Thursday, September 13, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 9/13/18 Staying Abstract to Simplify the Translation

 As realist painters we are often attracted to images and scenes that seem far too complicated to translate into watercolor. We look at all that specific information and throw up our hands in surrender.
I'm convinced it's becoming specific prematurely that makes things difficult. If you're painting a forest, don't build it tree by tree. Look for a way to see the whole subject rather than the components. It's easy to get hung up on how this particular tree is different from the adjacent trees. This is what Mary Whyte calls "taking inventory". Instead, try looking for the similarities first. Make general statements, then move toward specificity as needed.

By far the most significant feature of these trees is their color, and, as it happens, this is something they all share. Let's look at the big yellow shape that comprises most of the top half of the image.

Is there a way to paint the shape with an overall wash that can underlie everything that will come later?
Yes, the entire shape can be covered with a rich yellow wash, except a few whites that may be saved here and there. The yellow is a little greener in places, and a little redder elsewhere. It might be good to add a little of those colors (just a little) in a couple of places.

The second most noticeable feature of the yellow shape is the array of middle value strokes that are throughout. If you want some of them to have soft edges start making them while the yellow is still wet.

What proportion of the yellow shape will be given the middle value shadows? 
I'd say about 15%

How are the middle value marks distributed throughout the big yellow shape?
Many are concentrated along the bottom edge of the yellow shape. A few are dispersed in the center, and some small marks in the upper area

Is there any pattern to the shapes? What kind of shapes are they? Horizontal? Vertical? Rectilinear? Organic? Hard-edged? Soft? Most of the stories are horizontal.

You can proceed to make the final layer, the darks, by asking the same questions about those skinny, dark vertical lines that are throughout the yellow shape; Proportion, distribution and pattern. 

The answers to these questions are all abstract. They apply to form rather than content. Staying abstract may seem risky, since it can feel like there's no guarantee that the finished treatment will add up to a recognizable subject. Think of it as an act of faith, and put it's not your job, anyway to make sure the viewer knows what they're looking at.

By the way, how will the bottom of the painting differ from the top?

Here's another complex subject that would benefit from  staying abstract. Squint!

Practice a lot, then see if you can stay abstract all the way to the end of a quick, simple version of one or the other of these scenes.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 9/13 Separating Shapes

The illusion of space in a realist painting is achieved by manipulating a combination of just a few variables. Value, color, wetness and composition can be turned up or down like the dials on an old TV.

Take a look at how Andy Evansen gets the silo in this scene to be located in space relative to the trees and the sheep. On the right side of the silo we can see a distinct edge and a strong value difference between two shapes. On the left side there is some ambiguity about which shape is in front. Halfway up some tree branches merge with the silo, making it unclear which is in front. The artist has allowed this sleight uncertainty by making a soft edge where the shapes meet. He seems to have decided that the combination of variables at work on the right side is sufficient to establish the location of the shapes. He knew could afford to lose the edge a little. Why do you think he wanted to do that?
Now let's look at those sheep. They are the same colors and value as the silo, but they stay distinctly separate. What has Evansen done to establish this separation?

Here are a couple more landscapes to ponder:

Stanislaw Zoladz

Very subtle work! A little bit of white goes a long way.

Cristiane Bonicel

If you mentally peel away the tree branches you can see that the distant hill and the foliage of the tree are not separated at all, and yet there is no confusion about which feature is closer.

Choose one of the following photos and experiment with getting the shapes to separate and combine. If you decide to try making a proper painting, remember to keep it simple!

If you'd prefer to copy one of the paintings, remember that the spirit of the painting is more important than the specific marks. Empathy rather than accuracy.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Homework, what homework?

The model sessions were intense, as always. Thank you all for rising to the occasion.
The homework this week is up to you. What aspect of your practice do you want to strengthen? Would you like to invent an image entirely? Realistic? Symbolic? Abstract?
I'm hoping everyone brings some work to put up on the wall. Take chances. you're in charge.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Intermediate and Beginning Watercolor 5/31/18 Profound Darks

Making deep, velvety darks is a challenge for many watercolor painters. Part of the problem comes from the unavoidable fact that the paint lightens as it dries. Of course, we all know this will happen, since it always does. If a wash looks dark enough when you first lay it down you can be sure that it will not after it dries. We just have to get into the habit of compensating for that reality by making our washes a little darker than we ultimately want them to be. 

But there are other obstacles not so easily overcome. 
We have all observed that adding another layer of paint makes colors darker. What about making layer after layer until the shape is dark enough? What's wrong with that technique? Unfortunately, multi-layered darks usually look streaky. It's difficult to cover a fairly dark area with additional layers without disturbing the previous ones. Paint that was already attached to the paper gets lifted and repositioned through the movement of the brush, causing uneven saturation. The more layers it takes, the likelier there will be patches and streaks in the finished wash. It may be dark enough, but only at the expense of depth and evenness. 

The reason layering gradually darkens a shape is because with each layer you are adding more pigment to the area. Why not get all the pigment you need in the first layer? For one reason or another, we do not want to acknowledge how much paint it really takes to make darks like Andrew Wyeth, Piet Lap, or Mary Whyte. Every time I have worked with someone struggling to make their darks dark enough they are surprised to see how much paint they have to squeeze out of the tube. Every time.

