Friday, February 24, 2012

Beginning watercolor homework 12/22/12 refining your image

To sort out what is essential and what is optional in your subject, nothing works better than painting it several times. You get to see which bits bring it to life.
Choose a simple still life object. An onion works, or a mango. You can look around the house for something with a wide range of values (the kitchen is a good place to start), and a simple form. Keep the lighting simple. Sidelight works well. A cast shadow helps create three dimensionality.
Begin with a monochrome value study, in which the subject is radically over-simplified. Where do you need more subtlety? More specificity?
Paint the subject a few times, working toward a version that only includes the most telling strokes. After you've painted several versions, try painting one from memory. Please bring all of your studies to class.
Add caption
Have fun.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beginning watercolor homework 2/15/12 Seeing in layers

Here are a couple of images that suggest a series of layers as a means of translating them into watercolor.
Look them over with an eye toward which layers carry the narrative content and the illusions of light, space, and substance. Squinting helps.
Just in terms of total space, the middle values dominate this scene. Are they also responsible for the content?
Here there is more dark than middle value. Would the darks alone tell the story?

If you were making a painting of one of these in layers that progress from light to dark, at which stage you would have to start being careful. 
Many of you brought home the images you were working on in class. Using those or one of the above, make a simple version of the scene by blocking in the lights, laying the middles over them, and, finally, adding the darks. Try limiting your palette to just three colors - one red, one yellow, and one blue, and make all your colors by combining the primaries you have chosen
Have fun

intermediate homework 2/15/12 Solutions

This will be a two week assignment. 

First, identify a problem you have encountered in the process of translating a subject into watercolor. It can be a purely technical issue, like this one:

" I am making a shape on dry paper, and I want to soften part of the edge, but not all of it, so I can't wet the whole area in advance. When I try to pre-wet just the part I want to soften, the edge of the pre-wet  strip shows through. When I soften the edge after it's painted, it blooms into the wash, or it just looks over-worked."

Or, it could be a question of interpretation, such as:

"The gravel bar alongside the river is made up of millions of cobbles, each of which casts a little shadow. This is not meant to be the center of interest of the painting, but it is in the foreground, and all the stones are plainly visible. How can I do them justice without distracting the viewer's eye from the boat?"

Your mission, should you accept it, is to come up with a solution, and save the evidence of your efforts to share. Hopefully, some of these will be ready to discuss by our next class time. 

D. Alanson Spencer                                             Oatman, Arizona

Spencer's strokes are hard edged on one side and perfectly soft on the other.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Intermediate homework 2/8/12 Prioritizing the information: What not to paint

Whether you are working from life or from a photograph, there is usually lots more information visible than you can cram into a painting. How do you decide what to include in your interpretation, and what to leave out?

Some of what appeals to you in the source image belongs in the painting simply because you like it. If something connects you emotionally to the scene, it must be important. You may still want to change it in various ways, but, by all means trust your feelings. 
Most of what you see, though, is not so easy to place on the scale of what is essential and what is optional. This is where it helps tremendously to make sure the painting progresses from the general to the specific.

Generally speaking, there are only a few major shapes in this image: sky, street, 2 cars, big triangular group of buildings on the right, strip of middle value buildings in the background, and the pale, cool skyline in the far distance.  In order to understand where these shapes are in space, I need to make them different enough from each other to stay separate, but similar enough to feel like part of the same scene.

At the early stages of the painting it is not necessary to look more closely, or more specifically at the shapes to begin planning how to meet those general requirements. How would you separate the skyline from the strip of low buildings, for example? You are not trying to do any more than locate the shapes at this point, which can be done without including detail. The skyline could be a flat shape, in a single color, with no texture at all. The nearer buildings would then need only a little color variation and a second layer suggestion of windows and doors, or a slightly wider value range to meet the immediate need.

