Watching paint dry

Watching paint dry is a phrase we understand to mean the epitome of boredom. But taking the time to literally watch watercolor paints dry can be surprisingly interesting and may just be the key to success with this medium.

I’d read and heard about the need to let colors and paper dry completely before adding a new layer of paint, but doing so seemed too slow and disruptive. Now I know that rushing the process simply produces a lot of muddy colors and abuses a lot of expensive watercolor paper.

I’m finally seeing that having the patience to watch the paint dry – or to walk away and do something else for awhile, is the way to build bright, luminous layers of color. The colors change as they settle into the paper and moisture evaporates. They mingle, separate and granulate, sometimes creating ‘blooms’ and run backs that add texture and interest. Watching this happen can be mesmerizing. Very zen, eh?

To show what I mean, here are several of the steps I took to develop a painting of pears. To keep colors harmonious throughout, used just three colors: Quinacridone Magenta, Pthalo Blue and Hansa Yellow, allowing each layer of paint to completely dry.

First layers
Step 1 – started with an overall yellow wash followed by separate washes of pink and blue.
Step 2 adding more layers and more definition to pears – note the ‘blooms’ in the green background and how the blue and pink colors have separated in the pink area
Step 3 – more intense colors added
Two Pears final C Peggy Willett
Added final details – stems and shadow and darkest value under the pears. A final light green wash over the foreground to calm that color slightly.

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