Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beginning Homework 4/19/17 Seeing in Layers

For this week's homework we'll use only two images. I'd like you to paint both of them. Start by identifying the major shapes.

This is a well-behaved image. It resolves nicely into only three shapes; sky, bluff and grassy plain. Feel free to eliminate that bush in the middle of the plain, or move it where it doesn't get tangled up in the bluff.

This one can be seen as having four shapes; three triangles along the bottom, and the large rectangle that makes up the whole top.

Each of these images could be approached by first looking for the lightest tone in each shape, and painting that as an overall wash. The road in the one above, for example, would be all the light pink of the sunlit spots. The grassy triangle would be entirely the light yellow green. The brown triangle on the right is not very light anywhere, so it could be painted the dark brown that will be its final tone. What about the big rectangle? When you look past the mid-values and the darks there is a large area of light yellow-green that stretches from one side to the other, and a very pale blue - almost white - along the top. It can be painted as one shape with two pale colors.

 That takes care of the first layer, the lights. Next comes the layer of middle values. Look at the road again. Most of the first layer is covered with a wash of cool middle value. There are just a few holes in that second layer that leave the first layer visible. The grassy triangle is also mostly middle value, with one light strip at the near end and one more the far end. Each successive layer goes on top of the previous one, usually leaving some of that earlier layer visible. The darkest darks come last, since they will cover the middle value shapes and the lights. It is much harder to get a light to go on top of a dark. You would need opaque paint to pull that off.

As you finish each layer, take a moment to assess the effectiveness of the illusion of light and space. When do those illusions become convincing? Is it when the first layer is applied, or is it later?

Paint both of these, if you have time. As much as possible, try to keep the whole page at a similar degree of completion.

Read this again before you start painting!
Have fun.

Intermediate Homework 4/19/17 Separating Shapes in Space

It was really fun watching everyone paint this afternoon! A new batch of photos seemed to ignite our confidence. I get the idea that the wonderful color combinations you all came up with have something to do with clearly seeing the structure of your images.
It's probably best not to overthink this. let's just dive in to some more new images.
Here are a few from my recent trip to Melaque.
Shape first!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 4/13/17 Abstracting the landscape: Shape first, then NO texture

Really. No texture.

How important is the detail?
Working from the notion that the best way to find out if something needs to be in the picture is to leave it out, let's try letting go of the details altogether.

If a shape in your scene is full of texture, try summarizing it into an overall color and value.

Right in the upper middle of this photo there's a yellow-green shape that runs all the way off the top of the page. If you lean in close you can see that it is made of many, many tiny shapes. If you lean back, however, and squint a little, there is just one shape there. OK, I know you can still see variation within the shape, but I'm suggesting that you let go of the subtleties and think in general terms. If it pains you to ignore all that information, bear with me at least till you can see what the scene looks like with everything over-simplified. If you miss the detail then, you can make a note of that and devise a way to symbolize it. If you don't miss it, you don't need it. This is where it's useful to remember that you can apply the paint so its natural fluidity provides a degree of variability
As a simple shape, that patch of yellow-green still has qualities that you might want to keep. Notice its value, for example. Is it darker, lighter or the same as the blue? What kind of edges do you want the shape to have? Holding on to color or value makes it easier to let go of detail.

In this painting the shapes are very simple, but the  surface is lively. Allowing the separate shapes to interact a bit (or a lot!) lets the fluidity of the paint create non-specific complexity.

Shape first, then texture, if necessary. Here, not much seemed necessary.

Here are a few images that resolve easily into relatively few shapes. Start with a quick study that you think has too little information. Use the study to decide where you need more interest. Paint with most of your attention devoted to the richness of the paint. The subject matter will take care of itself!


Beginning Watercolor Homework 4/13/17 The sky in context

The sky is a very forgiving subject. The variety of shapes and colors that can occur in the sky is so broad, you rarely need to correct whatever kind of marks you make to represent it. As soon as there's enough context to suggest that the bottom of the page is the ground, the washes and strokes you've made along the top must be a sky.

