The Making of 'Discovery Awaits'

05 June, 2020 1 comments Leave a comment

Usually I paint from my own reference photos gathered during our camping journeys, but today I am showing my process of creating a watercolour from photos taken by other people.

Shown above is 'Discovery Awaits', watercolour on panel (no glass) 10 x 10". This was inspired by a photo, taken by my long time friend and former co-worker Tim Thorington, of Rock Lake in Algonquin Park. Tim is an avid, accomplished photographer who shares his work with the world via Facebook, and when I saw this photo below, I knew it would translate into a fine painting.

Photo of Rock Lake, Algonquin Park, by Tim Thorington

I loved the curving shoreline that invites the viewer into the scene, the unusual cloud patterns, the warm and cool colour scheme, the rocks, the pine trees and the autumn colours in the far hills. I messaged my buddy Tim and he kindly replied with his consent for me to copy his photo and sell my painting.

Many hobby painters don't realize that all photography has an automatic copyright, meaning only the photographer has the right to sell any copies of his or her photo. Painters can copy any photo they wish to, for practice or for pleasure, but if the painter wants to sell the resulting painting (or any reproductions of that painting), international copyright law says the painter must obtain written permission from the original photographer.

Colour tests by Karen Richardson

As with all my paintings, before I started to paint, I made some colour tests (shown above) to help me choose which primary paint colours to use to make this scene. I decided on MaimeriBlu paints Primary Yellow, Primary Red, and Primary Blue. These three combine to make all the land and foliage colours in  the scene (see the bottom row of paint swatches), but I knew I would need to mix in a second blue to produce the soft sky and lake colours, so I included Cobalt Blue Deep.

The next step was to gather a few more reference photos, cut my Arches 300 lb bright white cold press watercolour paper about 1" larger in length and width than the finished painting, and tape it to a back board (shown below). The pine tree reference photo was my own, and another good friend supplied the canoe reference photo with permission to use it.

Discovery Awaits, watercolour in process by Karen Richardson

On the watercolour paper, I penciled in the major lines of the composition and used liquid masking fluid to temporarily waterproof a few details such as the canoe and logs on the beach. This masking preserves the white of the paper until after the sand is painted.

Then I began with the most risky part of the painting - wetting the sky area with clear water and brushing in the cloud patterns using a mixture of Cobalt Blue Deep with a bit of Primary Blue. The tricky part is matching the moisture level on the wet paper to the thickness of the paint, so the blue/gray transitions are gradual and the blue doesn't bleed too far. I was thrilled when the sky turned out so well. Then I wet the lake area and brushed in the same paint mixture, being sure to leave areas of highlight to make the water appear to glow.

Discovery Awaits, watercolour in process by Karen Richardson 

I let the sky and water dry for an hour and went on to paint the first layers on the beach, rocks, and deciduous trees, (shown above) and completed the far shore by dabbing in a careful arrangement of foliage colours, using the photo as reference. These colours are slightly more muted (grayed) than the foreground foliage will be, to give the appearance of atmospheric distance.

Discovery Awaits, watercolour in process by Karen Richardson

After another half hour of drying, I deepened the colours on the beach and painted the pine tree foliage and then their trunks and branches (shown above).

The next day (shown below), I added yellow and orange areas to the deciduous tree on the right, shadows and twigs to the pine trees, shadows on the rocks, and texture to the foreground beach. I removed the masking fluid from the canoe and pieces of wood on the beach and painted them, adding shadows at the end. I decided the far shore was still too bright, so I glazed over it with a diluted neutral (grayish tan) mixture to subdue the colours slightly. Perfect.

I feel many elements of this painting turned out exactly right: the curving line of the beach that beckons the viewer into the scene, the glow of light on the water, the unusual cloud patterns that lead the eye to the sculpted pine trees, the warm and inviting colour scheme, and the canoe which adds a storytelling element. I love the  sense of place in this painting and feel like I could step into the scene. I grew up just east of Algonquin Park, and have happy memories of time spent on sandy beaches like this one, swimming, canoeing, listening to the wind in the trees and enjoying the peace of nature.

The completed painting is mounted on an archival wood panel, trimmed, varnished, and presented in a black wood floater frame. There is no glass to get in the way of enjoying the details of 'Discovery Awaits'.

Click here to see more details about this painting.

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  1. Cornelisse June 06, 2020

    Thank for showing us how you arrive at such a beautiful painting.