The Magic Fox at Musashi Plain – a Modern Watercolour

Having learned a lot last week about the value of having a vision for a painting, I did quite a lot of careful preparation work on this one.  My inspiration came from Tsukioka Yoshitoshi‘s beautiful work “Magic Fox at Musashi Plain” which was painted in 1891, in Japan.  Here’s a digital copy of the original…


I wanted to create a modern interpretation of this.  So I began with a quick sketch in my sketchbook…

Then I scanned this sketch into my computer and began to plan the tonal layout and then the colours…

Digital Tone Plan (Made in Photoshop)


Digital Colour Plan (Made in Photoshop)


Then, when I had a clear idea of what I wanted I made the final pencil drawing…


I put some masking fluid on the fox and her reflection and then painted a variegated wash with ultramarine, payne’s grey and black over the whole picture.

Then I removed the masking fluid and ran into my first real problem.  While I do aim to get some 100% cotton paper soon, I can’t afford it until next month. So I’m still working with the medium quality paper I have at home at the moment.  When I removed the masking fluid I got this…


It ripped up the surface layer of the paper.   I’ve been using the same masking fluid for a couple of years now and this has never happened before.  It was a real problem because any watercolour on this patch would soak in deeply and make the tear show up even more.  So, to save the picture, my only option was to move to gouache.  As it turns out this reduced the paper problem and gave me some lovely bright contrasting colours for the final painting.

Here it is finished…


One thing that really helped with this picture is that I finally worked out the physics of reflections and used the main learnings from this in the painting:

  • Reflections have less saturation than real objects.
  • Reflections are usually either lighter or darker than real objects depending on the surface lighting of the water.
  • Reflections are distorted by the surface changes in the water.
  • They are also broken up by ripples.
  • The angle of objects in reflections doesn’t show all features especially near the edge.

I think, when I have some good cotton paper, I might paint this again.

Here’s a final comparison of Yoshitoshi’s original (left) and my modern take on it (right)…

Masking the Moon

I’ve been working through the paperwork necessary to move home over the last few days so I’ve not been able to concetrate on painting in the same way I normally do.  Today I did an experiment with masking fluid.  I’ve not used it before and I wanted ot see what it’s like so I decided to do a simple seascape of the moon sitting low over the sea.  It’s not so much a painting as an experiment.

I began with some structural lines and developed them into a simple sketch to support my painting:

structural sketch

Then I painted on the masking fluid with an old brush I don’t use for painting anymore.  This was trickier than I expected – the fluid is all gloopy and doesn’t flow properly.

masking fluid painted on

Then came the good bit – doing a colourful wash for the sea and sky:


I tried to make the sky smoother and the sea with more visible horizontal strokes.  Then I had a nice cup of tea while the whole thing dried off.

Once it was dry I rubbed the masking fluid and it came off.  It’s a bit like removing dried PVA glue but not as sticky or as solid.

Then I painted the moon.  I tried to follow the real dark and light pattern on our actual moon but the paint did what it wanted so it wasn’t very accurate.  Here’s the result:



As soon as I’d finished I could see errors in my picture.  I’m going to list those I can remember here:

  1. Colours at the horizon should get less intense not more.
  2. Colour near the horizon should get lighter, not darker.
  3. If I’d have picked up the white highlights in the sea and joined them to painted ripples it could have been much more effective.
  4. If I’d have painted a small boat sillouette near the top right of the moon’s reflection I think it would have turned a boring picture into something a bit more effective.  I think having something out there would kind of draw the viewer into the scene much more.

All of that said I did learn a lot with this one!  🙂

The Fish and the Moon – Part 2 – Drawing and Painting the Final Design

So once I had my idea clearly in my mind I started to sketch it out carefully onto watercolour paper.  I began with a border.

It may not seem very important but I find that it really helps me get my arrangement right if I have this drawn in.

borderThen I drew out my design in pencil:

finaldesigndrawingThen inked it:


inkeddrawingdoneThen I left the ink to dry before beinging to paint.  As an experiment I decided to use watercolour pencils for the painting.  This is something I later came to regret….

Here is the start of the painting:

beginning to colour

And below is what it looked like once I’d finished.  I must admit that I kind of got carried away with exploring the watercolour pencil colours and ended up making some bad colour and tone choices.  I like the way the sea turned out but all of the rest of it I really don’t like.  On top of that, the block colour in the background does’t really work very well.  I wanted a smooth transition between dark to light blue on the sky as you go inwards to the centre of the picture, and when that didn’t work I just went for plain block colour, but it still looks kind of patchy.

There are advantages of using watercolour pencils in that they offer great control of where the colour is going to be but for me this is outweighed by the difficulty there is in getting a smooth plain wash over larger areas and the limits to colour mixing which you can do.  That said, I suspect that these problems are typical of someone who’s not used this medium before.

fish and the moon_fin_webAnyway, because I quite like the drawing I thought I’d have another go, this time using plain watercolour with a little white pen over the top to add some interest.  (I had intended to use black ink to highlight things but, after using the white pen I thought it was fine as it was.)  Knowing when to stop with a painting is a difficult skill for me.  🙂

So here is how it turned out the second time around:

fish and sun _FIN_WEBI think using a limited colour palette like this helped a lot to sort out the mess I made of it first time around.  I’ve always had a thing about orange and blue together – they form my favourite opposite colour combination.  This is the first time I’ve used a white paint pen – it was great fun but I’d like to get one which is gentler on the paper or perhaps do the same thing with some white gouche paint, a 00 brush  and a steady hand.  I also decided to rename the picture to ‘The Fish and the Sun’.

The Fish and the Moon – Part 1 – Inspiration and Sketching

The first line and wash painting I did is one which uses the swirly, curly sea look which you sometimes see in eastern paintings.  Something like this:

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎)

and like this:

By Hyakka Ryoran

I want to put a giant whale or fish or even perhaps a boat in the middle and colour it with watercolours.

So I began to sketch out lots of ideas.  I could feel what I wanted but couldn’t quite see it clearly in my mind.  Drawing lots of quick rough sketches helps me to play around with ideas and focus them into coherant picture.

So here are my sketches:




sketch4and5 sketch6 sketch7 sketch8 sketch9 sketch10Do this, gradually I found out how I wanted my picture to look.  Each sketch took about a minute.  The final sketch is quite close to what I eventually chose to draw, except that I discarded the seahorse as the sea looks pretty fierce in this picture and, if memory serves, seahorses don’t do well in strong currents.  I chose a fish instead.

So I’ll be drawing out my final design – tomorrow!       🙂