Thursday, May 26, 2011

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/26/11

Letting Go 

Charles Burchfield
We have practiced several approaches to deliberately oversimplifying an image, with the goal of discovering what needs to be in a painting, and what can be edited out. Somehow, though, the information often remains elusive.
I would like to see what happens if you get really serious about refining your image down to its essence. Make a study of the major shapes in which you assign each shape a single color and value, with no texture. That should strip away anything inessential, and probably some of what you wish were still there. Take notes about which is which, and make a more personal version, putting back the minimum amount of what you feel needs to be included.
This isn't new stuff, but I think it bears repeating.

George Post

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/26/11

Put the paint down and leave it alone

Most of you brought photos home from class, I believe.
Make an oversimplified study from your image, and then spend some time taking note of what needs to be included in a painting, and what can be left out. Actually write it down.
Now make a more refined version, working from general to specific. For this one, please don't correct anything. Let the mistakes remain, and take note of what caused them. Try a more efficient approach to the problem areas on practice paper, then make another painting. Keep it VERY simple.

Do as many versions as you have time for.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/19/11

Letting Go

This twenty year old picture resurfaced today, and I saw it with new eyes. But this was not one of those lucky moments when you discover that the painting is really good, you just had to forget your original intentions. Unfortunately, it is at least as bad as I thought when I painted it. The good news is that now I know why. 
All these years the painting has puzzled me. If you had suggested that there were too many focal points, I would have said that the buildings in the background were very simple, with no detail, so they shouldn't be the problem. But, in fact, they are even more assertive than the ones in the foreground. They have more intense color, a wider value range, and sharper edges.
This is a perfect example of why it is often helpful to combine shapes.
Imagine if I had painted a single shape to represent all the background stuff, reserving a few hard-edged lights, and inserting a couple of accents. It might have looked something like this:

To my eye, this is a more cohesive picture. In the original version, I had to actively ignore parts that were shouting for attention. Now, instead, I can imagine them if I want to know what else is going on inside that shape, nome sain?
Here are a couple of familiar images that lend themselves to a similar treatment. Look them over, with an eye toward what can be hinted at, or left out altogether. I think it's fair to say that more than you think is actually optional information.

Many thanks to Alvaro Castagnet, whose work helped make this clear.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/19/11

Assessing Your Own Work

Yesterday, at gasworks Park, we began by considering color and relative value questions. Because of the nature of the subject matter, it was not as important to understand the roles of wetness and composition.

Can you remember what you decided about the variables before you began painting? If so, you have a good basis for evaluating the effectiveness of your approach. For example, how far apart in value did you want the first and second layers to be? Did you succeed in creating a big enough spread? If not, what would you do differently?

The list of variables is short: Color, Value, Wetness, Composition.
One by one, look back at your intentions, and compare them to your results. If you still have your practice paper, it will contain lots of clues about what you were thinking. You may notice, for example, that you intended to make the shadow pattern as dark as that patch right there, but something went astray. See if you can identify what happened, and make notes about how to refine your approach.
Please bring the sketches and notes to class.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of images that can easily resolve into a couple of layers. If you have time, try to decide in advance how dark, what color, what kind of edges and where you will make your first and second layers (and third, if necessary). Keep in mind that being decisive with your brush depends on being clear in your mind. For this assignment, do not correct your mistakes .

Choose your mantra from the following:

Keep it simple, simple, simple.
Err on the side of too little information.
Shape first, then texture (if necessary).


Monday, May 16, 2011

beginning Watercolor Homework 5/15/11

Five Value Monochrome Study
What role does value play in the relationships between the big shapes?
As a first treatment of a new subject, it would be hard to find a better exercise than a value study. Understanding the dark/light relationships between the big shapes in your composition is an essential step to making a painting that is cohesive. A five-value version  (white, light grey, middle grey, dark grey, black) can be done quite quickly over a simple drawing of the big shapes. It also provides good practice for seeing in layers. Choose a color (just one) straight from the tube, that can get dark enough to represent black. It’s better not to make a color by mixing, since that introduces another variable. This exercise is designed to focus on value only. Similarly, all paint should be applied to dry paper, to keep wetness from distracting your attention from value.
If you are tempted to get fussy about edge quality, or texture, or any kind of detail, remember, this is NOT A PAINTING, and it is supposed to be too simple. A door may be important, but the doorknob probably isn’t. I have seen some so-called value studies that are, in fact, very carefully observed monochrome paintings. They may be quite beautiful, but as tools designed to reveal the essential elements of the scene, they are not very useful. The best way to find out if something needs to be in the picture is to leave it out.
After each step, while you’re waiting for the paper to dry, assess how complete the illusion of light and space and substance feels.

