Watercolor Demo: Paint Vibrant Color

 Sunflowers with Pepper (watercolor, 30×40)

This excerpt is taken from “Primary Colors” in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Underpainting in Yellow, Red, Blue

How then does Nava Grunfeld create such bold color in watercolor? She starts with an underpainting using each of the primary colors, letting each color dry between layers, a procedure that’s akin to the offset printing process. Her favorite colors for the underpainting are transparent and nonstaining: transparent yellow, permanent rose and cobalt blue.

As for her brushes, she maintains that “no one needs more than two brushes, as long as they are of the highest quality.” Her favorites are the Daniel Smith autograph series kolinsky sable No. 12 and a big French squirrel mop (the bigger, the better for large washes). “Both are expensive,” she says, “but I would tell a beginner just to buy the best and biggest you can afford.” She stresses the importance of all the materials. “Watercolor, more than any other medium, requires the best quality,” she says, “because the light comes first from the paper.” Grunfeld uses Arches 300-lb rough paper and applies frisket sparingly, “only for little dots like the highlight on an orange.” She saves the white of the paper (for the depiction of eggs, for instance) by making notations in pencil on the drawing, “W” for white.

Primary Layers of Color: 4-Step Demo

1. Drawing and Yellow Wash

I first figure out the composition and do a detailed drawing on a sheet of Arches 300-lb rough paper. I begin my underpainting with washes of transparent yellow to the parts of the painting that will be bright and warm (see above). I let the first wash dry overnight; the next day I deepen the color with another glaze.

2. Masking and Blue Wash

I apply frisket only on the tiniest areas I want to remain white. In the larger areas, I make a note to myself with a “W” to remind me to save the white. I start the blue underpainting, which includes different shades of blue and different degrees of color saturation (see above).

3. Red Wash

I glaze permanent rose over the yellows that will become brown, in this case, on the centers of the sunflowers (see above). The underpainting helps me see where the midrange darks and lightest areas are and to determine the cooler and warmer areas.

4. Refinements

After the right side of the brain has taken care of the underpainting, I layer colors over others in some, though not in all, places, usually wet into wet, but allow each final layer to dry before I start again, as in French Sunflowers (above; watercolor, 30×40).

Materials Grunfeld Generally Uses

  • Paper: Arches
  • 300-lb rough paper
  • Brushes: Daniel Smith autograph series, kolinsky sable No.12
  • Favorite underpainting colors: Winsor & Newton (WN), Daniel Smith (DS) transparent yellow (WN), permanent rose (WN), cobalt blue (WN)
  • Other favorites: cobalt teal blue (DS), quinacridone coral (DS), ultramarine blue (DS), Hansa yellow dark (DS), manganese blue hue (DS), viridian green (DS)
  • Canvas: pre-primed
  • Acrylics: Golden transparent colors

Check out the table of contents for the July/August 2010 issue.
Learn about the digital download for the July/August 2010 issue.
See more of Grunfeld’s still life paintings.

Maureen Bloomfield is editor of The Artist’s Magazine.

Nava Grunfeld has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in art education from Smith College. Among the many publications that have featured her work are Watercolor Artist, The Artist’s Magazine, Splash 8: Watercolor Discoveries (North Light Books, 2004) and Splash 9: Watercolor Secrets: The Best of Watercolor (North Light Books 2006). Her most recent book, Nava Grunfeld: Saturated Watercolor, will be published this June. She lives lakeside in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts and teaches workshops in the U.S. and Mexico. For further information, visit www.navagrunfeld.com.


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