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Painting Rainbows

Rainbow in the Strath
25 x 36 cm

Rainbows must be one of the hardest things to paint in watercolour, although it ought to be the ideal medium for them. The problem is that it's tempting to try to include all the colours and paint a full arc. The result, more often than not, looks like something from a Walt Disney creation.

The colours in a rainbow have an intangible quality, which needs to be painted with a soft and light touch. Here I dampened the area to be painted and used a wet-in-wet technique. I didn't attempt to paint all the colours I could see, but just used a few of the brighter colours on my palette to hint at them. I also faded out both ends into the background to suggest the fleeting nature of a rainbow.

I was painting this from a sketch and there was one thing that I forgot: If you look carefully, you will see that the sky is always slightly darker outside the curve of a rainbow than it is on the inside. It's only a small point though and I'm probably being too critical. In any case the painting has been sold, so I won't be tempted to fiddle with it!


  1. yes difficult but you did a pretty good job with it...very subtle

  2. Yes, too critical.. we always find 'something' don't we?
    I love rainbows and this is really beautiful.. soft, subtle and magical .. thanks Keith BJ

  3. I think you did a great job at making the rainbow look realistic.

  4. Hi there Keith!... Rainbows... deep sense of space? It really comes down to understanding... and responding accurately to aerial perspective.... just as you always do Keith!

    Painting Rainbows... is much easier... and more productive than... chasing rainbows... if you get the drift!

    I deeply admire your constant striving to be a better painter... and person! Well done!

    Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving Greetings Keith! THis gem made my day!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. I think you managed it very well, its a wonderful painting. And I didn't know that bit of information about the sky colour inside the arc of a rainbow.

  6. Thanks Barbra Joan. Yes I suppose we are our own worst critics, but that's probably a good thing.

  7. Hi Bruce,

    I must say that painting feels like chasing rainbows sometimes. Just occasionally there's a glimpse of a pot of gold though!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Debs,

  8. Thanks Stuart. I think I got it the wrong way round. Looking at some of my photographs, the sky is darker on the outside of the arc. It varies but it's quite noticeable sometimes.

  9. I do like your subtle touch with this - as always an inspiration in this medium! Cheers Keith!

  10. Congratulations on the sale and thank you for sharing your observations with us. Very interesting.

  11. Beautiful painting Keith and the rainbow is perfect - very subtle but just enough to give the feeling.

  12. Thanks Nicki, Lydie and Michael for your comments.

  13. A lovely watercolour painting, those washes are delicate and the sky is a beauty! Blues skies and sunshine here at last in Moray today, hope the sun is shining with you.

  14. Thanks Caroline. It's sunshine and showers here at the moment. I'm still trying to finish the roof, but the showers are a nuisance.

  15. Yes, too critical, Keith! :) Your painting is really lovely and not surprised it has sold so fast!

  16. What a gift you have and I am looking forward to being your newest follower

  17. I know this is about the Rainbow, which you've observed, explained and rendered brilliantly, as always, but I'm taken by the first hill. It has such a 'realistic' quality to it and I love the slight haziness you've managed to create in the distance. Another superb painting.

  18. OK, I don't understand it, I post comments and they disappear :(

    This time, I was wise and copied it first, here is what I said:

    Well, I have never painted a rainbow, but now I shall look for that darker area when I next see one.

    I think you have captured it's translucency perfectly!

  19. I've had that happen to me before, Rolina, and it's very annoying: especially if you've just typed a long reply! I'm trying out 'Dynamic Views' in Blogger, so I don't know whether that has anything to do with it.

    I've never painted a rainbow with oils, so I don't know whether it would be any easier.


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