If the value and color are right, I might leave it; otherwise, I go back into it, usually later. A second layer of paint is safe, but beyond that, things get dicey. In theory, I'd like to do all of the middle values, and then get into the lights and darks. I move around a lot, trying not to get carried away with any one section, in case I start doing something bizarre. It's also more fun.
At the same time, I select places to add bits of bright color, in order to keep the eye moving, or to add a little sparkle to a mundane passage. Phthalo colors are good for that, because even under almost any other color, they still have some electricity.
Impressive, huh? This is a point where lots of people get spooky, and begin to commit various sins against Art out of impatience, resignation, or just sheer boredom. I have learned to take on a detached attitude at this stage, and not agonize over expectations or disappointments. One of the coolest things about creating art in this frame of mind is that it keeps you moving forward, and open to change. In other words, this picture won't be what you were expecting, but it won't be what I was expecting, either. Creating adventurous art is like a musical performance - it never goes quite the way you think it will. (And if it does, it might be an indication that something is wrong) Anyway, the happy part is that sometimes it ends up better than what you set out to do. (the painting gods know what they're doing!)
At the risk of putting a bunch of you to sleep, I was thinking about going full tilt on the midtone thing... but, I decided to get some darks in there to keep everyone awake. I mixed Payne's grey with burnt umber and ultramarine blue.
In the detail is an example of what was discussed earlier.....I dropped some purple into this bright green stem. The resulting tension between the colors will create some excitement there, even though the purple will hardly be visible from a distance.
Each little cell of color is like a painting within the painting, and I try to make many of them interesting in value and color variation. For instance, if I have a section that is a midtone, I figure anything is fair game as long as the overall effect, when I step back, is a midtone. That midtone area could contain a dark, a light, or both. Same with color: if a leaf is supposed to be yellow/green, for example, I freely drop in other colors too, as long as the overall effect is yellow/green. It gives the viewer's eye a lot more to do up close. Farther away, if the shapes and values are good, it becomes almost photographic, but in an unmistakably painterly way. Also, even though you can't see all of those colors from afar, the brain somehow senses there is a whole lot more going on there than just a yellow/green leaf.
I want to stress that this not how I paint everything, nor do I think this is the only good way to paint large watercolors. However, it might get a few people thinking and painting differently. Executing a really large work with traditional watercolor technique is very difficult. The method I'm demonstrating is a way to attack a big piece in small bites - a thousand paintings within the painting - and I thought it would make a good demonstration.
Added more darks and midtones. Along the top is Payne's grey with cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, and burnt umber - different from the dark on the bottom.
Again, I don't paint all pictures like this. Looking back, I think I've gone through most of the stages that many others go through with watercolor: the wishy-washy beginning stuff, vignettes, watercolor sketches, the scrubbed-out drybrush disaster, the obligatory harbor and lobster boat paintings, Mixed Media Month, the rite-of-passage still life w/crystal bowl, the draftsman watercolor, Pour-O-Mania, the rude nude, the slick commercial art watercolor, the deeply personal Expressionist thing, the Special Effects Express, and other proud moments too numerous to mention. I never painted Bubbles The Clown, though. (make your own joke) I now tend to paint pictures any way I think I can best get the job done.
I will go back to the darks again - not just to make them darker, but to soften a bunch of hard edges. It's far enough along now where I see things I know I have to do, but there's still lots of white paper to cover, so those areas screaming out for attention will wait. Getting into something more detailed is dangerous here - I'd rather do that down the road, when I have a better sense of what the painting is (or isn't) asking for. I will not keep painting just because the brush is loaded. Which reminds me of the great Mark Twain line: "To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
I finished the first round of darks, and went back to them. Some interesting things happened with the paint the first time, so I have to decide how much of it I want to cover; that age-old artist's dilemma of whether or not to sacrifice something good in the interests of the overall composition. All of the patterns and textures are nice, but make the painting busier than I like. There is already plenty going on with the flowers, so I want the large dark areas to be simple and dramatic. I need to unify those areas, so I dampen the paper and go back in, starting with the darkest parts of the previous layer, making it look as natural as I can. I try to preserve some of the nicer things that happened in the first layer, but most of them will be obscured, visible only at close range.
At the same time, I soften many of the hard edges, wet in wet. The toughest thing there is having the paper just the right dampness. I don't soften every bit of every hard edge, but enough to create the impression. Later on, I'll add some washes that will further integrate the darks with the rest of the painting.
I tucked a bit of intense color into a few nooks and crannies. These little jewel-tones stand out not only on their own, but also affect the other colors around them.