Thursday, February 16, 2017

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/16/17, Damp into Wet

Working wet into wet is easier if you think about it as damp into wet. It helps you remember that the relative wetness of the brush and the paper is what you need to keep track of. What's implied is that the brush is usually drier that the paper.
Let's take some time to study this terrific Rex Brandt painting;


Look at the sky first. See the overall light grey wash? If you had seen that color and value as the "common denominator" for the sky, mixed up a generous puddle of it, and selected the biggest brush that would comfortably do the job, you'd be all ready to lay down the wash, right? Before you do, though, remember to ask if there's anything you want to reserve. In this case, there's that white building to paint around. You also need to consider how long you want the sky area to stay wet. How much soft-edged work needs to be done before the wash dries? It looks like there are two colors to apply; the darker grey and the burnt sienna. Can you do the sky wash, the grey clouds and the burnt sienna without washing your brush?
If you're inclined, make a copy of Rex's "Mud Puddle", but I'd like everyone to also interpret this photo;




At first glance, this scene appears to be all soft edges above and all hard edges below, but let's zoom in on the rocks;

                         
                           

See where the first layer colors change from warm brown to cool grey to green? The profile of the rock against the sky is definitely hard, but the mid-value transitions within the shape could be soft. How about the strong dark shapes and lines? What kind of edges do you want?

Would you paint the sky first or the rocks? Why?
How many layers does the rock comprise?















Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/16/17 E Pluribus Unum

...from many, one, indeed!

When you're considering a scene as a potential painting subject, remember that most of the information you see does not need to be specifically identifiable in the finished painting.




Take a look at the grey shape behind the cable car in this night scene by Preston Blair. Could there have been more information visible out there than the artist chose to include? This is an urban scene, after all. Chances are the whole city lies below this vignette, but it suited Blair to make a very general statement about it, leaving out everything except a twinkling road.


                            
                           

Now look at the foreground shapes. How many are there? It's hard to say, exactly, since they're all very dark, and seem to merge into one another. The artist took care to separate the red house from the others, but just barely. As we look at the shapes to the left of that house, it becomes obvious that Blair chose to generalize about the similarities between buildings rather that to specify how they were different. He knew that we know enough to recognize the shapes as houses, and that's enough to tell the story.




Squint at this alleyway scene. The heavy shadow seems to invite a general treatment. It is by far the most noticeable feature of the majority of the page, and needs to be stated clearly before any secondary information, like the windows and doors in the shaded areas are included. Imagine an interpretation of the subject that had all the shadow shapes and none of the rectangles that are there within the shadow. Now imagine another version that has all the windows and doors and gutters, eaves, clapboards, etc., but no shadows. Which one would look more like what we see when we squint? 
No further questions. I rest my case. 
For homework, study this scene and paint it to your satisfaction.








Thursday, February 9, 2017

Intermediate Watercolor Homework, 2/9/17 How Much is Enough? Part one

Wouldn't it be luxurious to have a studio assistant whose only job was to say, "Consider stopping" at just the right moment. Making too many marks is every watercolor painter's curse. Even the most experienced among us are still susceptible. If we could look through Elliot O'Hara's trash I bet there would be plenty of evidence of over-painting.

Why is it we can easily tell someone else when to put the brush down, but we can't recognize the moment in our own work?

Could making too many strokes be a sign that we are afraid of making too few? It can be tricky to tell the essential bits from the optional. Maybe we're trying to play it safe by putting in everything. That way we can be sure we've included the important part. Or maybe we're afraid the painting will be boring if we're too economical.
Either way, I think the first step is to deliberately commit the sin that we are avoiding. Make paintings with too little information on purpose. Risk leaving out something essential. If you do, I think you'll know it's missing. And if you don't miss it, you didn't need it.

Stay Abstract as long as possible. 




Over-painting is directly connected to a tendency to hold on to information that is not really important. Just because you can see something doesn't mean it belongs in the picture. You can still use marks that are based on the abstract features of the narrative content of the scene to add complexity without adding information.
In the painting, above, Leslie Frontz emphasizes the barn and plays down the importance of the foreground and the sky. Look at those few strokes in the foreground. What are they, exactly? More than anything having to do with content, they are simply brush strokes, non-descriptive marks that keep the foreground from being vacant. In contrast, the strokes that comprise the barn refer to more specific entities; shadow, eave, siding, cupola. 
I would certainly not call this an over-worked painting, yet there is no area that feels too simple.  The artist recognizes that she can "populate" or activate an area by inserting a few marks that are not specific enough to be distracting. The context is sufficiently established so the viewer can supply meaning to those abstract passages. 

For homework, find an image and make some decisions about which information you want to describe enough that it can be named, and which will remain abstract. Make some studies to verify your decisions.

















Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/9/17 Neutral Colors

In class yesterday we practiced mixing neutrals. Let's review those efforts and summarize the results.

Start by selecting a set of primary colors - one red, one blue and one yellow.
Combine two of these and mix until neither one dominates. If you mixed blue and yellow, for example, the resulting green should be neither a yellow-green nor a blue-green.

Next, begin adding the third primary by increments, until none of the three primaries dominate. The result will be a neutral, either grey or brown. If you want to produce a grey and you keep coming up with brown, think of the brown as basically orange. Add a bit of blue to it and you'll see it change toward grey immediately.

