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Turning A Famous Painting Into A Watercolor Study

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Step 1: Imitation As The Sincerest Form Of Studying

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For watercolor newcomers and enthusiasts alike, Bill suggests copying a famous painting to better understand what makes a good composition. He picks Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, and breaks it down into its basic components. This includes color balance, composition, and value.

First, Bill prepares his paints by spraying them with water to make them easier to pick up while mixing. He also tapes the edges of his paper block with artist’s tape, which will create a white border for any future framing purposes. There’s a neat trick to keeping the painting to scale as well: line up the bottom left corner of the reference picture to your paper block, then draw an imaginary diagonal line through. The scaled-up version will have its top right corner on the far end of this line, so mark off the new size with tape. Here, you can make the painting a little narrower so you have a 2″ strip for testing colors.

Bill analyzes the colors of this famous painting next. He notes the dominance of blue and orange, which are complementary colors that help add interest to the painting. This leads to an explanation of Color Theory, which shows why orange complements blue. This is a powerful tool used in Monet’s painting, and Bill shows how the balance of warm (i.e. reds to yellows) vs cool colors (i.e. purples to greens) makes it a prime example of a good composition. Like Monet, he recommends using a ratio of 70:30 to 80:20, and avoid splitting it 50:50. Whether a painting is primarily cool or warm depends on its subject, but for this exercise, Bill recommends following Monet’s famous painting.