Watercolor painting by Susan Harrison-Tustain

Doris Joa nominated me to a painting challenge on Facebook. I need to post a painting each day for 7 days and I have to nominate other artists, too.

For my fourth day I have decided to post the challenge in my blog as I have some comments I think artists may like to refer back to from time to time.

I began this painting challenge with the thought of writing a few notes with each post. I started initially with my early work and am now moving into my later work. You can see my earlier posts on my Facebook page:

Learn more about creating a compelling composition here:

My ‘Liberty’ bird painting was inspired by nature – as so many of my watercolor and oil paintings are.

For this study I want to talk about composition. No matter how intricate or simple a painting is – by far and away the most important thing is the composition.
I always say we can be the best artists in the world but if our composition is lacking – our painting will only be as a cleverly painted piece. We all want to create works that speak to the viewers of our work. I want my work to have a reason for existing. Otherwise it is just a wall hanging. But how do we create a composition that reaches out of the frame and touches those who view it?

The answer begins with analysis.

When a subject first captivates me, I spend time analysing what it is that touches me so deeply that I am driven to infuse my painting with the emotion I feel in that moment. I ask myself what senses are aroused as I absorb ‘being there’ – and how can I share this moment with the viewers of my painting – and hopefully allow them to feel part of the scene too?

I often emphasize the areas that take my breath away. These are things we most want to capture.

‘Liberty’ found me – as I wandered a path up to an tiny Provencal village high in the hills way above – and back from the distant Mediterranean.

We usually walk such undulating paths with our mind and eyes focused on our steps. I heard and felt the draft from the flutter of wings and my attention was drawn above me to the peaceful beauty as she stretched forth to land on the time worn window sill. The crumbling perch supported the bare, raw wooden window frame of hand made glass – and the magical missing pane – the entrance to her sanctuary – inside the abandoned relic.

There she sat surveying, perched on her platform – overlooking the summer dry fields of wildflowers outstretching all the way to the distance sea. I could smell the dried grasses mixed with the scent of the ocean. Four of the five senses were there to capture within my brush strokes.

There is a compelling story here – one of freedom as she swoops and dances – on the wind and glides above the land she knows so well. This is her place and her shelter through all seasons – here on her perch, within her sanctuary and on the other side of the broken pane.

I created the sense of age with the time worn sill and crumbling rock wall below. I emphasized this by painting the raw wood around the hand made glass. How do we know the glass is hand made? Each pattern on each pane is different. The panes are held in place with nails. The putty has long since broken away. I emphasized the difference between the panes by allowing the light to hit them slightly differently as each sits a little haphazardly within the frame.

The crumbling stone work brought a sense of centuries – not years – as it breaks away to reveal the substrate. Natures cloak envelopes the scene and brings a beautiful patina of natural colors – rather than bright, clean fresh colors.

The feathers of the white pigeon are not preened and velvety – this is a wild bird who battles all that the four seasons brings in the dry barren part of Provence.

Can you see how the story is played out amongst the brush strokes. If you analyse what you want to say in your work – you will find yourself capturing and emphasising these nuances that speak your story to the generations to come – who will ponder this moment that you have captured and they will think about the artist and what inspired them and the work you have left behind for them to ponder.

My Build up of layers
I begin with my Priming Method and a tonal map – a yellow underwash. This gives me glowing rich color and allows me to establish a sense of substance and presence. I avoid placing yellow under the highlight areas. the purples and blues.

My initial washes are always created using my Priming Method. I subsequently use wet in wet, wet on dry and drybrush.

The simple methods and techniques I have learned through many years of trial and error – as well as my limited palette of mostly transparent colors – color mixing and understanding of how watercolor works. all allow me to capture the array of different textures, surfaces and nuances found in any subject.

Thank you for your lovely comments about my work, teaching and DVDs/Downloads. It is such a joy to help artists find their wings.

I am nominating Heather Wilson – who is a wonderful artist – to show us her body of work for 7 days. Haether, if you would like to join the challenge, you also need to post a painting each day for 7 days and you also nominate other artists, too. Good luck!
Happy painting everyone!

Tomorrow will be day 5 of 7 days. Just three more posts, three more paintings and three more hints and tips to share on facebook. I will be sure to post each of them here in my blog too as I am able to expand on the teaching I share here. Keep watching this blog space for more teaching and news!

Here is my DVDs and instant downloads page for those who would like to learn all of my methods and techniques, hints and tips as well as the breakthroughs that make all the difference to my own paintings and painting career:

Happy painting everyone!

Susan Harrison-Tustain

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