Thursday, May 28, 2015

Everybody's Homework; While the Sun Shines 5/28/15

As long as you get to it before Monday, it looks like there's a good window for plein air painting this weekend. You don't have to go far from home to get in some great practice. Look around for groupings of light, middle and dark value shapes. A juxtaposition like that may be nearby on a smaller scale than whole buildings or large landscape elements. Here's a study of a rhodedendron from Bill Teitsworth, for example:

The subject doesn't need to be grand or noble, or even picturesque to be paint-worthy. Looking for something that would make a good painting has very little to do with content. To a student of watercolor, the goal is to gracefully translate a piece of the world into the language of the medium - washes and strokes - and to give the paint a chance to display its fluid nature. 

Andrew Wyeth sees something in the shapes and values.


A humble still life by Marc Folly

If you run out of daylight, the shapes and value patterns can be just as inspiring indoors. I recommend having a single light source so the shadows will be simple to understand.

Noche, La Noria 

You can also paint outdoors, at night. A headlamp is good for illuminating your palette, or you can set up beneath a streetlight. It can be hard to really see your colors, even with a headlamp, so try limiting the palette to one strong warm ( transparent pyrol orange or quinacridone gold) and one distinctly cool dark (indanthrone or pthalo blue or dioxazine violet). Then you can focus more on value and color temperature, which is mostly what you can see in a night scene, anyway, unless neon is involved.

One way or another, paint from life this week, and have fun.

Mid term exam:

True or False?

1) The more you control the movement of the paint, the less it looks like watercolor.

2) The range of what will work just fine in a painting is much wider than you think.

3) "Color is only color according to its size, placement and density"   Charles Emerson

4) Abstraction deals in reality, realism is about illusion.

5) The medium is the message.

6) If painting isn't fun, you're doing it wrong.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Intermediate Homework 5/20/15 : Shape first, then texture

George Post

Eliot O'Hara

Hardie Gramatky

Andrew Wyeth

 George Post

Eliot O'Hara

Leslie Frontz

Here are a few paintings that rely far more on shape than texture for both fundamental structure and narrative content. George Post liked to suggest texture with a refined pattern. Eliot O'Hara also kept detail to a minimum, using color and pattern to embellish large shapes. Hardie Gramatky and Leslie Frontz hint at complex surfaces, keeping them from distracting from the simple composition. Andrew Wyeth enjoyed creating plenty of texture sometimes, but his compositions are also strongly shape-dependent. In fact, in Wyeth's case, it is the boldness of the value pattern in relatively few shapes that provides a solid foundation for all the texture he displays.
Try copying one or two of these, with an eye toward where the artists saw the need for embellishment of shape, and how they provided it. Remember to copy the feel, or spirit of the painting rather than the letter of it.

Beginning Watercolor 5/20/15 Seeing layers individually

The transparency of the medium makes it necessary for watercolorists to learn to see a couple of layers ahead of themselves. When we are working on the early stages of a painting - blocking in the lights, for example - it is very helpful to have a sense of how these shapes will be changed by the middle value and dark shapes yet to come.

If you were blocking in the first layer of this bird portrait, how careful would you want to be to keep the blue-green bird shape separate from the yellow-orange background? I dare say most people would take pains to keep them completely separate, with a distinct hard edge between.
But matching the edge of the bird to the edge of the background is my idea of no fun. It's just plain too hard not to overlap here and there, or leave a tiny white space where the two don't touch. And being that careful would constrain my brushwork, so I'd lose the fluid look of the washes.

I want to take another look, asking, "When in the sequence of layers does that bird really gets its definition?" If it's possible to be more casual in the early stages and still get the figure and the ground to separate reasonably well, that's the path I'd prefer to take. Sure enough, when I look with this question in mind, I can see that the bird is practically outlined with very strong darks. There is only one brief passage - the right shoulder - where the orange and blue are not separated by dark. I think I could get a respectable rendition of that handsome fellow even if the first layer wandered outside the lines. I recognize that the colors would probably bleed into each other, and that the resulting interpretation would be different from the photograph, but I'm comfortable with that. For me, it would be more fun, in both process and product.

How about this scene? With an eye toward the power of the darks to give definition to the bridge and the buildings, can you imagine a carefree first layer? Look at the buildings in the center background. There are no dark lines separating them. Would you be content to let their different colors flow together, or would you feel the need to keep those first layer shapes separate?

See how David Taylor treated the distant buildings in this busy scene? Not much information was necessary beyond what appeared in the first layer. In the nearest buildings, you can see that the artist was counting on the darks and mid-value shapes to give sufficient definition to what was a very casual first layer.

