Thursday, February 25, 2016

Intermediate watercolor Homewrok 2/25/16 Shapes First

In class we explored the idea of holding on to one aspect of a painting in order to free up another. Taking care to get the values more or less true, for example, makes it possible to let go of accuracy regarding color. 
Similarly, giving emphasis to shape allows you to let go of texture.

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.

George Post

Eliot O'Hara

Hardie Gramatky

Andrew Wyeth

 George Post

Eliot O'Hara

Leslie Frontz

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/25/16 What kind of edge is called for?George Pos

Pebble Beach, 1942, California art by George Post. HD giclee art prints for sale at - original California paintings, & premium giclee prints for sale
George Post

George Post favored hard edges in his paintings, often even outlining shapes. In this coastal scene he used just a few soft edges. Given his usual preference, it's fair to say he made those edges soft for a reason. What do you think that was? Were his choices made in support of an illusion? Were they effective?

Tan Suz Chiang began his painting with a very general statement, using almost entirely soft edged shapes. Imagine how they looked before he began adding more specific hard edges. What role do those calligraphic hard edges play here? How do you think he decided when he had made enough?

David Taylor

For homework, please copy one of these paintings, or interpret one of the photos, below. Feel free to change the edges you see to better suit your own purposes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/18/16 Light,Middle, Dark

The practice of translating a scene into washes and strokes is usually made easier by first blocking in the light values, then looking for the middle values, and, finally, putting the darks on top of the other two layers. Not every subject resolves neatly into three layers, but even just seeing the places where the job will be tricky is very helpful.

Most of what is applied as layer number one will be covered by the middle and dark values. It's important to keep this in mind, since the painting often looks pretty wimpy when all there is are the pale, first layer shapes. Keep the faith. No need to make sure the viewers can tell what they're looking at yet. In fact, it may never be necessary. Forget the names of the entities your shapes and values refer to. Let the content take care of itself. If you have trouble letting go of the narrative, turn the image upside down.

Even after the mid-value shapes have been applied the work in progress can feel as if there is no substance, no light or space. Resist the temptation to bring individual areas into further resolution. Get the whole page to a similar degree of finish first, trusting that the darks will do the rest of the work.

About those darks...
They are usually not all the same color, and very rarely are they all black.

These urban alley pictures will respond very nicely to a simple three layer treatment. In fact, the darks alone could tell most of the story. Try working very quickly. You'll find that the process can unfold rapidly when you're not burdened with the need to describe the content.

You can also relax regarding edges. Let things run together, especially in the early stages. Concentrate on the values. We'll still know what the subject matter is.
Have fun!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/17/16 Soft Edges

One of the most common ways watercolor paintings go wrong is by having too many hard edges. The jittery look of insistent shapes everywhere on the page can be difficult to avoid unless you have some practice determining which edges really need to be distinct. What follows is an exercise that may provide a way to tell what kind of edge is appropriate. It's based on the assumption that the best way to know if something belongs in the picture is to leave it out. In this case, the whole idea is to make a version of the painting that has no hard edges at all.

Like so many things about watercolor, this is easier said than done. The paper often dries before you've had a chance to lay in all the washes and strokes you want. It helps to be watching for the first sign of a hard edge, and to take it as a giant STOP sign. You can then dry the painting thoroughly, re-wet it, and resume making soft-edged marks that look like they were made when the initial wash was still wet. Remember that re-wetting should be done as efficiently as possible to avoid disturbing the previous layers. Apply a coat of clear water without going back and forth too much. And, did I mention that the paper needs to be DRY before you can re-wet it?

Most of the wetness control issues that arise when working wet on wet are caused by not making the first wash wet enough, and then having too much water on the brush when the secondary colors go in. Practice and experiment! Technical skills are easier to strengthen when you're not in the middle of what you hope will be a proper painting.

In the first photo, below, imagine you're about to paint the nearer hill. Since all the colors involve yellow, you could start by laying down a yellow wash. Make it nice and wet, that is, shiny, but not dripping wet. No pools of water. That wetness plus any that remains on the brush are all the water you'll need for what comes next. So, without washing your brush, add some green to it, and make the pattern of middle -value strokes that represent the shadows. Then add some darker pigment (not more water!), and make the array of the darkest spots. Since the sequence goes from yellow to green to darker green, there's no reason to wash your brush. Each successive layer is darker and thicker than the previous one.

