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Dawson College Watercolor Class Demo : White on White

October 6, 2014

I’m at Dawson College right now, doing a watercolor demo for the illustration class. This was my dry run. I like to do a version of a demo the night before, to improve my chances in front of an audience.

This guest appearance is something I’ve been doing for the last few years (2013, 2012). I hope it goes well. I had to be here at the ungodly hour of 8:30am. The first thing I’ll tell them is, as a professional artist, you will never have to be up at 8:30 again. Except that’s a total lie, as I was doing it all week in Brazil. But I digress.

I like doing this lecture. It’s just a brief demo, but it’s been helpful for me – doing it once a year. Clarifying how I talk about the three steps in the Light > to > Dark,  Large > to > Small painting process I call ‘Tea, Milk, Honey”. (More info on that here and here).



Here’s an attempt at recording the three steps, Tea, Milk and Honey. Apologies for the image quality in these shots.

Marble Head

Here’s the reference image I grabbed off the googles. The assignment the students are doing is ‘White on White’. A classic art school project designed to test a beginner’s abilities. You have to have a light hand, building up tone carefully, or you quickly go too dark. I found it quite tricky myself – as I’m normally trying to push watercolors darker than is natural. For this high key image I had to modify my Tea Milk Honey process to be more like Tea, Tea, Strong Tea :)

As you can see, I’ve ended up with a lot more color than in the reference. I couldn’t help it! At the end of the day, what’s the point of making a painting, if you can’t splash a little paint around. This kind of sculptural study would probably be better as a pencil drawing assignment. I did studies of white eggs and crumpled sheets of white paper as a student. I seem to remember we did it in charcoal. In any case – it’s a nasty trick to pull on a beginner in watercolor! Watercolor is hard enough without trying to be tonally accurate. But – they are illustration students, not mere fine-art dandys and I know from my own illustration work, that precision is important at times. This is just the sort of training you need to build up the hand skills.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. Nandan Balwalli permalink
    October 6, 2014 10:19 AM

    A tough assignment …White on White…as an industrial Photographer, it was always challenging…as one can only play with light and aperture .
    Here you have shades of white which you dress the subject ( paint/tint)… Mold ,shape and bring depth….GOOD JOB.

  2. October 6, 2014 10:48 AM

    Great painting. I have become accustomed to working quite dark because I have used a lot of charcoal and India Ink in the last decade. This is a good reminder to (re)train myself in working at the other end of the tonal range. I was taught using the crumpled paper study so I should try that again sometime soon. Thanks for a stimulating and inspiring post.

  3. October 6, 2014 2:32 PM

    Beautiful, Marc! And what a great idea to do a dry run…

  4. Pip Tetlow permalink
    October 6, 2014 3:33 PM

    Marc, this is absolutely beautiful! You are an amazing artist and an inspiration to me. At 60, I am still trying to teach myself topaint watercolors like this. Thank you. :)

    • October 7, 2014 12:35 PM

      Wow, thanks for saying Pip! Always great to hear from a happy reader :)

  5. October 6, 2014 4:14 PM

    I pre ordered your book on Amazon – – I can’t wait until it comes out. Thanks for posting all of this inspirational/instructional content. Jim

    • October 7, 2014 1:02 PM

      Thanks for the support Jim!

  6. October 6, 2014 11:06 PM

    Not easy to do, but you’ve captured a great tonal range.

  7. October 7, 2014 1:11 AM

    Thanks for the lesson! Beautiful portrait.

  8. Gina B. permalink
    October 7, 2014 7:38 AM

    Those Dawson students are lucky indeed!

  9. October 21, 2014 12:23 AM

    wow! Beautiful! Thanks for showing your steps!

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