Firstly the text on this page gives you an introduction to Dale's 'steps in painting' approach, then there are two further major sections to click on directly below, namely 5a and 5b.
28 step-by-step demos in varying degrees of difficulty.


I am aware that art should be free, and that the visual image should be something more than just a mechanical reproduction of some thought process...   it was Henry James who said that 'art is the soul of a Nation...'    We all know that one gets art from artists, but just pictures from 'palette-mechanics'.

By the same token, in order to create the artwork, a lot of practical and often highly technical things have to be done on the paper or canvas.    A work of art is therefore the product of two elements:



If there is inadequate content, then we have a mere technical exercise as a result, and if the technique is deficient, then the expression of the idea will be lacking.    Both of these factors are necessary in a good work of art.

Now it is very difficult to assist an aspirant artist with the idea, although one can give participants guidelines and encouragement to assist stimulation, subject analysis, discipline and related spheres which can help them to create with more spirituality, enjoyment and and motivation.    Hopefully quality ideas will flow therefrom, and the artist will grow in stature....   On our courses we assist the participants in this 'right-brain' realm by providing facilities to make them comfortable and relaxed, by sharing our peaceful and tranquil studio setting, by spoiling them with fine food and beverage, by providing an eclectic music programme, and by giving them access to hundreds of collected photographic, video and graphic images as stimuli.    In addition to this, I try to bring a greater awareness of the 'big picture' in world art into the course, and all along the way we have the particular beauty of Leisure Isle around us...    But I still know that the really good ideas will come out when they are in their own environments, surrounded by their own loved ones and when they can start to plot an art direction in their own creative world.

Handling technique is different.    Technique is mainly from the other side of the brain.    We have more medical folk than any other profession attending our courses, and I always endeavour to explore the left brain / right brain hemisphere influence theory with them.    Whilst it would appear to have certain grey areas (sorry!), there seems to be definite consensus in the concept that there are cerebral areas that control different disciplines in our brain. The most-quoted and formulated is the theory that the right brain is the side that has to do with the 'big picture', and is holistic in its nature, whilst the left brain is more technical and analytical.    Teaching technique in painting would therefore probably fall more under the left brain influence.

I started out in this section by suggesting that art should, as far as possible, be 'rules-free'.    Indeed most of the books and videos of artists that I have collected over the years suggest this desire, and then the artists go on to do their artwork following the guidelines of a series of obscure rules that they have created for themselves!

I have always been one to try and make my job easier, and when we teamed-up with the Gatehouse Production House in Johannesburg to make my first two videos on oils and watercolours, both the production team and I decided to ensure that my steps in painting were set out in detail to assist those who followed the demo paintings in the videos.   After all, we realised, if you go on a learning workshop for golf, or cooking, or fly-fishing or any other discipline, you will be given a structure of ground-rules.    Why should the technical side of painting be any different?     We have sold hundreds of the videos over the past decade, and confidence from this broad acceptance has led to the processing of this computer programme.

                                                  ANALYSING THE PAINTING PROCESS

Over the years, since my first lesson in oils with my late father Leslie Elliott when I was at school in 1961, I have been analysing the painting process.    Almost by default I inherited the role as a painting facilitator on the established Mont aux Sources painting holiday programme in the 80's, and since then I have actively watched how folk paint, how they cleverly streamline the process, how they employ devices and techniques to make their job easier and how they utilise their equipment to their best advantage.    One very important thing I have noticed: once the artist establishes a basic set of rules to paint with, he or she sticks with that structure forever. Obviously the artist will always tweak the framework as his technique becomes more proficient, but the basics will remain the same.    It is therefore, with respect, very important to have a tried-and-tested, versatile and uncomplicated set of 'rules' to start off with.

II have developed a set of 5 basic steps in watercolour which I have introduced to hundreds of creative folk. These steps are very straight-forward, and it is easy to see how most of the accomplished watercolourists followed similar steps. Here they are:

STEP 1 - Plan your picture
This is the most important step, and one which is usually not given the necessary attention. Planning can include: quiet contemplation; reference to aids ( like sketches, photos, real life objects or scenes, any other stimuli etc.); basic layout of your thoughts on a scrap sheet; analysis of your goal/intention/reward, and an analysis of the tools and rules you will use to get there. This step will also include the drawing of your basic image outlines (2b-4b pencil) on the paper on which you will be painting. Planning should be methodical, and never rushed. Enjoy your planning, and explore multiple possibilities to achieve your aim!
STEP 2 - Select the areas where you wish to keep the white paper showing. i.e. 'Preserve White Areas'
Whereas in oils one basically works from dark to light, in watercolours we preserve the luminosity of our crisp white paper surface as far as possible, and we work from light to dark.   Once you have lost your white, you will usually battle to retain interest or freshness in your painting. Masking fluid is often used to achieve the preservation of white areas.
STEP 3 - Cover the rest of the surface with initial/light colour washes
Once you have determined what must remain white, it is obvious that the rest of the surface must be covered by washes of various colours. These are the initial, usually fairly light, colour washes - determined by the dictates of the subject matter.
STEP 4 - Where necessary, apply further/full tones thereover
Most watercolour paper can only take two or three washes on top of one another, before the paper surrenders and becomes 'overworked'.   Be like the golfer and get to the hole with as few strokes as possible!   Many washes from step 3 will be able to stand on their own (eg sky washes, some water surfaces, general light areas in your subject etc.), but many will need strengthening-up in tone and colour, to give the necessary fullness to the image. This further application will usually consist of a richer mix of the relevant compatible colour. On occasion even further washes may be layered on - but at your peril!
STEP 5 - Apply darkest darks and final highlights
Most watercolours fail because of the timidity of the artist to commit himself/herself to full darks in the picture. Look in front of yourself right now, and seek out the totally dark areas in the image in front of you. On analysis you will see just how many darks there are... so put them in your picture!    Practise mixing a committed dark without using black (a dead colour).    I use a thick mixture of Winsor blue and indian red - a nice dark mixture which can be mixed up both cool (more blue in it) or warm (more indian red) - and one can add most dark greens to it to give that deep dark shade green of foliage.

In the following section, Section 5a we look at the first basic exercise in the Step by Step proccess.

Copyright 2003 Dale Elliott.