Saturday, February 16, 2019

Everyone's Homework 2/16/19 Easier Than it Looks

I'm convinced that watercolor doesn't have to be as difficult as it seems. I'd like to place more emphasis on how the medium is, in fact, very forgiving. Let's do this together, starting with a shift in the way we talk about our practice. Stay positive. Instead of complaining or putting yourself down, try looking for where your work is growing stronger. Tell us how you've managed to widen the range of what is acceptable.

Above all, stay approximate. Begin with general statements. In the early stages of your paintings it is not necessary for the viewer to know what they're looking at. Put off the moment when you specify what the shapes represent. It comes later than you might think, and sometimes it never comes.

Here are a few photos that rely on the late stage work, that is, the darks and the hard edges, to give meaning to the earlier statements. Look them over, asking where and when the shapes get their definition. This may not be obvious at first. It could take some practice before you can see which passages pull things into place. Have faith! Or just take my word for it.

To push past the habit of defining the shapes prematurely, wet the paper completely first. That will assure that your early stage work is approximate. Even working wet into wet you can get your blocking in to be a little more distinct by staying out of the water bucket. Use thicker paint and a fairly dry brush. The wet paper is your water supply. As it dries, the marks you make will be increasingly distinct.

Many of the shapes in this Jersey City scene are surrounded by dark lines. That fence, for example, involves dark strokes that make even the most casual first stage specific. By the time you get to the darkest darks in the image you will essentially be making outlines. Don't overdo it.

The lightest lights can also provide definition, like those vertical lines sticking up through the roofs. Could they be black?

What role do the darks play in this image?
A version of this scene with only the darkest darks painted onto white paper would quickly provide  an answer to that question.

Trevor Chamberlain

Maestro Chamberlain was content to make a very rough version of a riverside scene. How do you feel about it?  If this were your work, would you want to add a few hard edges or strong darks? Would they be welcome?

Have some fun with these

Friday, February 8, 2019

Beginning Homework 2/8/19 Seeing in layers

This exercise requires that you simplify the myriad subtle value relationships between shapes so that there are only five: White, light grey, middle grey, dark grey and black.  Some rounding up or down will be necessary. We are approximating. It is supposed to feel like an over-simplification. Read the whole post before you start painting
Begin by identifying the major shapes:

Cars, pavement, sky, overpass, nearer building, distant building, mountain. 7or eight shapes. That should be simple enough. If you come up with more than 12 shapes, see if you can find a way to combine ones that are near one another and similar in value. An example might be the mountain and the distant building.

Make a simple pencil sketch just outlining the major shapes. This is to help locate the shapes relative to each other. We don't need to know what they are, just where they are.

 Now, for each shape, assign one of the 5 values (1white, 2 light grey, 3 middle grey, 4 dark grey, 5 black). Write the corresponding numbers in the appropriate shapes.

On your sketch, paint the whole page light grey, except for any whites, which must be reserved.
Do this on 3 more pieces of paper. You'll have 4 identical studies, each one showing the whole page as a light grey wash that, in this case, covers everything except the two white cars. Put one of the studies aside.

Now, when the remaining 3 studies are dry, paint everything middle grey, except the light greys and the whites. Put one of those aside.

When the 2 remaining studies are dry, paint them all dark grey except for the middle grey, the light grey and the whites. Put one of those aside. See where we're going with this?

Now on the last remaining study add the blacks. When you're done, you should have 1 study that shows how the scene looks with only layer number one applied. You'll also have one that shows how the scene looks with two layers, one with three layers and one with 4 layers . When these all go up on the wall we'll have 15 different people's examples of seeing in step-by-step layers. That should make an impact.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/8/19 The Preliminary Drawing

How do you decide how much information to put into the pencil work you do before you start painting?

                                             Skip Lawrence

I think we'd all agree that Skip Lawrence gave his paint plenty of room to flow,  allowing the colors to interact on the page. He could see that as long as he took care of the essentials there would be many opportunities to let go of control and allow the watercolor to do what it does best. Of course, this is easier said than done. How did Lawrence know what had to be done with more care? Some passages are very fluid, with soft edges running wild. Others, though, are hard-edged and quite specific. Let's just look at the buildings for a while.  The artist seems to be most carefree when he is describing the large surfaces, like the main walls of the living quarters. Then, when he comes to the edges of those big shapes he takes care to show us which plane is which, especially when the shapes are silhouetted against the sky. Shape is more important than texture in this painting. Lawrence holds on to accuracy of drawing when he is describing where a vertical wall becomes a slanted roof, but he lets go of of specifics entirely when he gets to the siding on the wall or the shingles on the roof.

