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.

Monday Night Homework 10/21/14 : The Important Thing

Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, also wrote a wonderful book called The Important Thing, in which she talks about familiar things, listing their features. Snow, for example, is cold, and it falls from the sky, and tickles your nose when you tilt your head back to watch it, but the important thing about snow is that it is white.
We are doing something similar when we paint. The many features of our subject present themselves, all jostling one another for the spotlight. To know better what needs to be in the picture and what is optional, it helps to decide what the important thing is to you.
Find an image that appeals to you and take time to identify what you want to focus on in the scene. This is not necessarily a "focal point", or a center of interest. It may be a feeling, rather than a particular spot on the page. Keep it in mind when you make decisions about palette, cropping, how the page is oriented, which shapes need to be separated and which combined...everything, in other words.
When we put them up on the wall next week, we can try guessing what the important thing was to you.
Have fun

One painter might see the opportunity to have some fun with patterns in this photo, while another might be more interested in the way the color of the shadows changes as they pass over different surfaces.

Would you want to let the darks in this scene merge into one shape, or would you prefer to point out the differences between them? It depends on what your main purpose is.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

10/14/14 Beginning Watercolor Homework: Revealing The Narrative Power of the Darks

Working with watercolor often involves beginning with the lights and progressing toward the darks, which presents the challenge of needing to look past the darks to see what the subject would look like without them. Painting a quick study of the darks alone can help overcome this obstacle.

The bold graphic image of just the darks on a white background is quite memorable. Having isolated the darks once, it will be easier to peel them away from the lights and mid-values in your imagination, so that the first layers of a painting become clear.

You can also use the black/white study to discover the role the final layer plays in providing the narrative content of the scene. If the darks are revealed as the main source of the story the painting tells, you know you can be more casual with the earlier layers.

For homework, look for an image with strong darks and lights, like one of these, below, and then make a small, quick, darks-only study. 

In each of these, it would be necessary to round the mid-values up or down. As a general guideline, if a shape is closer to white than to mid-value, make it white. If it's closer to black than mid-value, make it black. The study will reveal where greater subtlety is needed.

When you have finished the study, please do one of the following:

1)  Dry it thoroughly. Now quickly and loosely, paint the lights and mid-values right over the darks. Be efficient with your brushwork. If you go back and forth with your brush too much the darks will run.


If you've been having trouble making the first layers carefree, even when you've seen that it's the darks that will provide the definition, the exercise below ensures that your lights and middles will not be overly controlled.

2) On a separate piece of paper, make a study of the lights and middle values with no hard edges. Really. Wet the paper well (not dripping, but shiny), and paint quickly. When you intend to save whites, make the area you leave unpainted extra large, so the paint will not swallow it up as it diffuses.

When the wet on wet study is dry, apply the darks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

10/13/2014 Monday Night and Wednesday Afternoon Homework: 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!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Methow Valley Report

The Methow Valley is surely most beautiful this time of year (though winter comes close). Even after the worst fire season on record the valley seems richer in color and clear air than I've ever seen it. Here's Pearrygin Lake in the late afternoon:

That's what I'm talking about
Painting at the beaver pond at Chickadee trailhead:

The burn site we visited turned out to be the most inspiring painting location of all, partly because of how well it resolved into light, middle and dark layers, but mostly, I believe, because it encouraged a dramatic, emotional interpretation. I'd get all sappy if I start listing the complex feelings we all had there. I'll just say it made better painters of us, at least for a while.

I strongly urge you to get over there before the snow arrives, so you can take the North Cascades highway. I came down from Washington Pass into a vast bowl of moonlight that made it necessary to pull over. 
The local people all have astonishing stories to tell about the fires and flooding - tales of courageous neighbors, resignation and relief, a 25,000 foot cloud of smoke, the return of the green in the forest.
They could use your tourist dollars, right about now. 
These two paintings are for sale to benefit the recovery process. Please write to me at tom@hoffmannwatercolors if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Morning Homework, 10/8/14 : Layers

If you missed class today you'll need to find an image that resolves nicely into a series of layers. In the studio, we indulged ourselves by selecting images that look really easy. Hey, why not?

Start with a simple outlining of the major shapes, the ones that need to appear separated in order to see the illusion of space. Adjust their positions as needed to correct any unfortunate convergences.

Block in the first layer for all the shapes before moving on to the second, unless the scene requires more than one layer to be applied while the first one is still wet.

Try to tell the whole story in 4 layers, or fewer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Monday night and Wednesday afternoon Homework 10/6/ 2014 Master Copies

Here are several  copy-worthy watercolors. if you see one you'd like to try, remember, it is the spirit of the painting I'd like you to copy. Ideally, you'll make your strokes in the same manner the artist did at the time. If it looks like the painter made a swift stroke, you make a swift stroke, too. It will not come out looking exactly like the original, but it will be similar in feeling, whereas a very carefully crafted stroke that precisely duplicates the curvature and length and width of the original would probably be too constrained to feel right.
Take some time to imagine how the painting looked before the darks were applied. How about before the middle values went down? Practice anything that looks puzzling until you have a better understanding of the techniques involved.

Rex Brandt
Tom Hoffmann

Hardie Gramatky

Hardie Gramatky

Friday, October 3, 2014

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 10/1/2014: Warm/Cool


Here's an exercise for exploring the concepts we've touched on regarding  the relative warmth or coolness of the shapes in a scene.

El Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Limit your palette to just 2 colors, straight from the tube, not mixed, one distinctly warm (Red, 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? Maybe read that again, more slowly...

Mercado Benito Juarez, Oaxaca

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 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. Similarly, 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.

For homework, come with me to Oaxaca this spring.

Please post your discoveries by leaving a comment.
Have fun

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

10/1/2014 Beginning Watercolor Homework: Seeing in layers

To extend our classwork into the realm of understanding a painting subject as a series of layers, I'd like everyone to make a demonstration piece comprising three separate sheets of paper. One will show only what the first layer looks like (the pale under painting of the major shapes. Then another that shows the first and second (lights plus middle values), and, finally, one that shows three layers (light, middle and dark).
The process breaks down like this:

Start by identifying the major shapes in the image. There should be no more that 10 or 12.
Make a simple drawing that locates the shapes.
Paint in the first layer - the lights - of each shape, keeping the treatment as simple as possible (no texture or detail).
Now make two more first layer pages, so that you have 3 more or less identical sheets.
Put the second layer - middle value - on top of the first layer on two of your 3 sheets.
Finally, apply the 3rd layer - the darks - on top of one of the second layers.

When the process is finished, you should have one sheet that just has the first layer, one that has first and second layers, and one that has three layers. Please bring all three, plus the photo in to class.

In case you missed class, here are a couple of simple images that will resolve nicely into three layers. If you think there should be a fourth layer of super darks, put them on top of the three layer treatment.