The soft-edged study can be very simple and still give you the information you need. Stand back and ask yourself where you wish there was a hard edge. Imagine that you only get to make one. That will help you look for the most important place to draw more attention. Proceed with one placement at a time, standing back after each one to see if you've added enough. Remember, the idea is to develop a sense of how to stop without going too far. Err on the side of too few hard edges, rather than too many.
I recommend reading this all again before you start. Thank you.
Here are a few images from the Methow Valley, in eastern Washington.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/11/16 Light, Middle, Dark

One more time, let's focus on seeing in layers. There is a logic to the sequence of layers in a watercolor that begins with an understanding of the role of the values in a transparent medium.

Tom Hoffmann.
In this scene from Iceland, the falling water is realized by ignoring the physics of a waterfall and thinking, instead, of the succession of light, middle and dark layers of paint. In the upper middle, for example, we know that the water is falling in front of the rock. But that has nothing to do with how the layers of paint have been applied. Our brains know that the water is in front of the rock, but because the rock is darker than the water, it needs to be applied on top, as a layer that comes later. To see the sequence that the desired look requires, it is necessary to suspend what you know and make decisions based simply on what you see. Forget "water". Forget "in front" and "behind". Watercolor is another whole language that requires its own way of thinking. The process of understanding a scene in watercolor terms is essentially a translation.

Here are a few images that display an understanding of how the scene translates into a sequence of light, middle and dark layers.

Stanislaw Zoladz
Torgier Schjolberg
Torgier Schjolberg

If you were to copy one of these, it would be possible to simply start with the lights and progress to the middle values, and then put down the darks, since the translation has already been done by the artist. You would, perhaps, not be distracted by what your brain insists upon. Try one.
Then, try one of these:

St. Elmo Colorado

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/11/16 Repetition = Refinement

When I was just getting started as a painter an old-timer asked, "you know how when you paint something over and over it gets more and more abstract?' I assured her I knew all about that, of course, though I had no real experience to refer to. The idea stuck in my mind, though. It had the ring of importance about it.
Well, it turns out to be true.You all saw that phenomenon demonstrated in your own work this week. The ability to tell the difference between the essential and the optional elements comes to the surface, and the skills that are required to realize your assertions seem to have been ready and waiting to be called upon.
Heady stuff! We are all much better painters than we think.

Andrew Wyeth
One very helpful awareness tool is seeing the similarities that unite the components of a complex part of the subject. Looking the collection of wooden spoons, forks and spatulas flourishing from their container as a single shape allows you to make a very general statement and call it good, or to keep adding information till the painting tells you to stop. 

In his watercolors, Andrew Wyeth gives us just enough information for his shapes to do their jobs. Here he makes it easy to recognize the big dark green rectangle as a stand of conifers, but he is sensitive to the degree of specificity that is required. He shows us specific information only along the profile of the shape, and only what it takes to enlist us as participants in the process of sustaining an illusion of complexity.

                       Anita Lehmann

Anita's birds are very similar to Wyeth's trees. The descriptive brushwork around the edges tells the story.

Here are a few examples of what happens when you paint a subject enough times to begin seeing what you can let go of.

Image result for still life watercolorsImage result for still life watercolorsImage result for still life watercolors

Set up a still life you can work from at home, and paint it till you start to let go of the non-essential bits. Be brave. Risk failure! Have fun.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/5/16 Color temperature

The relative warmth or coolness of the components of a painting represents a powerful but under -utilized tool for building a cohesive image. Many painters choose their colors based on what the source of the image dictates. This approach makes it easy to decide what color to make any part of the painting, but it requires that you spend a lot of time mixing hues that are exact matches. Others tend to base their palette on a collection of favorite colors, always using the same few hues no matter what the source of the image suggests.
While it's true that color choice is a very subjective process, the various aspects of color have a profound impact on the feeling of light, space and volume in a painting, and first on the list is color temperature. When you are deciding what color to make a given shape, it is more important to notice whether it is warm or cool compared to its neighboring shapes than to choose a particular hue.

Emil Kosa Jr.:
Emil Kosa Jr.

