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Sparks Tutorial


Paint Shimmering Sparkles

A cheap hog hair brush can get these June morning sparkles on the Lizard peninsula.

The pictures are a little raw, for which I apologise, but they are photographed in the course of my work, in studio conditions and they do tell the story.

Paint on hard surfaced papers such as Two Rivers or Arches Aquarelle. The rest is a leap of watercolour faith - it will work – just be careful with the masking patterns but loose and generous with colour. It is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. The sea fades to nothing. The sky is the merest blush to the left. The land is “thrown” down one piece at a time with a mass of strong wet colour at the ready and worked in one go without fiddling around. If you don’t like what you get, live with it! Look at it later and you may be glad you left it alone. Don’t fiddle about with it. Its impact comes from massive separation between the tones. Save whites. Contrast them at the end with intense darks. Make sure you have scrap watercolour paper to test out colour and masking fluid.

Be prepared to mix a vast quantity of colour. On site I use big plastic or metal palettes. In the studio I often use old crockery rather than palettes, or the big china SAA palettes. 

Paper: Arches 140lb or 300lb not, soaked and stretched.

Tube colours:

Cobalt blue
French ultramarine
Cerulean blue
Cobalt turquoise light, (Winsor and Newton).
Phthalo green
Raw sienna
Cadmium lemon
Neutral tint
Lamp black
Light red
White (Daler Rowney Gouache Designers White)

Masking fluid


A small and a large hog hair brush.
Well pointing sables.
Number 10 and number 6

Pen nib

Fig 1.

Splay the fibres of a large hog hair brush by crunching them.


Fig 2.

Dip the tips of the fibres gingerly in a palette with masking fluid poured in.



Fig 3.

Mask the nearest two thirds or so of the sea sparkles. See Fig 8 for masked sparkle shapes, (in Fig 8 the masking has been removed). Experiment on test paper to get the shapes). Test out the patterns on a separate sheet then gently dab the brush fibres so they are separate, masking a delicate pattern on each “imprint” of the brush rather than a blob. Rotate the brush after each mark, so that shapes are not repetitive. The patterns are more concentrated along ranks for the swell patterns. As the water lifts to the swell, the upturned ripples glint in the sun. The sun is directly above the rocky edge, so here everything is dazzled out – just white – masked with just a few spaces left for colour.

Fig 3b.

The hog hair brush masking process is repeated with a smaller brush for the rest of the sea up to a line approximately level with the base of the far headland.


Fig 4.

Spatter fine dots of masking fluid with a toothbrush all over the sea especially in the distance. Work from bottom to top so the marks diminish with perspective. You can also drag your thumb across the bristles for a fine mist of sparkles.    
Fig 5.

Lines of foam are fine lined with a pen nib.

Fig 6.

Varying the technique makes for convincing texture – use a hog hair brush to spatter masking fluid.




Fig 7.

Wet sky and sea and paint the sky with a blush of Cobalt blue from left to middle with none on the right, then paint wet sea with a succession of pure colours from top to bottom, (see Fig 8 for colours, photo taken after masking removed). Colours are: French ultramarine fading to sky, below this Cerulean blue, then Cobalt turquoise light (Winsor & Newton) and finally a little Light red added to Cerulean blue for the water at the very bottom. Mix plenty of colour and put it on wet into wet, very strong and leave it alone. Remove the masking from the sea. (see Fig 7b)

Fig 7b.

Detail of sea with masking removed after rocks were painted at a later stage.

Fig 8.

Image of Sea and sky with masking removed.




Fig 9.

Foreground foliage. Flower heads, stalks, blades of grass and small glints are masked. Masking is also lined and spattered into the foreground and cliffs. Spatter on water from the point of a brush, vigorously banging the brush on the palm of your hand and letting water fly of the tip of a sable brush. It must point well. This will give you a wet and dry pattern of spatter shapes. Next spatter watery foreground colour of Raw sienna, Cadmium lemon and Phthalo green leaving plenty of white spaces, then brush and spatter darks of lamp black and Phthalo green, and some touches of Light red. The right hand foreground is similar but with darks brushed wet into wet afterwards.


Fig 10.

The distant headland is applied wet on dry with Neutral tint, Raw sienna and a little Phthalo green, then darks are added with Neutral tint and Cobalt blue, wet into wet but leaving some areas dry with hard edged spaces for rocks.



Fig 11.

The foreground cliffs are painted with many greens of Raw sienna, Cadmium yellow and Phthalo green, with Light red and Cerulean blue run in and other colours if you like – it’s up to you to express yourself! Green is a subjective colour. The darks are run in mostly wet into wet but some wet on dry with lamp black. Some Cerulean blue is run over the dark cliffs for reflected light from the sea – it is semi opaque so it shows up as a blue green haze. 



Fig 12.

Brush the green mixes over the mid distant cliffs and apply darks wet on dry. Brush pale washes of Neutral tint for the foreground rocks and brush lines and marks for the fissures and shadows on the distant ones. Feather water across the rocks by dragging it dry brush fashion and fine line some dark fissures through this for rough craggy fissures which spread web like from the tip of the brush.



Fig 13.

Brush the rock colour for the dark shadow patter over the nearby rocks.


Fig 14.

Spatter and brush intense darks into the foreground and remove the masking fluid.



Fig 15. Detail

Close up of foreground. Pale grey shadow can be touched into the shaded areas of the flower heads



Fig 16. Finished Image
(Click image for larger version - Image will open in new Window)

Finish the dark rock shadows, defining the lights, and spatter and brush darks into the foreground before removing the masking. The flower heads were masked at the outset. Here they are touched in with some grey green from Neutral tint and palette green. Body colour was also used for some more stalks by adding white to colour and brushing it with a fine sable.    

Would you like to learn more?

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