Thursday, November 14, 2013

Intermediate Watercolor Homework: Using your live studies as a starting point 11/14/13

The moment I look up to see the latest pose I am eager to launch into a clear and simple interpretation, but many distractions arise before the beeper signals "time's up".
I dare say I'm not the only one to get drawn into trying to depict some subtle change of hue from one side of a shadow to another when I'm only half way done with the big shapes. I usually end up with a much more complicated image than I intended. But, those disappointing paintings can be useful.
Without the model there to distract you, it might be easier to make a simplified version of the pose using your live work as a starting point. Those shadows, for example, can perhaps be laid down quickly enough to vary color without running into drying issues. And there's much more room to think and breathe with no timer running.
Give it a try. Maybe it will have a positive impact on next week's live session. Please bring some of the work you did in class, and any refined versions for our critique.
These two sketches are by Nora MacPhail

Beginning Watercolor 11/14/13 Figure practice

Well, that was weird. Try going online and looking for a few well lit nudes to paint from. You'll see what I mean.
Here are a couple of images that can get you started seeing the figure as a sequence of layers.

In this figure the warm side and the cool side are the same value. How would you approach painting that?

Try painting the whole figure as a single color silhouette. See if you can get used to starting from the inside of the form and working toward the outside edge, instead of drawing the profile and then coloring it in. I know nobody's watching, so you could just draw an out line and fill it in, but really, try it the other way, at least a couple of times. Use your brush to make shapes rather than lines.
Make some of your silhouettes in a very pale wash. Remember the tendency we saw in the portraits to make the first layer too dark. Better to make it too light. Well, best to make it just right, but too light leaves plenty of room for the shadows to contrast sufficiently.
Next, paint the shadow shapes as a layer by itself. The idea is to get used to seeing it as a separate layer that you can hold in suspension while you focus on the lights.
Finally, put the two layers together, adding a few accent darks where they are needed (creases, hair, eyes,. etc.)
Remember, it is not necessary to have a flawless figure present right from the start. When you are applying the first layer, you still have 2 or 3 opportunities to clarify the edges and proportions. Putting in a background can be a powerful tool in this regard.
Have fun, and don't spend all your painting time on the web.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Intermediate watercolor homework: Figures, Letting go!

Here are a few images that might inspire you to make more general statements in the figurative work we'll be doing for the next two weeks.
Kim Froshin

David Park
Richard Diebenkorn

These paintings are based more on shapes than lines. Even in the Diebenkorn if you took away the lines, the figure would still be fully present, much as it is in Kim Froshin's exciting painting. An edge, rather than a line can make a more convincing object in space. 
Take another look at these three images with the relationship between the figure and the ground in mind. There's a big opportunity here for defining shapes, and it can come late in the sequence of layers. Be sure to take advantage of that from time to time.
So, your homework? If you can get someone in your house to hold still, great. Otherwise, look for photos online, or in magazines that feature distinct shadows on a figure, clothed or not. Keep the drawing to a minimum. Paint shapes!

Beginning Watercolor Homework: Layers: Shadow Patterns on Heads

Look for a photo of a head that features a strong shadow pattern. Imagine it as a series of layers: First, an overall pale wash to represent the illuminated skin tone, into which color variations of similar value can be placed. Then, a shadow pattern, which can also be given soft edged variations, and, finally, the few darkest darks, like pupils and nostrils. 
If you prefer, try working in monochrome, so you won't be distracted by color. Remember to choose a single color rather than a mixed one, and make sure it's a color that can get dark enough to represent the deepest darks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 11/1/13

 What color are the darks?

Socks                                                           Mary Whyte
              The colors in the background of Mary Whyte's gorgeous portrait are clearly related to the palette she has established in the figure. As a result, figure and ground are part of the same world. I would not jump to the conclusion, though, that the darks must be a version of the dominant foreground color. There is plenty of blue in the figure, and the artist could have made the background mostly dark blue instead. The resulting image would have had a very different feeling, but the integration of the parts would still have been strong. If she had chosen to make the background neutral black, however, the figure would have been floating in a context that might as well be outer space.
Make  a study of a high contrast image in which you allow the darks to have a noticeable color. Base the color on the palette you have used elsewhere in the picture. If you have time, try another version, using a different color as the link to the darks. And, of course, try out the colors on your practice paper to be sure to get them dark enough on the first try.

