Tag: middleground

A Monet Morning: I want the unobtainable

A Monet Morning: I want the unobtainable

Morning arises, the early light so gentle, so soft with an  otherworldly kind of glow that captivates.

My post dawn zen stroll  was magnificent  –  A Monet Morning.


blue flower agapantha, Monet art, zen strolls, early morning walks, debiriley.com
Monet Morning .. photograph


Claude Monet

I want the unobtainable.

Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat, and that’s the end.

They are finished.

I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat,

the beauty of the air in which these objects are located, and that is nothing short of impossible.



Claude,  you say what I feel.

And This Morning…. the beauty was in the air.

How. To capture that?

How. To express that?

Like you say,  it is nothing short of impossible.

Still, with paints or with camera ….. it is the destination.



At The Edge of Summer

Right on the cusp of summer there is still time yet for a beautiful,  freshness in the morning.

A hint of warmth carries with it the scent of newly opening blooms: roses, agapanthas, jacarandas.

They fill the air with promise and mystery and love.



I paused, along the banks of the little creek.

Just to breathe.

To fill in my lungs with the aroma of the morning.

Just to Be.

Just to see.

Just to feel.

To immerse myself in all the things,  around.




Claude Monet  said,

the  Critic asks:   ‘And what, sir, is the subject matter of  that painting?’

– “The subject matter,  my dear good fellow,  is  the light.”




Morning Observations

Over to my right, open fields with long tall spent grass.

Golden, no longer a spring green.

But I can see the burnt umber, the  burnt sienna,   Daniel Smith…Naples yellow,  buff titanium,  indian yellow all making an appearance there in the field.


To the left a thicket, dense and tangled with branches and vines that were weaving upwards.

Spiralling just a bit,  like a spider’s web.  I didn’t enter.


Further to the left, a grove of pretty patterned trees leaned in towards each other.

I wondered what they might be speaking of this early morning.


Shifting, but still in place,  to the opposite side houses with their pretty little flower gardens.


The aromas of the morning blooms, teasing my nose as I inhaled deep.

And again for more.  How lovely.




More like ….  Monet

And this is why, I go for zen strolls.

Why I don’t go for a power walk;

no… not going for speed, nor for quantity either.


A Zen Stroll savors each breath.

The very air I breathe.


It reminds me,  to be  more like Monet.





Monet … Guggenheim 

Monet … Musee d’Orsay 



Judicious  Texture II 2015

Judicious Texture II 2015

Where does texture and detail belong?   When to stop painting!?  How to avoid fiddling?  It is a matter of simply reminding yourself as you are painting, there are 3 main areas to your composition. Background, Middleground and Foreground.

watercolour textures, landscape, debiriley.com
Salt Pan Lake landscape watercolours debiriley.com

3 Main Textural Areas:  Background, Middleground, Foreground


Each of these areas is to be handled differently in order to achieve to best illusion of depth and perspective. You want to handle the textural effects judiciously. You’re after a nice smooth, seamless, transition. A gliding walk through the painting rather than a stilted jumpy-bumpy, stop and go ride.

That is the goal, anyway!


Backgrounds in a painting

Backgrounds usually, need to be handled thoughtfully, so that their textures are the calmest and least ‘busy.’

This means with very little variations, textures, contrasts, etc.  They need to be kept more on the  quiet and subtle side. This can be done with flat washes or even soft graded washes.  Wet into wet will work if they are done with cooler, calmer, not bright colours.

Middlegrounds will be just a bit more detailed,  a little more of the textural effects and contrasts.

Watercolours Wild Floral fast and loose painting debiriley.com
Watercolour Wild Floral fast and loose! debiriley.com

Foregrounds:   Will have More Contrast.  More Detail.

Foregrounds (generally speaking)  are much more textured, brighter coloured, warmer colours, deeper darks, much sharper edges,  i.e. “louder.”

The above painting, Watercolour Wild Floral fast and loose!   is a good sample of the foreground grabbing the attention with its sharp edges, brightness and contrasting textures.

These textures grab your attention more than the background… as they should, usually. There are exceptions,  depending on where the artist/creator intends the viewers’ eyes to go.

