Creative Plan – Watercolour Paints

Raoul Dufy exploration

A French Post-Impressionists who, for me, is one of those rare masters whose work has appeal for both fine artists and graphic illustrators. He painted in a time where graphic design or commercial illustration wasn’t seen as a serious artistic discipline so his career path was, like most of his peers, in fine art. Though from a modern day perspective his style hits a lot of buttons for graphic illustrators through his use of flat colours, bold linework and stylised shapes.

If you would like more background on Dufy please visit

pages from my little secondhand Dufy pocket book

This was a really anticipated exercise for me because I don’t go out painting on location much and whenever I do my use of watercolours can be a bit directionless at times. That is, I start painting with no rhyme or reason and the paintings become very fussy with me constantly adding more and more layers in an attempt to “give it life” but never feeling particularly satisfied at the end. Using Dufy to inspire me could provide an alternative approach to watercolours.


This was my first attempt at this exercise so I was tentative as usual – that typical baggage of willing yourself on to break habits and try something new. Also staying on track and actually remembering my objective for the day is another hurdle. What did help me with the latter was having a few of his images on my phone so that I could quickly remind myself before I started a painting. 


There are some elements in there where I feel his essence is coming through. They definitely have a different feel than my usual results and with each new picture I started to ease into it more. 

Creating washes of flat background colour gives the pictures a lightness and “drawing” in the details, even with a paintbrush, gives it a whimsical, sweet atmosphere which was pleasing. 


A few months later I had another chance to go out and explore more with Dufy. There are a lot of ticks of approval for this style of painting which I personally like:

• it’s not too complicated to execute and finish

• blocking in the background shapes with colour washes helps me build the rest of the scene because of its simplicity. 

• limited palette is less stressful. The background and foreground are mostly painted with the same colour. This makes it easier than constantly having to decide or search for the right colour to paint numerous individual objects with. A limited palette also unifies the picture creating a more visual rhythm across the scene.  

The other thing I like about this style is that it can make anything ordinary look alive and exciting. A couple of these paintings were done on a wet and overcast day so not only was it a bit bleh to be sitting out in the rain, but finding shelter anywhere I could meant my subject choices and angles were very limited. All these paintings were of ordinary run of the mill residential streets that could be found in any suburb but this technique gives them a lot of character and life.


I really enjoyed this style of painting. Admittedly it fits in with my own natural approach to art so it wasn’t a huge stretch out of my comfort zone. However, I don’t always find on location painting that exciting so this certainly makes it more fun for me to execute and the results are more immediate (every other time I’ve painted outdoors my pictures only look better the next day once the paint has dried).

To look at them they have a freeness in their execution, as though not a lot of thought or hardwork went into them. This is true with regards to painting it in but the challenge was the old “less is more” dilemma. Although they are full of patterns, colours and shapes you don’t approach it traditionally, ie paint in everything you see. There is a lot of creative editing going on in your mind beforehand– what line, shape, etc is going to add to the composition and not be a distraction instead? For example, this tree above had many more leaves than I depicted but putting them all in would have made it too busy and crowded. Or the tree trunks didn’t need to be outlined and filled in, a nice, soft, washed out brushstroke was enough to indicate its shape.

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