After developing a feel for the placement of lights and darks in the painting and simplifying the infinite values of nature into four: (1) light, (2) middle light, (3) middle dark, and (4) dark, I would take the class outdoors to apply the principle to natural surroundings. 

One issue I had with students when first presenting 4-value, monochromatic paintings was that they wanted to get into COLOR straight away.  A limited palette of GRAYS  felt to them like their hands were tied behind their backs.  But after their initial resistance, they could see that their paintings were much stronger through being given such strict limitations...and they learned how to manipulate light, which is essential in creating powerful paintings, and particularly, powerful watercolors.

I chose locations that offered a variety of interesting possibilities and were easy to get to on public transportation.  For example, we went to the Palace of Fine Arts, Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park (now called the San Francisco Botanical Garden), Lake Merced in the Sunset District, and Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill.  San Francisco is an amazingly compact city...the entire city is less than 7 miles square.  Consequently, a great variety of locations were conveniently accessible from the Academy by public transportation...

For me, it was a great treat to join my classes at these locations to paint.  Below are examples of the paintings I did with the classes...

At the Grace Cathedral, I did a 4-value study in which I used subtle colors rather than just grays...achieving essentially the same clear depiction of light on form but with the nuance of color...to show what could be done similarly in value with a little color as well.  Grace Cathedral was a perfect subject for this because it is intrinsically monochromatic with accents of green foliage surrounding it...


Having introduced my classes to the basic watercolor techniques and strategies, I added to these some interesting ideas for experiment and expression...

The resist techniques used materials that would create unexpected textures...wax, crumpled tracing paper laid on wet watercolor, clear acrylic medium, and gesso which resisted the watercolor.  I also had the students experiment with erasing and scraping the dry paint to create light areas and textures.  In addition to this, I also introduced various ways to collage paper and material onto the watercolor.

My students experimented with different approaches, materials, and techniques in watercolor after I introduced them to the media's endless possibilities...

Paul Klee's paintings were great examples of the imaginative handling of the watercolor medium.  He applied gauze and absorbent chalk on paper or board and painted watercolor over these prepared surfaces creating rich, magic effects.  He applied printer ink and oil paint to paper which he then placed over the watercolor paper and drew on it, leaving resistant lines and textures made by the pressure of his hands holding the oiled paper down.  He glued various fabrics down on his watercolor to create imaginative figures.  He painted over gessoed paper and board which resulted in antique-like surfaces...

A number of students loved Klee's whimsical approach and tried it themselves, created beautiful, rich surfaces of jewel-like color...


As they progressed with proficiency in the various techniques of watercolor, the students did a number of projects, approaches, and subjects of their own choosing...

It was a great experience to observe a number of my students really blossom using watercolor and I know of some that continued to use watercolor as their main medium as they developed into full-time painters.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved


  1. Donald, reading these treatises on technique has been fascinating. I have been wandering through the house, looking at your paintings with a new appreciation and a new eye. Thank you for this.

    1. Beverley, you've always had a good eye. I hope that these 'treatises' will help my other collectors look at my work with new insight and perspective.


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