Light is an important component of this image. Isolating the variable of Value should reveal the role it plays in creating the illusion of sun and shadow.


In your drawing of the big shapes, try to keep the number down to ten, or fewer. The profile of each shape is all you need to draw. The idea is to locate the shapes, not to describe them.

· Starting with the light grey, paint the entire page, except for any shapes that need to stay white.
Is there a feeling of light in the study? What about space? Substance?

· When that layer is dry, paint the whole page middle grey, except for the lights and the whites. If you can’t decide whether a shape should be light or middle, round it off one way or the other. The finished study will reveal whether you made the right choice.
Again assess the state of the illusion: Light? Space? Substance?

· When layer two is dry, apply the dark grey over everything except the middle, light and white shapes. Now that the background figure has a dark grey layer, and the section of wall behind him does not, notice how effectively the two separate, compared to the previous stage.

Finally, paint in the darkest darks.
The role of the darkest darks in creating an illusion of light, space and substance is clear even in a radically over-simplified image.

Where do I need more subtlety or specificity?
When the value study is finished, it can be compared to the source image or the scene to see where adjustments need to be made. Having come way over into the realm of too little information, we now have a basis for judging how much more needs to be included.  Don’t skip this step.  A study, as the name implies, is a learning tool. Your painting process will be more efficient and your paintings more cohesive if you extract all the lessons you can from your preliminary work.
In the photo, the two mounds of dirt are so similar in color and value it seemed sensible to treat them as a single shape. But the study reveals that it would be better to separate them, making it clearer that the one on the right is in front. It is also clear that the mound on the left does not separate sufficiently from the wall in the background. It looks ok where there is a shadow behind it, but where the wall is sunlit only the pencil line separates the two shapes. Perhaps lightening the left mound a little could solve both of these problems. Five values, in this case, are not quite enough. This is an example of the need for more subtlety.
The little raised frame beside the doorway that catches the sun is a fine feature  of the photo that I miss. It does an important job, describing the light. It is a bit of specific information that will add significantly to the picture without becoming a distraction.
It is surprisingly easy to see what is missing and what needs to be changed when the image has been over-simplified. If I had made a complex first attempt it would be difficult to know which of the (too) many elements were not necessary.

intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/15/11

I imagine you’ve all come across recommendations from artist/authors telling you to  “link the darks”, or “connect the light shapes”.  I know I had heard about the practice long before I understood what the benefits are. Is it a good idea? Always? What does it accomplish?
To put it simply, the idea is to have fewer shapes in the painting. Even if there are many separate objects in your composition, you can limit the visual confusion by connecting forms of similar value. The resulting larger shapes often make a bold, simple abstract pattern that co-exists with the content.

If you find a scene with similar value shapes easily linked, or find ways to move your shapes around a bit until they are connected, you may end up with some really big darks. You might begin to wonder if the narrative content of the scene will come across, or if the picture will be interesting enough with big chunks of dark, vacant space. But if you delineate all the information that you know is in those darks you risk breaking them back up into many little pieces. The job seems to involve creating a balance between an interesting abstract pattern and a well-told story.
How specific you make whatever you decide to include plays a big role in finding your balance. Here are some examples of different approaches. Take a look at the use of hard or soft edges, and the number of individual shapes that are contained within the big shapes.

Find a photo or a live scene where you can adjust the darks and lights into a simpler pattern. Do a quick study with what you think is too little info in the dark areas. Use this to inform how much to include in the next version. Keep refining until you are happy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/4/11

Whatever opened the door today, it would be great to prop it like that, permanently. Everyone was in the groove.
Was it the weather? Or maybe just getting out from under the usual expectations.
Try a similar approach to a still life. Set up a few objects, preferably with a single light source, and slide out of your regular comfort zone. Get a good grip on the actual value relationships, but let the colors go where they will.
Imagine if colors were reversed, with red becoming green, and yellow-green becoming red-violet.
Have fun.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/4/11

Seeing in layers
When you look at your painting subject with an eye toward where to begin, it is tremendously helpful to be able to see right through the darks and middle values to the lightest tones. The first layer of your painting is usually composed of pale washes that describe a very general version of the major shapes.
Ignoring the darks can be tricky. To get that dark layer to hold still long enough for you to "peel it back", it may help to practice seeing it as a separate collection of shapes. Find a high-contrast image, or use one of those below, and make a simple painting of the pattern made by only the darks. Use a single color, and make all the darks very dark.
To go one step further, make a study of the middle values. Remember the progression for the green glass cup? In a similar way, paint the whole page with a middle value, except the areas that are closer to white than middle. Leave them white.
If the two studies could be superimposed, you'd have a 3-value monochrome version of the scene.