Try this experiment as a warm-up:
Remember the components of the skies we made in class? There were two layers of grey (light and middle value), some blue and some white. We had clouds in mind when we painted yesterday, but imagine if you could put those brushstrokes in a big shaker, shake it all up and toss the marks arbitrarily onto the paper. I think it would still be recognizable as a sky once you put a strip of land below it.
To test this theory, wet a few places at the top of the paper, leaving the rest dry. Now make some strokes and washes of the colors like the greys and blue and white from class without regard for what goes where. You could throw a little very pale warm in there, too.
If we want to keep this experiment strictly scientific, it's important not to correct your sky. The idea is to find out how broad the guidelines are for this very common subject, and what the role of the context is in making the sky believable.

Now add the context. Even just one stripe of land will be enough to see if your random mess resolves into a sky, but feel free to put in some other familiar landscape elements; Hills, trees, bushes. It helps to make something tall enough to stick up in front of the sky, like a tall tree, a steeple or a fence post. Stringing some phone wires can be very convincing. This should all take just a few minutes (it's the correcting that  takes the most time).

If you have time, make some more skies. Please keep the fiddling to a minimum. How else would you discover the real range of what works?

The purpose here is to stay mindful of the viewer's willingness to meet us halfway. Everyone likes to have a part to play in interpreting a subject.

Here are some paintings and photos of skies that may stretch your idea of what kind of shapes and colors will be acceptable:

Tom Hoffmann

George Post

Tom H

Rex Brandt

Friday, March 17, 2017

SAI and Intermediate Homework 3/15/17 Figure/Color

We all made plenty of studies of the model on Wednesday that will serve well for an extension of figure work. Pick a couple to use for the poses and explore the color possibilities. Here are some examples that may open doors for you. I know one of them is not a watercolor, but it has great colors.
Have fun.

Beginning Homework 3/15/17 The Head

Here are a few heads with distinct shadow shapes. Working in monochrome, see what an over-simplified version conveys by painting three-layer interpretations of the photos.

Dry the paper between layers (light, middle dark) to keep your attention focused on value. Subtlety is not the goal in this exercise. It's meant to explore how well seeing in layers applies to another subject.

I recommend working from the black and white photos first, then trying to do a monochrome version of one of the color images.

Use good paper. Don't fuss. Keep the drawing to a minimum.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Everyone's Homework 3/9/17 The Easy Way

Isn't it sweet when a subject clearly presents itself as a watercolor, with distinct shapes of light, middle and dark value?

Photo by Sally Hayman

This market scene resolves nicely into just a few shapes. There's a strip of dark along the top (the awning), with a strip of middle value rectangles (the doors) below that. Then there's a strip of dark below that (the shadow), and a strip of light below the dark (the fruit). Finally, there's a triangle along the bottom made of a mix of all three values. Five shapes.

It would be nice if you could paint everything light, then put the middle values on top of the light and the darks on top of the lights and the middles. Can you see a way to do that? 

Imagine wetting the paper first, then blocking in lights everywhere. The fruit could be a cloud of light yellow and red. It wouldn't matter if it bled a little into the triangular shape below, since the strong darks in that area will give sharp definition later to the bottom edge of the fruit. And it would be good if the red and yellow bled into the shadow area, since there are fruits in the shadow area, too. 

The strip of middle value doors could all be painted a color like the warm neutral you can see right behind the post in the center. I'd put some other neutralized middle value colors in while that wash is still wet. You can run those middle values right up to the top of the page. Later, you could add some slightly darker verticals in that area to show that there are various rectangular doors. Soft edges or hard? I think it could be either or both. I wouldn't make them as dark as the shadow section that comes last. That would make the background come forward. The dark awning along the top, if you decide to include it, could go down right on top of the middle values after they're dry.

