Monday, March 16, 2020

Intermediate Homework 3/15/20 Reading the Layers

The standard approach to making a watercolor goes by many names, such as, "wash and stroke", or , "wet to dry", but the common denominator is that most paintings progress from general statements to specifics. Here are a couple of finished paintings that were created mainly as a succession of layers beginning with pale, soft edges and becoming harder and darker;

Trevor Chamberlain

Can you imagine what the first layer looked like by itself? When did the soft-edged grey shapes become trees?

Trevor Chamberlain

The tree in the middle distance, although it is treated as a single shape, is more complex than those in the background. It displays a few specific marks (branches and openings).

In the following paintings the layers remain visible as successively darker and hard edged;

Torgier Schjolberg

Torgier Schjolberg

Light, middle, dark. Some images may require more than three layers.
Please make a simple, three or four layer painting from one of the photos, below, or try copying one of those, above. You may want to desaturate the image to more plainly see the layers.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Thinking Abstractly to Keep Your Realism Fresh

This dramatic sky wanted to be painted! It's a little intimidating, though, with all that activity in the sky. Rather than try to duplicate that complex array of marks, I'll look for guidelines that will lead toward an interpretation that feels similar. 
The warm wash across the upper sky portion seems simple enough, but the array of grey brushstrokes requires some analysis. It helps me to ask a few questions the answers to which provide guidelines for approaching the subject in a general way.

What proportion of the sky will become grey?
60%, roughly.

How are the grey strokes distributed?
The majority of the marks are spread across the center of the top half of the page, extending from one side to the other, running right off the page. Mostly clumped together, with a couple apart from the group. Only one or two strokes touch the top of the big shape.

What kind of marks are they? (organic? geometrical? Horizontal? Vertical? Hard? Soft?) 
Soft-edged but still distinct, roughly horizontal, irregular and varied.

The answers to these questions are abstract, in that they don't refer to content at all. Theoretically, following them will lead to a passage that reads as a tumultuous sky. It should be possible to turn your back on the scene (or turn the photo over) and still make a convincing version without mentioning the words "sky" or" cloud". Thinking abstractly eliminates the profusion of associations that come along with naming content. 

This approach is basically an act of faith. It requires letting go of the usual process where we keep checking to see if we've made sure the viewer will know what they're looking at. The viewers may be hypothetical, but they still deserve respect! Trust that they'll be willing and able to make sense of what you offer, and that they'll appreciate the opportunity to participate in the interpretation. 

The following images might seem more approachable if you observe them as pure form and leave content at the door:

Beginning Watercolor 3/5: Essential and Optional

How do you know what has to be in the picture and what can be excluded? Take a look at the pictures, below. As painting subjects, do you feel more attracted to one than the others? Can you tell what it is that appeals to you? What gives the picture its uniqueness? What would you not want to change?
Go down the list to see what jumps out as the important thing;
Value, color, edge quality, composition.
It's perfectly OK to be drawn to an image because it looks relatively easy, by the way.

Value and color


Shape first, then texture, if necessary


Let's use this industrial cityscape as an example.

 I like that the sky and the water are soft-edged, while all the man-made stuff is hard edged (EDGE QUALITY). I also think it would be fun to mix several neutrals, some warm and some cool, and use them in all three areas of the scene (COLOR). I see the strips of docks, containers and skyline as opportunities to combine adjacent shapes (COMPOSITION). As is so often the case, I'll want to get the (VALUES) in the ballpark.

Identify the major shapes and make a  simple pencil outline. 
Decide whether and where to wet the paper. 
Block in the lights.
Take a little more care with the middle values.
Place the dark strokes. Remember, the best way to find out if something belongs in the painting is to leave it out.
Stand back. You're done.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Shape First, then Texture, if necessary

I'm sure I don't need to post an image here to show you what an overpainted picture looks like. The main feature is too many brushstrokes. If you are about to paint a tree and the fist thought you have is, "Trees are made of leaves", odds are you'll make many more strokes than we neto recognize it as it a tree. 
I think we actually see the shape of an object before we see the components. First the forest, then the trees. The wall before the individual bricks.