When all three primaries are present in a mixture, the result is a "neutralized" color. Imagine mixing a little Pthalo blue with some Cadmium yellow. The resulting green would be intense and assertive, unlike the natural greens in the landscape. Grass painted that color would look more like astroturf. But if you added just a touch of the third primary the color would begin to come down to earth. Try it, and see.

Neutrals can be adjusted so that one or another of the component colors has subtle dominance. In the photo below, look at the pavement just inside the building on the left. Compare that color to the pavement back by the shed with the arched roof. One is warm and the other is cool. Do you see a small area of the pavement that is red-dominant? All three areas are neutral, and could be called grey, but the differences enliven the composition and help support the illusion of space.




To neutralize a color, add the compliment. 
The compliment of a color is whatever is missing if you want to have all three primaries equally present.
For example, green is yellow and blue. If we wanted all three primaries similarly present, we'd need some red. A more complicated example might ask, "What is the compliment of blue-green?"
Blue-green is blue plus yellow plus blue. To get all three primaries equally present we need another yellow and two reds, which add up to red-orange. Got it? Try it with paint and see if you come up with a good neutral.

For homework, try painting a scene like the one above or one of those that follow, where most of the shapes are neutrals, or neutralized. Use a palette that comprises only one red, one yellow and one blue. Combinations of the three components are welcome. In fact, they are the main idea! Also, feel free to adjust the colors to give one or another dominance.











Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Beginning Watercolor, 2/1/17


Most of the visual information we perceive in a subject does not need to be included in a painting. A big part of the artist's job is to identify what is essential and what is optional. Which elements of your subject describe its fundamental nature?

Choose a simple object, like an apple or a persimmon, a milk jug, a glass of water - something that will not require fastidious drawing.

Set up the light source so that there is a clear and simple shadow pattern. Including a cast shadow is a good idea.

Paint a monochrome version first, emphasizing the darkest darks and the lightest lights. Leave out most of the subtle middle values to find out how important they really are.

Paint several versions in color, with an eye toward discovering which features do the real work of defining the subject. Let go of accuracy as you learn what matters.

When you feel that you have a good sense of which strokes and washes tell the story, put away the actual object and the studies, and paint one or two from memory. Now that you have answered the basic question, you are free to give all your attention to laying down some juicy paint!

Comments are welcome, by the way.


Silver Cup                   Lars Lerin

Intermediate Homework 2/1/17 Palette Logic

How many colors do you like to have in your palette? How many do you need? How would you decide which ones are your essentials?

Tough questions.

Luckily, we don't often have to make decisions about which colors stay and which must go (only when some fool gives it to you as a homework assignment).

Many artists like to have a warm and a cool of each color family, which, theoretically, provides a great deal of versatility. For example, a yellow that tends toward orange (New Gamboge), and one that is leaning toward green (Aureoline). You may ask, " Why not just get a yellow that has neither red nor blue?" Why, indeed.

Some like to add potent dyes, like Pthalo blue and green, and a couple of Quinacridones, for when the color you're mixing needs a quick shot of warm or cool, or when you want a powerful dark. Please pass the Transparent Pyrol Orange!

There are lots of ways to fill your palette. I met a painter once at a workshop who had 5 palettes. She needed her own whole table. I have to admit I was a little jealous of the one devoted entirely to blues.

I think we may all be a little weird when it comes to color. Why is it, for example, that I usually have 5 blues, and I can tell you what they are without hesitation, but I only have two reds, and I'm never sure about their names? There's something to be said for just gathering the colors you simply like best, and watching to see if the need for additional colors arises.

For homework, let's do some painting with a limited palette. Here are a couple of popular sets that have passed the test of time:

Anders Zorn:
 Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Medium, Ivory Black plus White. Some lists add Vermillion, Viridian, and/or Cerulean Blue.
  



John Singer Sargent:
Raw Siena, Burnt Siena, French Ultramarine, Ivory Black. Traces of Cobalt Violet and Prussian Blue




Choose your own group of colors, or try one of these. Limit your array to 4 or 5 colors. Maybe 3, if you're feeling brave. Some of the mixes you make will probably be less than perfect matches. Rather than add more colors, try letting them be to find out how the whole painting is affected by the limited palette. Give it a chance to assert its cohesiveness.

Please search for your own image, and bring it in so we can see how the palette you create works.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Beginning Homework, 1/25/17, Seeing Value as a Series of Layers



Begin by making a value scale.

1) Paint the whole strip #9 (the lightest grey), except for a patch left white at one end.

2) Let the strip dry, then paint the whole thing #8, except for a patch of #9 and white.

3) Let it dry, then paint the whole thing #7, except for the patches of #8, #9 and white.


4) Continue getting darker by increments, always leaving a patch of the previous layer.

Don't leave white between your patches.


Homework:

Everyone worked on a deliberately over-simplified monochrome study of a color photo yesterday. It might be a good idea to do that again, using the same image or a new one. I'd like you to work much faster eventually, so you will be encouraged to do plenty of preliminary studies. Practice, practice.

When you have a feel for the dark/light relationships of the major shapes, try making a color version that stays true to the values. Keep it too simple. See if you can let go of texture and detail, giving emphasis to shapes. That will make it easier to focus on value as a feature of color.