Friday, October 21, 2016

Intermediate Watercolor 10/20/16 All Painting is Abstract. All Abstraction Tells a Story

As we let go of the need to establish an illusion on the page the balance of form and content shifts distinctly toward form. Without narrative content to occupy the viewer’s attention, it becomes more important than ever for the paint itself to be worth looking at. Freshness and clarity, fluidity and interaction of colors, - the qualities that attract us to watercolor in the first place – are now the subject matter of the painting.

How do we decide what works best when we let go of the usual standards? Are there any guidelines, or is abstraction a painting free-for-all?
Nathan Fowkes has let go of texture and specificity, but he keeps a good grip on value and color.

In fact, the same standards that apply to realists are equally important to abstract painters. A painting with too many shapes, for example, feels busy whether it is a cityscape or a non-representational collection of forms. Wherever your work resides on the continuum from realism to abstraction it will benefit from being clear and deliberate in your use of value, composition, color and edge quality. As you extend the range of your comfort zone you can keep one foot in familiar territory.

 The transition from realism to abstraction is a process of combining what you know from your previous experience with experiments into the unknown.

The pattern of light, middle and dark are thoughtfully constructed, just as it would be if this were a painting of a barn.

There is as much of a story being told in an abstract painting as in a realist image. It may be a story about rectangles touching the frame of the painting, or pale, soft-edged shapes being traversed by hard-edged diagonals. The wonderful irony is that this kind of narrative is also present in even the most hyper-realist work. The difference is that in abstraction, the viewer is invited to pay attention to it.

The patterns of marks you make, the distribution of warm and cool color, the dark/light shapes, how shapes relate to the frame of the page, all the design decisions you make play a much more obvious role than they do in realist work. Most of these decisions have to be made deliberately, painting-by-painting, or we tend to fall into making the same default choices every time (the offset cross, the centered horizon).
Having said that, it is also important to leave room for surprises. Break your own rules, just to see what happens.
Some painters will naturally start exploring without guidelines and discover what works and what doesn’t. Others will want to begin with some deliberate structure in place, like keeping the shapes parallel to the edges of the paper.

For homework, do whatever you want.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/20/16 Downhill From Here

So far, in class we've done more work from photos than from life. This week's homework exercise puts your understanding of seeing in layers to work on a simple 3-D object, like an apple,

Image result for gerhard richter watercolor
Gerhard Richter

or a chalice.

Image result for lars lerin

Lars Lerin
(This is a watercolor, by the way)

Look around the house for an object that invites a watercolor interpretation. I find the refrigerator to be a great source of candidates. A bottle of hot sauce, a jar of mayonnaise, maybe a rutabaga. A stovetop tea kettle? Try setting up a single strong light source so the light and shadow shapes are easy to identify. 

Does your object resolve nicely into just a few layers? If so, get started with a monochrome value study. Keep it very simple. No need to make the first attempts into handsome paintings. The idea is to begin seeing a series of layers; light, middle, dark.

Once you've seen your way through the single color study, make a color version with a limited palette, just one each of the primaries. In fact, make 3 or 4 versions, all increasingly simple. 

Eventually, you will begin to recognize what needs to be there for the subject to have some presence. Adding the cast shadow will be very helpful. Make that simple, too, of course. Fussing with the shadow will do more harm than good.

After you've painted 5 or 6 of your rutabagas, the translation into "watercolor" will be realized. When you feel confident that you understand the subject in terms of layers of washes and strokes, put the model away, where you can't see it. Now paint a version or two by heart.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hold On Here, Let Go There

The tanks and stacks of the gasworks are way too complicated to render accurately. which is a very good thing. It forces us to find a way to simplify the subject, which entails identifying a few essential visual features to hold on to, and letting go of everything else. On Wednesday we kept a loose grip on composition and had some fun with color. Wild and crazy as we got, every painting made that afternoon would be instantly recognizable as gasworks.
Most of the edges were hard. Let's try letting go of that aspect, too. You can find thousands of photos of the structures online, or just use your paintings as jumping off places.
What color sky do you want?
Will it work to have different colored tanks?
What if the cylinders and the shadows are only roughly attached?
Can the shapes dance around a bit?
Have fun!

