Thursday, May 31, 2018

Intermediate and Beginning Watercolor 5/31/18 Profound Darks

Making deep, velvety darks is a challenge for many watercolor painters. Part of the problem comes from the unavoidable fact that the paint lightens as it dries. Of course, we all know this will happen, since it always does. If a wash looks dark enough when you first lay it down you can be sure that it will not after it dries. We just have to get into the habit of compensating for that reality by making our washes a little darker than we ultimately want them to be. 

But there are other obstacles not so easily overcome. 
We have all observed that adding another layer of paint makes colors darker. What about making layer after layer until the shape is dark enough? What's wrong with that technique? Unfortunately, multi-layered darks usually look streaky. It's difficult to cover a fairly dark area with additional layers without disturbing the previous ones. Paint that was already attached to the paper gets lifted and repositioned through the movement of the brush, causing uneven saturation. The more layers it takes, the likelier there will be patches and streaks in the finished wash. It may be dark enough, but only at the expense of depth and evenness. 

The reason layering gradually darkens a shape is because with each layer you are adding more pigment to the area. Why not get all the pigment you need in the first layer? For one reason or another, we do not want to acknowledge how much paint it really takes to make darks like Andrew Wyeth, Piet Lap, or Mary Whyte. Every time I have worked with someone struggling to make their darks dark enough they are surprised to see how much paint they have to squeeze out of the tube. Every time.

                                     Stump                   Andrew Wyeth

                                                    Piet Lap

                                         Mary Whyte

It is not easy to make a big enough puddle of very saturated paint, either technically or emotionally. I often see painters struggling to make a small patch of color stretch to cover a big shape, which is a sure recipe for too many brushstrokes. The paint has to be fluid enough for each stroke to merge with the others in the wash without leaving overlap marks.

At the same time, it has to be thick enough to feel truly deep. How can we satisfy these mutually limiting requirements, wet enough to flow, but thick enough to cover? Try starting with the right amount of water. You can measure with the brush you will be using to apply the dark wash. Ask yourself, "How many brushes full will it take to do the job?" Add a little extra so you won't run out. Then begin adding pigment to the puddle of water:


Even more! (Here's where the emotions come into play -  fear, shame, denial!).

The range of what counts as transparent watercolor is wider than most us think. We are shy about making the paint thick enough, almost as if it were impossible, or sinful. Self-imposed limitations like this are tough to even see, let alone transcend. If you are worried about making the paint too dark, do it! Go into that forbidden territory. It's the only way to discover where the real boundaries lie.

 Draw a simple shape on good paper.
 Estimate the quantity of water you need to make a wash that will cover the shape.
Add pigment (not water!) until the value is dark enough and the puddle is as thick as heavy cream.
Apply the paint to cover the shape with an even wash.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Beginning Watercolor 5/24/18 Wet into wet into wet...

In Class yesterday you all began working on images that suggested an approach that involves making more than one layer while the paper is still wet from a preliminary wash. In some cases the whole paper would be wetted. In others, such as the Palouse scene, above, only the hill shape (not the road or the sky) would need to be wet.

After painting the sky in this scene and allowing it to dry,  the hill could be painted with 3 or 4 layers of green, each one darker than the last. The profile of the hill against the sky would have a hard edge. If you applied layer number one of the greens (the lightest) very wet you might have enough time to add some pigment to the brush, paint the mid-value shadows, add some more pigment and paint the trees and bushes and have them all come out with soft edges.  There would be no need to wash the brush between layers, since they are all green. Adding pigment but no more water ensures that the brush is dryer than the paper, thereby precluding any chance of blooms.

The following images feature areas where the wet into wet into wet approach could be used. You can just practice these areas, or complete the whole scene. Remember, whether you wet the page or just the area that will receive soft-edged marks, that wet area is your water supply. If you must wash your brush, be sure to dry it, too. Observe the viscosity of the paint on the palette before trying it out on the painting.

The background across the water could be made to separate better from the foreground trees by adjusting the value and/or the color, and making it all soft-edged.