                                     Stump                   Andrew Wyeth

                                                    Piet Lap

                                         Mary Whyte

It is not easy to make a big enough puddle of very saturated paint, either technically or emotionally. I often see painters struggling to make a small patch of color stretch to cover a big shape, which is a sure recipe for too many brushstrokes. The paint has to be fluid enough for each stroke to merge with the others in the wash without leaving overlap marks.

At the same time, it has to be thick enough to feel truly deep. How can we satisfy these mutually limiting requirements, wet enough to flow, but thick enough to cover? Try starting with the right amount of water. You can measure with the brush you will be using to apply the dark wash. Ask yourself, "How many brushes full will it take to do the job?" Add a little extra so you won't run out. Then begin adding pigment to the puddle of water:


Even more! (Here's where the emotions come into play -  fear, shame, denial!).

The range of what counts as transparent watercolor is wider than most us think. We are shy about making the paint thick enough, almost as if it were impossible, or sinful. Self-imposed limitations like this are tough to even see, let alone transcend. If you are worried about making the paint too dark, do it! Go into that forbidden territory. It's the only way to discover where the real boundaries lie.

 Draw a simple shape on good paper.
 Estimate the quantity of water you need to make a wash that will cover the shape.
Add pigment (not water!) until the value is dark enough and the puddle is as thick as heavy cream.
Apply the paint to cover the shape with an even wash.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Beginning Watercolor 5/24/18 Wet into wet into wet...

In Class yesterday you all began working on images that suggested an approach that involves making more than one layer while the paper is still wet from a preliminary wash. In some cases the whole paper would be wetted. In others, such as the Palouse scene, above, only the hill shape (not the road or the sky) would need to be wet.

After painting the sky in this scene and allowing it to dry,  the hill could be painted with 3 or 4 layers of green, each one darker than the last. The profile of the hill against the sky would have a hard edge. If you applied layer number one of the greens (the lightest) very wet you might have enough time to add some pigment to the brush, paint the mid-value shadows, add some more pigment and paint the trees and bushes and have them all come out with soft edges.  There would be no need to wash the brush between layers, since they are all green. Adding pigment but no more water ensures that the brush is dryer than the paper, thereby precluding any chance of blooms.

The following images feature areas where the wet into wet into wet approach could be used. You can just practice these areas, or complete the whole scene. Remember, whether you wet the page or just the area that will receive soft-edged marks, that wet area is your water supply. If you must wash your brush, be sure to dry it, too. Observe the viscosity of the paint on the palette before trying it out on the painting.

The background across the water could be made to separate better from the foreground trees by adjusting the value and/or the color, and making it all soft-edged.

The road starts out as an overall pale, warm local color, which then gets two more layers while the first one is still wet (shadows and tire tracks).

Intermediate Watercolor 5/24/18 What's left when you let go of texture and 3-dimensionality?

It takes practice to learn to identify which information in a scene is essential and which is optional. Then it takes even more practice to let go of the optional bits. The job is made easier by warming up with a very quick sketch. I like to start work on a new subject with a "five minute painting". 
Putting a radical limit on how long you spend on your first sketch means you haven't got time for details. When you have no choice but to see the scene in very general terms the big shapes emerge as the fundamental structure.
You can often find the "bones" of a scene by looking at the relative values of the shapes.
In the image below there are just a few major shapes. Start with the lights; sky and road. Then the mid-values; the buildings visible under the elevated highway and in the distance, and the darks; the highway and the shadow it casts. If you have time you might add a car or two, and a few windows, but even without any details  the essence of the scene is there.

A large part of letting go of detail or texture involves giving yourself permission to treat subjects approximately. In the image below the white crane presents the familiar problem of reserving specific lights while applying a clear wash. Trying to paint around those skinny white lines without compromising the fluidity of the sky wash is enough to get you reaching for the masking fluid! But with only five minutes, you haven't got time to wait for that stuff to dry. Instead, you can let go of getting the crane to be correct, and simply do the best you can. Relax your standards. It's not a painting, it's an approximation.

If you were painting from the photo below, it would be understandable for you to work to keep the buildings separate from each other by letting the paint dry on one before painting an adjacent shape.
This would be impossible in a very quick sketch. You would have to accept that the buildings would flow into each other. The good news is that you would get to see how the buildings look when you give the paint lots of room to run. If the sketch starts to get dry you could give the buildings more definition with the darkest darks, like the outline of the gable on top of the yellow building and the windows of the white one.

A few more...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beginning Watercolor 5/17/18 How wet is your brush compared to the paper?

When you paint a sky, remember that in the finished painting the sky will not be the only thing on the page. With all the other stuff in place the sky need not be perfect, or even accurate. Try wetting the paper to a sheen, and approximating the shapes and values. The job for today is to find out how forgiving the sky is as a subject. Instead of getting wrapped up in correcting, let it be and see if it was ok after all.
Bring in all your attempts, especially the flops.