Nitty Gritty

This is not only the title I chose for this week’s painting, but also an incentive to discuss a bit something that’s been troubling me since I first started painting in watercolours. The ‘nitty gritty’ of my watercolours if I may say so.

As you know, my particular preference for this medium is due to its nature – which is … well, natural – it flows like a river, it interacts with its environment and it shapes it as it pleases. Therefore, watercolours are the perfect medium for any representation that is natural – human figure, animals, plants, landscapes. Not so well when it comes to ‘artificial’ or better said, man made structures (from the smallest to the largest). Don’t get me wrong – this is just my personal opinion. I saw absolutely amazing watercolour artists that redefined a street scene with their brush better than any other artist. No, this is entirely about MY misgivings. I HAVE the hardest time painting anything that is not organic, natural – a straight line puts me in panic mode and a ‘hard edge’ between two objects hyper-ventilates me.

But I am one of those crazy people in any horror films who always open the basement door even though an entire cinema yells ‘don’t go there!!’ – because I have to do it even if it kills me (well, metaphorically speaking).

So, almost every month I do a street scene or something similar. I am never pleased with it, but every time I learn a bit about my technique what I did and shouldn’t have done or the other way around.

It’s pointless I think to tell you again of how important is perspective drawing in painting a street scene – everything in the street is massively relying on our skills of depicting it correctly.

This time I worked on a 20x40cm Daler-Rowney 300gsm paper (lovely format)


I started as per usual, with a very sketchy, contours only line drawing. Don’t press to hard on the pencil – many times, after I finished a painting, I see those lines and they drive me up the walls. But if I haven’t pressed too hard, I am able to erase them – only when the painting is absolutely dry of course!

I can also recommend you to try using a watercolour pencil instead of a graphite one – no more lines to see through your lovely painting! They dissolve to the lightest contact with water. But you have to be very careful if you want to paint wet on wet, your base sketch might disappear.

I kept with the classics and I used a regular graphite and this is the sketch:



First wash is the base of everything – it settles the mood of the painting – and is of course, the lightest colour you can see. Because, of course, we always work from light to dark – from the almost invisible colour to the darkest dark.


That is not to say we don’t use dark colours at all – in fact, I usually put the lightest colour of an area, no matter how dark or light that area might be.

Again, I haven’t mixed any colours on my palette, everything happened on the paper, wet on dry (first touch), then wet on wet when other colours are added.

I think I will make a new post just for this only – it seems a lot of people are interested in this.

As I tend to get carried away – as one does – I work a bit more in an area that captured my interest. A dark pool of water on the side of the pavement as it receives both natural and artificial light. Again, loaded the brush with the new pigment (think of milk in terms of consistency) and touched a corner of another colour I just added (all wet of course). Here is a detail of the puddle after the first touches



Because nothing is as good as a ‘first time wet’ paper, I tend to preserve it – and this is one of the reasons I let myself getting carried away. Below, I added more first washes and also started to build up some definition to the ones already in place.

You’ll notice that I really didn’t care about ‘going over the lines’ of my sketch – I usually don’t, but that depends a lot of the style you chose for your painting and also if you want to preserve that as white or not. As I said, planning is everything – it would be good for me to put my brush where my mouth, but more times than I care to remember I toss all the planning and just paint instictively.



Building up the contrast and details is essential, especially when you don’t intend to paint all the details of an image – just like me with those many cars. I think I would go mad if I would have to paint every single car (well I would probably go mad if I would have to paint even a single car!!) As I was told I am more of an ‘impressionist’ inclination, I only want to convince you there are cars, not to actually paint them. Let you do the rest of the work. And it’s all a ‘light and shadows’ show – which means, preserving the whites and applying contrasts in the places that matter.

Mostly done on dry (first wash) then wet on wet (second wash over the second and so forth) – and this is the place to discuss another issue that was brought to my attention yesterday and is way too important to pass it over.

The focus of our picture – I would be very curious to tell me where do you think the focus is in the below finished painting.

From what I learned, it’s important to keep the focus just off-centre and to make it very clear that is the focus and nothing else. Also, not to create a composition that would drag the viewers eyes outside the painting. Well, my experience dragged me sideways (it tends to do this) and sometimes my focus is either all over the place or completely impossible to determine. Bad point for me, yet another thing to work on.

But – and this is a bit ‘but’ – as I previously told you, I believe the composition of a painting is something extremely personal and I don’t think following the rules to the letter is good for an artist (as budding as one can be). Focal point in your painting is where you want it to be. If the composition works for you, keep it going.

As for my focal point here – well, is everywhere. I didn’t want you to concentrate your attention in a specific place, I didn’t even want to be a slave of the actual place (hence the lack of details). It’s a feeling I wanted to convey (part of the key is in the title) and if I managed or not… I honestly don’t know.

I do hope you will let me know your thoughts about this and any questions you might have.

Have a happy week and for the lucky ones – happy painting!

Nitty Gritty


Author: mishubog

Watercolourist by choice and passion

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