Making a Watercolor Value Scale

Cut a strip of good paper, about 2 x 8 inches.
Leave a white strip at one end and paint the rest of the paper very light (2).
Dry thoroughly between layers.
Leave a strip of number 2 next to the white and paint the rest medium light (3).
Keep leaving a strip of the previous layer and darkening the rest till you have 10 patches with white on one end and black on the other.
Try to make uniform value jumps with each layer, but don't worry if it's not perfect. It will still work.
You don't need the numbers on your scale.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/13/16 Juggling Color and Value

Looking at an image or a scene as a series of layers can be an entirely new way of seeing. Now that you have all had some practice deconstructing a photo in terms of layers of value, let's try seeing both value and color at the same time.

To make the process simpler, begin by identifying the major shapes. These are the shapes that need to be separated from each other in order to understand where they are in the illusory space. In the image above, the building on the right is farther away from us than the school bus, but closer than the dark green hill. To get the building to separate from its neighboring shapes it must be different from them in terms of value and/or color (for this exercise let's treat all edges between shapes as hard edges. Two variables are enough.)
For each of the major shapes, choose a color and value that will separate it from the adjacent shapes. Try to ignore the texture. The job is to deliberately oversimplify the information. The windows on the building, for example, could be left out without undermining the feeling of space. Put them in if you want, but first establish what you see when you squint. 
How about the bus? Think light, middle, dark. The whole shape can be painted the sunlit local color, except the windshield. Then, when that's dry the right side gets a second layer of middle value. Then a few dark windows and stripes, if necessary. 
Remember, this is a study. We want to find out if the illusion of light and space can be established with a minimal treatment. That will reveal what really needs to be in the painting. When the shapes have all been blocked in, ask where you would want greater subtlety or specificity. Make notes, but don't embellish the study tool much. Leave it too simple. The best way to find out if something belongs in the painting is to leave it out. If you have time, use the study as a road map for a proper painting.

How many shapes does the pile of logs represent? The key word is "pile".

Friday, October 7, 2016

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 10/7/16 Using Variables to create Space

Crafting an illusion of space in a painting involves separating the major shapes so that they appear to be nearer or farther away from the viewpoint. All of the main variables can be employed toward this end. You may have heard that warm colors advance and cool colors recede, for example. Edges can be adjusted to enhance the feeling of space, with some shapes softer than others to suggest distance. Overlapping shapes in a composition makes clear that one is in front of the other. An expanded or compressed value range usually reads as nearer or more distant, respectively.
The first task is to get the shapes that are meant to be in different places within the illusory space to separate.  Any ambiguity regarding the relative location of the shapes undermines the illusion.

How many of these variables need to be involved to get an effective separation? Let's look at a couple of images with an eye toward how the illusion is created, and how it might be enhanced.

It's pretty easy to see that the pointy rock in the center is closer to our viewpoint than the group of shapes in the upper part of the page. There is a little ambiguity on the upper left edge of the point. Why is that section confusing? Is it necessary to increase the differences there? If not, why not? If so, what can be done with color, value, edges or composition to turn up the separation.

The space is clear enough in the foreground area of this scene, but it gets a bit vague in the middle distance. Which variables could be adjusted to clarify where each of the shapes is located?

This is a well-composed image, but a little tweaking could make it stronger. Would color changes improve the feeling of space? How about value? Is it possible for shapes to be too separate from each other?

For homework, choose one of these or use your own image and adjust the dials up or down to make the feeling of space more effective.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/7/16 Seeing in Layers

Understanding a scene as a series of layers is mostly about assigning relative values to the major shapes.

Vecinos, Oaxaca

With only a little rounding up or down, the scene above resolves very nicely into just 3 values. Make a monochrome study of the image where every shape is either light, middle or dark in value. You can indulge, if you like, in more than one middle value. The red tile roof, for example, is lighter than the wall shadow, but both are lighter than the dark openings. One is middle value, the other is dark middle.
Use a single color, straight from the tube, not a mixture of colors. Choose one that gets dark enough to look truly dark, like the doorways in the photo. Carbazole violet would work, or pthalo, or use black, if you have it.
Here's another possibility. This one may require more than one degree of middle value, too.

Using your monochrome study as a road map, make a color version using a limited palette. Choose one red, one yellow and one blue. Make all your colors by combining those primaries.