Finally, the big shadow. Use your practice paper to get the value dark enough so you don't have to go back over the shadow again. If the fruits don't show through the shadow glaze well enough, add some red, yellow and green into the shadow while it's still wet. Make sure the paint on your brush is pretty thick for this job to prevent blooms, but If a bloom occurs, leave it.

How much information does the painting need before it's done? That's up to the individual painter, of course, but be respectful of your alter ego, the viewer. Leave a little for them to interpret. 

It may be a good idea to read this again before launching into a painting. A monochrome value study would also be very helpful.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Everyone's Homework 3/2/17 It's About The Paint!

Laurie Wigham

This luscious landscape could only have been made by letting go of the specifics of the scene and generalizing about shapes,  colors, values and edges. What is gained by taking liberties with accuracy is the freedom to devote all one's attention to the beauty of the paint. 
It's a very good trade. We can no longer count the trees in the green shapes, but we all still recognize this as a landscape, and the pleasure of seeing the flow and the transparency of the medium is worth much more than an inventory of its contents.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the trade comes from not having to correct what the paint does on its own. Laurie Wigwam never had to go back and fix anything in this painting, which accounts for the overall feeling of certainty.

Imagine this picture without the trunks and shadows. The blue, yellow and green shapes would look almost arbitrary. The guidelines by which you might paint the first couple of layers would be very broad. When you can see in advance how well the dark mid-value shadows and the dark trunks would give meaning to the  yellow and green masses of foliage,  your brushwork in the earlier stages is liberated from the need to be careful. All of your attention could be devoted to displaying the gorgeous fluidity of watercolor. That's what brought us here in the first place, after all. 

Accuracy is overrated.
In the photo above, the juxtaposition of the bush and rock and tiny island is unfortunate. I want to move the island so it doesn't appear to touch the tree and the rock. If it didn't occur to me that I have permission to do that I would get hung up trying to duplicate something that is only going to create ambiguity on the page. The need to be careful would also slow down my brushwork, leading to a different feeling in that area. 
Remember, it's the spirit of the scene that we are interpreting, not the letter.  I would rather have a juicy, spirited painting with generalized content than an dry accounting of the scene with everything in its place.

Here are a couple more images that are full of opportunities to let the paint have its way. Often holding on to a limited kind of accuracy makes it easier to relax your hold on everything else. To give that a try, I recommend getting the values right rather than the drawing. Have fun

Thursday, February 23, 2017

intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/22/17 Letting go of Control

Whatever your style, as a watercolor painter you are an advocate of the beauty of the medium. When you have an opportunity to give some control back to the paint, it is a shame not to take advantage of it. Every scene comprises passages that can be painted in a carefree manner and others that require more careful work. Recognizing which is which is part of a watercolorist's training.


Most of this Andrew Wyeth study is painted according to very broad guidelines. The texture of the wall could be flipped upside down and it would still be a reasonable representation of a rough stucco wall. The window, on the other hand, is much more carefully painted. Care was taken to keep the rectangle upright, and to reserve the thin mullions. It is the careful part that gives meaning to the carefree. Without the window the wall would be difficult to recognize as a wall. 

Do you think Wyeth knew this? I'm pretty sure he did. He wants to engage his viewers by giving us the means to see the paint as both subject mater and abstract marks on paper. I think he also takes pleasure in displaying the nature of the paint. We get to see the fluidity and transparency of the watercolor as much as we get wrapped up in the illusion of accuracy.


Look at the right half of this painting. It's easy to read it as a depiction of a tree and some space. Imagine removing the tree trunk. the tree would become a grey shape without identity, in the same plane as the other grey shape beside the house. Wyeth knew that the trunk would provide the meaning. The illusion of space and the identities of the shapes rely on that single vertical stroke. 




These photos provide opportunities to be carefree with paint application where the identity of the shapes and textures you make are established by a few careful moments. Ask yourself, "Does this have to be accurate, or can I be approximate?"