The star of the show, the focal point,  will of course, have the most texture and detail and contrast of the entire painting,  this is in order for it to be the clear and evident Star.


In the below image, you can see how the background area is diffused with less detail, whereas the foreground has more texture, detail, sharper edges and contrast.   This is the theory, the plan of what you’d normally want to do in your paintings to create improved depth through the Judicious use of Textures. 

textural techniques, splatter wet/dry debiriley.com
splatter wet/dry debiriley.com



This image below, may be just a bit trickier.

In the photo below, if you look closely you will see the 3 divisions – far background,  the mid ground and  the foreground.

These areas are relatively clear and do follow the guidelines of softer calmer textures in the back. The edges are sharper in front with nice crisp textures and detailing along the paper’s front edge in foreground.

division of space debiriley.com
Divisions of Space debiriley.com


Ways to avoid the Curse of Fiddling

Sometimes,   restraint is challenging when you are having so much fun playing with all the colours, textures and techniques.

But, Restraint – is exactly what we need in order to obtain what we desire.  Improved paintings.  Paintings we ourselves are pleased with.

Judicious use of texture and detail will go a long way to help you create the illusion of depth and perspective you’re aiming for.

Perhaps  reminding yourself of 3, 5, 7  ‘rule’  ………   could be a method to help you stop fiddling.

Deliberately count 3 strokes of that fun textural effect, stop.  Do 2 more if needed. Stop.  and repeat.  Less is more.

Also I find by having 2-3+ papers/canvas  right in front of me “Waiting” to be Painted!  Helps me avoid fiddling and overworking just the one painting.

Counting and setting timers, seem to assist in curbing this Un-helpful habit that ruins my paintings.

Image Below, Watercolour with a Twist,  has lovely soft near flatness of texture in the background.  The middle ground gets progressively more textured.  And the foreground is  grooved and sculpted with heaps a gorgeous textural effects from the moulding paste I’d used.

watercolour with a twist debiriley.com
Watercolour with a Twist debiriley.com
  • mentally divide painting into the 3 areas back, mid, foreground
  • remind yourself often, of the 3 areas, while you are painting
  • befriend the word,  ‘Restraint’
  • make sure you have just one, lone Star of the show
  • judiciously  count  3, 5, 7   to prevent over doing it
  • These suggestions work for most general types of painting, there are some styles,  illustrative, graphic design, zentangles, etc.  that will naturally follow their own flow.




This is an overhauled,  updated version of my Dec. 3,  2014 post.

I felt the subjects of texture, backgrounds, restraint and fiddling to be well worth reposting. With  some serious revisions and additions to the original post, here it is.  Enjoy!


Watercolour Painting Depth

Watercolour Painting Depth

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!



Alien Creatures on a Bush Walk

Alien Creatures on a Bush Walk

Imagine going on a quiet pleasant nature walk, happily taking in the serene environment. When out of the blue, you discover the tree you’re leaning on is swarming with unknown alien creatures by the hundreds.  Well, it did make me step back, just a little.

insect on bark photo debiriley.com
Alien Up Close photo debiriley.com wood louse
 wood louse debiriley.com
Alien insect on wood bark debiriley.com

Actually, it must have been rather funny to watch. I’d been having a great time on my very relaxing walk. Thinking that it was a nice warm afternoon with a lovely blue sky as a backdrop.

And as you probably know, I love my trees. So, per normal, I get in close. Nose to tree,  right up close and personal, all the better to see all the intricate textures and patterns.

I’m really amazed at just how well they can camouflage themselves. Tricky.

tree bark photo debiriley.com
tree bark debiriley.com

I am thinking I should be investing in a magnifying glass or perhaps better glasses.  But even those wouldn’t  have uncovered those ninja aliens so well hidden amongst the bark’s knots and cracks.

Nature comes up with some astounding disguises filled with beautiful patterns.   But the next time,  I may think about the aliens and look from a distance first.

bark photo debiriley.com
Clean Pretty Bark photo debiriley.com

As to the exact type of insect beetle they are, I’m not entirely certain. I believe they are a type of Western Australian wood louse.  Some of them were up to one inch long, or 3 cm which does not include the length of their antennae.