What about the dark wedge of buildings on the right? Once some of the other shapes have been described you have a basis for deciding how much of what you see in the next area will be needed. Start by identifying the most general aspect of the shape (big, dark, triangular). Would that be enough to get it to do its job? If you are unsure, try it as simple as it can be. If it feels like it needs more information, look for the next most general aspect. Since these buildings are closer, you may expect to see more specific information. In that case, it would help to at least suggest that the shape is made up of several smaller shapes. What would make this simple triangle look more like a collection of individual buildings, without calling too much attention to it? In this photo, there isn't much to draw from. Instead of peering more closely, in the hope of seeing something there that will provide an answer, you can look to your own sense of what makes a building a building. How about vertical strokes, diminishing in size as they step back in space?

The movement from very general to increasingly specific can be made in increments. Thinking minimally like this allows you to make decisions about what does not need to be included. If the job you have set for yourself has clear parameters, it will be easy to know when it is done. Standing back from the picture, then, you can tell whether you want to add another layer of information.

The skyline seemed to need a very subtle second layer, which made it necessary to turn up the contrast in the middle distance. That, in turn, increased the need for drama in the closest buildings. Everything has an effect on everything else!

Please find an image that resolves well into a few shapes. Make a simple version that includes only what needs to be there to tell the story you want to communicate.

Beginning watercolor homework 2/8/12 Monochrome value study

Five Value Monochrome Study

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/2/12 warm/cool


Oaxaca A.M.
Here's an exercise for exploring the concepts we've touched on regarding warm/cool.

Limit your palette to just 2 colors, one distinctly warm (yellow, ochre, gold, rich green gold, cadmium red light, pyrol orange, quin burnt orange...), the other very cool (any blue, violet, perylene green, hunter green, pthalo green...).

Make a version of a picture in which for every shape you decide how warm or cool it should be. The pure form of your warm color would be reserved for the very warmest part of the scene, and the purest form of the cool would only be used for the coolest part. Everything else would involve mixtures of the warm and cool colors. The second warmest shape, for example, would have a little bit of the cool mixed in. got it?

How you choose to make something warm or cool is a big category. At first it may seem arbitrary, but the more practice you have paying attention to it, the more your choices will be informed by patterns you've observed. To get started, look at the image you've chosen to see if there is any content that you automatically think of as either cool or warm. The sky, for example, should be pretty obvious, as would the ocean, or a bare light bulb or fire. You might ask, "What would be the warmest (or coolest) part of this scene"? Then you have something to compare everything else to. If you decided, for example, that a brick wall in sunlight was going to be very warm, then the shadow on the wall would be somewhat cooler. The shadow on a clump of foliage would be even cooler, since the foliage in sunlight is cooler than the brick in sunlight. It's all relative, just like value. When you are deciding where on the temperature scale to place a particular subject, try looking for something a little cooler and something a little warmer than the part you are about to paint. Just as with value, when you notice that this new part should be lighter than THAT, but darker than THIS. So, too, with temperature, it helps to locate your new bit between two parts you're already committed to.
These photos would work for this assignment, but it’s always good to use one of your own, or work from life.

Please post your discoveries by leaving a comment.
Have fun

Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/2/12 soft edges

Greetings painters

Here are a couple of exercises that will, hopefully, shed some light on the variables at work when we put wet paint onto wet paper.

To practice, try this exercise, in which the wash on the paper is constant, but the wetness of the brush varies:

§    Make a large, shiny wash (not dripping wet) of a pale color.
§    Now load a brush with a contrasting color, using lots of paint and very little water, and make a stroke into the initial wash.
§    Next, add a little more water and make another stroke.
§    Keep adding water and making test strokes until you lose control of the edge altogether. When the brush becomes wetter than the paper you will see the second color displacing the first, resulting in a bloom.

A variation on this exercise keeps the wetness of the brush constant and varies the wetness of the paper:

§    Make three 6x6” washes, one just damp, one quite shiny, and one dripping wet.
§    Now load the brush with plenty of pigment and very little water.  Work quickly, so your washes don’t dry. Observe how the brush strokes look on the palette. (you should briefly be able to see the tracks of individual bristles before the stroke flows back together).
§    Make a short stroke in the center of each of your washes. Were the results what you expected?  
      Now make a soft-edged version of a sky, using the photo you selected, the actual sky, or working from your imagination. Keep it simple, and avoid correcting. if you think you've made a mistake, let it be, and make another version.
      Have fun!