San Pablo y San Pedro Etla, Oaxaca 

Mercado Merced, Oaxaca

Beginning Watercolor Homework 11/1/13

Shape before texture

I imagine some of you would like to make a more personally expressive version of the photo we worked on in class. I would, for one. Whether you repaint that street scene or start a new subject, keep in mind that the shapes are essential, while the texture is optional.
Blue Wall, Methow Valley
Get outside, if you can, and find a scene that can be understood in terms of three or four layers (light, middle, dark, super dark). Working from a photo is fine, too.

Identify the major shapes. These are the ones that need to appear separated in space to promote the illusion of depth.

Paying close attention to relative value, block in the shapes, layer by layer, keeping texture to a minimum.

When the darks have been applied, decide where you want more specific information, and put in texture a little at a time. 

Stop before you think you’ve got enough, and go for a walk. When you come back, if you still feel like the painting needs more detail, give yourself a limit for the number of strokes you will add. Then, if you still want more, give yourself an even smaller ration of additional marks. 

Have fun


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Intermediate Homework 10/26/13 The important thing

Please see the homework assignment for intermediate watercolor from 10/20/2011, called "The Important Thing".

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/25/13 Layers

If you haven't already found something in the archives that interests you, please try the beginning watercolor assignment from  10/20/2011, on Shadows.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/16/13 Seeing in Layers

When you can see a subject as a series of layers, the job of translating it into paint is mostly done. Remember that in addition to progressing from light to dark, a watercolor also goes from general to specific. The apples we painted in class, for example, started out as a simple rounded shape.
For homework, find a relatively simple object in your home. A seashell would be fine, or a teapot. A bicycle probably would not be a great choice. Something that can be seen as just one or two shapes is good for this project.

Start by asking, "Is there a way I can paint the whole shape with an overall wash that can underlie everything that will come later?" This will usually be the lightest, most general layer.

Mix up more than enough paint to make the first layer, but before you apply it, ask, "Is there anything I need to reserve?" If there are shapes to save as white paper, draw them in pencil and paint around them.

Make the first layer, then do the same thing on two additional pieces of paper. One of the three will not get any more layers. We are aiming to have a step-by-step display when the project is finished, one painting of just the first layer, another of the first and second layers, and a third of all three layers.

Now look for the middle value strokes that can be applied on top of the first layer. You may want to put them down while the first layer is still wet. Leave one of your first layer pages as it is. That will be the step one illustration. Apply the second layer on the other two.

Now look for any dark strokes that should go on top of the lights and middle values. Paint them onto one of the two layer pages. You should now have three pages that together illustrate your three-layer process.

Bring all three pages in to put up on the homework wall.

Intermediate Watercolor 10/16/13 What Looks Tricky?

Whenever you take on a new scene or image as a painting subject, it's a very good idea to consider what might pose a problem for you. Wherever you are in your skill development, you can tell in your gut what will translate gracefully and what will require some practice. The hard part is remembering to take a little time to assess your readiness.

In this picture, for example, I can foresee some trouble getting the mass of green that surrounds the sheep to be a smooth, clean wash. With all the care I might choose to take painting around the sheep I could end up with streaky, overlapping brushstrokes. This is the kind of problem I could easily overlook, though, since the grass is not the real subject of the scene. My attention goes right to the sheep, so I'd probably consider how to paint them first. If I feel confident about translating them into layers, I'd think, "OK, I'm ready to paint". Then, when I got to the grass, I'd discover too late that I was not as confident about that part.
Five minutes is plenty of time to devote to an honest assessment of what may be tricky for you, and to devise a study that will give you the answers and the practice that you need. If you are concerned about  undoing your precious spontaneity, you needn't be. A little practice will not turn the process into a dry, cerebral activity.  As soon as you make a stroke on a new sheet of paper the juices will start to flow. The only difference is that you'll be more confident, and won't have to shift gears for the tricky bit.
By the way, if you paint this picture, consider moving that fence post.