Sometimes it's not so easy to see the role subsequent layers will play just by focusing your awareness with a question. When you're not sure how much you can depend on a later stage to pull your picture together, try making a version that comprises only the strong darks. The resulting study will show you just how much of the narrative content and the formal structure is carried by the darks. You can use one of the following images to experiment.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Intermediate Homework 5/14/15 You want simple shapes?

"Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees
                                               - Robert Irwin

Here are some pretty simple landscapes, mostly made up of just a few shapes, with very little content to boss you around. With so little that must be gotten "right", you are free to give the paint lots of room to do as it pleases. If the green bump on the lower left flows up into the blue rectangle, let it go! This is your chance to take whatever you get.  Imagine you're just along for the ride.

Beginning Watercolor 5/13 seeing in layers

Roughly speaking, the sequence of layers that make up a watercolor start with the lights, onto which the mid-values are applied, followed by the darks. To get in the habit of thinking a couple of layers ahead of yourself, it's helpful to practice seeing the various stages of a painting separately. A question like, " How will what I do now affect what comes later?" or, to turn that around, "How will what I do later change what I'm doing now?" will focus your awareness on the trajectory of the light to dark and general to specifc progress of your paintings.
The more we can see the effects of each layer the easier it will be to anticipate the impact of past on future and future on past. I want to be able to anticipate the role that the darks, for example, will play even when all I've painted are the lights and middle values. A painting can look pretty weak at that stage, and I might be tempted to give it up for lost, unless I can keep the faith that the darks will bring it back from the brink.
Using the images you worked with in class, or one of the following, begin by blocking in the lightes version of each of the major shapes. Make three identical versions of this layer. Leave one of them "as is", and put the second layer onto the other two. Then, leave one of those two alone, and put the third layer, the darks, onto the other one. Confused? What we want to end up with is one piece of paper with just the first layer, another pisec with layers one and two, and a third with all three layers. We'll put them all up on the wall and get the benefit of everyone's efforts.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Everybody's Homework 5/6/15 Plein air Painting: Simplifying the Landscape, Part 2: Simple, Simple, Simple!

There are definitely ways that plein air work is easier than painting from photographs, as we saw last week. A photo, however, has a frame - a limited scope - while the vastness of nature (or the city) goes on in every direction. When I'm excited by the "rightness" of my surroundings I want to include everything.

Trying to cram all the glorious features of a setting into my painting is rarely a good place to start. When I'm getting to know a new subject it's not just a visual exercise. I am also getting used to just being in this place. I do need to become familiar with the light, the palette, the shapes and the textures, but even more importantly, I need to simply relax and open up to the environment. Starting out with an very ambitious panorama is usually a recipe for disappointment. Better to begin with success. Take a smaller bite. Keep it simple right from the start.

I love all the parts of this scene; the primary colored machines, the crazy diagonal booms and shadows, the puddles! It's chock full of interesting imagery.  If I had a wider angle lens I probably would have included even more. But when I reassess the image from a painter's point of view, I can see that it is mostly all the same value and color. That warm, pale pinkish neutral is an overall matrix, into which the spots of color are set, like random gemstones. In a painting, they would probably be at odds with each other for attention.
Zooming in on a single accent changes the emphasis from a scattered surface to a simple arrangement of shapes and values.

Once I've started thinking in terms of reducing the scope of the subject, I can see a couple of other simple changes that would refine a painting. In between the building with the hole and the one wrapped in scaffolding there's yet another building in progress (must be Capitol Hill). I'd take that one out and let the blue fill the gap, allowing the light sky and mid-value ground shapes to interlock - a  more interesting composition.

If I can remember not to take on too much right away, I look for a part of the scene that has relatively few shapes and a clear and simple arrangement of light, middle and dark value. Look over the images below. Some already display the kind of clarity and simplicity I'm talking about. Some would benefit from cropping, or moving the shapes around a bit.

Here's an awkwardly composed picture. What could you do to pull it together?

Something's not right with this image. The shapes seem pretty well balanced, but the values are off. Try changing the values here and there, one shape at a time. You can do this by making a quick pencil sketch, or a monochrome study. Skip the details. The question to address concerns the shapes and their values - what you see when your eyes are almost squinted shut. It might help to...

If you get a chance to work outdoors, spend some time looking for a simple scene within the panorama. Make quick sketches to refine the shapes and their values. Paint a shape-dominant version of the scene . Next, make another version with just a little embellishment. Stop while you still feel like more detail would be better (shove, shove! Bully, bully!)