Francesco Fontana watercolor step by step article for DANIEL SMITH

Today I will show you how I prepare my painting with photo and sketches, and a couple of unusual techniques: how we can start applying paint even before we actually outline our subject, and how to create the foreground first. Pencil and brush will interact all through the process.

When not working en plein air, I choose a subject from my own photos, to have a connection with the story. In this case it’s a pic from my family and friends trip to Valencia, Spain. Namely a city scene I entitled “Strolling at Twilight”. A young mom with her toddler, seemingly asleep, and his puppet — slowly heading home, before it gets too dark in town.

Preparing the Work

Crop the digital image then print it in black and white.

Crop the digital image then print it in black and white.

I zoom in and crop my digital image then print it in black and white. In my sketchbook I sketch a thumbnail of the overall design, looking at the B&W print as value reference. I’ll keep the screen at hand for colors. I sketch the foreground and main element, the stroller.

Drawing and sketching.

Drawing and sketching.


Color Selection

DANIEL SMITH colors selected Francesco Fontana for the watercolor painting, Strolling at Twilight

DANIEL SMITH colors Francesco selected for the watercolor painting.

I decided for an overall cool key temperature, with Indigo and Phthalo Blue (GS).   Quinacridone Sienna and Quinacridone Gold take the warm side and complete the color range for this work. I do not clean the palette as paint left over make great grays. I just clean a spot for mixing my first wash of pure pigments.

Photo of Francesco Fontana's watercolor palette

Photo of Francesco Fontana’s watercolor palette

Painting Process

1. I wash the paper with a cool color, Indigo + Phthalo Blue (GS), and let it dry.

Apply the cool color wash, draw the focal element for the painting.

Apply the cool color wash, draw the focal element for the painting.

2. I draw the focal element on the toned dry paper, using the sketch as reference. Except for marking the placement of main shapes, I do not draw the entire composition.

Painting the focal figure almost completely. Francesco Fontana

Painting the focal figure almost completely.

3. I paint the focal figure almost completely, using Quin Sienna as a color pitch. Erase the pencil when dry.

Draw and paint part of the background building. Francesco Fontana

Draw and paint part of the background building.

4. Draw and paint part of the background building. Mostly the windows with Quin Gold, not the darker parts to leave space for the passersby and the tree to be painted in the plan before the facade.

Stop painting and sketch in figures. Francesco Fontana

Stop painting and sketch in figures.

5. Stop painting and sketch a few studies of the figures hanging on the square.

Painting in the figures. Francesco Fontana

Painting in the figures.

6. Now I am ready to outline those figures in the mid ground and paint them with a shade of bistro (Italian for sepia brown) from the mix of Quin Sienna and Indigo.

Adding in the tree and branches. Francesco Fontana

Adding in the tree and branches.

7. Change brush and paint the tree. I do as many branches as possible, building kind of a net.

Developing the facade on the left side. Francesco Fontana

Developing the facade on the left side.

8. At this point I develop the facade on the left side, drawing some perspective lines, and the curve of pavement.

Intensify the sky value. Francesco Fontana

Intensify the sky value.

9. Finally, I intensify the sky value by adding color with Indigo in the top. I make a cool to warm gradation — Phthalo to Gold, plus reflections on the light part of the pavement.

Adding the last touches. Francesco Fontana

Adding the last touches.

10. Last touch, I finish with thin layers of golden yellow here and there to increase saturation, and the city lights effect. I include Phthalo Blue (GS) for cool city highlight on the right side. I erase all pencil marks and sign.

I am quite happy with this work. But as usual looking at the step-by-step sequence, I start reflecting on what can be done better next time. Maybe stop earlier or try new technique. The challenge never ends! Feel free to send me feedback and happy painting! —Francesco Fontana

Strolling at Twlight by Francesco Fontana, 11x14 watercolor

“Strolling at Twilight”, 11×14 inches (28 x 38 cm), February 2018

Colors I used in this painting

Triadic colors for the painting, Strolling by Twilight by Francesco Fontana

Triadic colors for the painting.

Quinacridone Sienna
Quinacridone Gold
Phthalo Blue (GS)

Triadic with Character
I have always loved orange. Quinacridone Sienna plays the role of orange in my palette, with the addition of a beautiful transparency and earthy feel. Which I like to support with the amazing luminosity of Quinacridone Gold, which is my second favorite DS hue. Indigo is my first choice for darks, and plays the role of black, which I have never used in my career! Indigo’s iron blue shade perfectly complements with Quin Sienna. Mixing the two results in a natural deep bistro (sepia brown), which can reach great intensity in both warm and cool ends. These three colors add a lot of character to my essentially triadic color approach.

5 Tips

1. Do not draw all details in the beginning, just mark placement and focal point.
2. Work as if you would stop at any time.
3. Paint more branches in a tree, with expression from thinner to thicker.
4. Find your own solutions (maybe car lights can be anything but pure red!).
5. At every step make sure that is a brick to building up a mood.

Why I choose DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
DANIEL SMITH Extra Fine Watercolor has become the leap in quality I was looking for quite a while in my artistic journey. The finesse and power of their pigments are beauty in itself. As a transparent watercolorist, the luminosity of their quinacridone pigments is a blessing!

Although I tend to use a limited palette, the amazing range of colors allows me to choose those that most reflect my personality and contribute to define my style. Their concentration is also a great value, DANIEL SMITH tubes seem endless, despite a professional daily use.”
—Francesco Fontana

Francesco Fontana's DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Dot Card.Francesco Fontana DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Dot Card Colors
Yellow Hansa Medium
New Gamboge
Permanent Yellow Deep
Quinacridone Gold
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Quinacridone Sienna
Permanent Red Deep
Alizarin Crimson
Rose of Ultramarine
Imperial Purple
Indanthrone Blue
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue (GS)
Ultramarine Turquoise
Green Apatite Genuine
Bloodstone Genuine
Burnt Umber

Photo of Francesco FontanaFrom Palermo Italy, Francesco Fontana is an International award winning artist, teacher and juror. He started his career in bohemian Paris, and founded his own Atelier in Milan, Italy. He masters both oils and watercolors, teaches in English and French, and brings his European culture all over the world. Exhibitions include New York’s Salmagundi Club with the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society, USA as well as Bankside Gallery, London with the Royal Watercolor Society. He has juried the Conference of the Watercolor Society of Oregon and has served as stage and field faculty of the Plein Air  Convention & Expo for two years. Streamline Publishing also published his instructional DVD “Watercolor the Italian Way”. Press includes Plein Air Magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, The Art of Watercolor and a four-page feature in The Artist, UK Magazine. Affiliations include AWS and NWS. “Travels, places and people offer me inspiration, and art is for me the medium to connect to humanity,” he states. His art is admired in private collections in Europe, USA and Asia, where he’s invited to perform plein air events, demos and workshops, the most famous being Watercolor in one Stroke Workshop.
Facebook: Francesco.Fontana.5203
Instagram: @Francesco.Fontana.Artist