Here are a couple of images to think about. Write down what your unanswered question was, and how you chose to look for an answer.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Intermediate Watercolor 10/10/13 A Spirit of Inqiury

This scene has an irresistible combination of light, middle and dark shapes, spiraling inward toward the center. If you take some time to ask questions about which layer does what, you may gain a sense of confidence about how to go about turning it into a painting.
For example, “When do the shapes get their final definition?”

“Where do I need hard edges?”

“Can I afford to treat the lights very loosely?”

“How many layers will I need to do justice to the image?”

I’d love to see 15 versions (one from each of you, that is) of this same photo on the wall next Wednesday. Please bring all your studies, as well as any masterpieces that happen to occur.

Beginning Watercolor 10/10/13 Adjusting variables to separate the major shapes

In this photo from Oaxaca, two of the workers are in a shadow and two are in sunlight. The two in front separate from the background more obviously. If you were painting the scene, which variables would you adjust to show the difference? What if you wanted to exaggerate it? What could you do, then?

How much does the illusion of space in this image depend on edge quality working to separate the major shapes? Do you think it would be possible to make a reasonable version of this scene with no hard edges? Would there still be a feeling of space?

To practice making conscious choices about value, color, composition and wetness as tools for separating shapes in space, make a few quick studies where you adjust the variables differently.  Be prepared to describe what you chose to do.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 10/2/13 Advance Information

Before you begin painting a new subject, you can often gather useful information by addressing questions to the scene itself. You can sometimes tell, for example, at which stage in the sequence of layers the major elements of the image will take on their final definition.

In this image, the inside of the arched doorway is so much darker than the sunlit wall, you can be confident that the architecture will take on solid form only when the darks go down. This means that the earlier light and middle value layers can be applied casually, and still become meaningful later in the process.
In class we made studies of several images by painting only the pattern of the darks, leaving everything else white. when we assessed the results, much was revealed about the role the darks played in supplying the narrative content and in establishing a convincing illusion of light and space.

Now look at a new image, such as the ones below, and see what you can tell before you make any studies. Are the darks likely to make carefree work possible in the early stages? Do the middle values play an essential role in creating the feeling of depth in the scene? Which elements of the composition must be carefully rendered, and which can be handled loosely? Write down your predictions.

Then make studies that will provide answers to your questions. You might make a darks only version, or one where the middle value shapes and the whites they surround are the only forms. What did you learn? make notes on your studies, and bring them in to class.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/2/13 Implying complexity with soft-edged marks

Strokes and shapes that have hard edges stand apart from their surroundings. They call attention to themselves as separate entities. A painting full of such insistent marks can be difficult to take in as a whole. The viewer's eye has no place to rest.
If the clamor of too many noisy bits comes about from your desire to portray the complexity of part of the subject, consider first painting it as a single entity - a forest rather than many individual trees, or a crowd rather than lots of separate people. Start by looking for what the components of the collection have in common. Combine them into one shape with a wash of a "common denominator" color. Make the wash wet enough to stay wet while you add strokes to represent the units that make up the collective shape. Use thicker paint for these strokes than you used for the overall wash. The marks will stay where you put them but their edges will soften. Add subsequent layers of these soft-edged marks, introducing more colors and getting darker as you proceed. The idea here is that when the overall shape has a hard edge, but the shapes within it are soft, we will still see the main shape as one thing. The complexity is implied rather than specified.
As soon as you see a hard edge, STOP! Maybe you're done. At least consider the possibility. If you still feel the need for more complexity, you can wait for the painting to dry completely, re-wet it, and continue making soft-edged shapes.
here are a couple of images that have passages that could be treated this way. Look for adjacent shapes that could be combined. Do your best to keep the edges within the larger shape soft, unless you see the need for hard edges. Have fun.

