Thursday, January 18, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 1/17/18 Looking at the similarities rather than the differences

In class, we began our observation of a fairly complex subject (the jar full of brushes) by looking at it as a single shape. It turned out to be relatively easy to add a bit of color and a few darks to the middle value silhouettes we made and bring forth a decent representation of what could have been quite daunting.

Let's try that same approach with either the image you were using in class or one of the following:

 Paint the overall shape before you start counting individual boards. Chances are you won't need to put them all in.

Squint! See those buildings in the distance on the left? they are trying to be one shape. The lines of parked vehicles are also on the brink of being single shapes.

How many shapes comprise the shady side of the street? Hint: Point at the ceiling and look at your hand.

First, paint the pile, then the logs.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 1/18 Creating an illusion of space

In class we generated a short list of variables that can be adjusted to enhance the sense of one shape being in front of another.

Composition seemed to top the list, since overlapping shapes is such a powerful way to represent one being nearer than another.

Value is a relatively easy variable to adjust in order to create a significant difference between adjacent shapes. Remember that the range of values you use in one shape compared to another suggests its position within the illusory space. If a shape is made of a wide range of darks and lights it appears closer than one made of mostly middle values.

Color differences between shapes are also easy to create, and serve as a very effective way to make a convincing illusion of depth. The prevailing wisdom is that ( relatively) warm colors seem to advance and cool colors recede.

Edge quality may require more technical prowess than the other variables. Hard edges separate shapes while soft edges tend to connect them.

In the photo above, look at the figure on the left. The diagonal shadow above him seems to be perched right on his head. What might you change to make clearer where the figure and the shadow are relative to each other? Remember, it may take more than one variable to do the job.

Here I find the roof to be a distraction. I'd like to diminish its influence on the space. Could it be pushed farther back, or somehow made less assertive?

There are a couple of problems with this photo, above. The shadows on the building to the right are so black they look like holes in the wall, especially the one on top. I also want to untangle the telephone pole from the stuff behind it. While you're at it, could you turn down the dials on the whole group of buildings back beyond that car?

For homework, please take on one of these images and make a study to try out whatever adjustments occur to you. A study is meant to provide the answers to any lingering questions. It is not a painting, and it doesn't have to be a handsome product to do its job well. If your ideas are revealed to be less than satisfactory, then the study has succeeded in providing information that you need.

Have fun

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Intermediate and Beginning Homework 11/9/17 Back in the studio

You've all heard of artists who make studies and sketches in the field and then retreat to the studio to use them as the basis for a proper painting. Having just spent 2 1/2 hours painting the figure from life, I hope you saved at least one of the sketches you made. It can serve as the inspiration for a more refined version of the pose.
First, put away the timer. You can take all the time you need, making sure you're pleased with the proportions, the colors, and the values. You can introduce more soft edges, or fewer, as the case may be. You can try out some surprising colors, either in another study or directly on the new painting.
By all means use good paper for this project, and remember, it is not imperative that you get the drawing exactly right on the first layer. there will be later opportunities to adjust and improve the shapes.
Here are some colorful paintings gathered from the web to give you some ideas. I'm not suggesting that you copy any of these. Use your work from Wednesday for the pose, and the images here as encouragement to take some risks. Have fun




Thursday, November 2, 2017

Beginning Watercolor Homework 11/1/17 E. Pluribus Unum

This exercise is meant to help prevent over-painting your watercolors. The premise is that many subjects don't require as much definition as we assume. It involves having faith in the viewer's willingness to meet you halfway.

Let's consider the buildings in the background of this scene. If you assume that your job is to keep them separated so that the viewer can tell how many there are, then it makes sense to identify how they are different from each other and make sure those differences are apparent. Three buildings, three shapes. But is that actually necessary? You could look, instead, for how they are the same, and treat them as a single dark shape. Depending on the job that those buildings are meant to do in the painting, it may be advantageous to have fewer shapes, overall. It almost always is.

When I squint at the scene the buildings merge into one shape. As such, they effectively form a background for the lighter cars and still display their idiosyncratic profiles. If you painted them as a continuous dark grey form you could add further information by increments and stop well before overdoing the description. Err on the side of too little information. You can always add more.


How many bales of hay are there in this scene? How many shapes does the haystack comprise? These are two different questions which can have two quite different answers. 
Whose job is it to count the bales? The artist's? The viewer's? Nobody's?

 You can look for whatever it is that separates the individual balls from each other, or you can start by looking at what they all have in common. Make the most general statement first, then the next most general, and so on, until the story has been told to your satisfaction.

Try painting the overall shape of the stack the color and value of the sunlit areas. Is that enough? If not, the next most general statement would be the shadow shape, which could be painted right over the local color. Is that enough? If not, what next?

How many shapes are there in this scene?

Using these photos or the ones you brought from class, please experiment with grouping adjacent shapes to simplify the composition. Ask yourself how you know when you have separated them sufficiently.

