Translating an image or a scene into watercolor is easier if you can envision the painting as a series of layers. Using the image you selected at the end of class or one of those below, make a simple study along these lines. Start by identifying the major shapes that comprise the image. These are the shapes that need to be separated from each other for the pictorial space to be apparent.
This market scene depicts a shallow space, crowded with shapes. It seems important to make clear where the individual components are, relative to each other. I would want it to be obvious that the car is closer than the umbrellas, which, in turn, are closer than the sunlit people. Beyond them are more shapes, subsumed in the deep shade. For each of the major shapes in your scene, draw a simple outline to locate it on the picture plane. Remember, this is meant to be over-simplified. We only need to knowwherethe shapes are, notwhatthey are. You will learn more about what needs to be in the painting and what can be left out if you resist the temptation to make your study a handsome product. Next, block in each of the shapes with a first layer. The layers will progress from light to dark, allowing each successive layer to be applied on top of the previous ones. To help see a couple of layers ahead of yourself, try asking, "Is there a way I can paint the entire shape with a wash that will underlie everything that will come later?" In most cases, this will be the lightest tone you see in the shape. Think of it as a common denominator. There is another progression that parallels the movement from light to dark. Thinking of the information that is being depicted as starting out verygeneral and becoming morespecific, layer by layer, is a good way to keep from putting in more than the viewer needs to be shown. In the deepest shade in the market scene, for example, it is difficult to know exactly what those dim shapes are. Instead of leaning in very close to the picture to try to make them out, lean back, and let them be vague. Give the viewers an opportunity to interpret part of the scene for themselves. Some parts of the picture will be sufficiently depicted after two layers. others will need three, or maybe four. If you feel the need to use more than 4 layers, it's time to rethink your approach. This is meant to be too simple. It is not a painting, it's a tool for learning how much information is enough. Just because you can see it, doesn't mean it belongs in the picture. Use three colors, one red, one blue and one yellow, to make all the colors you see. Have fun!
That was an exciting session of watercolor today! Much of what was happening in class came about because you were really tuned in to the basic structure of your chosen images. To review briefly:
Identify the major shapes.
Observe the value relationships between them.
Take the shortest route to a clear and simple realization of the light/middle/dark pattern.
Here are a few simple but powerful examples of value structures
All three paintings are built upon a foundation of just a few shapes. Within the stability of that kind of framework there is still plenty of room to allow the paint to flow.
For homework, look for an image that displays the clarity of a strong value pattern. Do a very quick study, giving emphasis to shape and value, with the merest nod toward texture. Below are a couple of possibilities. If you use one you find yourself, please bring the source image along to the next class.
At what stage of a painting do the shapes take on meaning? It helps to think about this if you'd like to take advantage of opportunities to let the paint display its watery qualities. The photo below, for example, is all about hazy light. If you set out to duplicate it right from the start, chances are it would take on a stiffness that would change the feeling significantly. Some features of the image are essential, but not everything needs to be "correct". Taking some time to consider where you need to be careful and where you can be carefree opens your brushwork, allowing the paint to flow. It is just as common for a painting to be ruined by too much control as too little.
Near the center along the bottom of the picture there's a brightly lit bush. Would the scene still work if you moved that bush to the left or the right? What if you stood it on end? In fact, the precise location on the page is not what is important about that shape. I actually think it would be better composed if the bush and the patch of sunlit ground directly below it were offset a little. What really is essential? Color? Value? Edge quality? Experiment a bit to see.
As an alternative to striving for accuracy, it is very useful to devise a few rough guidelines for handling the stages of a painting. Try filling in the blanks in the following sentence: "As long as the shapes on the ground are _____, _____, and ____, they will work just fine. There are an infinite number of perfect solutions to every watercolor situation, not only the one in the picture.
It may seem easier to just do what "reality" dictates and not have to figure anything out. After all, if it looks good like that, why change it? Because nothing is more important than the paint! The more you control the movement of the paint, the less it looks like watercolor.
The shadow pattern on the ground is definitely an essential part of this scene, above, but the exact distribution of marks is open to interpretation. Whatever you do will work as long as it is ____, ____, and ____. Diagonal? Soft-edged? Blue-grey? As dark as the green foliage? What do you think? A quick study can be designed to answer any lingering questions. I'm wondering, for example, if hard edges would be ok for those shadows. I wouldn't need to paint the whole picture to find out. Just a little comparison of the possibilities, out of context should reveal what I want to know.
When in the sequence of layers do the shapes take on meaning? Ask yourself "What would this scene look like with only the darkest darks?" Would the content still be evident? If so, you can be sure that the lights and the middle values can be treated very casually.
For homework, have a go at one of these, or find an image on your own. Narrow down the list of places where you need to be accurate. Widen the range of what is acceptable.
The less you correct, the fresher the paint will be.
Most of the time, when we talk about translating a subject into layers of watercolor it involves working from scene or a photo and ending up with a painting. We can also benefit from practicing understanding how other artists have proceeded. Look at this painting by George Post , for example:
Throughout the painting the artist realizes his intentions with no more than 3 layers. In many places there are only 2.
Here's another painting made with relatively few layers, this one by Eliot O'Hara:
O'Hara's layers get a bit more tangled up than Post's, but the overall feeling is one of clarity and simplicity. Both artists have used mostly hard edges.
We'll look at one more painting:
This one is by Josefia Lemon. That mountain in the distance presents a layer-counting puzzle. The dark dots have been painted on top of a multi-colored surface. Are there just two layers, then, or should we count each color as a separate layer?
Actually, it doesn't really matter, as long as you can figure out how she did it. Here's a clue: Look for a common denominator. Is there a way you could paint the whole mountain shape with a single color, into which you could put the other colors? I see some soft edges, by the way.
For homework, try copying sections of one or more of these paintings. If you're feeling ambitious, feel free to copy an entire painting. Remember, it's not necessary to duplicate the specifics. Your little dots don't have to be identical to the ones Jo Lemon made. Similar will do just fine.
If you print out the images, please bring those to class along with your work.