This watercolor painting of a shed with strong morning shadows was a painting I had my students do recently. The reason I selected this for the class painting was because it gave my students a chance to practice how to capture the early morning light and the shadows that result from it. It was based on a photo I took of a friend’s old shearing shed. I had previously painted this exact scene in Pen and Ink and Brush and thought it would also work well with watercolor. I think watercolor is a wonderful medium for capturing light.
Reference photo for this watercolor painting
The basic steps for this watercolor painting are as follows: 1. Find a suitable subject that captures your interest. 2. Decide what you want your message to be. In my case it was the beautiful shadows falling on the foreground. 3. Make any needed design decisions. As I wanted my watercolor painting to focus on the shadows I increased the foreground area. I also decided to add some sheep as it is a painting of a shearing shed. 4. Paint the sky and ground under painting in one go. It is important to get the tones right with the lightest in the sky and those in the ground getting stronger towards the foreground. It is very important to let this stage of your watercolor painting fully dry before you continue.
5. Next comes the distant hills. Remember to keep them light to add depth to your painting. While these were a little wet I painted the distant foliage in the far right hand trees. I finished this foliage after the hill had dried so I could create some hard edges. 6. Next comes the main trees on the right hand side. If you are interested you can find out how to paint gum trees by reading another article on this website here: How to paint Australian eucalyptus trees. 7. When the trees are completed I then painted the sheds with a mixture of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna watercolors. I used a thicker mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for the dark areas of the main building e.g. under the roof, under the large awning on the right had side of the building, above and below the door, etc. Some dropped in Burnt Sienna gave the shed walls a look of some rust. 8. The watercolor painting is nearly finished at this stage. However before the shadows are put in I painted the rocks, sheep, and fence on the left. 9. The shadows finished the watercolor painting. For shadows I used a mix of French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson – this mix should lean towards the blue not the red. I also make sure I have more than enough paint to finish all the shadow areas without having to mix more. The shadow watercolor mix was applied to the building and the ground in one go. 10. The shadows are laid down very quickly and while they are wet I drop in some various dark greens. 11. Once the shadows are dry I finish my watercolor painting with the addition of some grass to help lead the eye into the painting. The above is a very brief and not complete breakdown of the steps taken for this watercolor painting. Hopefully it will be of use to my students as a review. I will try to produce a full step by step demonstration painting of it sometime.
As the paper dries, during the wet on wet technique, it will arrive at a point where it has lost its shine, now if at this stage you run the point of your brush across this damp section of paper you will see an interesting effect as shown in figure two. As the paper is no longer very wet, at this point it will actually have less water on it than is on your brush. Now what happens is that instead of the watercolor paint just running down the paper, some of it is actually sucked up into the dryer section of the paper – so you can get a whole range of soft to furry effects both up and down from the position of your brush stroke. I use this edge in many places within my watercolor paintings. This is a great edge I use for creating soft connections of a boat’s hull with the water so it looks like it is floating, I use it when creating certain shadow shapes, for quickly creating trees and reflections on a distant lake shore and I also use it in my watercolor landscape paintings to create a tree line on top of a hill. Its uses are almost endless!
When painting with watercolor you need to take advantage of this interaction of water,watercolor paint and gavity, to create the effects you would like to produce.
This is one of the most difficult of edges to conquer as so much depends on timing (how wet is your water color painting), how wet is your watercolor mixture in your pallet and brush, the anble of your board as well as how fast it is all drying; environmental conditions greatly affect your painting and you must be aware of them. When painting watercolor landscapes plein air environmental conditions are even more critical!
Another major difference between the color of shadows and reflections is that a reflection usually contains a lot of color, mainly coming from the object that is being reflected e.g. the side of a boat. This reflected color will be influenced by the color of the water doing the reflecting.
Can you also see how the reflection of the lit side of the boat is darker than the actual side which is being reflected whereas the reflection of the side in shade (the left hand side) is a little bit lighter than what it is reflecting. This is caused by the fact that reflections of an object combine with the local color of the water that is doing the reflecting.
Shadows however primarily have the local color of the object upon which the shadow is thrown e.g. the sand, wall, ground, water, etc. This can be seen in figure 9.
The color of shadows is also influenced by reflected light which can add to the local color of the shadow area.
Can you see how the shadow on the sand is primarily a dark version of the sand color i.e. color of sand with less light on it. However there is also a very strong reflected light from the beach huts within the shadow areas. These reflected lights are very important to make you shadows more real and interesting.
I hope this article has been of use to you. It by no means covers the topics of reflections and shadows exhaustively but was meant to highlight some points I have often found people have difficulty with.
When looking at shadows and reflections one is usually more dominant than the other. On wet sand the reflection can dominate. On dry sand there is no reflection just shadow. In figure 6 below, see how the shadow is not very distinct, this is because it is on the wet sand, shadows on water are generally quite pale, if not unobservable (when they are observable my camera is not sensitive enough to record them), and so I often leave then out entirely in my paintings.
Now in some cases depending on the time of the day, and the viewer’s position; a shadow will be in the same direction as the reflection and is not so obvious e.g. when you are looking towards the sun with a reflection towards you. They will still create separate shapes but really all that will be seen is the reflection if the object is on water. On wet sand you may see both shadow and reflection but I would still just indicate the reflection.
Cast shadows are away from the sun. So to see where to place them in your painting you must first look at where the light is shining from. The shadow will be opposite the direction of the sunlight. There is no great secret with how to paint shadows.
If you are painting from a photograph of an overcast day, and you would like to add more light to your painting, decide on a light source and place your shadows accordingly.
In the picture below you can see both a shadow and a reflection. The reflection is towards the bottom of the image – hence towards the viewer. The shadow is pointing in another direction and is pointing away from the sun.
Both the shadow and reflection are connected to the feet which are on the sand. If the man was jumping with his feet in the air, the shadow and reflection would not be connected to his image.