Thursday, February 22, 2018

Intermediate Watercolor Homework: Hold on Here, Let Go There

When you feel the urge to depart from accuracy in your paintings, but the prospect of having no guidelines gives you pause, do as the Fauves did. Hold on to value so you can let go of color!

Derain painted his buddy, Matisse in exaggerated colors, but a B/W of the portrait reveals how closely he held to the actual values.

This version of Mt. Hood is familiar and outrageous at the same time. The colors and the values are in the ballpark, which allows the brushstrokes to be more about form than content.

The placement of the shapes in this interpretation of the laguna in Melaque, Mexico are approximate at best, but the colors are true. Holding on to one major aspect of the scene lets us take liberties with another.

Play around with the images that follow. Value is the real heavy hitter. Try holding on to a reasonable interpretation of the relative darkness of the shapes in your first attempts.

Beginning Watercolor Homework: Exaggerate, Simplify, Invent 2/22/18

It is possible to hold on to the essence in a scene by letting go of some of the optional information. Often subtle details can be simplified or eliminated altogether to give emphasis to the essential aspects .

The dramatic sky stands out in this photo, as does the graphic, etching-like texture of the trees and the water. Both are features I wanted to see in a painted version. The overall spooky feeling appealed to me. I wanted to make sure some of that came through (W. B. Yeats is buried about 100 yards away from this spot).

The shapes of the clouds and the water are given emphasis by simplifying them. Complex contours are reduced to hard-edged geometry. The drama is increased by exaggerating value contrast and color temperature. The spooky graveyard mood is definitely there.

Sometimes reducing the complexity of a scene is a worthy goal in itself just for the pleasure of seeing how simply the content can be stated.

The trees in the painting are more symbolic than realistic. They are brushstrokes more than they are trees, which serves to enlist the viewer as a participant in the interpretation.

See what the following images suggest to you. Are there aspects you might exaggerate to enhance a feeling? Are there features you could simplify, or some that you could let go of to make the ones you keep more important?

Have fun!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Beginning Homework The Color of Shadows 5/9/19

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.