Friday, February 27, 2015

Beginning Watercolor 2/24/15 Working With the Wetness of the Paper

In class we've been working on how to decide what kind of edge best suits a given shape or texture. It quickly became clear that working with a damp brush on wet paper is is an appropriate approach much more often than we might have thought. It has also been revealed that it is easier to control how wet the brush is than the paper.

The dark hill in the background looks like a good candidate for a soft-edged treatment. The variation of color is very subtle. But you might also approach the foreground field with an overall green wash into which you could put the red and darker green texture. The individual blades of grass are distinct in the photo, but painting them as separate entities with hard edges would most likely end up too busy. If you were there, you'd probably perceive the foreground as a single thing - a field - rather than as a collection of tiny shapes. Working with a fairly dry brush, the textural strokes can stay where you put them, just softening without spreading into oblivion. Remember that the initial wash is your water supply, so there's no need to add more water to the brush. If you wash the brush or switch to a different one, just remember to keep it drier than the paper so the new strokes don't cause blooms.

Some of the edges between shapes in this pond scene might best be kept hard to clarify where everything is in the illusory space. The foreground grasses, for example, seem to want to be kept separate from the water. But within the grass shape soft edges would allow us to see the complexity of the texture without being distracted by too many insistent hard edges. I think the patch of grass on the other side of the pond would need a different treatment, with only a couple of hard-edged marks along the waterline. It's the same kind of grass, in the same light, so the colors and values should be very similar, but I'd want it to seem farther away. Edge quality will do the trick nicely.

 A quick review of technique:
Shape by shape, look for a way to begin with an overall wash - a common denominator - into which you can put the secondary information. Make that wash nice and wet, so it will stay wet long enough for you to mix the texture colors and apply them with the edge quality you want. This step is often referred to as "dropping in" color, a very unfortunate term.
As the overall wash dries the strokes you are making into it become darker. If you are not adding any water they also become more specific. In the image above, you could treat all the hills with one initial wash and then add a slightly darker pattern of marks to suggest the individual trees. Their soft edges would allow us to see the forest as all one thing. While the wash is still wet, you might add more pigment to the brush and put a second layer of texture on the nearer hills, and one more, a little darker and a little warmer, on the closest hill. Remember to watch closely for the first hard edge to show up. When it does, stop making marks, unless you want hard edges. You can dry the paper, rewet it, and continue making soft-edged marks.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Intermediate Watercolor 2/25/15

In these sketches from the San Juan Islands the foreground shape and the background are kept separate through manipulation of color, value, composition and wetness. 

Along the edge that marks the shared boundary of the shapes the variables have been adjusted for maximum differentiation. First of all, the edge where they meet is hard. It's also no coincidence that the value of the background headland is darker where it is overlapped by the foreground promontory. 

In both of the images above, the value range has been compressed somewhat in the background to suggest distance. The difference between the dark and the light is narrowed deliberately to approximate what we are accustomed to seeing. In the scene below, the background shape is meant to appear much more distant, so the range from light to dark is eliminated altogether.

To make a painting from this photo, below, it might be good to get the falls to retreat a little. Or maybe quite a lot.

Even in the photo it appears to be in the same plane as the cliff on the right. Go down the list of variables to consider what you can adjust to make the separation more obvious. 

Here's another possibility:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Watercolor 2/16/15 Everybody's Homework: Appropriate Edges

Both of the cityscapes, below, depict some amount of space in the scene. If you wanted to include that sense of depth in a painting of one or the other. it would be useful to vary the edge quality of the shapes.
Look for the edges that separate foreground from middle and background. Would it be better to keep them hard or soften them? Perhaps you want to keep the edge hard, but soften everything that's meant to be farther back.
Maybe you want the shadow areas to be soft and the illuminated shapes to have hard edges. How can you decide where you need hard or soft edges?
If imagining the scene with one kind of edge or another proves difficult, try making a version of the scene with no hard edges at all. It helps to wet the paper on both sides. It stays wet longer that way.
With an all-soft version in hand, you can ask where you most wish you had a hard edge. I recommend addressing your questions to the study rather than the photo, so you can make your decisions based on what the scene needs, instead of what it happens to have.
When you begin adding hard edges, keep them limited to only the two or three most important ones at first, based on the effectiveness of your illusion of space. I find it useful to imagine the scene as a stage set, with a simple foreground, middle ground, background layout.
Remember that it is not always most desirable to have the foreground in focus and the background soft-edged. When you have the information you need, make a clean and simple version of the image. Then, stand back and assess how well your choices worked.
If you work from an image other than one of these, please try to print out the source image so we can all see what you started with. Have fun.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Beginning Watercolor 2/11/15 Wetness Practice

This week, finish your studies of the image you brought home, or try the copying exercise listed for the Monday Night class, below.

Intermediate Watercolor 2/11/15, What Kind of Edge Do I Want?

Deciding what quality you want on an edge may be as simple as observing it, but sometimes it may be best for the painting if you change what you see to what you need.

In this scene, for example, the cloud could have a much softer edge to keep it from seeming too solid.

Here, the busyness of the crowd could be in competition with the details of the cathedral. I'd be inclined to soften everything within the middle value shape in the background to make sure the figures stand out.

