Thursday, February 15, 2018

Everybody's Homework The Color of Shadows 2/15/18

If you are at all interested in creating a convincing illusion of light in your paintings then you'll know that shadows are your friend. Here are a couple of Bob Wade's watercolors that feature bold shadows. He makes good use of them not only to describe light, but also to suggest space.

Look at the color temperature of the shadows cast by the statue on the left and the lone pedestrian. See how they grade from cool to warm as they get farther away from the source?

Notice how dark the artist makes those walls in the background. He goes for maximum value contrast where sunlit wall meets shadowed wall, and he keeps a hard edge between them. In the book where I found these Wade talks about wanting an unmistakeable center of interest there. Did your eye go to that dark meets light place first?

Compare the color of the shadow on the ground in the painting above with that in the photo below. Why is there so much warmth in the ground plane in the photo?

Have some fun interpreting these shadow pix. Exaggerate the colors, adjust the values. Use what we practiced in class to make flawless washes.
Pay attention to warmth and coolness. 
The person who makes the most mistakes wins!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/8/18 Light, Middle, Dark

In class we often talk about the realist artist's main job being that of an editor, deciding what is essential and what is optional. Whether we work from a photo or in plein air, there is too much information to cram it all into a painting. Some of the scene, maybe most of it, needs to be left out.

One way of sorting out what stays and what goes is to make a study in which we reduce each of the major shapes to an area of a single value with little or no texture.

In this scene the sky, the mountains and the cactus resolve very nicely into big shapes of light, middle and dark, respectively. Only the ground plain requires simplification. Since it comprises several secondary shapes that vary in value it is tricky to assign it just one. 

Thinking of the illusion of space, is there a way we could simplify the busy territory between the cactus and the mountain that would contribute to a feeling of depth? What if it were lighter than the foreground (cactus), and darker than the background (mountain)?

Try to keep the overall number of values to 5 or fewer. Squinting will help keep it simple. Try it with this barn scene. How dark is the grass compared to the new roof? How about compared to the sky?

Here are a couple more images that are made up of a few shapes that separate from each other due to value differences. Working with one of these or one of your own, make a study that is deliberately over-simplified. Stand back from the finished study and ask yourself, "Where do I want greater subtlety or specificity? Where is an over-simplified treatment sufficient?"

Move on to a proper painting that makes use of this exercise. Remember to "bracket" your values by finding something in the scene that is darker than the shape in question and something that is lighter. The vegetation in the photo below, for example, is darker than the sunlit walls but lighter than the shadows.

Beginning homework 2/8/18 Assessing the role of the darks

In class we looked at the task of seeing what role the darks play in the big picture. A couple of questions that guide the inquiry are, "When in the sequence of layers do the shapes become defined?", and, "Can I be casual or carefree in the layers before the shapes take on their identity?"
The idea is to take advantage of seeing in advance when it is time to make sure the viewer can recognize what they're looking at. That knowledge keeps you from becoming specific prematurely.

We have seen that looking at the dark layer by itself often reveals whether those darks are responsible for defining the content of the painting. Sometimes you can see the role the darks play without even making a quick preliminary study.          

Merely squinting at the scene, above, makes it clear that the darks alone could describe the narrative of this image. Everything is outlined in dark colors! The green, the orange, the grey and even the blue 
could be blocked in very approximately and those darks would still pull the whole scene together.

If the image or scene you are 
interested in painting does not readily reveal the role of the darks, make a study of just the strong darks on white paper. If the study can be easily understood even without any of the light shapes or the middle values, then it must be the darks that are providing the content. If, on the other hand, the darks by themselves leave space and light ambiguous, it must be that the earlier layers play some part in establishing the identity of the shapes. That means you have to be careful at an earlier stage of the process.

Using the image you brought home from class, or one of these attached to this post, assess the role the darks play in telling the story. If you can do that without making a study, good for you. If not, please keep the study to 15 minutes or less. 

After assessing your study, make a painting that takes advantage of what you learned about the role of the darks. When you have a chance to be carefree, let the paint go outside the lines. The goal is UNDERSTANDING, not pretty pictures.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/1/18 Fluid Opportunities

If your paintings proceed from general statements toward specific description you have probably observed that the later layers often serve to clarify the meaning of the broad brushwork of the earlier ones. Seeing this in advance signals an opportunity to be more casual with the light first layers, trusting that the content will be adequately described by the layers that are yet to come. This matters if you like being able to see some passages of fluid, juicy paint in the finished painting.

