Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Abstract watercolor Workshop Notes

Now that I’ve begun actively showing my abstract paintings, I get the feeling everyone has been just waiting for an opportunity to find out what the deal is with that non-objective stuff. People keep asking me how I make my decisions when there is no content to guide me. They wonder where the ideas come from, considering it all seems so arbitrary. I've been asked several times how I know whether what I'm doing is any good. This is just the sort of thing most artists prefer to keep to themselves, but, having been a teacher for almost as long as I’ve been painting, I actually enjoy trying to answer these questions . I am no longer worried about over-analyzing the process, having seen that there is more benefit than loss in understanding more clearly what motivates me.
In that spirit, then, let’s take a look at a few abstract paintings with an emphasis on how the artists chose to compose the page. Most, but not all of these are watercolors. If there’s no name under a picture the artist is unknown to me. Finding good abstract watercolor painters is not easy. If you have any tips, please respond to this posting.

Paul Klee                                                                     Serge Poliakoff

Let's begin by looking at how these two paintings are similar. What do you notice?

Edges? Hard. Overlap? Some, but still flat. Symmetrical? Not quite, but both are dependent on a central vertical axis. Distribution of shapes? Crowded into the middle. Only background shapes touch the frame. Color? Limited palette, lots of neutral. Value? Distinct light, middle and dark. Overall feeling? Both are pretty tidy paintings, even a bit uptight. Both have the feeling of having been drawn first, then colored in.

Now, how are the two different?

Shapes? Colors? Movement?

Here are a couple more to compare:


Gerhard Richter

This computer program has defeated me! I had big
plans, but I'll settle now for simply stacking a bunch of
interesting images.

Cathy Morton Stanion

                               Sam Francis

                                  Dodi Fredericks

Paul Jenkins

                                     Emil Nolde

                                  Georgia O'Keefe

                                            Gerhard  Richter

Richard Diebenkorn

Friday, November 21, 2014

Open Studio

Here's a sample of some recent work :

Goat Vista (Palouse)

High Road 

Quilt (Palouse)

Say What You Will (Palouse)


Sweet Sorrow


City of Refuge

Significant Event (Oaxaca)

Bellows' Woods (Lopez Island)

Filter (Seattle)

New Land (Hawaii)

Important Air   (Palouse)

Un Poco Tarde  (Oaxaca)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

All Classes Homework "What If?"

What if there were no homework assignments this week? I'm pretty sure you'd still paint, right? Let's see what you come up with...

Here are some images that might take what we were doing in class and push it a bit:

Andre Derain

Alexi Von Yawlensky

David Park

Richard Diebenkorn

David Park


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Monday Night and Wednesday Afternoon 11/6/14: Colors in Shadows

Shadow Color

Alley in the New World

We’ve observed that, as a rule, shadows are darker, cooler, andmore neutral than the surface they fall on. This is usually true in nature, but in a painting, of course, you can do whatever you want. Depending on the feeling you are creating in the picture, you may want to make all the shadows ultramarine, for example, or let all the component colors of a neutral show in the shadow, leaving it for the viewer to mix them together.

Experiment with a simple scene, trying out different colors to see how the changes affect the overall feeling. Be subtle. Be outrageous.
Here are some photos and paintings to stir you up. Look for a shadow photo and have some fun with it.

Robert Wade

Deborah Secor        Pastel

Beginning Watercolor Homework; The facial shadow pattern

For the self-portraits we will do in class we will set the lighting so that there is a distinct pattern of light and shadow. A relatively high contrast pattern coming from a single light source does most of the work of describing the features and creating a feeling of three dimensions.
Seeing the shadow pattern as its own layer is a great way to get started in portraiture.

In our set-ups the shadows will be middle value. Here, in these samples, many of the shadows are quite dark, which makes them easy to see as a separate layer. Try copying some of them roughly. Don't fuss too much with the likeness. After a few you may feel that you can invent a face or two simply by painting a pattern of shadows. Give it a try.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Monday Night Homework 10/28/14: Solving problems

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 identify the nature of a problem, then 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.

Beginning Watercolor 10/29/14: Refining the Translation

Painting a new subject can be a steep uphill climb. It usually takes more than one piece of paper before I begin to know what is essential and what is optional. Understanding a subject in terms of washes and strokes requires knowing it intimately –memorizing it, in a way.
This exercise is designed to bring you to the place where you know your subject well enough not to need to even look at it.
Choose a simple subject. I recommend something shiny,  like a persimmon, or a tea kettle, and not too elaborate.
Take all the time you want on the first version. Go ahead and paint LOTS of information. Then paint it again. And again. And so on, until you know what needs to be in the painting and what you can let go of. You're discovering the guidelines that inform your translation. They should be relatively few. Remember the stack of posts in Maurice Logan's painting of the chicken house?

