The original Disney animated movies are a great resource to use to practice your watercolor techniques. This is the opening scene of The Jungle Book taken from a still of the illustrated version of the book.
Keep in mind that this is not a duplication of the scene, but my version of the scene. The purpose of this exercise is to primarily learn to apply watercolor techniques, and secondarily color mixing The original is a square 1:1 format where this is more of a 4:3 layout. In the opening scene, we have the two main characters, water, vegetation, reflections, and varied light sources. Of course, we also have a cute baby in trouble that must be saved. But for the artist, we break down the scene into background, midground, foreground, light source(s), perspective (linear and atmospheric) and the interaction of all the elements within the scene, such as cast shadows, bounced light, and reflections.
The techinques I use are wet-on-wet for the background and water, wet-on-dry to add the elements while covering up the background, and lifting to indicate form and lighting, and to blend.
With watercolors, we normally paint front to back, light to dark. Most of those rules I followed here. Fortunately, I already had a composition to follow. This is the main reason to use another's work to practice. We don't have to worry about character design, lighting, composition, or even color schemes. We only need to work on application...how did the artist or artists create this scene?
My approach in this instance, using the supplies listed below, was to start in the background from the waterline toward the sky. With an idea of the lighting and the denseness of the jungle, I varied the greens, blues and yellows t with wet-on-wet technique. Knowing where the other elements would be in the composition is a great asset. It allowed me to vary the light-on-dark and vice versa.
I dried the jungle section before working on the water, where I used a wet-on-wet approach and lifting technique to pull the color out where the brightest reflections were. I avoided covering the entire area with paint where the highlights are and did not add paint at all by the shoreline opting to use the white of the paper.
Once the paper was completely dried, I started adding the various elements one at a time using wet-on-dry techinque, starting with the large tree. As with each element, I used an HB graphite pencil to lightly sketch out the shape of the tree. I used ? for the dark of the tree trunk and limbs with ? for the lighter areas, all of which was over the green background. Painting over the background will help with the overall color unity of the painting, which in this case is predominately green. Having the green underpainting from the trees and water will aid in the lifting techniques that I will use. In regards to the tree, I lifted the darker paint where the light was hitting the tree directly and to a lesser degree where the trunk turned away from the light, and the reflected light from the water. Remember that "Value Change Equals Form Change" a mantra that I repeat to myself no matter the medium.
From there I added the flowing leaves of the tree and then connected them by painting in the small limbs with a smaller brush. While I had that same green for the leaves, I painted in other vegetation with darker hues for those in shadow.
As we add the elements, understand that the background require less detail than the elements in the foreground. In addition, the darkest darks and the more saturated hues will be found in the foreground.
After the tree, I add the fallen branch that Bagheera is walking on, then the boat with Mowgli. Bagheera was a challenge to paint since he is primarily black. I mixed my own blacks as I did with my own darks. I mixed Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Neutral Tint (as little as needed) in multiple passes. Drying in between the passes and then I lifted the pain out by wet with a clean brush and lifting with another. This allowed me to add some form to his figure taking care to capture the pose.
Mowgli and the boat took the longest since they were truly the focal point of the scene. Our eyes will always search out a human face above everything else. One major factor that I love about watercolors is that I can remove the paint with water and a brush or cloth. Be sure that all the area around it is dry before doing so. I had to do Mowgli many times until I got it where I liked it. But the medium is that flexible that we can experiment with it until we get the results. In addition, this is for our practice and fun, so if it doesn't work out well we don't have to share it. I have done this in the past were I will do the same painting over and over until it I like it. Though those paintings were not this involved, but the lesson is the same.
I did my best to match the colors of the original illustrations. I had to use Chinese white and Rose Madder for the blanket. Neutral tint was added to the browns and greens to darken them for the shadow areas. I prefer to use Neutral Tint as an additive in small quantities but I know those who have used it well as a dark on it's own. I did also bring out the Gouache as a base for Mowgli's face (Flesh Tint), white for his eyes, and the yellow for Bagheera's eyes. Again, since Gouache is water based, it can be removed and redone until you get it the way you like it. Painting in small areas such as the whites of the eyes, is not that easy.
The last things I add or blend in, are casts shadows, ripples in the water, and reflections. Some of which I will add the base for throughout the painting process. I will leave the refinement for these elements to show interaction within the scene for the end, such as the branch tips that are in the water, the water movement around the boat and any cast shadows from the foliage that is out of view. These simple additions add depth and realism to the illustration.
In the video you will see me use a Maul Stick. It is great for larger paintings to steady my hand, keeping me from resting it on the painting while doing detailed work.
So I challenge you to find an illustration to work with and use it to work on technique and color matching. It can be something very simple. Make it fun...experiment...take your time...enjoy the painting process.
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P.S. - A video will be released on my YouTube channel shortly.
Watercolors - Grumbacher Academy, Windsor Newton, Daniel Smith
Gouache - Holbein, Windsor Newton, M. Graham
Paper - Fabriano Studio Hot pressed 25% Cotton 11"x14"
Maul Stick - Homemade...poplar 2'x1/4" stock, cut a 1/2" piece off from one end and glue underneath. Same can be made with a stiff wooden ruler.
Paints / Pallet:
Browns - Van Dyke Brown, Sepia, Raw Umbre, Neutral Tint, Burnt Sienna
Green - Thalo Green, Viridian, Green Earth
Yellow - Cad Yellow, Gamboge Hue
Red - Chinese White+ Rose Madder
Titanium White, Lemon Yellow, Flesh Tint