bridges, tree trunks, pontoons and boats. Use your 1" flat brush and some pure Ultramarine and Alizarin to put some colour into the foreground boats

Many of these dark marks will remain visible in the final painting, so make them as interesting and full of character as possible.

More Colour
A mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson can be graded through the sky. The same mixture can be splashed loosely into the foreground water. While it is still wet drop in some pure Phthalo Blue. Don't worry if it all looks a bit loud and colourful, we will loose most of this colour in the final stage of the painting.

Make your under painting stronger and more colourful than you would normally paint.

Light Reflections
The same mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson can be graded through the water once our foreground splashes have dried. Concentrate the wash on either side of the painting, leaving a band of light down through the centre of interest.

At this point the smaller brushes can be used to suggest some finer detail in the boats, bridges and distant buildings.

To intensify the light, let everything dry thoroughly then work some white Gesso down through the sky and into the water. With a damp 2" bristle brush, feather out the gesso into the surrounding purple wash.

A little raw at this stage, but ideal for subduing with some translucent glazes.

Gesso Mix the Gesso tints in separate containers. They will keep for a few days if covered in cling wrap. Don't let the Gesso dry on your brushes, they should be washed out in water straight away.

Subduing the colours
Before moving on to the final step I added some more strength to the trees with a wash of Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue. A distant boat and some detail in the buildings complete the watercolour phase of this painting.

We are now ready to work over the surface with tinted Gesso. The first pale orange is made by mixing a small amount of Quinacridone Gold and Alizarin Crimson watercolour into some Gesso. Don't mix the Gesso on your watercolour palette - when it dries it is insoluble and will ruin the palette. A small mixing container is a good idea (mix the colours together first then gradually add the Gesso.)

Apply the mixture with your 2" brush, feathering it out to a translucent haze as you apply it. (You may find it helpful to use a wet brush to spread out the paint.) The idea is to work a translucent layer of Gesso over the sky and water, avoiding the boats, buildings, bridges and any areas of the under painting you wish to retain. The density of the Gesso glaze can be adjusted by varying the amount of water in different areas.

When the first Gesso layer has dried mix a more neutral grey and repeat the process this time working more towards the outer regions of the painting. Don't completely obliterate the underlying washes. It is these little flicks of colour that give life to the painting.

After all the Gesso has dried some final marks of white Gesso suggest light on the water. These were applied straight from the pot with a 2" brush then feathered out with a clean, damp brush.


The final calligraphic reflections under the boats were painted onto the dry Gesso glaze with a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Indigo to which a drop of Ox Gall was added.


This detail shows areas of watercolour underpainting visible through gaps in the Gesso glazes.
Ox Gall

Ox Gall is a wetting agent made from the bile from a cows gall bladder. When mixed with watercolour it reduces the surface tension, enabling the paint to adhere to a less porus surface. A little bit goes a long way.

If your art supplier doesn't have it in stock they should be able to order it in for you.

If you can't get hold of Ox Gall, a minute dab of a solution of baby soap will do the same job. Baby soap has a neutral pH so won't damage your paper.

ox gall

These two marks painted onto gloss paper show the effect of Ox Gall on watercolour. The mark on the left is pure watercolour. Notice how the paint beads up and contracts from the surface. The mark on the right has a small amount of Ox Gall added. Coverage is almost complete, even on gloss paper.

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