You can also use one you worked on in class today, or find one of your own. It's not necessary to paint a full picture of the scene. Just practicing the wet-on-wet part would be fine, but stick with it until you become more confident.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Intermediate homework September 26 2013 Paint it Again

The first attempt at a new image can be difficult to assess objectively. Most of us focus on how the image disappoints us, overlooking the positive aspects that should be carried over into the next version. When I walk around the studio looking over your shoulders, I can tell when you sense that I'm there behind you. There's a lot of head shaking, and hands palm down, waving back and forth, as if to say, "I renounce this entirely". We could easily skip this stage of the conversation, since neither of us really expects that the painting is going to be a complete success in the first round.
What if we could shift the emphasis so that our exchange was aimed at identifying the elements of your attempt that are going in the right direction? The next step, then, could be to select one single feature of the painting that should be done differently.
For homework, then, paint the picture you were working on in class again, with an eye toward just one element that you want to change. For example:

The blue part of the church in the middle ground lacks substance. It's made out of jello. I want it to be farther away than the warm, dark buildings along the bottom edge of the page, and the blue color is useful for that, but it needs some kind of opacity or grittiness.
Proceed as if the rest of the painting is OK. By focusing on a single change, you increase the odds that you'll make a positive difference. I can certainly see other issues (those domes are too warm, or too dark?), but one thing at a time is enough.

Beginning Watercolor Homework September 26, 2013 Limited Palette

In theory, with one red, one yellow and one blue you should be able to mix every color you need, right? That's the premise behind the ubiquitous color wheel. Well, in practice there are a few problems. If your yellow is just a bit reddish, like Gamboge, you can't make an emerald green. That little bit of red will turn it toward brown. Or if your red is slightly purple, like Alizarine Crimson, how can you get a snazzy orange? The blue that comes along with the red will mix with yellow to make - guess what - brown, again. And so it goes. The theory is about absolute primary colors, but the reality is muddier than that. So, why bother limiting your palette at all? Why did the masters restrict their selection to only three or four possibilities? Why not just reach for the color that will give you the most accurate match?
The answer can be summed up in one word, "Cohesiveness".  Painters usually want the elements of their pictures to fit together, and color is a too powerful a tool to overlook, whatever your goal happens to be.
In the watercolor below, Doorway to the Palazzo Barbaro, by Anders Zorn, Only three colors have been used: black raw sienna, and permanent red. The bluish tints are simply the black thinned with water. The painting seems to portray an integrated light phenomenon and a believable space.

Now, take a look at this landscape:

Alright, I know I'm overstating the case, but I want you to see what the danger is in being a profligate colorist.

For homework, choose a set of primaries that appeals to you; one only of red, yellow and blue. Make a simple version of a color photo or a live scene, in which all the colors are made by mixing the three primaries you chose. here are a couple of potential images:

There will; be compromises in this process - some colors will not be possible to duplicate - but have faith. The result will be an overall cohesiveness that cannot be achieved with an extended palette. Have fun.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beginning Watercolor Homework 9/18/13 Wet on Wet Sky

Let's review the steps for the soft-edged, cloudy sky we practiced today. First, wet the paper. Very wet, but not quite dripping. No puddles.
Paint the warm body color. Don't wash the brush.
Add color to the brush to make the first layer of shadows. Again, no need to wash the brush.
Add more color to make a slightly darker gray for the second layer of shadows.
Wash and partly dry the brush. Mix up a blue, and paint around the cloud shapes, leaving some white on their tops, but letting the blue touch the gray along their lower edges. Before you launch into applying the blue, make sure the brush is not too wet, and the paper is not too dry.

 If you skip the warm first layer and just go for white clouds, you could paint the blue first, around where the clouds will be. Then you could just add color to the brush (and no water) to make the gray shadows, then more color to make the darker gray. That way you would not risk having the brush wetter than the paper. The downside of this sequence is that you have to "color in" specific shapes when you apply the grays. Try it both ways.