Look at the green apparatus in the background of this scene. Is it your job to make sure the pipes and tanks and conveyors bandleaders all connect so that they make sense? I'm more inclined to state as little as needed to just suggest that it's a busy cluster of industrial stuff.
The area around the rail car feels too busy to me. What might Skip Lawrence do?

Here's another image with similarities to that Skip Lawrence painting.

Feel free to crop these images if it helps you decide where you'll be careful and where carefree.

Easy on the texture!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Intermediate Homework 1/31/19 Big changes; Lie, Cheat, and Steal

In the top two images there is some space described between the foreground and background, but what if you wanted more? The usual adjustments might do the trick;
Color: Make the background cooler or the foreground warmer.
Value: Compress the range toward middle value in the back ground, or exaggerate the darks and            
             lights in the foreground.
Wetness: Make the background much softer.
Composition: Can you enhance the illusion of space by rearranging the location of the major shapes?

What if you made all of these changes? In other words, why not maximize the differences between foreground and background? There may be a good reason why not, but let's have a look. Turn the dials all the way!

The image of the lake has a lovely streak of sunlight on the far shore. What might you do to intensify that light?

Some students are uncomfortable exaggerating the colors or the composition of a scene. It may feel like lying, or failing to do justice to the subject, as if we are meant to do the best we possibly can to duplicate reality. I believe our job is to interpret the subject in a way that displays our personal connection to it. Think of the origin of the word "Art", as in "Artifice".

If you work from your own image, please bring a print of it so we can see the changes that you made.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 1/30/19 Monochrome Value Study

Please read this slowly before you start painting.

In the image above, which is darker, the door of the shack or the shadow on the bow of the boat? Where does the sunlit grass fall in the range of dark to light? It can be difficult to tell, especially with color complicating the task. A value scale would make this much easier. Here's how to make a rough but effective version:
Cut a piece of watercolor paper about 8 x 3 inches. With pencil, divide the paper into 10 strips that run across the narrow dimension.
Leave the bottom strip white, and paint the rest of the paper very light gray. Dry the paper.
Leave the strip next to the white one light gray and paint the rest of the paper a little darker.
Continue making layers and leaving consecutive strips until your last layer is a single black strip at the top. Ideally, each step on your scale would be an equal size jump from the previous one, but the scale will still work just fine even if your steps vary in how much they change.

Now use the scale to measure the value of the door, the shadow on the bow, and the grass. Which one is darkest?

For homework, find an image that resolves into just a few major shapes - fewer than 12, let's say. You can use the Cape Cod scene, above, or this one, below, or one of your own.

Make a monochrome value study that deliberately over-simplifies the image. Just shapes, for example, no texture. 
The following is a fairly long excerpt from my book. It describes a process for making a five value (white, light gray, middle gray, dark gray and black) study in monochrome. It may be that the image you select can be nicely simplified down to only three values; white, middle and black. Your first job is to decide which is the appropriate treatment.
Remember, please, that the whole study should take no more than 20 minutes. If it takes longer, you are probably trying too hard to make it a handsome product. It's supposed to be kind of dumb. If it's too simple, it will tell you where you need more subtlety. Don't use the same image I used to illustrate the process.
Then, paint a color version of the image you choose. Limit your palette to one red, one yellow and one blue. Any combinations of these three colors are welcome.

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. You can use the one you brought home from class, 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 Valueshould 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.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 1/26/19 E Pluribus Unum

These rocks look like a challenging subject when you think of them as separate shapes. Let's start by combining all the components into a single shape by emphasizing what they have in common rather than how they are different.

If you ignore the darks and middle values, you can see that the whole wall of stone has a light gray first layer.

If you make your gray from a warm and a cool color you can adjust the initial wash with touches of  those components, creating a soft-edged pattern that begins to suggest facets.

While the initial wash is still wet, add the middle value rust stains and a few soft-edged shadows. Not too many. Better to err on the side of too little information. At this stage of the translation you can shift your attention from the photo to your study, asking whether you have done enough to tell the story rather than if you have duplicated the image.

