Thursday, March 19, 2015

Monday Night and Intermediate Homework: The S Word

Shape, of course.
With all the figure work we did this week, there are probably a few sketches in your pile that are fair representations of the shape of a given pose. Never mind if the wetness got away from you, or the shadows swallowed up too much of the light. As long as the shape is in the ballpark, you can use them for further experimentation.

Take a look at what Nathan Oliveira did with color and shape. These can open doors for us, suggesting, as they do, that a figure study doesn't have to be accurate to be lively and expressive.

Rodin made many watercolor figure studies that emphasize to pose/shape over the musculature. Have some fun with your studies. Keep it simple. Risk everything!

Beginning Watercolor Homework 3/18/2015 : One Thing at a Time

Thank you all for a great term! It has been exciting to see your willingness to take risks and to work hard.
In the interest of becoming your own best teacher, put several of your paintings on a wall and stand back. Identify one aspect of your work that you'd like to strengthen and one that you know you can depend on. For example:

"I have trouble reading values correctly when all the colors are present. I think I'm confusing intensity and lightness"

"I am becoming much faster at mixing a color that works for whatever comes next"

If you keep the question of how to strengthen your selected issue foremost in your mind for the next month, or so, you will definitely see real progress. Devise a plan, such as what kind of preliminary studies you will make, or which questions you will keep in mind as you choose values and colors. Write your plan down, and post it somewhere you'll see it when you get ready to paint. If your plan involves relying on what you feel confident of, so much the better.

Find a new scene or photo that appeals to you, and make studies and perhaps an attempt at a proper painting, keeping your issue of the month on the front burner.

In class, we'll share our selections and offer one another suggestions about how to move forward.
Alvaro Castagnet

Thursday, March 12, 2015

3/11/2015 All Levels Homework Option Two: Letting Go of Texture

Pretty nice, huh? How much of that texture would you choose to put in your interpretation of this scene? How big a role does it play in making the scene beautiful?
Sometimes it's hard to say in advance whether it's appropriate to paint the forest, or if you have to paint the individual trees.

Whatever you decide, take care not to paint yourself into a corner. If you started in the far distance, for example, and gave the mountain way back there lots of edges and transitions (there are many visible), you might be setting up the expectation that each successively closer mountain would have greater definition and complexity.

Making an exact replica of the scene would involve an enormous time commitment, and at the end, it would still be difficult to know if all that work was necessary. Deliberately over-simplifying the scene is a good way to see where you would like greater complexity and where leaving out detail is just fine.

I recommend holding on to value while you let go of texture. Begin with a very simple drawing of the major shapes (big value changes can be considered separate shapes). I count ten or twelve shapes in this scene, at the most. Then, for each shape, assign a color and value that summarize all the changes you can see within it. The idea is to put aside the texture for now, replacing it with an emphasis on shape. The finished study might look like a collage made from cut out colored paper (unless, like most painters, you can't resist a little embellishment).

In this photo, the darks on either side display countless textural elements (I won't say the word). You might feel obliged to make lots of marks there, but if you squint hard those dark shapes become rectangles. Be merciless! The study is not meant to be a painting. It should only take 15 minutes.

More green! Where a shape is lacy to the point of transparency, like the round one on the right, try to summarize its appearance, disregarding the stripes that are visible from behind.

James Fitzgerald

Once you've assessed where and how much you want to add, make a juicy painting that makes use of the relationship of the SHAPES!

All Classes, Homework Option One: Figure Practice 3/11/2015

This coming week we will work from a model. The same principles and the same approach that we practiced for all of our work so far apply to the figure as well.

Proceed from a general statement toward specific strokes, and from light to dark. The figure lends itself well to a 3 or four layer treatment; light shape blocked in broadly, followed by the mid-value shadow shape, with the darks going on last.


I'm hoping that we'll all experiment with different degrees of accuracy in the pencil drawing part of the process. That can include simply foregoing the drawing altogether, by the way.

In this painting the pencil lines are very obvious. Everywhere a body part meets another and where the figure meets the background there is a drawn line. Imagine if there were none. In most places, the difference between figure and ground or between upper arm and torso is sufficient to get the two shapes to separate from each other. Value and color differences establish edges, which serve well to define transitions. Of course, the presence of the outline, which was probably done first, makes the washes and strokes easier to place effectively, but there's a price. This otherwise elegant and efficiently painted  figure looks a little like a comic book. 


This figure, as simply stated and sketchy as he is, still appears to occupy space very convincingly. The original drawing, if there even was one, is not apparent in the finished piece. The artist lets the edges establish the difference between figure and ground. In some cases, like where the arm is juxtaposed on the torso, even the edges are allowed to disappear, leaving it to the viewer to finish the job of making an arm.

We'll have plenty of time to try a variety of approaches. For homework, try copying a couple of these, or looking for some online that you can see in a bigger format. I recommend searching "watercolor nudes". You'll still find some tawdry stuff, but not too much. 

Sorry I couldn't find the artist's names for some of these.

Mark Norseth

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Monday Night and Beginning Watercolor 3/4/15 Letting Go

I'm convinced that it's easier to ruin a watercolor by over-controlling it than by letting go of too much control. This is opinion, of course, not fact, but I'll go further and say it's also a bigger shame.

The more we hold onto, the more ways there are for what we do to be wrong. Let's see what happens to the paint when we intentionally let go of accuracy more and more.


                                         Let the shapes be only shapes.          

                                Gerhardt Richter

Make a statement with your brush, then let it be. No need to correct. We're taking a break from wrong.

Intermediate Watercolor 3/4/15 Whither Confidence?

In recent years I've put a lot of emphasis on the benefits of having clear intentions when we paint. It seemed like the most direct path to confident brushwork: Find the guidelines that describe the widest possible range within which whatever you do will work just fine. This is as good a definition of being "in the groove" as I could imagine.

Beneath this reasoning, however, lies the very large assumption that we are working to create an illusion that supports the narrative content of the painting.

What if there is no narrative? What if we let go of the responsibility of making a convincing feeling of space or light, and the shapes are only shapes, the brushstrokes only brushstrokes?

It's asking a lot to expect that we can see our way clearly enough to apply the paint with total confidence when we are intent on telling a particular story. There are so many ways to go astray, how could it not be intimidating?

It could be that by sidestepping the need to "get it right" once in a while we can have the experience of performing a confident experiment. From what I've been seeing, this leads to bold brushwork and gorgeous paint. Surely some of the confidence that comes from having much less at stake will eventually carry over to the next "serious" painting.

The one part I'm not quite sure of is whether you can come back whenever you want once you've gone down the rabbit hole.

For homework, make a painting without erasing, scrubbing out, covering up or otherwise disguising mistakes. If you're confident that you can put the paint down and leave it alone in a realist image, my hat's off to you. But if content restrains your brushwork, try stepping into the territory of pure form.

If it's not fun, you're doing it wrong.

                                 Gerhardt Richter

                                   Georgia O'Keefe