Also, please bring a pile of cheap paper for the quick poses at the beginning of the model session next week.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 11/2/17 Down the Rabbit Hole

Letting the illusion go
Many of the painters I know see their work evolving from the realistic toward the non-representational. Moving to abstraction involves a shift in emphasis from creating a convincing illusion to an acknowledgement of the fact that there really is no space, no light, and no substance there, only paint on paper. That paint, the  form of it, becomes the subject of the painting.
Ironically, the further one goes on the continuum from “realism” toward abstraction, the more the emphasis shifts toward what is really there. In this way, abstraction is more real than realism. It can be revealing to consider the titles artist give to their work in this regard.

This very dramatic image by Emil Nolde is simply called, Mountainscape. It may have been painted from life, or it may have been entirely invented. We can't tell from the title.
Most likely, something other than the location of this scene was most important to the painter. Try covering the mountains and just looking at the sky. Now do the opposite. Which would you say is given emphasis, form or content?

                                Lake Whatever                            Tom Hoffmann

This scene, which was imagined rather than observed, does not need to be identified. The space has been allowed to flatten to the extent that all the component shapes are assembled right on the picture plane. As far as a convincing feeling of space or light in a particular place is concerned, whatever!

                         Linda Hoffman Snodgrass                           Dreaming of Iridescent Clouds

To what extent has the artist let go of the illusion of light or space in this painting? The word “Dreaming” in the title suggests that she is not attempting to describe a particular place. In fact, she could be dreaming of a river, mountains, or activity on a microscope slide. The important thing is that the forms are not identifiable. We do not need to know what they are to enjoy them.

Using the landscape photos you brought home from class or one of the following as a starting place, explore the territory that opens up as you let go of the specifics. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Intermediate Watercolor 10/27/17 Symbolic Realism

Realism and abstraction can seem to be completely separate forms of expression. Looking at Andrew Wyeth's paintings alongside Ellsworth Kelly's, for example, one might conclude that the two had nothing in common. But Wyeth would have been quick to tell us that he was first and foremost an abstract painter.


How we see these paintings depends on what we're looking for. If we insist on observing what we expect to see, such as the subtle narrative content in Wyeth's painting, we could miss the bold geometric structure that holds it together. Take away the element of illusion, and the continuum on which both painters reside begins to be felt. All painting is abstract, in that without an illusion of space or light or substance all that is left is paint.

And the illusion only exists insofar as we, the viewers, agree that a particular collection of paint marks reminds us of something in the real world.

Of course, It can be quite a stretch to connect finely detailed realism to minimal abstraction. The artist in one case is referring over and over to the appearance of reality, working to duplicate it as nearly as patience will allow, while on the other hand it would be fair to say that nothing from outside the artist's inner experience is being described. The two are at vastly separated stations on the continuum. But there are countless individuals at every station in between. Enter Alex Katz:

Katz refers to what he knows will be recognizable to most people, but he stops way short of describing all the visual information that a specific place displays. His realism is more symbolic than Wyeth's, and at the same time more descriptive than Kelly's.

The following photos might include one that inspires you to devise your own set of symbols that represent a generalization about the subjects:

Beginning Homework 10/27/17 Adjusting the Composition

When you first observe a new subject keep in mind that you can make any changes you want to improve the painting. You are the one telling the story.

A good first step is to decide which shapes need to be separated from each other to easily understand where they are in space. Try to keep the number of shapes reasonable, say no more than ten or twelve. (the assumption here is that you intend to create an effective illusion of depth). 

Once you have identified the major shapes in a photo or a scene, I recommend outlining them with light pencil lines. Keep it very simple, though. The role of the pencil in a watercolor is to make it easier to apply the paint with confidence, freeing your brushwork as much as possible. Too much drawing can have to opposite effect, making it seem like you must stay inside the lines, thereby constraining the brushwork instead of liberating it. At this stage of the painting it is not necessary for the hypothetical viewer to know the identity of the shapes. This is when we only need to know where they are relative to each other.

Now is the best time to consider relocating or removing the shapes. This is a process that involves your instincts as well as your intellect. In the image below, the horizon is above the middle of the page, giving dominance to the foreground. What would be the impact of lowering it?  

Let's take a look. While we're at it, I'm curious how the feeling changes when that little out-building on the left is removed.

I'd be inclined to stretch the sky upward even more, to increase the feeling of loneliness in the scene. What about eliminating the smaller barn altogether?

If you don't happen to have a handy pocket composition adjuster, you do have a simple outline drawing of the major shapes, and, hopefully an eraser. You can see the benefit of making these changes before you start putting paint on the paper.

Here's a photo with several shapes:

Kinda crowded. What might you do about that?  Also, the bottom left quadrant feels empty. Could you add something there that would balance the composition without adding to the shape jam?

Take a moment to look for anything that creates a feeling of ambiguity regarding the illusion of depth. This would be the right time to move things around to make it easier to tell what's in front of what. Hint: Close one eye and cover the buses and the fronts of the cabins below the roofs.

Here are a couple more that may need some adjustments. Make your simple drawing of the major shapes and move them around as needed, adding and subtracting until you are ready to put some paint down.