All that remains are the hard-edged, dark mid-value shadows and the dark, skinny cracks. I have to be especially careful not to overdo these. They are so potent I want to make lots and lots of them, but remember Eliot O'Hara's advice about how many specific little dark marks are enough, "Fewer than half as many as you think". 

It is helpful to avoid surrounding individual rocks with dark outlines or hard edges, even if you see them in the photo. Let the wall continue to be a singular thing.

Make a few studies. When you are confident of your sequence of layers, try putting the rock in context.
Have fun

Beginning Homework 1/25/19 Shape first, then Texture

Take a long look at the image, below. 

What do you see first, texture or shapes?

Look at the green grass, for example. Does it register as a yellow green rectangle before you get lost in the rich variety of lights and darks?

To keep a painted version of the scene simple, it helps to start with the most general statement, in this case, a green rectangle. The texture of the long grass is of secondary importance. It would probably be best to keep all those swirling brushstrokes soft-edged, so they wouldn't get too busy and distracting.

In terms of technique, the overall green wash should be applied nice and wet, so it will stay wet long enough for you to add the texture without getting hard edges. As long as your strokes are soft, you can make lots of them without overworking the area. The soft edges become part of the general statement, where hard edges would stand out as separate entities.

This would be a good passage to practice. You could make a couple of versions of just the grass, out of context. The mountain would also benefit from a wet into wet treatment. In both cases, try thinking of the initial wash as your whole water supply. You can make the second and third layers -  the middle values and the darks - by just adding more pigment to your brush, not more water. It can be hard to remember that you don't have to wash your brush before you darken what is on your brush. It helps to push your water bucket out of reach as soon as that first was has been applied.

Here are a few more images that present opportunities to look for shape first. When you are ready to apply some texture, you can proceed by increments, stopping often to assess whenever you have done enough.

Note that the barn roof shape has soft-edged texture - the rust stains - but it has a hard-edged profile. The same could be true of the dark trees, below.

Use good paper for these studies. The back of a failed painting works jus fine. You can fill a page with various attempts. These are studies, not paintings. 
Have fun

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Intermediate Homework 1/17/19 When to be Careful and When to be Carefree

When you are just beginning a watercolor the usual procedure is to block in the major shapes with the lightest tone that is present. At that stage, it is not necessary to make sure the viewer can tell what the subject matter is. Broad statements about color and value serve as underpainting for the more specific work that is yet to come. They are often nebulous and indistinct. 
In many cases the second layer, too, doesn't describe specific content, nor does it provide a context that might give the viewer at least a clue as to what's what. It can be disheartening to have laid down a couple of layers on your page and still not have much narrative content to show for the effort. Don't give up, though. Chances are your image is one where the shapes don't get their identity until the darks go down. 
With a little practice you will get in the habit of asking when the shapes become recognizable before you begin to paint. If you can see that the darks will do the work of bringing out the meaning of your strokes and washes, this is very good news. It means that you can be casual in the early stages of the painting, giving the paint room to flow. 
The following images are part of a new crop of photos, including some in which the final layer can be counted on to pull the whole painting together. To identify these, imagine what they would look like if you painted only the darkest darks. For homework, please choose one or two that you think will work and paint the pattern of strong darks by itself, just black shapes on white paper. Stand back and see if, in fact, the darks tell the story. If so, dry the study thoroughly and, in a carefree manner block in the middle values and the lights right on top of the darks.
Most likely, what you will see is that this is an image where what is usually done first could be done very loosely.
It might be a good idea to read this again before you start your homework. It asks you to work backwards.


Beginning Homework 1/17/19 Soft Edges

 A hard edge is a hard edge. There's no such thing as a slightly hard edge or an extremely hard edge.  If your paper is dry, the strokes you make will have hard edges.

Soft edges, however, can, indeed be slightly soft or extremely soft. How much the paint on your brush diffuses when it touches the wet paper is your choice

 How can you make edges that are just a little bit soft? Is it possible to make a stroke that is hard on the bottom and soft on top? How do you avoid blooms?

Consider the variables;

The wetness of the paper

The thickness of the paint on the brush

That's it. The entire range of edge quality possibilities is created by adjusting those two variables.

For homework, experiment with the relative wetness of the paper and the brush. You can use the photos and paintings below for your attempts to copy specific edges that interest you. It's not necessary to make complete paintings for this exercise. It would be fine to fill a page with unrelated experiments. Make notes on your practice paper so you will remember how you adjusted the wetness of the paper and the brush.


Have fun!