Watercolorist Carol Evans paints the sort of idyllic scenes you’d expect to see in a tourism brochure or dream vacation photos. But in reality, she just taps into the inspiration that surrounds her every day.
As a 30-year resident of Salt Spring Island off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, she has lived much of her life surrounded by water. All those crashing waves, gorgeous sunsets, gentle water ripples and charming fishing boats beckon to be painted.
It’s nearly always the water, though, that becomes the star of Evans’ watercolor paintings. “It’s just endlessly fascinating to me,” she says. “It’s never the same, it’s constantly moving and it refracts the sunlight. I like its transparency and how it magnifies objects underneath. I love the actual color of the water, the blues and greens. There’s something about it that just draws me.” Evans has used this fascination with water to teach herself to capture it in nearly all its iterations in the wild.
For artists just starting to explore water scenes, Evans recommends painting still water first before moving on to ripples and waves.
4 Tips for Painting Still Water
I am in awe of Evans’ approach to watercolor. The way she paints the almost therapeutic calmness of water gives me a serious case of goosebumps—I mean the hair-raising almost-chills-you-to-the-bone kind.
My “slight” (OK, huge) obsession with her art could be because I also have an intense passion for water (I mean my favorite quote is about sailing away from the safe harbors by Mark Twain).
Nonetheless, her paintings allow me to escape the daily bustle and grind of the workday and travel to a serene haven—even if for just a moment, or two.
Capturing the calmness and luster of still water when painting in watercolor can be a difficult skill to master. However, when you break it down by specific qualities like Evans’ does, you’re able to hone in on the unique elements of water to more easily paint from what you observe.
If you’re painting a landscape featuring still water, Evans suggests you focus your observational skills on these four different areas:
1. Get a sense of depth. Shallow water at the shore tends to be lighter than the deeper water you’ll see farther from land.
2. Look at what’s below. What’s underneath that river, lake or shallow seashore? Look for sand, shells, pebbles or other objects you’ll need to capture.
3. Study the Surface. Play close attention to the reflections on the surface of the water, which might be created by anything from trees to a boat.
4. Explore what’s breaking through. Look for items such as sticks that might be floating on the water, or rocks or logs breaking through the surface.
Once you’ve identified these elements, how do you capture them? “It takes [a lot] of observation to see how those things work together,” notes Evans. Instead of quick washes, plan it out. Focus on what draws you in and center your composition on that. Don’t overthink it. Don’t let fear of making a mistake get in the way.
Find what speaks to you, and get to painting. With a strong will and steady hand–and taking the time to truly observe your subject–you’re well on your way to painting your own masterpiece. Happy painting, artists!
*Contributions by Michelle Taute and Maria Woodie
You can find the entire article here.
This article first appeared in a past issue of Watercolor Artist. Explore all Watercolor Artist has to offer by issue and check out the magazine’s blog for more watercolor inspiration, tips and tutorials.