Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Intermediate Homework, 2/20/20 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 Homework 2/20/20 Simplify

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 13, 2020

Beginning Watercolor 2/13/20, E Pluribus Unum

Building a tree by painting all the individual leaves is definitely the hard way to tell the story. With a couple of organic green shapes on the top of a dark vertical stroke you've got a tree. The part we forget is that there is a sympathetic, eager and intelligent audience awaiting the opportunity to meet us halfway. Show them the simple version and rest assured they will know what it is.

                                                                  Andrew Wyeth

Here, as usual, Andrew Wyeth Was thinking in terms of "shape first, then texture, if necessary." The stand of conifers is a solid dark shape. Along the profile edge there is a little bit of texture, just enough to suggest that the entire dark shape is made of that same detail. We, the viewer, will gladly do the job of "seeing" all the needles in the middle of the shape, even though Wyeth didn't paint any.

Below are a couple of images that respond well to seeing in layers. They also benefit from looking for ways to combine shapes to simplify the scene. Give one a try.

Intermediate Watercolor, 2/13/20 Careful or Carefree?

                                                                                   Eugen Chisnecean

Take a look at the boats in the lower right of this painting. The artist has allowed two separate shapes to intersect. What is he up to? It seems as if he'd rather we paid more attention elsewhere on the page. Given the role Chisnecean wants the boats to play in the big picture They have been sufficiently described as is.
There are several other places in the painting where adjacent shapes run together. Look at the buildings in the middle ground. The washes that describe the colors of the walls merge along partly soft edges. But the artist is keeping track of how much the shapes combine. He takes care to use hard edges, value contrast and color to keep the buildings separated enough to describe how the town is one thing made up of many.
The painting is a balancing act. Just where the artist is letting go of control of the movement of the paint, he is assessing how accurately he wants to describe the identity of the shapes.
Starting with a general statement and moving toward specificity, every artist finds their own stopping place, where the balance between accuracy and individual interpretation is realized.


Is this enough information for you?

                                                                   Michael Reardon

How about this one?
How do you know when to stop? Do you want to show the viewer how you created the illusion of space or light, or do you hope to leave them marveling at your skill? Secrets and tricks...

Here are a few similar images. Choose one, identify what looks tricky and practice that. When you're ready, make a simple version in which you allow shapes to merge.

I want to put a mountain in the background!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Intermediate Watercolor 2/6/20, Limited Palette

I've seen a lot of paintings that are troubled by too many colors but very few that require more. There must be something to learn here.

Every once in a while I like to revisit the benefits of a limited palette: Cohesiveness, authority, harmony...Who doesn't want a little of that?

Neutrals made from the colors that are used elsewhere on the page


Limited number of colors


Dominant color


Look for an image that would benefit from a limited palette. Exaggerate, invent, interpret.
Have fun

Beginning Watercolor 2/6/20 Value Studies

Understanding the role value plays in a scene or a photo takes us a long way toward translating the subject into paint on paper. The key to that understanding is seeing the subject as a sequence of layers that progress from light to middle value to dark. With practice, we learn to look through the darks and middle values to see how and where the lights need to be established. Devoting 15 minutes to making a step-by-step monochrome value study is a powerful tool for discovering what does the work in every new subject.

Everyone got a start in class on a monochrome value study. Please finish those for homework, and give one of the photos that follow a try. I am adding a black and white version of a couple of them. Even though that does some of the work for you, there is still real value in building your study layer by layer.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Beginning Watercolor Homework, 1/30/20 Layers: Light, Middle, Dark

So far we have been working from light toward dark in our painting practice, for example, the light cloud shadows go on before the dark ones. The idea is that it is much easier to put a dark on top of a light than vice-versa.
There is another compelling reason for following that progression. Shape by shape, the lights tend to be the most general statement about a subject. As the painting moves from light to middle value to dark, it also progresses from general to specific.

This image looks rather busy at first, but if you are thinking in layers it resolves into a simple step by step interpretation. Imagine if we could peel back the dark layer of trees and grasses. All that  would be left are 3 big, simple shapes, the sky, the hill and the ground. All three are blue, but the hill is the lightest. You could paint the whole page that light blue of the hill.
When the lights were dry you could mix up a moderately darker blue for the sky and the ground and paint everything middle value, except the hill, which would be left light. Are you following this? If it's confusing, read it again. 
At this stage of development the hill, sky and ground would be very  simple shapes, with no texture and nothing specific. 
Time to bring in the darks. I like to keep this final step simple, so I don't overwork the details. I prefer to err on the side of too little information.

Give this image a try. Here are a couple more.

Intermediate Watercolor 1/30/20 Actual Soft Edges

It's one thing to think about where you might use soft edges and another to actually make them. In class yesterdayI saw several situations where the paper had dried before the soft-edged work was done. I think we would all benefit from some practice.

Here are some primarily soft-edged paintings by Seattle artist Dodi Fredericks She is mostly working on a wet sheet of paper with relatively thick paint.

This one and the one below are entirely soft-edged. The paint stays where the artist put it , with just a touch of diffusion.