The spotted pattern on their back shells are quite lovely (once I got past the whole alien insect thing) and could  inspire some abstracted drawings or paintings.

wood bark insect photo debiriley.com
Wood Bark Insect photo debiriley.com
The Soul of The Artist

The Soul of The Artist

Still Life Florals in vase photograph debiriley.com
The Soul of the Artist photograph debiriley.com

A Simple Post:   with an invitation!

With no long discourse or Art Basic tips on tone, edges, depth, colour, design, etc.  I’m inviting you to post in comments on your reactions to this photographic image.

Is it too centered for you? Adequate depth? Some may dislike the location of the green signature, and wonder WHY I placed it right there! ………   and some may enjoy those very same things.

Having ‘comments and discussion’  is a fantastic chance to learn and hear different art viewpoints.   A sequel post will be forthcoming with my explanations on the title, the mood, the basics.

Thank you everyone for your comments and participating, great response so far!       

Keep those comments and thoughts coming in!        🙂

Depth: Background, Middleground, Foreground

Depth: Background, Middleground, Foreground

One of the challenges for beginners learning to paint is creating depth in the landscape or still life.  Often areas appear flat, floating, lacking depth. Why? How can you prevent it?

watercolour textures chart debiriley.com
Watercolour Texture: Foreground – Most! Background – Least …debiriley.com


Depth: Back, Middle and Front

In order for the painting to read as if it has depth, the beginner needs to understand the painting has 3 areas of space: Background,  Middleground and Foreground.

Each of these areas of space must be treated differently with colour, tone, detail, edges, size, media technique applications in order for illusion of depth to be created.

This post focuses on Colour, later articles will include tone, edges, detail, overlapping, etc.  in the 3 areas of Background, Middleground and Foreground.


In the example I’ve shown, I used a very warm terracotta orange brown as my foreground.  As the eye travels into the Middleground area –  it has become less warm. I’ve done this by adding a dash of blue (cobalt) + water.

Now, further into the distance,  in the Background are much cooler  colours.  They’ve gone into the grey range at this point.  Again,  just by adding more blue – and more water.


Aerial Perspective

Through the use and placement of your colour choices, you can create background, middle ground, foreground.  The full range sequence of colours that I typically will  have students use is  (background towards foreground)      grey,  lavender blue-ish,  blue,  green blue,  green,  green yellow, olive,  yellow,  yellow orange,  red orange,  scarlet warm red.

What is Warm?   What is Cool?      How to learn to tell the difference.  This will take you a few minutes each day observing colours around you. Start with easy ones. Purples are easier.   Look to see which purple is warmer, which is cooler.


“Warmer”  colours have more red bias to them.   “Cooler”  colours have more blue bias to them.  Now, Lets take Red.  Red is a Warm.  However,  you can have a Warm version  and   a Cool version.

The Warm version will look more like a warm strawberry red,  whereas the Cool version will look more like a cold red Delicious apple.

Every Colour – will have a warm and a cool version. This is Good!…… why?   Because it allows you to place the warmer, in front of the cooler!   This creates more depth,  improves perspective.  It creates a  painting that enables the viewer to ‘walk through, meander through’  seamlessly,  without any roadblocks in the background, middle ground, or foreground.


landscape greens debiriley.com
landscape greens Background to foreground debiriley.com

Both of these 2 images, top and bottom,  were created from my basic 3 colours.  Cobalt blue pb28,  Winsor Lemon py175,  Permanent Rose pv19.    It keeps it nice and easy, less complicated when mixing my greens.

Top image shows a very warm olive far left, transitioning into cool greyed greens which are great for the Backgrounds. As seen just below it in the hills, tree scape.

The image Below, the 6 rows of Greens also provide you a good reference of what can be mixed with the 3 basic colours (cobalt, winsor lemon, rose.)  As well as the specific sequence you’d place them in to obtain the most depth and perspective in your own paintings.   You can see how the warm olive comes forward, whereas the cooler bluer greens recede into the background.

greens for depth background-foreground debiriley.com
Mixing Greens for Depth background-foreground debiriley.com

The 6 greens mixed  help improve depth and perspective,  through a more progressive colour temperature transition from background to foreground.

Green Grey is at the far back, then blue green, next mid green, yellow green, greenish-yellow, with warm (red bias)  Olive in front.     Olive has a higher ratio of red mixed into it.

