There is nothing like a looming magazine deadline to speed up the painting process. I had just finished an article on controlling color temperature for International Artist Magazine and realized I didn’t have an example of a dominant warm painting using a cool contrast. Rather than go through paintings I already had, I decided to work on a sketch I did along one of the little back canals in Venice.

Most of this painting was done using a 1″  bristle brush. I attacked it mercilessly using watercolor and pots of premixed acrylic and gesso, splashing the paint on and feathering it out with a 3″ Hake brush. This quickly covered the paper and provided the area of light at the focal point. Once the dark shapes were scrubbed in with the 1″ brush, I used a charcoal pencil to define the details – again very quickly and accidentally – sort of like draw first and ask questions later. After all this a small brush added all the details – bricks, window frames, striped awning etc.

It is a fantastic way to work, pushing and shoving until things somehow work themselves into place. The hardest thing is learning not to be careful until it is absolutely necessary! The beauty of building up a painting in layers like this means you really can’t go wrong – things can continually be worked over and changed.

A rough looking collection of brushes, but perfect for this type of painting.

  • A charcoal pencil
  • 1/4″ flat One Stroke
  • #1 Liner Brush
  • 1/2″  Bristle Brush
  • 1″ Bristle Brush
  • 3″ Hake Brush

8 thoughts on “PAINT BY ACCIDENT

  1. John . . . your work is really inspiring . . . I used to think of watercolor as just boring pastel landscapes that all look the same and now because of your work and the work of Mat Barber Kennedy, I have a new outlook. Do you know Mat Barber Kennedy? Check out his work at . . . you guys are similar I think. Anyway, I really enjoy your blog, it helps me when I am teaching watercolor to my high school students.

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your comments, and I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks too for the link to Mat Barber Kennedy’s work. I hadn’t seen it before – fantastic paintings.
      Good luck with you watercolor classes.

  2. Love the painting John but those little fish at the bottom are over the top cute – love that you put that cute little detail in! I also love your roosters from the previous posts!

    • Hi Sandi,
      Glad you like the fish – I wanted to put anchovies in but they were way too small – had to settle for generic canal fish!

  3. A great post and a wonderful painting! I love to hear how people work, there’s always something new to learn. Of course it is twice as useful if I like the end result, and I love this. Thank you for sharing!

  4. aloha again, John. i watched this painting the other day for some time. sometimes i look without saying. …a good way to see actually. . . one of the things i like about this work is the way it reads as subject as well as abstract. view the entire painting and it becomes the intriguing canal scene. try to view almost any square inch of detail and it becomes beautiful lines, color and shape – pattern, texture and value – painterly rich. this kind of dichotomy fascinates me. your skill in exploring it keeps me exploring the work. okay, okay, the temperature zing, pops too. cool. – aloha

    • Thanks Rick,
      I find getting that abstract thing right is often more difficult than making the detail look correct. Describing what’s happening with the slightest suggestion of information – it always seems to amplify the detail and make the painting tell all sorts of stories when it comes off.

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