Ken Tolmie’s Watercolour Technique

1. Stretching the Paper
2. The Drawing
3. Background Wash
4. Underpainting
5. The Long and Winding Road
6. The Coup de Grâce

Step Four: Underpainting

Still using a wide, wet brush, Tolmie applies multiple (in some cases up to 20-30) transparent layers of wet-on-wet wash. Dark colours are laid onto lighter ones and colours bleed over the lines of the drawing, effacing the drawing in all but the lightest parts of the painting. Indeed, Tolmie deliberately sets out to obscure detail: his goal in this stage is to establish the painting’s tone, the juxtaposition of light and dark that is the source of the energy he values so highly. Detail can be reimposed at a later stage.

The Ice Queen: Study (Detail): the darker washes bleed over the lines of the drawing

“Most watercolourists are slaves to the drawing,” Tolmie claims. “I never let my initial drawing exert that much control. I draw well, so I’m not afraid to paint over my drawing, because I can always draw the details again later. In my world, if you can’t draw, get off the merry-go-round.”

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Santons: Vence, France (Detail): the wet-on-wet watercolour technique produces vibrant underpainting. Note that the drawing is almost completely obliterated.