A good drawing is the basis for any realistic work, but it’s particularly essential with watercolor. Because you need to save your whites and light tones, you’ll essentially be painting what’s closest to you first and moving back into the scene from there. Think of your paper as a three-dimensional box with a deep interior, comprising many layers. Draw what’s closest to you first, and “underlap” whatever is behind.
For this exercise, you’ll need a round peppermint wrapped in clear cellophane that’s twisted closed on the ends. For the best results, read the entire exercise before you begin. Draw it large enough to fill your paper, touching or going off the edges. The bigger the mint is, the bigger the delicate highlights will be, thus the easier to draw and paint.
Step 1: Block In the Large Shapes
Lightly block in the large shapes just to set the placement on the page. You’ll want to draw what’s physically closest to you first. On a close-up object like this, your white spaces are often what’s closest to you. I recommend drawing in all the shapes you want to save as white paper. You’ll be much less likely to accidentally paint over areas you’ve clearly marked.
Step 2: Draw the Cellophane First
Your first inclination is likely to draw and paint the mint and its stripes right off. If you do, you’ll have already covered up all the highlights necessary to show the cellophane. If you were going to paint in oil, acrylic, pastel or almost any other opaque medium, you could paint the mint first, then cover it with the cellophane. With watercolor, however, you must use the mint only as a background necessary to show the clear cellophane. You must paint the cellophane first, then place the mint behind it. The process for watercolor works backwards from that of all other media.
Step 3: Add the Mint Behind
After drawing the wrinkles in the cellophane, draw the stripes on the mint, which will be broken up by the highlighted areas of the cellophane. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated by the process; it takes a while before thinking in this backward fashion becomes automatic. Once it does, though, you can bring amazing depth to your work. See how I used this process in my finished painting of peppermints.
After Dinner (watercolor on paper, 22×30) is one of my favorite pieces, in part because I enjoyed the process of painting it so much. Painting around the whites provided a great challenge.
MORE RESOURCES FOR WATERCOLOR ARTISTS