Having 6 very different temperature greens as a minimum – smooths the transition, creating a  foreground – middle ground – background.   Which gives more depth to your paintings!


10 Tips for Landscape Foliage Greens – Revised

10 Tips for Landscape Foliage Greens – Revised

Landscape Foliage Greens. Most paintings generally will have 3 divisions of space:  background, middle ground and foreground.They will also typically need one single, Focal Point. This Focal Point will have the Most contrast and the Most details of my entire painting.

gum tree bark, depth, painting
gum tree debiriley.com

Everything I do in my paintings –  hinges on the techniques and the knowledge of: Background, middle ground, foreground, and The Focal Point.     Plus,  ‘remembering’  these!

Choosing, mixing and placing the foliage greens in the correct matching area is critical for the successful creation of ‘depth’ in the painting.


I generally need to have the warmest greens in the foreground.    I want the transition from warm in front to cooler/grey-green in back,  to be a very subtle and very smooth,  imperceptible change.

My goal is for a seamless transition.  Which requires – mixing up quite a few variations of foliage greens, ….. usually 7-9 or more!


What I had to do – once I knew about these art basics, was to write them down on a post card and tape it up to my painting board!   This way, every single time I went to paint anything,  it stared me in the face. For months.   It made a big impact in a very short time.

My guidelines, tips,  are not concrete Rules…….

But more like   “Beginner Guideposts”    to help beginners learn where and how to get started.  I’m prefacing the 10 Tips with my standard,  “Generally Speaking……”    For those exceptions  that DO  happen!


  • 1    background foliage is paler and lighter in tonal values than middle ground, or foreground
  • 2    foreground foliage  is deeper, stronger,  darker tones
  • 3    yellow, yellow green,  green-yellow are placed in foreground vs background areas
  • 4   always create & mix your own greens for the most natural looking foliage greenery
  • 5    green out of the tube looks very man made,  Fake,  not ‘organic’ and you lose the naturalness of foliage greenery
  • 6    foliage in the foreground/focal point benefits from white paper or white paint (oils/acrylics)
  • 7    using the 3 Tubes of paint (cobalt, winsor lemon, permanent rose)  to create your foliage greens creates beautiful harmony
  • 8   warm greens are best placed in foregrounds (olive greens, yellow greens)
  • 9   mid greens  can go in the middle ground (mid/grass green, green-blue)
  • 10 cool greens are best placed in the backgrounds  (blue-green, greyed greens)


Based on the 3 tubes of paint mixing the greens is fairly simple to create a minimum of 5 Different  variations of greens for a painting to have enough depth through out its 3 areas of space… background, middle ground, foreground.

warm olive green Foreground:  py175  winsor lemon   + tiny tad perm. rose pv19  for a warm yellow, marigold yellow; then add just enough cobalt blue pb28 to turn it olive.     Practice this one  quite a few times til you get the feel of it.

yellow green just in Back of  the  olive green:  easy mix  90% yellow and  10%  blue   …roughly

mid/grass green placed in back of yellow green, its about in the Middleground of the painting:    about 50%yellow and 50% blue

green-blue placed in back of grass green:   a rough estimate is 35%   yellow and 65%  blue            Test it out to see for yourself.

grey-green placed into the background, behind green-blue:    take your “green-blue”  mix     and  add tiny, micron red. add water. TEST it.

landscape greens debiriley.com
landscape greens debiriley.com

When you decide to move on to new Colours, a fantastic Blue to add that lends itself to a vibrant and deep range of bushland and floral greens is   Prussian  Blue  pb27.

Prussian is a staining pigment, extremely deep and rich, very powerful and dark.  Yet it can be lightened up considerably, to quite a soft delicate blue with a just the tiniest hint of green in it.

It is one of my “staples” for when I’m painting foliage with my normal palette.  It is quite a powerhouse. So it takes a little getting used to and learning how to adjust its intensity for what you require at the time.


Prussian Blue is  useful  mixed with

a. winsor lemon   b. raw sienna  c. burnt sienna  d. raw umber      These all create really lovely array of natural looking foliage greens that settle perfectly into your landscapes.