The paper:
To give this a try, be sure to use 100% cotton paper, 140# or heavier. If you want to make a pencil sketch do that before you get the paper wet.
Soak the paper in the tub for 5 or 10 minutes. let it drip a bit before you lay it on your board. It should be uniformly shiny, so use a big brush to even out the wetness. Look for any air bubbles under the paper and smooth them out with the big brush. Depending on atmospheric conditions the paper will stay wet for at least 15 minutes.

The paint:
The Paint you now apply can be a lot thicker than what you would use on dry paper. Because your paper is very wet you can think of it as your water supply. You are essentially adding water when you bring a relatively dry brush to the wet paper. There is no need to keep dipping the brush in the water bucket. Whenever possible, plan the progression of colors from light to dark so you can just add some pigment to your brush without adding more water. If you feel you have to have a little more water on your brush, be sparing. It doesn't take much to pick up some new pigment. f you need to clean your  brush or switch to a new one, dry it a bit before you load it with paint. If it's too wet you'll get a bloom. You can usually test the wetness of the brush on a spot near the edge of the paper rather than right in the middle.           Read this paragraph again.

You can use Dodi's paintings for inspiration, or work from one of the photos that follow.

David Hibbard

Friday, January 24, 2020

Intermediate Homework 2/22/20 The Easy Way

There's a long-term benefit to finding the easiest way to translate a scene into the language of watercolor. When you start looking for the most efficient route, you end up devising solutions and strategies that display a real economy of means. 'Easy' somehow turns into 'Magical".
The appeal of a very simple interpretation comes from the role the viewer plays in recognizing what he or she is seeing. When the artist presents just the essentials, the viewer supplies all the details.

John Singer Sargent describes the important aspects of the laundry very efficiently. He knew he wanted to show us the drape of the linens, - the weight of them, and how they hang - and he clearly intended to depict the bright sunlight. Once those essential aspects were present, he stopped describing the subject. 

Surely there was more information available, but Sargent knew that this simplification of the light and shadow told the story well enough. By no means has he told us everything he could see. He has treated the collection of linens as a single shape, for example, even though here was plenty of evidence that the individual items were separate from each other. The feeling that the sheets look "real " actually comes from our surprise at learning that this was all we needed to be shown. We - the viewers - are participants in the interpretation. Sargent provides what he sees as the essentials. Anything else, we  project.

The job of deciding what is essential and what is optional is not necessarily all about the "true nature" of the subject. It has more to do with being very clear about what you want to say. One artist's essence will probably not match another's. To choose which elements of your subject you want to display, you need to check your own feelings. The answer, as the cartoon guru says, lies within.

What do you think Edward Hopper wanted to communicate about the cars or the rocks? Was there more he might have added?

If you were getting ready to paint this scene, what would you want to be sure came through? Pick just a couple of aspects. 

How about this courtyard view? What seems essential to you?

Once you have fulfilled your intentions, the rest of the information you see can be left out. Just because you can see it doesn't mean it has to be in the picture! For example, if you wanted to communicate a feeling of serenity in your painting of the courtyard, it probably would not be necessary to make sure the viewer could tell what kind of plants are in the pots.

Before you begin painting, ask yourself if your intentions are clear.

If you use one of your own pictures, please bring the original in for the critique.

Sorry to be late with this. It never posted yesterday

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/22/20 Prolonging the drying time

Yesterday we experienced some rapid drying conditions while we were trying to paint multi-layer skies. The edges of the clouds were hard before we could even get two layers applied, making the shapes look more like baked potatoes than soft clouds. What can we do to keep the paper wet as long as possible? Is there anything we should do if hard edges appear before we're ready?

Let's look at the second question first. If you see hard edges where you intended soft ones, stop painting! It does no good to keep making hard edged marks. Instead, let the painting dry thoroughly and re-wet the area where you want soft edges. Then carry on making the soft clouds. Re-wetting is a powerful tool that takes away the feeling of panic. Just remember the paper must be all the way dry before you lay on a new layer of water. A little practice reveals the techniques and puts you back in charge.

Now, back to the question of prolonging the drying time. More water seems to be the obvious solution, right? What if you wet both sides of the paper? Or let the sheet of paper sit in the sink for a few minutes. You'll probably need to use somewhat thicker paint for the second layer to keep it from feathering too far.
 Here are a few paintings and photos to guide your experiments. Try counting how many layers it would take to paint them.

Image result for clouds

Image result for clouds

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Intermediate Homework 1/15/20 Foreground, Middle Ground, Background

Conventional watercolor wisdom insists that soft edged shapes appear more distant while hard edged ones advance to the foreground. Is that true?

What about color temperature? Do warm colors really come forward and cool ones go back in the illusory space?

Then there are the effects of atmospheric perspective, which compress the value range as we look farther into the distance.

How important is it to always "follow the rules"? How much does the illusion of space depend on making sure the viewer knows what your subject is?

Below is a gorgeous painting by Frank La Lumia that has a deep sense of space. He makes sure there is no confusion about where the shapes are relative to each other. What would happen if the foreground were cooler and the background warmer? How about softening the edges of that shed in the mid-ground and sharpening those of the background mountains? How much can we defy convention without destroying the illusion of space?

                                    Would you be willing to give it a try?

Here's one by David Taylor

Switch the color temperatures, making the reflections warm, for example.
See what happens. Maybe put some strong darks in the distance? Maybe not.

This one was mostly done with a credit card, but held to convention regarding color and value.
Have at it!