Make up your own sequence of colors to make a more subtle sky, or a more dramatic one. Whatever you invent, try to keep all the edges soft. It's actually the soft edges we're practicing, more than the clouds. have fun.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 9/18/13 The middle value wash

In class today we began a study of a new image with a middle value wash that stood in for everything except the lightest lights and the darkest darks. The lights were left white and the darks were added later as a second layer of black.

Now, start as before, by making an overall mid-value shape, with the lights reserved as white shapes. This time, though, allow the middle value area to be more subtle and complex. While the wash is still wet, make graded transitions from middle toward dark (but save the very darkest darks for a second layer).  Add color, if you like, such as the pink and yellow and green in the bottom image here. Finally, apply the darkest darks, like the doors and the tire in the top image, below. Use one of these photos, or one of your own.

In all three of the above images, the darks are mostly distinct, hard-edged shapes. They give final definition to the middle value shapes and the lights. The pink and green in the bottom image, for example, could have been applied very casually, and the darks would clarify their identities and locations.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Beginning Watercolor Homework Seeing the head as a series of Layers

Look for a photo of a head that features a strong shadow pattern. Imagine it as a series of layers: First, an overall pale wash to represent the illuminated skin tone, into which color variations of similar value can be placed. Then, a shadow pattern, which can also be given soft edged variations, and, finally, the few darkest darks, like pupils and nostrils.

Keep it simple!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Everyone's Homework 5/25/13 Careful/Carefree

We've been practicing identifying where in the sequence of layers a part of a painting gets its final definition. When, in other words, should the viewer be able to tell what they're looking at? Seeing this in advance frees you to apply paint in a carefree manner, because you know that a later stage of the process will bring it into focus.

In Rex Brandt's Mud Puddle, take a look at the white building on the right. Before the half-dozen dark strokes were applied that building was pretty casually represented - no hard edges, one loose, juicy wash. The artist knew that those darks that come next would make his first layer meaningful, so he did not trouble to make sure we could tell what was being depicted. My hero!
The pleasure the viewer gets from being allowed in on the process is a big part of our job. This is what makes the conversation two-sided.

Can you picture this scene without the darkest darks? How well-defined would the shapes need to be when the first layer goes on? If the red rectangle on the left bled into the blue one above it, do you think the dark shapes and lines could pull it all together?

Here, some of the lights that would be reserved right in the beginning of the painting sequence, like the rippled edge of the awning, or the long, white fascia that runs along the top of the building are doing the work of giving definition to the shapes. They would have to be done somewhat carefully. But everything else is defined by the final layer darks, which frees your brush when you are suggesting the complexity of the figures and the produce. The viewer does not need to know that those shapes are pineapples and those are onions until the color gets surrounded by the strong darks. Or, maybe not even then. Thois image would be a good one to zoom in on, cropping to make fewer shapes (light, middle, dark).

Think your way into an image or a scene from this point of view. Take a few notes, and have some fun.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/16/13 Guidelines for what not to paint

Some painting subjects translate readily into the washes and strokes of watercolor. The cast shadow of a telephone pole, for example, might want to be clean and simple: a single stroke, with no texture. The shadow of a tree, however, might involve hard and soft edges, lacy dappling of lights and darks, a warm glow around the cool strokes...

Such complexity can lead to all kinds of trouble. Simplification seems to be the order of the day, but how do you know what to include and what to let go of? Experience helps, of course. You can riffle through your mental Rolodex till you find "Tree shadow/dappled sun", and use your tried and true approach. The thing about experience, though, is that it takes so long to get.

There are a few things you can do right away. First, flip the switch from "Content" to "Form". Look at your subject as shapes, patterns, colors, warm/cool, dark/light, instead of seeing it as subject matter.

Let's simplify this scene by rounding off the number of values to just three: light, middle and dark. If we started by calling the white paper the light, the first layer would be the middle value shapes. Asking a few questions about form will provide simple guidelines for making the pattern of those middle value marks:
What percentage of the page is middle value?
How are the middle value shapes distributed on the page?
What kind of shapes are they?

Proportion, Distribution, Pattern.