The strokes needed to be horizontal, some soft along the top, and warm middle value. That's about it.

Once your versions become guided mostly by the requirements you've revealed, put the object out of sight, and paint one from memory.

Lars Lerin

Intermediate Homework 10/29/14: Drawing on Instinct

The 5 minute studies (ok, 10 minute) we made in class were meant to reveal that we all have the means already in place for making sound editing decisions without a great deal of analysis. Through practice and by instinct we have become skilled at choosing what belongs in the picture and what we can release. We were also practicing keeping track of both value and color at the same time, again, without much time to think about it.
For homework, let's put this tool to work informing a more leisurely painting.
First, choose a subject that seems a little challenging, and make a very quick study. Keep your palette limited, and resist the temptation to make corrections. This is not meant to be a proper painting. The parts that fail will be just as informative as the terrific bits.
Next, spend some time assessing the study. Where does an extremely simple version tell the story well enough? Where is more subtlety or specificity needed? Taking notes may be helpful.
Now indulge in taking your time (how about a whopping 30 minutes?), and paint an informed rendition.
One of the ways a very quick sketch is useful is as a reminder that the range of what works is usually much wider than we think. If something goes awry, at least consider leaving it as is.

Bill Teitsworth      Bill's Rhubarb
Quick and risky! I don't see any corrections.

That pile of rubble wants to be treated as a single entity. First it is an overall shape. Then it has a shadow pattern over that. Done!

Remember, the quick study is not a painting. It doesn't even matter if you succeed in making clear what the subject matter is. Think of it as an opportunity to stay abstract in your observation all the way to the end. You may find it easier to paint swiftly if you turn the image you use upside down.
Have fun!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Beginning Watercolor Homework 10/22/14 : Limiting your palette

In class we looked at some paintings that had been done with just a few colors. Often, a painting done in a limited palette has an austere look (think of Andrew Wyeth), but a thoughtful selection of no more than three colors can produce a range of combinations that can stand in quite well for the diversity of the real world. Sargent, for example, often worked with only ultramarine, yellow ocher and burnt sienna.

At this point, you might ask, "why bother limiting the palette? What do I stand to gain?" The answer is Harmony! Mood!. When all the strokes and washes in a painting are made from the same few components, the result has an overall cohesiveness that is difficult to achieve by other means.

Choose three colors, one red, one yellow and one blue, and use only those three to make a version of the image you brought home, or of one below. You can plan your choices with an eye toward the most accurate interpretation possible, or you can go with your gut feeling about how your components fit together. Some scenes benefit from a palette that keeps the key low, others welcome a noisier selection.

The "limits"  that a limited palette impose on your painting may tempt you to stretch the array of colors just a little. As we saw, ultramarine and burnt sienna can't make a true purple. There's too much yellow in the burnt sienna, which turns the mixture brown. But if you break out and add a little violet to your painting, it will look out of place in the world that's otherwise all made from only three colors. Let the purple be kind of brown, at least for this exercise, to find out what you can really do within the limits.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Intermediate Homework 10/22/14: What color are the darks?

Socks                                                           Mary Whyte
              The colors in the background of Mary Whyte's gorgeous portrait are clearly related to the palette she has established in the figure. As a result, figure and ground are part of the same world. I would not jump to the conclusion, though, that the darks must be a version of the dominant foreground color. There is plenty of blue in the figure, and the artist could have made the background mostly dark blue instead. The resulting image would have had a very different feeling, but the integration of the parts would still have been strong. If she had chosen to make the background neutral black, however, the figure would have been floating in a context that might as well be outer space.
Make  a study of a high contrast image in which you allow the darks to have a noticeable color. Base the color on the palette you have used elsewhere in the picture rather than the photograph. It's up to you. If you have time, try another version, using a different color as the link to the darks.

Photos often make the large dark areas devoid of information, which we accept as reasonable because it's a photo. But that is not what the real scene looked like. If we were there, we would have been able to see all kinds of variation within that area. In a painting, a big chunk of territory with nothing going on, dark or light, usually feels blank and uninteresting. Look again at Mary Whyte's background. It's all dark, and all soft-edged, but there's a lot happening.
Have fun.