Watercolour Painting Depth

Ellis Rowan Coral Tree

A master at creating depth in watercolours, an artist I’ve long admired Ellis Rowan has returned to my attention.

Ellis Rowan Coral Tree
Ellis Rowan, Coral Tree-Australian Watercolour Painters


I was reviewing my posts and paintings the other day, assessing actually.   When the vibrant scarlet of Red Dragon Maple Trees  caught my eye and got me thinking that the Colour was reminding me of someone’s art.  It took me awhile to remember, which is quite sad, considering Ellis Rowan was such a brilliant, skilled and exquisite artist!

I thumbed through a number of my treasured art books,  and found the answer in Australian Watercolour Painters:  1780 to the Present Day by Jean Campbell  ISBN 0-9471-3128-0

Ellis Rowan, born in 1848 Marian Ellis Ryan in Victoria, Australia. She went on to travel abroad – America, London, New Zealand and throughout Australia.  Ellis created stunningly detailed botanical paintings of flowers, plants, birds filled with colour and light;  creating over 3000+ paintings in her lifetime.


The photo I’ve used is from my book,  Australian Watercolour Painters.

In Ellis Rowan’s painting,  Coral Tree  I love the simple and understated background. So effective.  The pale blue washes lightly applied and connected together tell us – these are the gum trees in the back.

The soft and gentle ‘hint’  the ever so light delicate subtlety of the golden glow coming through in just the perfect location – brilliant!

Then Ellis goes on to deliver a pop and wow,  in the foreground.   That gorgeous red scarlet is just mouth watering delicious.

Ellis knew exactly when to be subtle and when and where to come in with the accent pieces to catch the eye.    I can learn quite a bit studying all of her paintings… not to paint botanically, but more of the mastery of technique she expressed with ease.


Depth in Watercolour Paintings

As I look again into her work, I see the skill and mastery Ellis used in achieving depth in her watercolour’s  foregrounds, middle grounds and the backgrounds.


Her backgrounds are much cooler, bluer, softer, paler.   And thus they fade and recede into the distance beautifully.

Her middle grounds begin to have more colour intensity, detail, tonal depth – allowing them to now come forward just a bit.

Then the foregrounds are wonderfully alive with rich warm colour!  Strong tonal contrasts and lovely textures and details in the flowers and plants.

Combining these 3 aspects of depth in the background, middle ground and foreground goes a long way – to ensure that our own paintings will also be filled with a lovely sense of distance, depth & perspective.


Ellis Rowan studied plants, flowers, birds.  We could study her work and learn much!




Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at society6.com/debiriley and, redbubble.com/people/debijriley/shop

10 thoughts on “Watercolour Painting Depth

    1. it seems more men than women were the big players in the art world even then, but Ellis was quite special I thought. Thank you for your comment – I appreciate them!!

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  1. I’ve got a weakness for botanical paintings and drawings – I’ve used Alexander Marshal’s illustrations in my commercial design work – the Rowan is fab

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    1. I’ve always liked the look of botanical work, I just don’t do many…. I quite enjoy Alexander Marshal’s approach. The way he has giant sunflowers then a miniature dog in the corner. I find it fascinating he was born in 1620, I’d have first thought around 1790-1800 or so. He loved his flowers. Thanks for sharing that 🙂

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