Developing Contrast


This is a watercolor painting by Dennis Pendleton. This is a plein air painting that I did in Denver Botanic Gardens and I thought it would be fun to explain my step by step process. Botanic Gardens is one of my favorite places to paint but the beauty can be overwhelming. I like to wander around the gardens before settling on one location then I use my viewer to zoom in on different subjects. This narrows my focus as I begin thinking about composition and where to begin. When I am working on location, I paint in smaller sizes such as 6 x 8 or 8 x 10 so that I can finish before the light changes everything.

In this case, I decided to work with the complimentary colors red and green with a strong emphasis on color contrast. In this painting, I decided not to have a specific focal point but rather to emphasize different areas and see if I could lead the viewers eye in and around the painting. For temperature contrast, I used cooler greens such as blue green, terra verde, and perylene green mixed with cerulean blue. This created a strong contrast with all the warm reds. Had I chosen to use warm yellow greens, it would have resulted in a completely different painting.

When mixing deep dark colors, it is easy for them to get muddy so it is important to understand which colors are transparent and which are opaque. Try to refrain from stirring up the colors. No matter how dark a mixture gets, it should still have its color identity. Take green for example, the deep dark greens in this painting still look green rather than a dark muddy mess. This is particularly important in watercolor where mixtures get muddy and dull quite easily.

As I was painting the red flowers, I used warm and cool colors and even let some of the greens bleed into the red flowers to create a relationship between the complementary colors. I wanted the dark colors in the lower part of the composition to contrast with the lighter colors at the top so I used a little more water in the orange flowers and left bits of unpainted white paper. Also, spattering was included for a loose airy effect. The days are getting longer and I am looking forward to warmer weather when I can paint outside in places as challenging as Botanic Gardens. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton

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