Move Beyond Details to Convey Meaning

Watercolor artist Tom Lynch shows you how to approach painting with an "art reason" or a concept related to the elements of a scene.

One of the key aspects of Tom Lynch’s watercolor paintings is that he offers viewers an overriding concept and not just an illustration of a place, person, or event. That is, he picks one or two words that summarize both his emotional and intellectual responses to the scene. Those words or phrases becomes Lynch’s guide in making decisions that result in the most effective presentation of the subject. They help him convey something special about the subject that goes far beyond a detailed rendering or a photograph, which he demonstrates in the watercolor tutorial below.

Tom Lynch watercolor landscape painting
“Jordan Road” (watercolor, 9 x 12 in.)

In order to explain exactly how a concept can lead to a stronger, more expressive painting, Lynch reveals the words or phrases that helped him create the paintings reproduced here. For example, he focused on color when creating the painting Jordan Road, and that helped him celebrate the striations of yellows, oranges, reds and greens in the mountains. The strong composition of darks and lights brought even more emphasis to the display of colors in the landscape.

watercolor landscape painting
“Botanical Garden” (watercolor, 9 x 12 in.)
watercolor landscape painting
“5¢ Biscuits” (watercolor, 16 x 12 in.)

Other example of Lynch’s use of singular concepts includes the paintings Botanical Garden and 5¢ Biscuits; which are based on the concepts of layers and dappled light, respectively.

Watercolor Tutorial: Focusing on Shadows

STEP 1: Lynch first does a detailed pencil drawing of the subject on Fredrix Watercolor Canvas.


STEP 2: In order to silhouette the porch, Lynch does a wet-in-wet application of colors around the structure.


STEP 3: Lynch then adds more layers of color around the porch and a cast shadow on its front edge.


“Porch Shadows” (watercolor, 9 x 12 in.)


Tom Lynch has written seven books and hosted several award-winning PBS TV Art Series.

This watercolor tutorial was excerpted from an article by M. Stephen Doherty in PleinAir Magazine.


  1. I appreciate your sharing the tip- two words to add depth and find meaning to paintings. At this point I am looking to add depth to my paintings not just present pictures. Thanks again

  2. This is a great help! I am an abstract artist and hope to add something special to my paintings. In addition to what this article indicates, I will now keep in mind 2 words that express the emotion I wish to show.


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