• Emma Bijloos

Watercolor studies of potted plants and the interplay of light and dark

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

After weeks of rainy, cloudy days, today's weather forecast predicted a sunny, cloudless morning. Lately I've taken to focusing on sharp contrasts between sunlit areas and dark shadows: there's such a wealth of stories being told by this interplay of light and dark. I feel like I'm treading in the footsteps of the impressionists, who made this the main focus of their work.


The challenge when painting a brightly lit scene like this on location, is the shifting of the shadows as time passes. I loved the expression Shari Blaukopf used during her workshop last month in Amsterdam, when she told us this is why you have to commit early on in your drawing/painting - choosing a particular scene or shape and sticking to it, even as the light changes and the shadows shift. This is why Shari often uses a pencil to draw the shapes of the shadows for later reference, once she starts painting and the sun has changed it position.


"The shadows and shapes move, so you have to commit." - Shari Blaukopf

I was reminded of all this when I was well into my first study as shown below, and realized I hadn't put any of those lessons into practice. Instead, I'd decided to draw a very quick outline of the pots, and start straight away by painting the shadows. I usually paint the shapes throwing the shadows first and add the shadows later, but reversing this seemed a good idea considering the shapes of the shadows were changing fast.



My favorite part about this study is the shadow between the two pots. Using a wet wash of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, I allowed the paint to sink to the lower part of the painting to make it darker, adding depth to the scene. I also really like this paper: Arches Cold Pressed watercolor paper, which is much more absorbent and has more structure than the paper in the Hahnemühle watercolor books I've been using.


I do love my Hahnemühle watercolor books though: the paper's more smooth, but still quite absorbent and makes for very 'clean' paintings. I did one more study in my A5-size book, and decided to simplify the scene by focusing only on the oxidized zinc bucket.


Choosing your motive can be considered the most difficult part of a painting, and I often find that what I'd initially considered a fairly simple subject turns out to be quite complex. Like the first study I did: after painting the pot and bucket and adding the shadows I proceeded to painting the background, which turned out to be a maze of leaves and shadows. By focusing only on the bucket I feel I've succeeded in another lesson I learned last month, during a workshop by Reham Ali who told us you need to choose your leading actor - similar to what Shari was saying about committing to a scene early on in your painting.


I have an excellent eye for detail, which comes in handy when you paint or draw. However, I often find it hard not to get lost in detail and focus on the bigger picture. Instead of zooming out and trying to simplify a complex scene, during a workshop last month with Majid Modir I realized you could also do the opposite: zooming in and focusing more on (a particular) detail. So putting this talent in overdrive, and suddenly seeing stories and vignettes all around, in all the nooks and crannies of the world around us.


"Decide who or what is going to be the leading actor in your scene." - Reham Ali

Check out my blogs about the workshops in July 2019 mentioned in this blog:

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