What were the answers you came up with? Those are the instructions for how to paint the first layer. Try using the same questions for the darks.

If you made a quick study using this approach, you would not need to shift into Content Mode at all. Your treatment would be abstract. Then you could assess the result to see where you would like more subtlety or specificity, and embellish till you are satisfied.

Look for a subject that seems too complicated (it shouldn't be hard to come up with one), and give it a try.

Beginning Watercolor 5/16/13 Which came first...?

You’ve all probably heard me say that you shouldn’t give up on a painting until you’ve put in the darkest darks, because you don't know how effective the illusion will be without those powerful dark strokes.
I keep waiting for someone to ask, “if you can’t tell whether the painting is any good until the darks go down, why not put them in first?”
It’s a very good question, and I’m ready for it. You should put them in first, just not on the same piece of paper as the painting. By all means, make a study that maps out the pattern of only the darks. It will help you see where the lights and middle values are headed, and give you an idea of where you need to be careful in the early stages.

San Pedro y San Pablo Etla

This image has plenty of strong darks. A quick study may reveal how much of the narrative they carry.

Darks only

An altered photo makes it clear that the darkest darks in this image tell most of the story.  A rough,  painted version of the pattern would provide the same information, with the added benefit of a physical memory of how it could be painted.
Edge of Town, Oaxaca
It is not so obvious what role the darks play in this image. I'll leave it to you to find out.
For homework, find a photo or a live scene that you would like to paint, and make a quick study of the darks alone. When you are ready to paint a proper picture, keep the study handy, so you can be reminded that the darks will add substance to what may seem hopelessly flat.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/10/13 The Illusion of Space

From our elevated viewpoint in the park, it was easy to tell which of the overlapping landforms was farthest away, and which was closest. To translate that sense of depth into the language of watercolor, we can practice seeing the scene in terms of the basic formal variables that are the tools of the medium. We can manipulate relative value, color, edge quality and composition to create a relationship of the major shapes that describes their placement in space. How many variables and what degree of intensity we employ for each determines the impact of the illusion.

Joseph Zbukvic
If you look at Joseph Zbukvic's scene of Venice in terms of foreground, middle and background, the shapes resolve into far fewer than there seem to be at first. Consider how he has used value to separate them from the adjacent shapes. Where has he used both value and color? How about edge quality? Overlapping composition?

The awning stands out more boldly against the sky than the domes do. The shoulders of the man on the left reveal his position relative to the base of the statue more obviously than his arms. What has the artist chosen to do with the variables to show us where everything is?

For homework, try turning up and down the degree to which you use the basic variables to separate shapes. For example, make a sketch of a shape overlapping another of the same color, but a different value. Then make another where the same shapes are closer in value. Try varying the number of variables you use at one time. Let your shapes be different in color, as well as value, for instance.
Your shapes can be based on a realist image, or entirely abstract. The idea is to practice fine tuning the extent of the feeling of space between the shapes. 
If you want to, and you have time, try applying what you observe to a simple scene, or an arrangement of shapes on a page.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/10/13 What Matters

It may seem obvious that just because you see something, it doesn't necessarily belong in your painting, but, somehow, we often forget. What we know well when we are contemplating can evaporate as soon as we begin to actually paint.
Even if you have the detachment to wonder whether the bit you're about to paint needs to be generally stated or richly detailed, how do you know the answer? How can you tell what is essential information and what is optional?
First of all, it helps to remember to squint. With your eyes narrowed way down, similar colors blend together. The value range is compressed. Separate shapes merge and become part of a simpler pattern of darks and lights. Basically, what remains visible when you squint is enough to tell the story. Anything more than that is embellishment - you can add it if you want to, but the viewer will get along fine without it.
If your painting has a definite focal point, There's another tool that makes deciding what matters easier. Focus on the center of interest. With your attention fixed there, use your peripheral vision to observe the  part of the scene you want to treat next. While the focal point is detailed, the less important parts of the big picture are relatively indistinct. This is the appropriate way to treat the areas that play a supporting role. If you shift your focus to each shape as you prepare to paint it, everything will be competing for the viewer's attention.