In this California scene Emil Kosa Jr. has used color temperature to enhance the feeling of light and space. Notice how he changes the coolness of the shadows as he moves further into the distance. He is also adjusting the value relationships, and value plays an important role in creating a convincing illusion, but it is the temperature contrast that accounts for most of the sense of powerful sunlight. Let's see what value does without color:


Even though we can see the value range compress as we move from foreground to background, the space has flattened out a lot without the color, and the sense of a specific place and time of day is gone.

For homework, try putting color into one of the following images, but first, go back and look at the road in Kosa's painting. See how warm he made it in the foreground? Notice the transition in temperature as the road moves back into the distance.

Tom Hoffmann

Alvaro Castagnet

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/5/16 Isolating the Value Relationships

 Five Value Monochrome Study

What role does value play in the relationships between the big shapes?
As a first treatment of a new subject, it would be hard to find a better exercise than a value study. Understanding the dark/light relationships between the big shapes in your composition is an essential step to making a painting that is cohesive. A five-value version  (white, light grey, middle grey, dark grey, black) can be done quite quickly over a simple drawing of the big shapes. It also provides good practice for seeing in layers. 
Look for an image that resolves nicely into just a few shapes - no more than a dozen.  The major shapes are those that must appear separated in order to understand where things are in the illusory space. You can use one of these photos or one of your own. 

Choose a color (just one) straight from the tube, that can get dark enough to represent black. It’s better not to make a color by mixing, since that introduces another variable. This exercise is designed to focus on value only. Similarly, all paint should be applied to dry paper, to keep wetness from distracting your attention from value.
If you are tempted to get fussy about edge quality, or texture, or any kind of detail, remember, this is NOT A PAINTING, and it is supposed to be too simple. A door may be important, but the doorknob probably isn’t. I have seen some so-called value studies that are, in fact, very carefully observed monochrome paintings. They may be quite beautiful, but as tools designed to reveal the essential elements of the scene, they are not very useful. The best way to find out if something needs to be in the picture is to leave it out.
After each step, while you’re waiting for the paper to dry, assess how complete the illusion of light and space and substance feels.

Light is an important component of this image. Isolating the variable of Value should reveal the role it plays in creating the illusion of sun and shadow.


In your drawing of the big shapes, try to keep the number down to ten, or fewer. The profile of each shape is all you need to draw. The idea is tolocate the shapes, not to describe them.

Starting with the light grey, paint the entire page, except for any shapes that need to stay white.
Is there a feeling of light in the study? What about space? Substance?

 When that layer is dry, paint the whole page middle grey, except for the lights and the whites. If you can’t decide whether a shape should be light or middle, round it off one way or the other. The finished study will reveal whether you made the right choice.
Again assess the state of the illusion: Light? Space? Substance?

· When layer two is dry, apply the dark grey over everything except the middle, light and white shapes. Now that the background figure has a dark grey layer, and the section of wall behind him does not, notice how effectively the two separate, compared to the previous stage.

Finally, paint in the darkest darks.
The role of the darkest darks in creating an illusion of light, space and substance is clear even in a radically over-simplified image.

Where do I need more subtlety or specificity?
When the value study is finished, it can be compared to the source image or the scene to see where adjustments need to be made. Having come way over into the realm of too little information, we now have a basis for judging how much more needs to be included.  Don’t skip this step.  A study, as the name implies, is a learning tool. Your painting process will be more efficient and your paintings more cohesive if you extract all the lessons you can from your preliminary work.
In the photo, the two mounds of dirt are so similar in color and value it seemed sensible to treat them as a single shape. But the study reveals that it would be better to separate them, making it clearer that the one on the right is in front. It is also clear that the mound on the left does not separate sufficiently from the wall in the background. It looks ok where there is a shadow behind it, but where the wall is sunlit only the pencil line separates the two shapes. Perhaps lightening the left mound a little could solve both of these problems. Five values, in this case, are not quite enough. This is an example of the need for more subtlety.
The little raised frame beside the doorway that catches the sun is a fine feature  of the photo that I miss. It does an important job, describing the light. It is a bit of specific information that will add significantly to the picture without becoming a distraction.
It is surprisingly easy to see what is missing and what needs to be changed when the image has been over-simplified. If I had made a complex first attempt it would be difficult to know which of the (too) many elements were not necessary.