Thursday, October 10, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor, 10/10/19 Separating shapes

 Separating Shapes

We have spent some time practicing how to decide which edges in a shape are hard , soft, or both. As a means of separating shapes and creating an illusion of depth this is a skill every realist painter can use. It's not the only one, of course, so let's extend this investigation to include other variables: How do we decide which variables to use to get the major shapes to appear separated by space?


In this painting, by Joyce Hicks, just about every shape has a hard edge, but there is no confusion about where things are in space. Consider, one by one, what she has done with color, value and composition to make it easy to read depth in the scene.


By contrast, Josefia Lemon's landscape comprises almost entirely soft edges, yet she, too, creates a feeling of vast space. Go down the list: Value, color, composition and wetness. What decisions has the artist made to bring about this illusion?
These are deliberate decisions, the result of experience in both the nature of the medium and understanding how we see.


Here's a scene with a real collision of shapes.Some work must be done to simplify the picture and get the shapes to separate. Can any of the shapes be combined to make the space easier to read? Which variables would that involve? What can be done with color to keep the background more distant? How about value? Edges?


How many separate buildings do you see in the background at the end of the street? Could they be combined? How can you keep them separate from the group of buildings in the middle distance, right behind the car? Don't forget color temperature as a spacial tool. As a rule, warms advance and cools retreat.
Make a couple of sketches of one of these photos, or, better yet, find one you'd like to translate into watercolor. Experiment with manipulating variables to separate shapes in space. Keep track of the decisions you made so we can discuss them during critique.
Have fun!

Beginning Watercolor, 10/10/19 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 Value should 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.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor Homework, 10/3/19 Foreground, Middle Ground, Background

When a scene resolves neatly into a foreground, middle ground and background composition it has a ready-made structure that can make it easier to paint.




Thanks to the size of the figures, it's pretty easy to read the space in this picture. Everyone is either big, medium, or small. The shapes do get a little bit tangled to the left of the vendor's cart. I'd consider putting some of that same purple glow the figures on the right have on the woman on the left. It's no sin to change the composition to make it easier to read sometimes.


Here are a few images that could use a little tweaking to make the space more obvious. You can adjust the color, value and edge quality as well as the composition to strengthen the spatial structure.















Beginning Homework 10/3/19 Translating Your Subject into Watercolor



At first glance this watercolor by Lars Lerin looks like it was painted with great attention to detail, but a closer look reveals that the artist used an economy of means to make the goblet so real.
It's not so much that he was careful and thorough, as that he knew what mattered.

Taking care to put the darkest darks and the lightest lights where they work makes it unnecessary to get all the middle value shapes exactly right. Lerin has an eye for the essential, which allows him to be carefree with the optional.

To see so clearly the few parts of a subject that have to be correct is a tremendous help in translating it into washes and strokes. For us mortals, it takes more than one attempt to sort out what matters most. For homework, find a simple object, like an onion, or a teapot. Use an actual object rather than a photo. Set it in a spot where it is lit by a single light source, so the shadows are not too complicated.



 First try painting it in monochrome, using a single color straight from the tube rather than a mixed color. Make sure your choice is inherently dark enough to represent the darkest parts of your subject, like carbazole violet or pthalo green.




Once you have a sense of the relative values, paint a color version, then a couple more. With each study, see if you can let go of more specificity. Pay attention to where the darkest and lightest bits occur. They usually play a more important role than the middle values.
After you've gotten to know what comprises a good representation of your apple/beachball, put the subject back where you found it and paint a version from memory.

Bring in all your studies.
Have fun!



Friday, September 27, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor, 9/26/19 What is Style?

Style is what makes one artist's version of a subject different from another's. How we use color, value, edge quality, composition, and complexity varies from individual to individual.




George Post



Tony Couch

The trees in these two paintings are similar in composition. In both they form a band of green across the top half of the page. But the feeling we get from one version is very different from the other. What have the two artists done differently?
Let's consider one variable at a time, edge quality, for example. Couch lets his trees merge where they meet the ground, making them into a single shape. Post maintains a hard edge between the individual trees, keeping them more separate. As a result, Couch's trees play a supporting role in the scene while post's are the stars of the show.

Try looking at The differences and similarities of color and value

Style emerges from our distinctive use of the medium; How  one painter loads a brush, which brush is selected, where on the handle the artist holds the brush, everything, in other words. You don't need to deliberately seek your own style. It will find you.

Here are two images. Choose one or paint both if you have time. We will see how we approach the subjects in our own way.





























Beginning Homework , 9/19/ 2019 What color is a shadow?

                                         


These shadows are not all the same color, or are they? If you're making a watercolor painting of this array of shapes couldn't you use the same gray  to darken the shadows of the grass and the pavement, and let the local color show through?  Or would you have to make separate colors, one dark green and one dark blue-grey?

Try it both ways and see which technique you prefer.

Below is a painting by John Singer Sargent. Can you tell which method he used?







