Watercolour Oranges

oranges ©KarenSmith
oranges ©KarenSmith

Taking a painting from an initial idea to finished piece

I recently resolved to make a quick sketch of any idea I had for a painting. I normally just write a quick note down in my daily sketchbook, but the other day I was flicking back through some ideas for pictures, and really couldn’t remember quite what I had wanted to capture with phrases such as “more monsteras”, “tall skinny landscapes” and “grasses”!

  • The scale – I think I managed to maintain the large scale size of the oranges in the finished A3 piece.

  • The complementary colour palette of orange against turquoise that I used in the sketch made it through to the final piece

My Process

I stretched a piece of Daler & Rowney A3 watercolour paper onto a piece of plywood board using gummed brown paper tape. This is a method I have used for years and come back to when I want to keep the work really flat. The Daler & Rowney paper is wood pulp and has quite a bit of sizing in it, which for this painting was ideal, as I knew I would want to lay colour down and probably lift it back off again. The sizing stops the paint being quickly absorbed, it seems to sit longer on the surface – making the paint manipulation methods I wanted to try a bit easier.

Sketching & Masking

I sketched out my oranges design with a soft lead in a 0.9mm technical pencil using the orange tree in my garden as a reference. I had to use a bit of imagination, as my oranges are still quite small and green at the moment! I used a circular stencil and circular jars to get perfect circles for my oranges, I always had in mind that this would be halfway between a pattern and realism, so I wanted to get that perfect pop of orange circles throughout the piece.

I inked up the work with a Lamy Joy drawing pen, using De Atrementis black archival ink – this is a waterproof ink that I’ve used for the last few years and am very happy with. As I wanted the oranges to be really bright I decided to mask off all of the oranges in their entirety with masking fluid. I use silicone chisel tip brushes to apply the fluid, this works well and doesn’t ruin any of my paintbrushes, as the fluid can easily be rubbed off the silicone.

Leaves and Background

I loosely painted in the leaves using Lemon Yellow, Sap Green and Phthalo Turquoise, I was glad I’d decided to mask off the oranges, as I was able to stay quite loose with my brushstrokes without worrying about contaminating the space for the oranges.

I then started working up the background, I rely on heavily sized paper to be able to lay down light staining colours and then less staining colours on top. In this case I used nickel azo yellow, and indigo. I painted the yellow, let it dry, painted the indigo, let that dry and then using clean water lifted some of the dark indigo to reveal green and blue highlights, if I needed a bit more depth, I dropped some yellow back in and let it spread into the wet indigo.

Finally the Oranges

I carefully removed the masking fluid and decided after some experiments just to use cadmium orange in pale translucent glazes to build up the colour. I used two methods to get the highlights I roughly decided where a light source could have come from, and then using a tissue while the paint was still wet I blotted out the paint to remove most of the pigment, and also just left the paper free of paint to show a completely white highlight.


Karen’s top Tip
Masking fluid can really adhere to the watercolour paper if left on for too long – or used in hot weather, (yes it was 37C in Melbourne that day). Sometimes it can rip the paper underneath as you try to remove it, so try to leave it on the painting for as short a time as possible, in this case it was about 4 hours.