For watercolor painters deciding what comes first is as simple as you want it to be. It's easy to add more leaves if you have too few, but it's difficult to take them away if you have too many.

                                          George Post

Here's a Georege Post painting that demonstrates the approach of, "Shape first, then texture, if necessary". The pattern of symbolic leaves is sufficient to suggest that the trees are made of many   though very few are depicted.

Below are a couple of photos that are loaded with texture. Try making a quick painting with all the detail removed so you can then add a little at a time and stop while you still feel like more is needed.

Intermediate Watercolor 2/26/20 The Rabbit Hole

Are you ready?

For this exploration let's follow the same progressions we use for realist work, that is, light to dark and general to specific. I'll suggest a step by step trajectory which you can follow or not, as you please. Read it through one time before we begin.

As a first step, let's generate some shapes.

Paint a piece of cheap paper with an overall middle value neutral wash, and another one with a dark wash of the same color. When the papers are dry, rip them into strips and patches.

Arrange the shapes on a piece of unpainted paper, leaving some white showing. Photograph the arrangements you like best.

Now select a palette comprising no more than three colors.
Wet a sheet of good watercolor paper. Using one of your torn paper designs as a rough guide, paint big, pale, soft-edged shapes. Leave some white.

Some variables to consider at this stage:
Do your first layer shapes touch each other? Do they touch the edges of the page? Are the sizes varied? Does one color dominate the design? There's a lot to think about

There is no "right way"to do this. With no external source  to compare to your painting, it can be challenging. Have faith, and don't give up. There are always more opportunities to resuscitate a lifeless painting.

The paper may still be wet, or partially wet at this point. Before you begin applying middle values, decide what kind of edges you want. Rewet any areas where you want soft edges. A spray bottle can be very useful here.
The colors you get by combining the components of your limited palette can play a significant role as background for the more intense original colors.
Keep an eye on the first layer shapes as you apply the second layer. Let some of the earlier marks and shapes remain visible. Saving some of the white areas can be important at this stage. You can always cover them later if you choose.

The final layer often involves efforts to pull the painting together. Glazing adjacent shapes to give them something in common, for example, or adding a stroke that originates in one shape and ends in another. This is when the darks and the purest form of your initial palette are called upon to punctuate  the ramblings of the earlier layers. Stop while you think you're still not finished.`

Tom Hoffmann

                                          Gerhardt Richter

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Intermediate Homework, 2/20/20 Hold on here, Let go there

When you feel the urge to depart from accuracy in your paintings, but the prospect of having no guidelines gives you pause, do as the Fauves did. Hold on to value so you can let go of color!

Derain painted his buddy, Matisse in exaggerated colors, but a B/W of the portrait reveals how closely he held to the actual values.

This version of Mt. Hood is familiar and outrageous at the same time. The colors and the values are in the ballpark, which allows the brushstrokes to be more about form than content.

The placement of the shapes in this interpretation of the laguna in Melaque, Mexico are approximate at best, but the colors are true. Holding on to one major aspect of the scene lets us take liberties with another.

Play around with the images that follow. Value is the real heavy hitter. Try holding on to a reasonable interpretation of the relative darkness of the shapes in your first attempts.

Beginning Homework 2/20/20 Simplify

Sometimes reducing the complexity of a scene is a worthy goal in itself just for the pleasure of seeing how simply the content can be stated.

The trees in the painting are more symbolic than realistic. They are brushstrokes more than they are trees, which serves to enlist the viewer as a participant in the interpretation.

See what the following images suggest to you. Are there aspects you might exaggerate to enhance a feeling? Are there features you could simplify, or some that you could let go of to make the ones you keep more important?

Have fun!