Brenda Swenson Forbidden Fruit Watercolor Technique

Pomegranates are a reoccurring theme in my artwork. Every characteristic of the fruit has come to symbolize something to me in its shape, color, seeds and juice. Throughout history the pomegranate is a symbol of humanities fundamental beliefs and desires including life and death, fertility and marriage, abundance and prosperity.

    Materials List

  • Sketching Palette
  • Daniel Smith Paints
    • Hansa Yellow Light,
    • Quinacridone Gold,
    • Cobalt Teal Blue,
    • Cobalt Blue,
    • Phthalo Blue (GS),
    • Italian Burnt Sienna,
    • Permanent Alizarin Crimson,
    • Lunar Black
  • Waterproof Pen
  • Sketchbook

For this demonstration I am using the Stillman & Birn, Beta Hardbound Sketchbook. It’s perfect to take everywhere in either my purse or sketch bag. I love their hardbound sketchbooks because they open completely flat. The Beta Series has a wonderful surface that responds superbly to watercolor. Before I use the sketchbook for the first time I open the book and bend the covers way back a few times. This won’t hurt the book and helps relax the spine so it will lay flat. No more trying to paint in the valley of a two page spread! An additional advantage, it fits perfectly on a standard home scanner.

My preferred way to work is from life. If I wish to truly understand light, shadows and form nothing compares to observing with my own eyes. There is no greater teacher than observations. This applies whether my subject matter is flora, architecture, landscape or people. The image was drawn from life and the photo as a gentle reminder that a camera has one eye and no brain. It is my job as an artist to put life into my work and I’m a firm believer in rearranging elements to develop a stronger image. A good rule of thought is, don’t record what you see, tell me what you want me to see.


BrendaFF1Step #1 Line Drawing
I draw directly with a waterproof Pitt Pen M (no preliminary pencil). I am fond of drawing with pen in my sketchbooks and rarely use pencil. I’ve found that I have a tendency to be less observant when I use a pencil for the simple fact I know I can erase it. Just knowing that pen can’t be erased forces me to observe longer before I put pen to paper. If I don’t paint the pen sketch the drawing has a finished quality compared to a pencil drawing. Here I have used continual line contour drawing. It’s the fastest and most accurate way to draw and I love the look. I will periodically lift my pen off the paper but for the most part I don’t. I like drawn borders on my sketches. A white border has a nice presentation and a finished look.


Step #2BrendaFF2
I start by painting the pomegranate in the foreground. I believe in mixing colors on the paper as much as
possible. I start by creating two large puddles, one of Permanent Alizarin Crimson and another of Quinacridone Gold. I use Permanent Alizarin Crimson to paint the entire sphere shape of the pomegranate, but before it has a chance to dry I had a touch of Quinacridone Gold towards the top. Once dry I add more Permanent Alizarin Crimson towards the bottom and a touch of Lunar Black. I love the effects I get with Lunar Black because it doesn’t dull the colors like most blacks. It simply adds a wonderful textural quality. It’s perfect for the look I want! The paper is heavyweight and I am able to work wet into wet without the paper warping. Now I paint the crown portion with Quinacridone Gold. When it dries I paint the cast shadow with Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a touch of Lunar Black.

Step #3
I paint the two other pomegranates using the same painting technique and the same three paints: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Gold and Lunar Black. I add a little Italian Burnt Sienna to the upper pomegranate for variety in color. Next I paint the leaves. Greens can be troublesome to most painters. I’ve found the most believable greens are mixed and not directly out of a tube (when I use a tube green I always introduce another color into it). To make greens I create puddles in the center of my palette with Cobalt Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Cobalt Teal Blue, and Quinacridone Gold (clockwise from the top left). I let the edges of each paint puddle touch and mingle. Now I have a puddle with a large variation of greens. With each brush load I have a varied green. Every once in a while I put a touch of Permanent Alizarin Crimson in the leaves before they dry. The addition of Permanent Alizarin Crimson gives the illusion of reflective color from the pomegranate and warms up the greens.

Step #4
I finish painting the leaves and small branches. I darken the middle pomegranate with Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Lunar Black. Once the paint is completely dry I lift a couple highlights on the pomegranates. The Beta paper is internally and externally sized which makes the surface very forgiving. With a soft brush and clean water I gently stroke the surface to loosen the paint. I then use a dry towel to blot off the paint. The paper is heavy and handles lifting easily without damaging the surface.

Step #5
I begin to paint the area behind the pomegranates. I paint with a light wash of Cobalt Blue on the upper section. I carefully paint around the pomegranates but I allow the wash to go over many of the leaves. I don’t want the leaves to look cutout and the wash helps to unify the area, push some of the leaves back and bring others forward. This area will gradually get darker with glazes. By using transparent colors and building up the darks with glazes I am able to achieve lively, rich darks. I enjoy the process of painting with multiple glazes of color. It’s important to let each glaze dry thoroughly before proceeding.

Step #6
Next I apply another glaze of greens. I want this glaze to be deeper and richer in color and value. I am using Italian Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo Blue (GS) (clockwise from the top). I pull the three colors into the center of my palette and allow the edges to touch and mingle slightly. I focus on the area directly behind the pomegranates. I am careful to let some of the prior glazes show through. I begin to suggest addition leaf shapes with negative painting.

Step #7
Now is the fun part when I can add the darks! I am still using Italian Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue (GS) for my greens but the puddle is darker this time. As I paint I am suggest more leaves with negative painting. I am also dropping in pure color into wet areas. Near the upper left corner you can see the addition of Permanent Alizarin Crimson added while the area was still damp. It adds a bit of sparkle and warmth to a dark passage of greens. The final touch is a little splatter to break up the white paper.

In closing…
Most watercolor paintings start out looking the same; it’s the final marks that say who we are. What’s my identifying mark? I would say my work is identifiable by how I draw, handle transparent glazes and negative painting.

Happy Painting!