Watercolor Tutorial | Carrie Waller’s Still Life Painting in 6 Steps

In the February 2015 issue of Watercolor Artist, Carrie Waller describes her technique for intensifying colors and re-creating objects as monumental abstract forms in her still life paintings. Here she shares a watercolor tutorial of her the process in six simple steps.


When Waller found out that incandescent light bulbs were no longer available, she realized that something so commonplace as a light bulb had become valuable beyond all imagining. The watercolor artist quickly emptied her lamps of these bulbs and used them to create a setup from which a series of watercolor paintings were made—ordinary light bulbs transformed into baubles, reflecting and refracting sunlight. Incandescent (watercolor on paper, 18×24) is the second painting in this series.

watercolor painting demo, step 1

Step 1: I took at least 100 photos of this setup from all different angles with my iPad. I imported the images into my photo editor and manipulated them until I had several photo references that I liked. I then drew out my composition on kraft paper. Once the drawing is finished, I transfer it to my Arches 260-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper. I then start to paint in a puzzle-piece fashion, completing an entire area before I move to the next one. By doing this, I establish my values from the beginning and know that the painting is working.

watercolor painting demo, step 2

Step 2: I’ve used masking fluid in this painting to preserve the white of my paper in the highlight areas. Masking fluid allows me to keep my washes fluid and even.

watercolor painting demo, step 3

Step 3: I’m continuing to paint across the board, one section at a time. I have lifted the masking fluid in the completed areas with a rubber cement pick-up because I can’t wait to get it off. Those white highlights absolutely make the painting!

watercolor painting demo, step 4

Step 4: I am now almost three-quarters of the way finished. Each light bulb has taken about a day to paint so at this point I’m about five days into this painting. I layer a lot, so each light bulb has 5 to 10 layers of glazes to intensify the colors.

watercolor painting demo, step 5

Step 5: The hardest part about this painting was making sure all of the light bulbs lined up because you can see some light bulbs through others so it was imperative that I had them aligned so that the composition made sense. I was working with a complementary colors scheme in this painting and it was important to balance the cools and warms.

watercolor painting demo, finished painting

Finished painting: This watercolor painting took about 10 days for me to paint. The composition highlights how beautiful these utilitarian objects really are. I love getting lost in all the colors and shapes when working on my watercolor paintings. I’m excited to paint more in my light bulb series.



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