Beginners Watercolour Lesson – Form and Value

I don’t think I’ve ever posted and art lesson on my blog, but I realized the other day that there are a lot of people on the internet looking for instruction on the web, including myself. I often turn to the internet to search for lesson ideas, whether I use them directly, or indirectly when they spark an idea of my own. I’ve also learned a few things from my students this week and thought I would share that with people outside the classroom.

Cherries watercolour value notes

Cherries watercolour value notes

I’ve been teaching an adult watercolour class one evening a week, and this week also did 4 days in a row of a teen class and a pre-teen (9 to 12-year-old) class. I know there are many teachers (including myself) who believe in letting the creativity flow freely out of their students. Give them the materials, a subject, and let them go to it. However, I realized this week that direct, step by step instruction is often a better way for students to learn. This was highly evident when I worked on a First Nations reserve and we implemented a teacher directed reading program. Teacher does something and then the students copy it. My adult watercolour students this week said they learned more when I painted the steps and they followed along than when I just told them some tips and let them work through the process themselves.

For the 4 day week-long class for the children I broke the lessons down into 3 areas: colour, form and value, and texture and pattern. Here is the warm up for the form and value day:

Watercolour cherries– Perfect for this time in summer when the fruit is ripe, however I did not bring in real cherries but asked the students to paint from memory. Cherries are a basic circle that they can easily practice layering paint on to make the objects appear three dimensionally round.

Watercolour value notes from class painted examples.

Watercolour value notes from class painted examples.

1. Pencil draw 3 circles. Overlap one. Draw stems, straight lines that go a little into the top of the circles. Draw a “happy face smile” curve under the stem line for the top dimple on the cherry.

2. Mix some blue purple. Add lots of water to make it a light value. Paint loosely, and quickly inside the pencil drawn cherry using U shaped strokes, not straight strokes which would flatten the object. Leave a tiny dot or two of white paper showning – this is the shine on the cherry.

3. Repeat the painting step 3 to 4 more times, each time making the purple less watered down and thus darker. Paint further towards the edges of the cherry with each darker colour. Also remember where your light source is – one side of the cherry will be darker than the other. Letting the paint dry between each layer will keep the shades seperate. Painting the layers quickly while each is still wet will cause the shades to flow into each other. This can make smoother tansitions between the values, but can also be hard to control and if too wet the colours will run all over the place. Practice both ways.

After the cherries I let the students try other objects of their own choosing. They painted apples, oranges, grapes, cut watermelon… I was hungry for lunch and painted hamburgers and hot dogs! All levels from adult to child enjoyed this exercise. I had a teen who even practiced it the next day when she had some time near the end of the class. I also had a parent come to me and tell me how impressed they were with their child’s painted cherries.

If you try this exercise please let me know how it went and whether this quick lesson description gave enough detail. I also must give a credit of thanks to Alwyn Crawshaw, as a couple of his books gave me some help in planning this lesson.

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3 Comments on “Beginners Watercolour Lesson – Form and Value”

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