As you may remember, a version of today’s painting has already appeared on my website and my YouTube channel in a form of an exciting series titled “Double Vision”.

Today I paint version two of the same subject that showcases slightly different technical approach to painting in watercolor which is reminiscent of painting with gouache. You may remember several technique-wise similar demonstrations that appeared on my website. You can watch these also if you’re interested to find out more about these paintings. Here’s a few most recent ones for your convenience:

And today finally, to complete these topics, I will be sharing my notes on the technique, the ups and downs of using white, paint to water ratio and more. If you’re interested in the analysis of the piece as well as the entire process of designing such painting from a photograph, I highly encourage you to follow the links to my previous articles where you’ll find a lot of information on the topic.

Painting from Photographs – Designing a Painting with “Areas of Interest”

Painting from photographs is what the majority of us do. And it’s understandable, not many of us are able to go to the field every day to pick a fresh subject.

The trick in painting from photographs is to be able to judge, read and treat photographs as reference, not relying on them as “law”. How to do that is the topic of today’s video. Since today’s painting is based on the same reference as my “Seeing Simply” demonstration from a few weeks ago, I would like to link you to the previous articles. Without completely rewriting here all the material, I’d like to encourage you to read through them, because painting from photographs is exactly what they’re about. A lot of understanding of the process can be extracted from them. As a bonus you can compare my result with the painting and process of my good friend and artist Russell Black where he tackles the exact same subject with a very different result. His approach is backed with decades of experience and deep understanding of design. I sure recommend you to check out his process and commentary.

I hope reading these articles will shed some light on the possible scenarios of approaching a painting design and help you to think differently about the process of working from photographs. At the very least I hope it’ll help you more easily find good subjects for your own paintings.

Painting Demonstration

There’s a few notes on the technique in this demonstration that I’d like to share with you so you can better understand my decisions and thinking behind my brushwork.

Negative Painting

As the first thing you’ll see in my video is my insistence on painting negatively. I always try and approach my subject this way. It helps integrate your “subject” on the picture plane, because it interacts with its surroundings. Painting negatively should be pursued consciously at first until it becomes second nature. If you want to bring your work to the next level, force yourself to think in terms of positive & negative. If you’re new to this concept, use the search function on my website for more articles on positive and negative painting.


The color palette in today’s painting is very simplified, or limited. You can see that I play against each other two colors, yellow and violet. These are complementary colors, so they cancel each other when mixed. However, when we mix them in unequal amounts, the color range we can produce is quite impressive. Notice therefore that this is a game of intensities. I take care to mute my colors where I need to and let them “scream” in other places. This is a very powerful tool in our arsenal. We direct viewer’s attention this way. Notice how I alternate between cool and warm and make sure that the painting reads well through color. Notice how cool and warm color shapes interlock each other like a puzzle pieces. This variation adds interest and despite using merely two colors provides enough diversity to keep your attention. If you’re interested in refining your color sense I definitely recommend using two colors that when mixed, provide a good gamut of colors.

Other than color it is also required to consider value, as value is the key to any painting. I only work from line sketch but I highly recommend everyone starting out to prepare a value study from their sketch beforehand.

Paint to Water Ratio

A very important consideration and possibly the very basis of mastering watercolor painting as a technique, is the ability to competently judge and control your paint to water ratio. A full article on the topic is planned for my 101 series and will be coming to my website soon.

In this particular painting notice how I use water very sparingly. To get lighter values of my washes I don’t dilute with water but with Chinese White. Despite that I do use some water but only enough to make the paint workable. This is, of course, the technique used in pretty much all other wet media. Only in traditional watercolor we get lighter value by adding water, not an actual white paint. That being said, I love painting more traditionally as documented by my many previous demonstration. However, using white watercolor paint for dilution produces much different effect, that of gouache or even acrylic, without the need to switch media.

And so, remember that if you’d like to try this approach, there are two things to bear in mind as far as paint to water ratio is concerned: 1. water is used as solvent and is used in small amounts 2. white is used as a dilution agent – to control the wash’s values and colors.

It all depends, of course, on the effect I want to achieve. Notice that I paint my very first wash – the sky – without any white in the wash and quite a bit of water. There is a balance and a judgement needed as you paint. This judgement is going to develop through practice as you progress. Your personality will dictate the direction you’ll eventually take. Experimenting is the key to developing your own artistic sensitivities and preferences.

Natural Drying

You may notice throughout today’s video that I use no artificial drying during the entire process, except for the very end. The low water content in the washes allows for excellent edge control if you’re able to “read” your painting as you go. Although that was not something I focused on in this demonstration, it can be observed that my approach to edge treatment differs from that of traditional watercolor. As I don’t use overlapping washes, or layering, as is common in traditional watercolor, I need to establish the majority of my edges right away.

Spots of Color

If you’re familiar with Charles Hawthorne, you’ll know that one of the cornerstones of his teaching was saying that painting really is about putting a spot of color next to other spots of color.

If you will only put a spot of color in the right relation to other spots, you will see how little drawing it takes to make form. Let color make form, do not make form and color it. Work with your colors as if you were creating mass – like a sculptor with his clay. Interest yourself in the relation of one color to another – in this way your color rather than drawing creates form. The values rather than the drawing make a boat stay behind the piles of a wharf.Charles Hawthorne

To learn more about Charles Hawthorne, you can read my article on his book “Hawthorne on Painting”.

Finished Painting

©2017 Atelier Novotny
©2017 Atelier Novotny

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