Creativity Workshop: The Enlightened Brush

Watercolor Artist Creativity Workshop

A Late Morning (watercolor on board, 21×28) represents several different ways of using Ken Call’s watercolor painting technique, as described below. Pulling out color in the clothing and blanket, for example, gives the objects their form and depth. Meanwhile, the highlights in the skin tones bring a subtle lighting effect to the composition.

Over the past few years, I’ve entered many watercolor shows and have been lucky enough to win some awards. As a result, I’m frequently asked to explain what inspires me to paint, and the one thing that always comes to mind is the play of sunlight—indoors or out—and its ability to create a mood.

Whenever I see a particularly intriguing ray of sunlight, I try to take a photo, sketch or do my best to remember the experience. Later, I’ll incorporate a figure (ideally a model) into the scene. As I paint, I work from a variety of sources and move or add elements, editing the composition almost as though it’s a still life setup.

Throughout the process, I try to keep my original inspiration in mind: the light. To best represent my vision on paper or board, I strive to see the light as a soft, warm or cool cast of color value rather than the stark white of the paper. The illustrator Bart Forbes taught me that a warm glow of color can be achieved in light areas by pulling out color after laying down washes. In turn, I developed a technique that gives me results that come close to matching my inspiration. Try it in your own work and see what happens; the results may enlighten you.

Step 1: I always start with the lightest areas when utilizing my technique for pulling out color. For sunlight, I generally use yellow ochre; I’ve found that this color gives me a warm glow and is easily pulled out. My next thoughts are the colors surrounding my highlighted areas. I let these colors blend and mingle on the surface.

Step 2: At this point, I might add some additional color in the areas I’ll be leaving on the surface—usually a cooler value of violet, blue or green—until it reaches the right degree of wetness. Then I begin to pull out color.

Step 3: First, I use a larger brush for the bigger areas, gradually turning to smaller brushes as I go. I have to work quickly; as in other aspects of watercolor painting, timing is of the utmost importance. As long as the surface area appears damp, I know I should be able to achieve the goal of nice, soft edges in my highlights.

Are you ready to experiment with lighting effects in your watercolors? Be bold and have fun. Splash on some color and let it work for you. Then start pulling out those highlights!

KEN CALL ( is a watercolorist best known for his striking figurative work.


Lift color out of your watercolor paintings to capture the allure of light. Send a JPEG (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your painting to with “Creativity Workshop” in the subject line and tell us about your process. The “editor’s choice” will receive A Celebration of Light: Painting the Textures of Light in Watercolor by Jane Freeman (North Light Books). The deadline for entry is February 15, 2013.

To read the full text of this article (and get more expert painting tips from Ken Call), pick up your copy of Watercolor Artist’s February 2013 issue!

To catch up on the Creativity Workshop exercises you’ve missed, visit our online hub and start painting.

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