The road starts out as an overall pale, warm local color, which then gets two more layers while the first one is still wet (shadows and tire tracks).

Intermediate Watercolor 5/24/18 What's left when you let go of texture and 3-dimensionality?

It takes practice to learn to identify which information in a scene is essential and which is optional. Then it takes even more practice to let go of the optional bits. The job is made easier by warming up with a very quick sketch. I like to start work on a new subject with a "five minute painting". 
Putting a radical limit on how long you spend on your first sketch means you haven't got time for details. When you have no choice but to see the scene in very general terms the big shapes emerge as the fundamental structure.
You can often find the "bones" of a scene by looking at the relative values of the shapes.
In the image below there are just a few major shapes. Start with the lights; sky and road. Then the mid-values; the buildings visible under the elevated highway and in the distance, and the darks; the highway and the shadow it casts. If you have time you might add a car or two, and a few windows, but even without any details  the essence of the scene is there.

A large part of letting go of detail or texture involves giving yourself permission to treat subjects approximately. In the image below the white crane presents the familiar problem of reserving specific lights while applying a clear wash. Trying to paint around those skinny white lines without compromising the fluidity of the sky wash is enough to get you reaching for the masking fluid! But with only five minutes, you haven't got time to wait for that stuff to dry. Instead, you can let go of getting the crane to be correct, and simply do the best you can. Relax your standards. It's not a painting, it's an approximation.

If you were painting from the photo below, it would be understandable for you to work to keep the buildings separate from each other by letting the paint dry on one before painting an adjacent shape.
This would be impossible in a very quick sketch. You would have to accept that the buildings would flow into each other. The good news is that you would get to see how the buildings look when you give the paint lots of room to run. If the sketch starts to get dry you could give the buildings more definition with the darkest darks, like the outline of the gable on top of the yellow building and the windows of the white one.

A few more...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beginning Watercolor 5/17/18 How wet is your brush compared to the paper?

When you paint a sky, remember that in the finished painting the sky will not be the only thing on the page. With all the other stuff in place the sky need not be perfect, or even accurate. Try wetting the paper to a sheen, and approximating the shapes and values. The job for today is to find out how forgiving the sky is as a subject. Instead of getting wrapped up in correcting, let it be and see if it was ok after all.
Bring in all your attempts, especially the flops.

Intermediate Watercolor 5/17/18 Before you make a painting...

It's no surprise that painting requires a different kind of observation from most other activities. Of course we all practice thinking about how we might turn a stirring scene into a painting ("What would I do first? Then what? Wet or dry?"), but that, too is not quite the same as how we see when we have brush in hand. This is especially true when we are setting up to paint en plain air.
The various factors that are in play can be very subtle, like sensing when you are getting close to the right moment to stop making branches on a bare tree. Often the qualities that are needed are in opposition to each other, like enthusiasm and patience, or detachment and engagement, making balance the essential ingredient.

In the park yesterday everyone began with a page of quick and simple observations - nothing ambitious - like the warm-up exercises an athlete does before getting involved in a real game. Not much is at stake, no one is keeping score of the stretching we do to get ready to paint a proper painting.

The painting that follows a warm-up period is often relatively well balanced, and also bold. With nothing to lose, we are more likely to push beyond the limitations we usually impose on ourselves. Stretching, indeed.

 Palm fronds look active and graceful, never stiff or precise. Painting them very carefully seems unlikely to lead to a tree that is dancing. 
The way to do justice to a palm tree is revealed in territory you may not have explored yet. Risk is definitely involved, but there is no scorekeeper.
have fun

Friday, May 11, 2018

Intermediate Homework 5/10/18 Similarities first, then differences

Shape first, then texture, if necessary.

You've heard that before, I'm sure. It's part of the approach to simplifying a painting subject that we are practicing all the time, the progression from general statements to specifics. If you are painting the shady side of the street, begin with what all the buildings have in common, the shade, then proceed incrementally with how the buildings are different. First general, then specific.

Similarities first, then differences.