In class this week we practiced estimating the role of the darks in the process of describing the content of a scene. By painting a quick version of just the darks we could easily see how much of the identity of the shapes was described by the final layer.

In Andrew Wyeth's portrait of his neighbor the lights and middle values are very freely painted. Without the dark hat and coat the wall is entirely abstract. By itself, the white shirt would be meaningless, but in the company of the suspenders and, of course the head, it is a beautifully realized bit of fluid brushwork. Being able to see a couple of layers ahead of himself, Wyeth knew the darks would make that jumble of middle value marks into a perfect shirt! The thrill of seeing how intellect and instinct come together to make art is the attraction that keeps us coming back to watercolor.  

The photos that follow feature various opportunities to let go of some control

This one and the one below could use some soft edges

Trust your instinct!

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/1/18 Soft Edges

The homework this week is easy to describe. It may not be so easy to execute:
Make a quick painting from one of the following photos in which all the edges are soft.

You will need to get the paper wet enough to stay wet long enough to put down the lights, the middle values and the darks. I recommend wetting both sides of the paper, either by working clear water into the fibers with a big brush or by running the paper under a faucet for 20 seconds, or so on each side. You could also soak the sheet in the tub for a few minutes, but don't use hot water. It wreaks havoc on the sizing. Drain off any excess water by holding the paper up by one corner till it stops dripping. It should be uniformly shiny. 
As much as possible, think of the wetness of the paper as your water supply. Stay out of the bucket unless you really need more water. It helps to keep track of how wet the brush is compared to the paper.
As long as the paper remains wet your marks will have soft edges. The thicker the paint is on the brush, the more defined your marks will be, so there will be some variation in how soft the edges are. It is much easier to control the amount of feathering your edges have by adjusting the thickness of the paint than by waiting for the paper to be just the right wetness.

Looking at just the blue strokes in this sketch reveals a range of soft edges at work. The stroke in the top center, for example, has a more defined edge on its left side than on its bottom. Both edges are soft, but one is softer. Look over the sketch to see if there are any edges that you would call hard.

When you are working on the homework exercise, be vigilant regarding hard edges. As soon as you see one, stop painting. Dry the paper thoroughly and re-wet the area you want to work on. Be efficient in re-wetting so you don't disturb paint that is already attached to the paper. 

It's a challenge  to paint an entirely soft-edged watercolor. If you get a few small hard edges that's close enough. The sky sketch, above, for example, would be a reasonable job.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Beginning Watercolor Homework Painting Skies as an Edge Quality Lab

A good first step here would be to make a list of the wetness problems that showed themselves in class yesterday. This works best when you are willing to take responsibility for both the successes and the failures. Saying, "The paper got too dry, so all the marks I made after that had hard edges" sounds like a form of pleading, "not guilty!" The fact is, it's all your job.
Generally speaking, wetness issues involve the relative wetness of the brush compared to the paper. When the paper is wet but the brush is wetter, blooms are likely. When the paper is dry all your strokes will have hard edges.

Nothing in nature looks more like a brushstroke than a cloud, but not every brushstroke looks cloud-like. Re-working your clouds to make them "better" usually accomplishes just the opposite. The sky is such a varied subject almost anything will work, as long as it looks like it happened by itself. Clarity and transparency. Weightlessness and insubstantiality. These are the qualities of a flawless watercolor sky.

For homework, please make as many sky studies as you have time for. Vary the colors, the values, the sizes, the edges. Let some of your shapes go off the page and some float inside the rectangle of paper. Experiment, don't correct. Work on wet paper and dry. Try wetting random portions of the page. Make some so wet the paint flows downhill when you tip the paper.

You can copy these, find your own, paint out the window or invent the cloudscape entirely. Have fun. Bring in everything!

Image result for clouds

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 1/25/18 Designing a Study to Meet Your Needs

Before you begin painting a new subject it's a good idea to check and see if you're really ready. I'm always eager to get started, so even if I remember to ask myself if anything looks tricky I tend to gloss over any uncertainty and dive right in. Fast-forward one hour and there's now another half confident, half hesitant would-be masterpiece to add to the pile. I know I can learn a lot from failures, but it's a shame to spend all that time finding out how not to do it. It makes more sense to first spend ten to twenty minutes making a small study that is designed to answer your specific questions.
Simply articulating your questions often focuses your attention well enough to reveal a good answer without even making a paint and paper study.

