One of the final exercises for Jane Blundell’s course in Mastering Watercolour was to do watercolour pears in several different iterations. Each one used a limited palette of just 4 colours: a palette of 3 primaries plus Burnt Sienna.
Painting apples in watercolour
I was a bit anxious about this exercise… I had previously tried to paint apples in watercolour, with dismal results. Wet-in-wet looks so easy, but in practice it demands mastery on several levels: understanding how much water to use, getting the brushwork right, and using the pigments effectively.
My first apple attempt a few months earlier (left) managed some spectacular back-runs – the introduced paint was probably not strong enough. What’s more, I did this on mixed media paper, not watercolour paper, which was asking for trouble.
(I didn’t at all like the watercolour paper I had, which was Canson Montval – supposedly a good watercolour paper for student watercolourists, as it’s not as expensive as, for example, Arches. I discovered the hard way that Montval paper – which is 100% cellulose, not cotton – is neither one thing nor the other, not friendly to watercolour paint, nor taking ink well. So I opted for mixed media paper, which is much better for drawing – pencil and ink – and ok for watercolour washes.)
Anyway, my second attempt at these apples was definitely better. It’s still on mixed media paper (Como sketchbook 210 gsm) but I’ve not used as much water, and so the colours have not bled out as much.
Both these apple exercises were done before I started Jane’s e-course, and I was floundering around trying to figure out watercolour on my own, with the help of some books and various Youtube videos.
Preparing to paint pears
After going through Jane’s course I was starting to feel more confident with watercolour, and getting the effects I wanted. The earlier lessons were about how the colours work together, and in parallel to this, how to blend and soften edges, and get different effects in painting. Now we had an exercise which allowed some more freedom – but was still structured enough to channel the learning.
The first step was to find some different pears and set them up in a pleasing composition.
Now, it was November, and in Australia November is not peak pear season. In fact, most varieties were completely out of season. I did get lucky, however, as I found some end of season red pears at the local farmers’ market, and managed to find a few other types as well.
Here is a photo of my composition:
The first painting used a warm triad: in this case I used Ultramarine Blue, Indian Yellow and Alizarin Crimson – all lovely transparent colours (though Jane doesn’t recommend Alizarin Crimson because it’s a “fugitive” colour, and fades too easily with exposure to light… however, I had just purchased a huge tube of it, so now I need to use it up).
The paper I used for all of these pear paintings was Moulin du Roy 300 gsm cold pressed, which is a lovely paper, medium textured, and takes paint beautifully.
Pear painting using warm triad:
In this painting I’m getting a better handle on wet-on-wet technique and how to depict values, in particular the shadows on the pears and cast onto the cloth. I’m also pretty happy with how I managed the drapery, which was a new challenge.
I didn’t like the granulation of the background at first, but I’m coming to see that granulation has its own charm. And Ultramarine Blue does granulate, and when mixed with Burnt Sienna the effect becomes stronger. (However, the background with its texture does tend to dominate rather than enhance the pears, so this one is not my favourite of the three.)
Pear painting with cool triad:
The cool triad painting uses Prussian Blue, Aureolin (both cool and transparent colours) and Cadmium Red (which is opaque and warm). With Prussian Blue and Aureolin mixing to give a range of beautiful clear greens, this one has more of a green dominance. But the red adds contrast and tones down the green enough to give a surprising array of colours…
Again, I think the background doesn’t have enough value contrast to really enhance the pears. But hey, it’s all learning…
Pear painting with earth triad
This uses Cerulean Blue, Indian Red and Raw Sienna (because Yellow Ochre – which I don’t use & don’t even have – and the even earthier yellow-browns such as Raw Umber, make the whole mix too opaque and muddy).
The result is the heading image in this post – and it turned out to be my favourite. I was muttering darkly to myself as I was doing it, mind – it was so hard to avoid the whole thing collapsing in mud. But the Raw Sienna allowed some light, and the contrast of the transparent Raw Sienna with the opaques actually enhanced this transparency.
I decided against a background, and just left the pears against the white paper. And I like it!
One more pear
After doing all those pear still-life studies you’d think I would have had enough of pears. And I had… but I couldn’t resist having a go at Anna Mason’s tutorial of painting a pear.
Anna Mason’s technique is very different from Jane’s – she uses many layers of very light wash, and is very particular about getting a photo-realistic result.
It has been great practice to try this tutorial exercise – but I don’t think it’s for me, as my core style. But here is the result: