Sunday, November 10, 2019

Everyone's Homework 11/12/19 The Illusion of light

When it comes to creating a convincing illusion of light, watercolor has a head start. Light passes through the transparent washes of color, then bounces back to your eye, making the page feel as if lit from within.

Making a believable feeling of light is mostly about getting the values right. Color plays a role, as in the scene, above, but even with the color removed...

...the illusion remains.

Note that as the mountains step back into the distance, the range of values diminishes. The darkest darks and lightest lights are in the foreground. If the background shapes were as dark and as light as those in the foreground the sense of space would collapse. This phenomenon is not just a painter's trick, it is what we actually observe. The intervening atmosphere is full of reflective particles of moisture and dust that act like a translucent veil. The complexity of the scene also diminishes over distance, as you can see in the furthest mountain.

To be sure that the values you apply to each shape are relatively correct, remember to "bracket" the darks and lights by comparing them to each other. For example, the shadow on the mountain needs to be darker than the sky, but lighter than the trees in shadow. If you can't find anything darker than the shape you are about to paint, it must be the darkest thing in the scene. Converting the image you're working from to black and white makes this job easier, so go ahead and give yourself a break. Sooner or later, though, It would be good to know you can make value comparisons even when color is there complicating the task.

Feel free to make any changes you want, especially where you are simplifying the image. You won't really need to put in all the bricks, for example.

This one looks pretty easy, right? Can you please make it more apparent that this is hay, not rock?

Thank you, and have fun

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Beginning Watercolor 11/6/19 Essential or Optional?

Here are a few images that might benefit from some editing before being interpreted in watercolor. Or, maybe not. You decide.

One of the big trees has a shape similar to the leaning rock tower. Does it need to be removed? 
All that texture in the dark green trees could be a distraction. What if you just painted it all as a simple green shape, with no texture at all? What about removing all the trees? 

The silhouetted hills just across the water are very dark. Should they be lighter? Should they be dark brown instead of black? And what about the pointy saw teeth along the top edge of the hills? Would it be better to have fewer of them, like, none, for example?

Too many shapes!
Some of them have got to go. Big ones, little ones? Near? Far? 

How will you decide what you can afford to edit out and what you ought to keep?
The best way to see whether something belongs in the scene is to leave it out. If you don't miss it, it's optional.

Have fun

Intermediate Watercolor 11/6 Fill in the Blacks

Having practiced inventing and exaggerating last week, you might be ready to liven up some deep black holes in the images below. In an attempt to display subtlety in the lightest areas, cameras often make the darks into empty spaces, devoid of imagery and information. Your job is to adjust the color or value or edge quality to awaken those dead zones. You can look into the dark shapes and exaggerate whatever you think you see, or invent the kind of life and movement you think belongs.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor Where do I Need Hard Edges?

We've all seen paintings that suffer from too many hard edges. Often, if we pay more attention to content than form, the individual parts of the scene insist on being kept separate. A hard edge is the best way to ensure that, but the result can be a jigsaw puzzle that is difficult to see as a cohesive whole.
Deciding which edges in the forest really need to be hard is tricky when we are all wrapped up in doing justice to the individual trees.

Working under the assumption that the best way to see if something needs to be in the painting is to leave it out, I recommend making a study that has no hard edges at all. When it is finished, the study will tell you where more focus is required. It also helps to have a limit in mind, say, half a dozen strokes, so you can identify the most important spots.

You may have to wet both sides of your paper to get it to stay damp long enough

For homework, choose an image that has lots of shapes, and paint a version that is all soft edges. Part of the exercise is to practice the techniques involved in keeping the shapes blurry without losing definition altogether. The awareness skills that are at work include noticing as soon as a hard edge appears, and stopping right there. Then dry the paper, re-wet the relevant areas and continue.
Assess the study, with an eye toward where it needs greater definition. Make the hard-edged additions one at a time, and stand back each time to see if that's enough.

Beginning Watercolor 10/31 Careful / Carefree

Many scenes and images rely mostly on the final layer to give the shapes meaning. The role of the strong darks in the sequence of layers can sometimes be obvious even before you begin painting.

This scene, for example, is made up of almost nothing but strong darks. It's clear that by themselves, the darks would be sufficient to tell the story. The layers that would come before the darks could be applied in a most carefree manner, with the confidence that the narrative content of the scene would be provided later. This increases the likelihood that some of the beautiful, confidently applied paint would still be visible when the painting is done. It's an opportunity to let the paint flow, which is why we came to watercolor in the first place.

Sometimes the role of the darks is not as clear cut as in the snowy dusk scene. 

There are plenty of light and middle value shapes in this photo, which can confuse your eye, but imagine what the scene would be like if all we saw were the darkest darks. Notice how the top of the green building and half of the red one are outlined in dark. If the big, lighter shapes had gone outside the lines those outlines would pull the picture back together. The dark doorway and windows would establish the frontal plane of both buildings, while the cars and their shadows would show us where the ground plane is.

Here's a rough version of the final layer by itself:

When you are not sure how much of the narrative content of a scene is carried by the final layer, try making a quick study of just the darkest darks. Basically, we are looking for an answer to the question, "When in the sequence of layers do the shapes get their identities?"

Not every scene is held together by the darks alone. In the selection below, all but one get their meaning late in the sequence of layers. Can you tell which one relies on some careful attention earlier in the painting process?

Make a "darks only" study of a couple of these, then pick one to paint that tests the ability of the final layer to pull it all together. Be really splashy with the earlier layers! The messiest painting gets the prize.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Beginning Watercolor 10/24/19 Light to Dark and General to Specific

Whatever  you decide to paint, day to day, it can often be made easier by looking at the subject as a sequence of layers. Landscape, still life or portrait, most realist watercolors progress from light to dark. The transparency of the medium makes it easier to put dark on top of light than the opposite. At the same time, paintings tend to progress from general statements to gradually more specific ones.

In this scene the sky is lighter than the skyline. It would be easiest to paint the sky first and then put the skyline down on top of it. Any other order would require matching the edges of the shapes, making them adjacent to each other rather than subsequent.

The shadow shape on this face is darker than the local skin color. It would be logical to begin by painting the entire head with the light tone we see on the right side of the face. The shadow could then be painted on top of the first layer. The strong darks, like the hair, nostrils, and lips could most easily be applied on top of layer number two. Light, middle, dark.

At the same time, the likeness progresses from general to specific. The first layer, which is a pale silhouette, has no features or idiosyncrasies yet. It could be one of a great number of heads. But once the shadow shape is applied as a second layer the face begins to take a more specific form. It gains three-dimensionality, and it is bathed in light. The third layer, the darks, brings greater specificity, revealing the mood, the age and the identity of the sitter. 

In the early stages of the painting, the faith that the darks will establish the individuality of the subject allows the painter to work in a carefree manner. Layer number one can be more casual than number two, which, in turn can be looser than number three. 

Here are a few images that resolve neatly into light, middle and dark value shapes. You can also use the ones above. It is useful to ask when the shapes get their identity, so you will know when you  need to be careful and when you can be carefree . Keep it simple.

Intermediate Homework 10/24/19 Exaggerate! Invent! A La Derain

These pairs of images are meant to invite a bold approach to choosing colors. You can see that the values are believable, but the colors are something else. Do you think  Derain was observing the actual colors? Was he exaggerating them, or maybe inventing them, entirely? Keep color temperature in mind when you choose your interpretation. 

Use the photo as the source of value relationships. Let Derain's paintings give you courage to explore.

This may be Derain by Matisse or Derain by Derain. The web is confused. I'm guessing it's a self portrait.