As realist painters we are often attracted to images and scenes that seem far too complicated to translate into watercolor. We look at all that specific information and throw up our hands in surrender.
I'm convinced it's becoming specific prematurely that makes things difficult. If you're painting a forest, don't build it tree by tree. Look for a way to see the whole subject rather than the components. It's easy to get hung up on how this particular tree is different from the adjacent trees. This is what Mary Whyte calls "taking inventory". Instead, try looking for the similarities first. Make general statements, then move toward specificity as needed.
By far the most significant feature of these trees is their color, and, as it happens, this is something they all share. Let's look at the big yellow shape that comprises most of the top half of the image.
Is there a way to paint the shape with an overall wash that can underlie everything that will come later?
Yes, the entire shape can be covered with a rich yellow wash, except a few whites that may be saved here and there. The yellow is a little greener in places, and a little redder elsewhere. It might be good to add a little of those colors (just a little) in a couple of places.
The second most noticeable feature of the yellow shape is the array of middle value strokes that are throughout. If you want some of them to have soft edges start making them while the yellow is still wet.
What proportion of the yellow shape will be given the middle value shadows?
I'd say about 15%
How are the middle value marks distributed throughout the big yellow shape?
Many are concentrated along the bottom edge of the yellow shape. A few are dispersed in the center, and some small marks in the upper area
Is there any pattern to the shapes? What kind of shapes are they? Horizontal? Vertical? Rectilinear? Organic? Hard-edged? Soft? Most of the stories are horizontal.
You can proceed to make the final layer, the darks, by asking the same questions about those skinny, dark vertical lines that are throughout the yellow shape; Proportion, distribution and pattern.
The answers to these questions are all abstract. They apply to form rather than content. Staying abstract may seem risky, since it can feel like there's no guarantee that the finished treatment will add up to a recognizable subject. Think of it as an act of faith, and put it's not your job, anyway to make sure the viewer knows what they're looking at.
By the way, how will the bottom of the painting differ from the top?
Here's another complex subject that would benefit from staying abstract. Squint!
Practice a lot, then see if you can stay abstract all the way to the end of a quick, simple version of one or the other of these scenes.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
The illusion of space in a realist painting is achieved by manipulating a combination of just a few variables. Value, color, wetness and composition can be turned up or down like the dials on an old TV.
Take a look at how Andy Evansen gets the silo in this scene to be located in space relative to the trees and the sheep. On the right side of the silo we can see a distinct edge and a strong value difference between two shapes. On the left side there is some ambiguity about which shape is in front. Halfway up some tree branches merge with the silo, making it unclear which is in front. The artist has allowed this sleight uncertainty by making a soft edge where the shapes meet. He seems to have decided that the combination of variables at work on the right side is sufficient to establish the location of the shapes. He knew could afford to lose the edge a little. Why do you think he wanted to do that?
Now let's look at those sheep. They are the same colors and value as the silo, but they stay distinctly separate. What has Evansen done to establish this separation?
Here are a couple more landscapes to ponder:
Very subtle work! A little bit of white goes a long way.
If you mentally peel away the tree branches you can see that the distant hill and the foliage of the tree are not separated at all, and yet there is no confusion about which feature is closer.
Choose one of the following photos and experiment with getting the shapes to separate and combine. If you decide to try making a proper painting, remember to keep it simple!
If you'd prefer to copy one of the paintings, remember that the spirit of the painting is more important than the specific marks. Empathy rather than accuracy.