Express Feeling and Meaning with Color

I start with a simple sketch, devoid of details, in pencil to set up a basic framework. What is it about the image that stimulates me? That’s the question I ask at the start. Then I dive in. When I’m working on a large area, I apply clean water and then apply paint and let it flow. I don’t use a whole lot of paint. The art of watercolor is illusion, magic and alchemy. I paint a flower primarily by using clean water and a brushstroke of color here and there. Allowing paint to move freely helps give color a voluptuous effect. Using a lot of water and a little color, I allow the paint to move where it wants to settle. When the wash has dried, I re-enter the painting—placing shadows that will stimulate the lighter colors, then working my way into the backgrounds. Sometimes, I’ll apply as many as three or four washes to create depth and intensity of color.

When I’m working, I usually don’t look directly at the painting’s surface. Instead, I look just off to the side in order to find the balance. For me, capturing the essence of color is more important than a realistic rendering. I intuitively choose colors I can see in the actual flower I’m working with. What’s important is the underlying feeling of what I want to express and the freedom of not getting caught up in the actual representation.

I believe color is a healing experience for the artist and the viewer. Colors can stimulate, intrigue or repel us. If we take this emotional response one step further, we can notice what part of the body we’re reacting from: heart, head, sould or stomach? Reds, for instance, used to repel me; yellow, orange and red together made me sick to my stomach. Then, for a period of time, those colors were all I would paint. What was I reacting to on an unconscious level? It’s not always important to know the answer at the time. Color is a mirror. Whether or not you choose to see it is up to you.

Jane M. Mason is an award-winning artist and art teacher who specializes in watercolor. Her articles have appeared in many national magazines. She can be contacted at; her Web site is




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