If you're experimenting with watercolor for the first time, a good way to get some practice is to do a study in sepia.
Here's a sketchbook page I did while waiting for a train in Italy about 20 years ago.
|Parco della Montagnola, Bologna, Italy. Sculpture by Diego Sarti|
Most subjects will call out for a variety of handling, including:
1. Large flat areas, such as the background of this painting. (I did that to simplify, or I would have missed my train)
2. Wet into wet blends, such as the shadow in the lower right,
3. Drybrush, such as along the cat's shoulder and the rock platform.
(I missed my train anyway.)
Here are three tips:
1. Do a fairly careful graphite pencil drawing first. It's especially hard in watercolor to correct mistakes in the initial drawing.
2. If you need to erase, test the effect of the eraser on the paper on another page by rubbing the eraser on a patch and running a flat wash over that area. Some erasers leave behind a little oil or grease that can affect a wash. You can erase after the painting is fully dry and avoid this problem.
3. When you're ready to paint, make sure you have both a big brush and a little brush, and make sure your watercolor set has a mixing well in case you need to mix a large amount of wash. You don't want to have to stop in the middle of a big wash to mix more.
Color in Sketching and Rendering, he demonstrates a few examples of commonplace objects painted in a monochrome watercolor wash. He recommends choosing an object that's white or relatively colorless, like this wooden basket. Painting it in actual sunlight, he noticed the darkness and sharpness of the shadow edge from C to B, the absolute dark accent at A, and the closeness of value at the plane change at (e) inside the basket.
People through history seem to be conflicted about whether to call such a study a drawing or a painting, so they're often referred to as a "wash drawing." I love the fact that it's on the boundary line between drawing and painting.
Instead of sepia, you can use lampblack, ivory black, burnt umber, or Payne's grey, each of which has a slightly different character.
Watercolor in the Wild buy
Color in Sketching and Rendering by Arthur Guptill (1935) Highly recommended, and it hasn't been reprinted.