Bound                       David Taylor
The trees and buildings in the background of David Taylor's cityscape are deliberately simplified. No doubt he could see more specific information, but he included just enough to tell us what we need to know. Standing where we are, we don't need to know much about the window treatment of the distant buildings, or the leaves on the trees. What matters is provided. What doesn't is left up to us.

For homework, look at a scene with an eye toward the role each part plays in the big picture. Can you afford to give the paint room to run, as Taylor has with his trees?

Your job is to allow the paint to be in charge as much as possible. The guidelines you establish for what matters come from your intelligent assessment of the job each passage does. With those few standards in place, the paint can do no wrong. Have faith.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Beginning watercolor Homework 5/2/13 Who's in Charge?

Being part of a community of painters is unmistakably valuable, as is having a retinue of references, resources and influences. But in the moment of deciding where the next stroke goes, we are all on our own. Sooner or later we have to take on the role of director of our painting practice.

Time spent honing awareness skills provides a foundation for becoming your own best teacher. If you narrow your focus down to one thing at a time, it is possible to clearly observe how the choices you make effect your work.

The first step is to discover which single feature of your work needs attention. Take a good look at the copy you began in class. Is there a part of the page or an aspect of the whole piece that feels uncertain to you? Are you confident about color, value, wetness?

Choose one variable that you want to strengthen, and make a plan for an exercise that will direct your attention toward a solution.

For example, if you see that the space in your picture feels ambiguous, check to see if the shapes separate from each other adequately. If they don't, make a study in which at least two of the main variables (color, wetness, value, composition) are at work to separate each shape from its neighbors.

If you suspect that your color choices may not suit the subject, design a study that puts deliberate limits on the number of colors you use.

This process is not as analytical as it may sound. Each of us has a store of visual experience that informs our decisions. What is your instinctive sense of where your painting needs work?

The homework is to zero in on something you want to work on. One thing. Trust your gut, and get to work. Be prepared to tell the group what you chose to do. That's it.
Have fun.
Godwit                                         Tom Hoffmann, 2012

Intermediate Watercolor 5/2/13 The Zone

The structures at Gasworks park are much too complicated for any properly crazy painter to try to duplicate, which is a GOOD thing. The big shapes are familiar enough to tell a lot of the story, without all the specific information of which pipe goes where.
The color is another very accommodating factor, since that rusty neutral can be made by mixing any pair of complimentaries.
Everyone did plenty of color and shape work at the park yesterday (if you weren't there, you can use the hundreds of photos that google provides). Use your studies to design the shapes and to decide on a limited palette.
This is an opportunity to set up boundaries for your exploration that pretty much assure that you can do no wrong. Rule number one is, "Do not correct anything".

Design a group of big shapes based on the gasworks. Zoom in or out, as you please.

Make a mixture of your complimentary colors that will serve as a rough representative of the local color of the structures.

Paint the whole shape with a very wet wash of your mixture.

Use the component colors of your mix to make the shadow shapes and the calligraphic railings, seams, rivets and ladders.
Do not correct your brush strokes. Let the paint do whatever it wants. Have faith. You have established enough control by prescribing the shapes and the colors. The marks you make with the component colors will be informed by what you notice about pattern, proportion and distribution.

When the dust has settled, you can mix up a strong dark within your chosen palette, and use it to create additional structure and boundaries, as needed. This is a final layer. Use it sparingly. The difference between "correcting" and these final darks is that one involves removing paint that you judge to be wrong, and the other places an additional layer of punctuation marks on the sentences you have already written.
Have fun.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beginning Watercolor Homework 4/25/13 How wet is the Brush Compared to the Paper?