Using the image you brought home, one of your own, or one from this post, consider what changes you might make to edges, and give your ideas a try. Be prepared to explain your decisions and the results.

Monday Night Watercolor 2/9/15 Edges

Piet Lap

Piet Lap used a very wide range of edges in this seascape. Try zooming in on a section of the painting and copying the effects he has created. For example, just above the hard-edged mountains the clouds go from medium grey to white with a soft transition. Then, above that there;s a hard, rough edge where the white ends and the dark grey begins. Within the dark grey wash there's a stroke of blue, very soft-edged.
This is meant to be about edges, so there's no need to duplicate the colors. In fact, keep your attempts at duplicating the edges approximate, too. We're aiming to see what the paint want to do when you adjust the wetness of the paper and the brush. Lap gave his paint plenty of room to flow. That blue stroke, for example, was not "designed" to look exactly as it does. The artist made his statement and let it be, confident that whatever the paint did would be fine.
After you've filled up some paper with practice edges, make a couple of invented seascapes using hard, soft and mixed edges. On one, be as fussy as you like, making lots of corrections, rubbing out mistakes, whatever. On another, though, leave the paint alone once you apply it. It should be very informative to see the difference in the overall feel of the two approaches.

Here's another of Piet Lap's paintings:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Monday Night and Tuesday Afternoon Homework 2/4/15 Letting Go of Control

If you're reading this, it's probably safe to say that you have a deep appreciation for the inherent beauty of the medium of watercolor. Given how difficult it sometimes is to get the paint to do what you want, why else would you choose it over a medium that is much easier to control?

Isn't it ironic that the more tightly you control what the paint does, the less it looks like watercolor? As watercolor painters, we aspire to a fine balance. We strive to give the paint room to assert its fluidity while keeping the results within acceptable bounds.

Stroke by stroke, we try to establish the widest possible range within which whatever we do will be "perfect enough". Having clear intentions is a big help, since decisively applied paint looks fresh and clear, while tentative strokes look uncertain. Having a definite understanding of the requirements of the passage you are about to paint allows you to make a bold statement with the brush - one that does not need correction.

In Kate Barber's wonderfully loose street scene nothing has been rubbed out, covered over, re-done or otherwise corrected. Instead of making the paint conform to a narrow scope of correctness, Kate established a very wide range of what would be acceptable. Take a look at the sunny side of the street. Those buildings comprise two or three layers that progressed from light to middle to dark. Try to visualize what the first layer - the lights - looked like before the middle value shapes and the darks were applied. The artist knew that as long as the shapes were vertical and roughly rectangular they would work just fine. She had a clear vision of what the next two layers would do to ensure that those shapes would read as buildings, so she could make the lights boldly and leave them alone. We viewers get to see the efficiency with which the buildings were created, since at least some of each layer remains visible.

Most of you took home a photo or two from class. Choose one of them, or use one of these, below, and do the work you need to do to understand the role each layer will play in creating the illusion you want. Some kind of preliminary study is probably necessary. Remember, the study doesn't have to be a handsome product to do its job. you'll learn just as much from a quick, rough draft as you would from a subtle, perfect little rendition. More, probably.

The aim is to discover the guidelines that describe what must be true for your treatment to be "perfect enough". Keep them simple - no more than three requirements - and keep them abstract. Kate Barber's guidelines for those buildings were very simple (vertical rectangles), and they were based on form, not content. The sentence I like to use is, "As long as what I make is _____, _____, and ____, it will work".

When you know what you need to know, paint a picture. Have fun!

Beginning Watercolor 2/5/15: 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. For homework, use the photo you started working on in class, or 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 a few shapes is good for this project.

Shape by shape, 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 2/5/15: Squint!

Before you get all wrapped up in the subtleties and particulars of a scene, stand back a bit and take in big shapes. Since these are often separated from each other by value differences, it may help to squint hard. I think it's fair to say that what belongs in the picture is what you see when you squint.

Squinting makes the subtle variations in value and color disappear. The wrinkles are smoothed out, leaving simpler shapes of light and dark. The image looks more like the version below.

This would be a very useful preliminary study of the image. It reveals the basic structure in a form that is not distractingly complex. Seeing the dark/light pattern so clearly makes it easy to know where you might want to adjust the composition. That dark patch in the lower right, for example, is too distinctly vertical. It looks like another trunk. I'd rough up its edges a bit.
Most likely, the squint version looks too simple to you, but that's exactly the idea of a study. It's supposed to be a rough draft. A proper painting probably doesn't need all the texture you can see with your eyes wide open. Removing most of the information allows you to add a little subtlety at a time, increasing the odds that you'll find the right place to stop.

Here are a couple more images that benefit from squinting:

Make a deliberately over-simplified study that emphasizes the shapes and lets go of the texture. Where you see adjacent shapes of similar value, consolidate them, making fewer shapes overall. Stand back from the finished study and ask where you'd like more subtlety or specificity. Take notes. You may want to make another quick study with a little texture added. Proceed incrementally, remembering that it's better to err on the side of too little information than too much. Take notes, and move on to the proper painting with increased clarity and confidence.