The broader the guidelines you devise, the more freedom you have to let the paint show itself off.
Have faith, and have fun


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/22/17, The Sky

Painting clouds in class today the emphasis was definitely on soft edges, so we experimented with various ways of keeping the paper wet longer. We focused on keeping track of how wet the brush was compared to the paper.

Clouds look very much like watercolor brushstrokes. The transparency and fluidity of the paint is just right for describing weightless shapes, lit from within.

For homework; Watercolor artists are always looking for an opportunity to let the paint flow. This requires giving up immediate control, of course, but with a subject that has a broad range of acceptable results the odds are good that whatever happens on the paper will be fine.
Skies are a wonderfully forgiving subject. As long as we give the paint lots of room to assert its nature, the results are still likely to be in the believable range. If the marks you make are not what you intended, they may be perfectly lovely just the same. Allow for the possibility that they may not need to be rescued. In fact, for this assignment, please do not correct your mistakes.
Just make lots of sky studies, correcting on subsequent versions. You can invent your own skies or take of from one of these photos or paintings.

Trevor Chamberlain

Keep it simple. Be bold with value and subtle with color. Don't correct!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/16/17, Damp into Wet

Working wet into wet is easier if you think about it as damp into wet. It helps you remember that the relative wetness of the brush and the paper is what you need to keep track of. What's implied is that the brush is usually drier that the paper.
Let's take some time to study this terrific Rex Brandt painting;

Look at the sky first. See the overall light grey wash? If you had seen that color and value as the "common denominator" for the sky, mixed up a generous puddle of it, and selected the biggest brush that would comfortably do the job, you'd be all ready to lay down the wash, right? Before you do, though, remember to ask if there's anything you want to reserve. In this case, there's that white building to paint around. You also need to consider how long you want the sky area to stay wet. How much soft-edged work needs to be done before the wash dries? It looks like there are two colors to apply; the darker grey and the burnt sienna. Can you do the sky wash, the grey clouds and the burnt sienna without washing your brush?
If you're inclined, make a copy of Rex's "Mud Puddle", but I'd like everyone to also interpret this photo;

At first glance, this scene appears to be all soft edges above and all hard edges below, but let's zoom in on the rocks;


See where the first layer colors change from warm brown to cool grey to green? The profile of the rock against the sky is definitely hard, but the mid-value transitions within the shape could be soft. How about the strong dark shapes and lines? What kind of edges do you want?

Would you paint the sky first or the rocks? Why?
How many layers does the rock comprise?

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/16/17 E Pluribus Unum

...from many, one, indeed!

When you're considering a scene as a potential painting subject, remember that most of the information you see does not need to be specifically identifiable in the finished painting.

Take a look at the grey shape behind the cable car in this night scene by Preston Blair. Could there have been more information visible out there than the artist chose to include? This is an urban scene, after all. Chances are the whole city lies below this vignette, but it suited Blair to make a very general statement about it, leaving out everything except a twinkling road.


Now look at the foreground shapes. How many are there? It's hard to say, exactly, since they're all very dark, and seem to merge into one another. The artist took care to separate the red house from the others, but just barely. As we look at the shapes to the left of that house, it becomes obvious that Blair chose to generalize about the similarities between buildings rather that to specify how they were different. He knew that we know enough to recognize the shapes as houses, and that's enough to tell the story.

Squint at this alleyway scene. The heavy shadow seems to invite a general treatment. It is by far the most noticeable feature of the majority of the page, and needs to be stated clearly before any secondary information, like the windows and doors in the shaded areas are included. Imagine an interpretation of the subject that had all the shadow shapes and none of the rectangles that are there within the shadow. Now imagine another version that has all the windows and doors and gutters, eaves, clapboards, etc., but no shadows. Which one would look more like what we see when we squint? 
No further questions. I rest my case. 
For homework, study this scene and paint it to your satisfaction.