Thursday, March 6, 2014

Intermediate Watercolor Homework: The role of drawing in figurative watercolor

Most of the time, when we work from a model, I play down the importance of drawing. If any other Gage teachers read that sentence I'm sure they would be scandalized. It's like an elementary school teacher saying , " I want to de-emphasize the role of reading in our classroom". But I'm interested in promoting thinking in shapes first, rather than outlines, and I'm concerned that an overly careful drawing would lead to "coloring in" with the paint, so I usually encourage starting out with a brush rather than a pencil.
BUT, the fact is that my own figurative work has always suffered from awkward proportion, as well as an unresolved relationship between figure and ground. Both of these would benefit from more, or just better drawing.
Recently it occurred to me that most of the drawing could come after the paint had been applied. Then the line work could serve to place emphasis, and to adjust proportion and refine the pose. One could choose exactly how much drawing was appropriate based on the brushwork that would already be there. A minimal amount of drawing, just enough to locate the components of the pose, could precede the painting

Try to picture this ink and charcoal figure by Richard Diebenkorn without the lines. Squinting helps. In many places,  the brushwork would be sufficient to separate the figure from the background. Where the washes are darker than the figure, an edge exists that clearly delineates the shape. The window nook behind the sofa is a good example of how just a few lines are enough to "find" the shapes in space.
You can practice this approach, if you're interested, by working from photos, paintings, or live models. I suggest working in monochrome, at least at first, to keep color from distracting your attention from the line/shape dynamic. Please bring your studies to class.

I'd move the skeleton

Mark Tenant
Notice how the artist allow some edges, like the model's right arm, to be lost against a similar background. Not every transition requires an outline.

Simplify the background a bit?

I lifted these images from a lovely blog called Museworthy

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