Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Intermediate Watercolor Homework, 1/29/14: Warm/Cool

If the artist's job is to interpret the subject, it's appropriate to depart from accuracy sometimes. Here is an image that could use a little tweaking.

The central strip of shapes in this scene is pretty dramatic. Consider the value spread between the left and right shapes. Could you see darkening the central form a bit? Or lightening the one on the left? 

The same kind of adjustments can be made regarding color.
You're in charge of all the decisions. 
Look again at the three shapes in the central strip, for example. The middle shape could stand to be a bit more separate from the one on the right, so we could read the space more easily. Imagine the picture if that shape were a bit cooler than the right hand shape, while still warmer than the one on the left. 

How about that shadow on the right? What would you want to do with that, in terms of color and/or value?

At what stage of the painting would you make your changes? 

Look for an image (or use one of these) that invites a warm and cool treatment. Plan some changes that make the picture more to your liking. These could just be to enhance an illusion, such as space or light, or to make the scene easier to paint, or they could be simply experimental. Write down where in the sequence of layers you plan to make the changes.

Have fun

Beginning Watercolor Homework, 1/29/14: 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 usually comprises  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. If a shape seems neither dark nor middle value, decide which it is closer to, and round it up or down. We're simplifying here, so some compromise is required.

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.

Monday night Homework, 1/29/14 : Too Simple may not be too simple

I often find it hard to let go of the identity of individual shapes that are clearly present in the scene I am painting, even if I know that they are not essential to the feeling I want to create. Little by little, though, I am replacing that feeling of loss with one of freedom. There is a world of rewards to be enjoyed for consigning most of the "stuff" in the source material to the "Adios!" file.

In the past, I've repeated the phrase, "Shape first, then texture" like a mantra. Now I'd like to amend that to read, "Shape first (the bigger the better), then texture (if necessary)". In the study below, lots of information has been distilled down to a few big, primary shapes, each of which is embellished with just a little secondary information. The scene has been simplified so that each separate entity is now part of something larger. The foreground includes shed, ground and car, but together they make a single, dark shape.

The "texture" within each of the big shapes is mostly soft-edged, which gives prominence to the more general statement; the hard edged major shapes. The group of buildings in the background, for example, is consolidated into one shape, which is entirely middle value. In the big picture, this is all the specific information we need to know about them. If i had insisted on making clear that there are 6 different buildings back there, that would have drawn too much attention to that area of the scene, confusing the sense of space. If they are adjacent shapes of similar value, in the same spatial plane, consider emphasizing their similarities, rather than their differences.
This approach flows from the supposition that a watercolor ought to progress from the general toward the specific. The idea is to leave the door open to adding information only as the painting requests it. In that middle-value background shape, I could have added some hard-edged shapes and darker darks if I  sensed that it would enhance the feeling of space or the mood of the painting overall. I still can, if I want to. There is no need to get specific before the need for specificity is demonstrated.

For homework, Find an image that involves adjacent shapes of similar value. Paint the overall shape first, nice and wet, then add information within the shape, as dictated by the job the big shape does in the whole context. Here's a picture that might get you going, or you can use one you brought home yesterday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Monday Night and Beginning Watercolor 1/22/14 Copy Time

Here are several  copy-worthy watercolors. if you see one you'd like to try, remember, it is the spirit of the painting I'd like you to copy. Ideally, you'll make your strokes in the same manner the artist did at the time. If it looks like the painter made a swift stroke, you make a swift stroke, too. It will not come out looking exactly like the original, but a carefully crafted stroke that duplicates the curvature and length and width of the original will not feel right.
Take some time to imagine how the painting looked before the darks were applied. How about before the middle values went down? Practice anything that looks puzzling until you have a better understanding of the techniques involved.

Rex Brandt
Eliot O'hara

Hardie Gramatky

Hardie Gramatky

Intermediate Watercolor 1/23/14 Seeing Abstractly

Georges Braque

One of the biggest obstacles to simplifying a painting subject is our tendency to view it as specific content right from the start. Thinking of the round, red and green shapes as apples makes us want to show the viewer that they are apples even before the first brushstroke is made. This puts strict limits on how we might begin to interpret the forms that are before us.

When you begin to study your subject, look for clues about when you need to be careful and where you can be casual. It is often the case, for example, that the darks in a scene are what give final definition to the subject matter. Seeing this in advance frees up your brushwork in the earlier stages of the painting. It is not necessary to make sure the viewer can tell what they're looking at when the lights and middle values go on the page if the next layer is going to make it clear. In the "blocking in' stage you can allow the separate objects to run together, knowing it will make as much sense as you want later on. The looseness of the early layers can remain visible to some extent, which is not unlike the way we perceive reality.

I find it helpful to forestall thinking of the subject matter by name. When I'm deciding what sort of strokes and washes to make, I ask questions about proportion and distribution of color and value (How much of the  shape is light? Where are the blue strokes concentrated?). I look for patterns that will inform what kind of strokes I should make (Are the strokes diagonal? Vertical? Horizontal? Are they rounded and curving? Rectilinear?

The answers to this sort of question have nothing to do with content. They refer only to form. They are abstract in nature. Theoretically, you could paint your picture from start to finish without ever checking in to make sure you've "properly" described the subject.  Screw the viewer. It's up to you.

George Lloyd

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Intermediate Watercolor 1/15/14 Interpreting a still life

Wonderful work in class today!
It should be pretty easy to set up a still life in your painting space, using familiar objects from around the house. In fact, there are probably several tableaux already in place that would make good subjects. It can be complex and dramatic...

Jan Rippingham

or very simple...

Gerhard Richter

There are no specific guidelines for this, just whatever makes you want to paint.

Please try painting your still life several times. Let's test the theory that when you paint something over and over it gets refined down to its essence.

Have fun.

Beginning Watercolor 1/15/14 Cloudscapes

Scroll on down to the post for Monday night watercolor, 1/13/14. I know you haven't had a chance to try this in class, but I think you're ready to give it a go. I want to add a step:
After you finish an attempt, take note of what worked well and what did not. See if you can deduce why things went the way they did. Articulating your successes and failures will enlighten us all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Monday Night Watercolor DAMP ON WET 1/14/14

Painting soft-edged clouds in class, we started by getting the paper good and wet. Considering that no more water will be added to the page (at least, not intentionally), this pre-wetting is your water supply, so work it into the paper a bit, and give a little extra to the edges, which seem to dry first. The object is to do all the cloud work before hard edges start to show up.

We began with the lighter shadows on the clouds yesterday, but you might want to give the body of the clouds some pale, warm color first, suggesting late afternoon light. Then, light shadows, darker shadows and, finally, whatever you want for the spaces between the clouds. If you want some white at the top of your shapes, don't forget that the paint will spread on wet paper, so leave more room than you ultimately want.

I like to leave the blue part of the sky for last, even though it means I have to wash the gray out of my brush first, risking a bloom. I know it seems sensible to start with the blue, painting around some cloud shapes,. Then I could just add color to make the gray and not have to lose track of how wet the brush is. But it works better for me to have the blue strokes be the finishing touch because then I don't have to carefully "color in" the shadows on the clouds. I prefer not to be constrained, so the brushwork can be freer - from the wrist - to feel more like the clouds just happened, and were not man-made.

What we're really doing in this exercise is developing awareness of the relative wetness of the paper and the brush, so you needn't feel bound to make realistic skies. It's all good practice. Have fun. Take enormous risks. The job is to learn, not to impress.

Here are a few sky photos and paintings to get you started:

Methow River Basin


Colonia La Noria, Oaxaca


Lopez Island