Here you can see that not only does the color change as the shadow passes over different local colors, the value of the shadow also depends on how dark the local color is. The shadow on the red shingles is darker than the shadow on the white window trim.

Here are some images with sunlight and shadows. You can make a painting from one, or you can just paint patches of local color and the appropriate shadow color. 









Have fun









                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor 9/19/19 Light, Middle, Dark







In terms of  the progression from light to dark, this is a very well-behaved image. You can easily tell what is lighter or darker than what. There really are just 3 values. With a good grip on value, then, perhaps you could play around a bit with color or edge quality.



I see a little more complexity here. It still progresses nicely from light to dark, but with more stops along the way. How few values would you need to keep the feeling of light and space?



Does the tree need to be black? For that matter, does it need to be so tall? What about the range of values in the group of buildings? A bit of adjustment could improve the composition. Limit the palette? Expand the palette!?



Beginning Watercolor, 9/19/19

In class yesterday, we experimented with working wet into wet. We also spent some time mixing neutral colors. The next step is to practice juggling both those balls at the same time.



The horizon in this photo is the only hard edge. All the clouds are soft. If you were painting a version of this scene, therefore, the first step would be to wet the paper.
You may have found yesterday that mixing your colors took quite a while, and by the time you were ready to apply the first layer of paint the paper was dry. If you intend to make soft-edged shapes and you get hard ones, stop painting as soon as you notice. To be sure, you can make a very small mark toward the edge of the paper to see whether the paper is still wet. If that test mark comes out soft, carry on. If it comes out hard-edged, stop painting. You are in charge, not the paper. Remember, you can re-wet the paper once it's thoroughly dry and create just the kind of edges you intend.


I wet my paper on both sides so it would stay wet longer. It helps to think of the wetting as a process of getting some water into the paper, not just on the surface. I go over the sheet lots of times with a BIG brush, in both directions. Put a little extra on the edges. They dry faster than the middle. After the clouds had all been painted the paper was still wet, so I dried it thoroughly so I would get a hard edge on the horizon.





Still soft?



I



Here are a couple more good skies to consider.







About those colors:
My one sentence theory of color mixing goes like this, "To get the color you've got to look like the color you want, add red, yellow or blue".

For this exercise, limit your palette to one each of the primary colors. That is, one red, one yellow, and one blue.
Please bring in all your attempts. Part of what we're practicing is diagnosing what went wrong in a failed study.
Have fun!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Everybody's Homework 6/7/19 What Looks Tricky?

The last homework of the term has traditionally been "do it yourself", where each individual designs their own exercise. This term I want to suggest that you assess a photo for difficulty by asking "What looks tricky?". When you believe you understand the nature of the challenge, practice it until you become confident.
For example, this photo looks clear enough at first, but when I imagine putting in  that tree I get the feeling that it will take over the painting. The buildings and the sky are subtle and soft edged, while the tree is harsh, all black and hard. I'd like to find a way to make it more gentle.




If I make the tree soft maybe it can stay very dark. Or maybe it can stay hard if I make it lighter and greener. Either adjustment will turn down the impact the tree has. Maybe a little of both; adjust the value and the edge quality.

You get the idea.

Here's another image to analyze:


Finding your own image or painting from life gets you extra credit. Feel free to move or remove anything that creates unwanted ambiguity.
Have fun.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Intermediate Watercolor, 5/30/19 Who Needs Gravity?

We took some bold liberties with the decorative complexity of the Gasworks structures yesterday. If you enjoyed that process, perhaps you'll be encouraged to let go even further by looking up John Marin and Lyonel Feininger:



John Marin



John Marin




Lyonel Feininger




Lyonel Feininger




Lyonel Feinger

New territory?

You can use the sketches and studies you made at the park and see what happens when you set the shapes and lines free. 


Meanwhile, I hope everyone is entering something in the Best of Gage show. I've seen plenty of terrific work this term. Let's flood the halls with watercolors!

Beginning Watercolor, 5/30/19 Taking Your Time

When a painter wants to "loosen up" their brushwork, it might seem counter-productive to bring a lot of thoughtfulness into the process, but I am convinced that it is clarity of intention that gives rise to confident paint application.



Charles Reid



Asked if he painted as quickly as his work suggested, Charles Reid replied that,  in fact, he painted slowly. 
"I work very slowly, which may come as a surprise because most people think I paint loosely. That's an illusion. Each stroke counts. Fewer strokes with more thought is better. " 
Reid applies the paint quickly once he had made up his mind, but first he thinks for a long time about what to do next .

In class yesterday there was a palpable quality of attention to edges. We had talked and visualized enough that everyone was tuned in once we started painting. I've selected some images that welcome a variety of soft and hard edges. Think about your intentions and make decisions based on which kind of edges will support them. Take your time.












Please submit a painting to the "Best of Gage". 
I think everyone has gotten an email about the process.
Let's fill the walls with watercolors!