Many watercolorists assume that they must wait for the paper to be wet to exactly the right degree before applying secondary strokes that need soft edges. In fact, controlling the edge quality of those strokes has much more to do with how dry the brush is than how wet the paper is. Try this quick and surprising exercise, after you read it all the way through:
Make three 6x6” washes of clear water, one just damp, one quite shiny, and one dripping wet. Now load the brush with plenty of pigment and very little water. The paint should be thicker than what you would use on dry paper. Observe how the brush strokes look on the palette. You should be able to see the tracks of individual bristles before the stroke flows back together. Work quickly, so your washes don’t dry. If you were to make a short stroke in the center of each of your washes, what do you think the results will be? Go ahead and try it.. Were the results what you expected?

In the exercise above, the wetness of the brush was kept constant, while the wetness of the paper was deliberately varied.
Now try an exercise where the paper's wetness stays constant, and the brush gets wetter and wetter:
Make a large, damp, colored wash, about 6" tall and 12" wide. It should be shiny, but not at all puddled. Start with a brushful of a saturated, different color that you know is drier than the paper, and make a stroke off to one side of your large wash. 
Now add a little water to the brush, and work it around on the palette. Make a stroke of this wetter color near the first one. Add a little more water, and make a third stroke. Keep adding water, a little at a time, and making a new stroke beside the last one, working your way across the wash, until you lose control of what happens on the paper.

In the first exercise, the look of your secondary strokes is one you will want to use often. In the second exercise, what happens when your brush gets too wet, on the other hand, is something you won't do on purpose very often. Which one would be appropriate for soft-edged shadows?

For the next critique, look for a passage in a scene or an image that could be represented with the kind of strokes you made in the first exercise. Experiment with the wetness of the brush to discover what works to give you the kind of edge you want. Bring in the study and the photo, if you use one.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 4/25/13 Water as a Subject: Make it Simple

It is not unusual to be seduced by the apparent complexity of water as a painting subject and end up making a multi-layered collection of several hundred brushstrokes. It is natural to want to do justice to the ever-changing subtlety of the surface, but it somehow always manages to elude translation. It can seem, since the subject is so complicated, that there must be something missing from your attempt. And if you look a little more closely, sure enough, there is another element of subtle variation, one more layer of strokes, that might be just the missing ingredient. And so it goes, becoming more and more elaborate, and more and more like mud.
You might conclude from a few experiences like this that water is just too hard to paint, and add it to the list of subjects to be avoided. Living in Seattle, though, you can only get away with that for a little while before the lakes or the sound, or just the wet streets start calling to you. Besides, how can you paint Koi without something for them to swim in (hmmm, now that's a koi painting I might enjoy)
The problem is all about the complexity of the subject, but not with how to match that in paint. Rather, it's a question of how to make it simpler. Instead of focusing in on ever more subtle aspects of the subject, the real task is to step back and look for ways to generalize all that information.
Looking at water as interpreted by master watercolor painters is a good way to begin seeing which, of all those features we can perceive, are the essential ones.
Winslow Homer, in the Adirondacks

OK, it helps when the water is nice and calm. This is treated almost as an upward-facing mirror, reflecting the sky, with just a few strokes to represent the reflection of the canoe and paddlers.  But calm or not, Homer has surely omitted plenty of information. Is it too simple for you? How many layers did the artist make? What did the water look like before the darks were applied? Before the middle values?

Homer, again, in Bermuda.

How many layers? What did the first layer look like by itself?

John Singer Sargent    Venice, The Grand Canal

These are the same three layers that Homer used in his Bermuda scene: Sky, with reserved lights for the reflected buildings on the left, then the middle value reflections of the shadowed buildings on the right, and, finally, a few dark strokes for the reflections of the gondolas and posts.

Anders Zorn

This water, though very carefully done, is no more complex than Sargent's or Homer's. Count the layers. 

All three artists worked from a very general first layer - basically a reflection of the sky rendered with a single, overall wash. The second layer was the next most general statement - reflected buildings or, in Zorn's case, the soft-edged middl-value backs of the ripples. Finally, each painter made a series of hard-edged, horizontal darks to represent the reflections of nearby objects. 

For homework, try copying the water in a master work, like one of the above. Then, look for a picture of water (or go sit beside some real water), and see if you can perceive it as a series of layers, the simpler, the better. Here's a potential subject: