Dublin Doorway is the most recent watercolour project I’ve been working on and is one of the projects from Terry Harrison’s book, Ready to Paint – Ireland in Watercolour, published by Search Press. The book runs to 47 pages, contains clear instructions with step-by-step photographs, five projects and six reusable tracings to get you started with the minimum of fuss.
Although Dublin Doorway was the final project in the book, I picked it to begin with as I wanted to learn more about painting brickwork, this project seemed to be a good example to learn from, and I found Terry’s version of the finished painting really beautiful.
Unfortunately though, unbeknownst to me, the paper that I used for this painting was very old, and it wasn’t until I had become really committed to finishing the painting that I realised this. I’ve now found the entire batch of paper and have sliced it into little strips that I can only use as scrap.
This project used a palette of 11 colours
- Raw Sienna
- Cobalt Blue
- Burnt Sienna
- French Ultramarine
- Burnt Umber
- Permanent Rose
- Green Gold
- Permanent Sap Green
- Olive Green
- Hooker’s Green
- Cadmium Red
I really enjoyed painting this project, which wasn’t surprising considering I have so many Terry Harrison books! I chose Dublin doorway because it seemed to be the most challenging one in the book and introduced many new watercolor techniques. Having the pre-drawn tracing saved a lot of time and enabled me to get started pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the paper that I used was several years old and had not been stored correctly. This meant that the paper was unable to perform as it should, and in fact it made it extremely difficult to paint this project because it seems to drink every drop of water I put on the paper – it was almost like painting on blotting paper. I didn’t notice that anything was wrong as I painted the loose early washes in the first few stages of project, but as soon as I needed to be more accurate in laying down the pigments, (e.g. painting the greys on the doorstep and needing to make a straight line) I realised just how bad the problem was.
I managed to hold everything together during the middle stages of the project and persevered. The really scary part for me was to block in the Cadmium Red of the door. As I added each successive layer of pigment it began to bleed through the paper, It was almost like blood, oozing its way through the paper towards the pillars on either side of the door. I managed to rescue this by over-painting the red with a very dark wash which I built-up using many thin successive layers of pigment.
In the final stages of the project things got a little easier for me as it was mainly about laying down glazes and tightening up the detail. But by this time the paper had become so buckled it became really awkward to paint even a straight line. I always enjoy the closing stages of a project, it’s where everything starts to come together and you have that nagging feeling of whether you have done enough, or you should just lock away the brushes before you end up with a muddy, overworked mess!
What I learned
Never use old watercolour paper
I will never paint on old paper ever again. It really held me back and I began each painting session with dread rather than enjoyment. The good side to this though is that I learned many new tips and tricks to get me out of this situation and help me deal with the problem should it occur in any future projects. In future projects I will make sure to test the paper before I commit to using it.
Take time with masking at the beginning
I really wish I had taken a little more time and had been much more careful with the masking at the beginning of this project. My impatience to get paint on the paper as quickly as possible caught me out because it actually took me far longer to sort out the problem at the end than if I had taken my time at the beginning.
Painting brickwork – Keep it simple
The main lesson I wanted to learn from this exercise was how to paint convincing looking brickwork in watercolour and I felt I have achieved this. One of the problems I’d been having was knowing how to lay down a variegated under-wash, paint only a few bricks in detail while suggesting the rest. Painting brickwork had always been one of my personal struggles in the past but I now know how I can do this with confidence in future projects. One day I may even attend one of the Terry Harrison Workshops!
Dealing with bold blocks of colour
I’ve learned to be brave when blocking in a bold mass of colour in the middle of my paintings. Believe me, I had sat and contemplated this for several hours before I’d managed to pluck up the courage to start painting that big red door, for me it was such a scary thing to do! Due to these watercolor painting lessons I now feel that I have the experience, confidence and boldness to do this in future without fear.
How to get rid of buckles in a finished watercolour painting
I managed to get rid of all of the buckles in the paper by wetting the back of the completed painting with clear water and pressing it between two clean hand towels, which I then weighed down with a ton of books until it dried.
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