Capturing Reflections Demo in Transparent Watercolor

Known for her highly realistic still-life paintings, Lana Privatera uses layers of transparent watercolor to achieve her signature look. In this demonstration she shows how she seamlessly builds high contrast and bright color in her work. For more on Privatera’s approach to watercolor, along with her bold return to painting after 10 years following a life-changing setback, check out the feature profile in the July/August 2020 issue of Watercolor Artist.

Demo of Recycle by Lana Privitera

Painting intricate reflections with watercolors is not easy. You need to plan your layers and moves very carefully. The larger your painting, the more challenging it becomes to make smooth, clean transitions of color and value. The following is a breakdown of my process.

Step 1

When I plan a new painting, I take some time studying my reference photos. They are rarely perfect when it comes to composition, colors or values. Most of the time I need to add or subtract elements from them. In this case I felt the reference photo needed some diagonal elements. So I added the left top corner spoon with the orange sticker, as well as the smaller spoon with the green sticker in the lower area. Then I muted the color of some of the other stickers and eliminated others.

Once I was confident that my revised composition worked well, I did a free-hand sketch on semi-transparent paper. Then I traced it onto my Arches 140-lb. cold-pressed paper. I used mixes of Da Vinci cobalt blue, burnt siena deep and Winsor & Newton permanent rose to create various shades of gray. And I added Winsor & Newton raw siena for the golden areas, and permanent rose and Winsor blue, alone and combined, for the accents.

Step 2

This painting has a very intricate design. Consequently, I started placing my darks right away to help clearly identify the shapes. This also helped me judge how dark my light values and mid-values needed to be. My palette consisted of wet-on-wet mixes of cobalt blue, burnt siena deep and permanent rose, and wet-on-wet applications of raw sienna and burnt sienna deep.

Step 3

Now it’s time to decide which key shapes are going to have cooler or warmer colors. To create contrast and add variety to the composition, I used the same color mixes as in the previous step. However, this time I added less burnt sienna into the mix for the silvery utensils.

Step 4

I continued painting more utensil shapes but did not complete them at this stage. It’s easier to change a shape or color at a later stage if the values are still light.  

Step 5

Once the shapes of the utensils became more distinctive, it was obvious which shapes in my reference photo were unnecessary. Eliminating them was easy—the challenge would be to fill in those areas with new, realistic looking objects. I decided to leave these problem areas alone and wait until the painting was almost complete to figure them out. Moving on, I applied a rough, yet colorful first layer of paint to most of the spoons using cobalt blue, Winsor blue, permanent rose, raw sienna and burnt sienna deep. 

Step 6

I avoid all opaque colors in order to keep my layers as transparent as possible. To help maintain harmony, I continued working with the same wet-on-wet mixes of cobalt blue, burnt siena deep, raw siena and permanent rose. For variety, I introduced some interesting muted greenish browns, created with Sennelier Hooker’s green and Da Vinci burnt sienna deep. The light blue accents are Winsor blue.

Step 7

Now I try to clearly visualize what shapes and colors are needed in the remaining empty spaces. So I complete the decorative designs on the utensils and deepen values across the composition. I use a dark mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna deep, applied in thin layers, to create the crevices and designs in the utensils. 

Step 8

I compare my reference photo and a photo of my painting side by side on my computer screen to assess the overall value range and spot any inconsistencies. Then I complete most of the top half of the painting by applying a full range of values. Next, I work my way down, focusing on the detail work in the bottom area. After that, it was easier to figure out what shapes needed to be added in the empty spaces. 

Step 9

Finally, it’s time to put the reference photo away and begin inventing, modifying and exaggerating colors, shadows and reflections! I finish adding shapes in the empty spaces, then take some time to evaluate my work. I realize that highlights were needed here and there. Plus it needed shadows where some utensils overlapped each other—even though those shadows didn’t appear in my photo. It was obvious that many of the edges needed to be softened. Furthermore, a few scratches in the spoons would make them look more realistic.

I decide that the bluish-looking utensils are not harmonizing with the rest of the shapes. So I dab a little raw sienna into some of them to give them a golden glow. Then I put my painting aside for several days so I can come back to it with a fresh eye. That always helps me be more objective about a painting, and allows me to see how to improve it. 

Step 10

After a few days away from the painting, I took another look at it and wrote up a Must-Fix list. Following my list, I deepen shadows, soften reflections, and add more highlights and colors everywhere. I refine most of the edges to give them a less harsh look, and give the decorative patterns a much-needed value punch. Finally, I further harmonize the painting by adding extra golden reflections in some strategic spots to complete it.

Recycle by Lana Privatera (29 x 21, transparent watercolor on Arches fine-grain paper).

About the Artist

Lana Privitera is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, Northeast Watercolor Society, Philadelphia Watercolor Society, and the Central New York Watercolor society. She is also a fellow of the American Artist Professional League, and an elected member of the Audubon Artists, Inc. She’s an art instructor at the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, NY, and also conducts realistic watercolor workshops in the U.S. and internationally.

Join the conversation!

One comment on “Capturing Reflections Demo in Transparent Watercolor

  1. Megha Mehra says:

    Hi Lana,

    What an impeccable step-by-step demonstration of this painting. Its complete and defines each stage with some action plan. I could almost travel through your mind while reading. Thanks so much for sharing your process with us. Can’t wait to read your interview in the coming issue.

    – Megha Mehra

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