Well August has come and gone and I don’t seem to have posted anything on this blog for quite a while. Involvement with exhibitions, a few trips away, another (minor) operation on my right eye, they have all taken up time. And time is what we never seem to have enough of – to make artwork and post on blogs, among other things!
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s a tutorial about painting rainbows, which I hope might interest you. I currently have two rainbow paintings in the West Norfolk Artists Association’s Small Works exhibition, which continues until the 15th September in the Shakespeare Barn at King’s Lynn Arts Centre.
Ah yes a rainbow, that most elusive of atmospheric effects but so delightful when you see one glowing over the landscape. But how to paint it, and in watercolour too? In this short tutorial I’ll show you how I achieved what I hope is a convincing effect.
Firstly a few truths about rainbows as they generally appear. Forget all the old stereotypes of seven colours arching over the landscape. We usually only see partial rainbows and even if there is a complete arch it’s so huge that only a small portion of it is likely to appear in most compositions. Also, the red and yellow elements of the rainbow are usually the most prominent, with the other colours only hinted at. You can see all this in my photo which I took a couple of years ago on a walk near Snettisham, Norfolk.
Having established, by careful observation, what we actually need to achieve the next task it so set about rendering it in watercolour.
For a rainbow to appear convincing, it must seem to glow from within the sky and indeed even sometimes the land itself. That means it needs to be painted first and then the sky laid over the top. If you try to paint it in at a later stage in the painting – well it just doesn’t seem to work. Not for me anyway.
It is possible to paint the rainbow first using traditional watercolour, but it requires a good piece of paper and a delicate touch with the brush to avoid disturbing it when you over-paint later. The “trick” is to use acrylic ink for the rainbow, which is vibrant in colour and waterproof when dry.
The first stage of my painting was to take a piece of Saunders Waterford 300lb paper, about 11 inches square. A NOT surface is probably best. I prepared small washes of Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic inks, using the colours Scarlet, Lemon Yellow and Process Cyan. I dampened the whole sheet with clean water and let it soak in. Using a number 4 sable hair brush I carefully painted the rainbow colours, wet into wet. I blended them by using a damp brush and some careful wiping with kitchen roll. It takes a bit of care for the colours not to spread out too much. You can help this by only having the paper just damp, not too wet. By blending the colours on the paper you can achieve red, orange, yellow, green and blue in your rainbow. A touch of Magenta mixed with blue made a violet for the last colour although it’s almost imperceptible.
Eventually I was happy enough with my rainbow glowing there on a white sheet of paper. It takes a bit of practise to control this technique and I had several attempts, each on a fresh sheet, before I was satisfied. Don’t be afraid to use up paint and paper, it’s the only way to learn!
Now it has to be left to dry, preferably overnight, because for the ink to be waterproof the paper must be bone dry.
The next day I dampened the paper again. This time I prepared washes using conventional watercolour pigments. The sky is painted using a bluey-grey mixed from Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Burnt Sienna and a little Quinacridone Red. It sounds an unlikely combination but I like it because you can vary the colour so easily by adjusting the strength of the component pigments. Sometime the pigments separate a little as the wash dries and that makes the appearance more interesting. Also, these pigments are very transparent, which is essential for the rainbow technique.
The sky is painted wet into wet, although I used a bit of blotting with kitchen roll to get some harder edged clouds. When it was dry I added the landscape below, using Raw Sienna and greens mixed from Phthalo Blue GS, Burnt Sienna and Lemon Yellow. The rainbow’s the thing, so keep the landscape simple.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the sky in the Stage 2 photo is not the same as the finished work. I had two paintings on the go at the same time and forgot to photograph each stage of both of them, but the technique is exactly as described here. Have a go and make a few rainbows in your art!