When a question remains unanswered see if you can identify which variable is involved. In the picture below there are not very many major shapes, but some have more than enough texture to give me pause. Those light green shapes on either side of the path comprise way too many individual leaves and blades of grass to keep me interested. I'd like to simplify them considerably. "Too many shapes" sounds like a composition problem, but this looks more like it's about specificity. How can I make a more general statement in those areas? I'll go down the list. I've already decided that the COMPOSITION is simple enough. There are not too many big shapes, so moving them around or combining them won't solve anything. It's the tiny shapes within the big ones that look like trouble.

I think the COLOR is fine as it is. Besides, changing the colors won't eliminate any detail.

Bingo! I can make as many blades of grass and leaves as I please. As long as they have soft edges they will feel like part of a single larger shape.

Let's try another image:

Here's one with a definite foreground, middle ground, background composition, which should be fun, except the upper left middleground is trying to push forward into the foreground. What is it about that area that makes it so assertive? Let's zoom in...

Going down the list to find the culprit in the sand dune picture never got to the fourth variable, VALUE . Be sure to include that one when you analyze this scene. 
Start by stating the question you want to answer as simply as possible. Then, see if a possible solution arises from your inquiry. If so, onward you go! If not, go down the list.
If you can picture the changes you want to make, and you're confident that they will solve the problem, you may not need to make an actual study. If you're not sure you've got the answer, get a small piece of paper and try out your idea. Remember, a study is not meant to be frameable. Keep it very simple and quick.

For homework, choose an image, then ask yourself, "What looks tricky?"

Write down your observations in the form of a question that might begin with, "How can I...?", or, "What can I adjust...?"

Write down what your analysis reveals.

Design a study that will provide the answer to any questions that linger.

Paint the study.

The assumption here is that it's OK to deliberately diverge from accuracy. Are you onboard with this? Personally, I think that's our job. There's a reason we call it "art", as in artifice.

Have fun! 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 1/17/18 Looking at the similarities rather than the differences

In class, we began our observation of a fairly complex subject (the jar full of brushes) by looking at it as a single shape. It turned out to be relatively easy to add a bit of color and a few darks to the middle value silhouettes we made and bring forth a decent representation of what could have been quite daunting.

Let's try that same approach with either the image you were using in class or one of the following:

 Paint the overall shape before you start counting individual boards. Chances are you won't need to put them all in.

Squint! See those buildings in the distance on the left? they are trying to be one shape. The lines of parked vehicles are also on the brink of being single shapes.

How many shapes comprise the shady side of the street? Hint: Point at the ceiling and look at your hand.

First, paint the pile, then the logs.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 1/18 Creating an illusion of space

In class we generated a short list of variables that can be adjusted to enhance the sense of one shape being in front of another.

Composition seemed to top the list, since overlapping shapes is such a powerful way to represent one being nearer than another.

Value is a relatively easy variable to adjust in order to create a significant difference between adjacent shapes. Remember that the range of values you use in one shape compared to another suggests its position within the illusory space. If a shape is made of a wide range of darks and lights it appears closer than one made of mostly middle values.

Color differences between shapes are also easy to create, and serve as a very effective way to make a convincing illusion of depth. The prevailing wisdom is that ( relatively) warm colors seem to advance and cool colors recede.

Edge quality may require more technical prowess than the other variables. Hard edges separate shapes while soft edges tend to connect them.

In the photo above, look at the figure on the left. The diagonal shadow above him seems to be perched right on his head. What might you change to make clearer where the figure and the shadow are relative to each other? Remember, it may take more than one variable to do the job.

Here I find the roof to be a distraction. I'd like to diminish its influence on the space. Could it be pushed farther back, or somehow made less assertive?

There are a couple of problems with this photo, above. The shadows on the building to the right are so black they look like holes in the wall, especially the one on top. I also want to untangle the telephone pole from the stuff behind it. While you're at it, could you turn down the dials on the whole group of buildings back beyond that car?

For homework, please take on one of these images and make a study to try out whatever adjustments occur to you. A study is meant to provide the answers to any lingering questions. It is not a painting, and it doesn't have to be a handsome product to do its job well. If your ideas are revealed to be less than satisfactory, then the study has succeeded in providing information that you need.

Have fun