What do these buildings have in common? They are all humble, utilitarian structures, nothing grand or pretentious. They all have dark windows, and dark rooflines.
 I see an opportunity to give much of the control back to the paint in the early stages of painting. and gain a feeling of playfulness. If the green and gray and orange flowed together they would still be rectangles of different colors, just more relaxed. The windows and the rooflines will surely give the buildings sufficient density and clarity,
I would start the buildings by treating them a s a single shape, maybe a pale blue, like the one on the right. Then, while that was still wet I'd bring in the separate colors. I might do something similar with the three cars in front of the brick place.
What about the symmetry? It's unfortunate. How about moving that dark strip of pavement off to one side? Actually, you could do something different with the cars - shove them all off to the other side.

Here are a couple more images that could benefit from seeing how they are alike first, then implying the differences.

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/10 Selecting a Limited Palette

Limiting your palette is a good way to strengthen your color mixing skills. Traditionally, a limited palette comprises one each of the primary colors, but there are no rules. No one paints with all the colors there are, so in that sense every palette is limited. For our purposes now, let's work with just the three primaries. Take your time reading this. Make sure you can see what's being described in your mind's eye before continuing.

You can select colors that give you the most flexibility by trying out the combinations on paper to see if they produce the  secondary and tertiary colors you want. If they don't work, you can either change one of the primaries or you can change your intentions.

Here's an example:
Let's say you thought ultramarine blue and aureolin yellow looked promising, with burnt sienna as the red.

To begin trying out your palette, ask yourself , "What's the bluest thing in the scene?" That's an easy one, the sky is true blue, and you can probably tell just by looking that ultramarine is a fine candidate for  that.

How about the reddest red? The ship on the right looks redder than the lifeboat pod on the ship to the left. Could you make that intense red with your palette? Even straight out of the tube burnt sienna will never be that red. Should you choose a different component? Well, that depends how you feel about the red you would get with burnt sienna. It definitely won't make pure red, but the rusty neutral it does make might be a perfectly good ship color. It's your decision.

The yellowest bit is another easy one. Will your choice of aureolin work for those wildflowers? Definitely.

Next, do the same for the secondary colors. What's the greenest thing in the scene? Can you make it using the components you chose? If so, great. If not, is the green you get when you mix your blue and yellow OK anyway? No? Why not?

The usual problem is that the combination makes too neutral a color. Secondary colors (green, orange and violet) are supposed to be a combination of two of the primaries. If your green is coming out too neutral, like an olive, somehow some red has sneaked into the mix. Aureolin is a greenish yellow, with just a hint of red - not enough to spoil the mixture. Ultramarine, however, is a reddish blue. Together the components may have too much red to make a pure green. Switching the blue for a more intense color (cobalt), or one that tends toward green (pthalo) will solve the problem at hand, but the new color still has to work for all the purples! Practice makes perfect enough.

The alternative is to simply select one red, one yellow and one blue, and let whatever combinations they make stand for green, orange and purple, like this fellow:


In the very neutral context, the subtle hues Wyeth made - like the blue-green of the gutter - look quite colorful enough.

Here are a couple more images. Select the 3 components of your palette according to whichever image you plan to interpret.
Have fun

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Intermediate watercolor 5/3/18 simplifying by combining shapes

When you begin getting to know a new subject, whether it's a plain air scene or a photo, there is always the possibility that some aspects of the image will need to be adjusted. You may want to eliminate some altogether. Much of what you see is optional information. Only a relatively small amount is really essential. In many ways, your main task is editing.

This photo is pretty simple, light on the bottom, dark on top. Two of the figures are in sunlight and the others are in shadow. Still, it could benefit from making that light/dark structure more obvious. I'd like to exaggerate the brightness of the two closest figures. The one on the left could have lighter pants, for example, and the guy behind him could have sunlight on his hat. What about the graffiti? It's just a bit too distracting. Should it be eliminated, or just turned down a little? While we're at it, maybe the doorframe should be a little darker.
The idea is to make it easier for the viewer to get your message. If you want to display the difference between the sunlit and shaded areas, consider making adjustments that clarify that relationship. Of course, this presupposes that your main purpose is clear to you in the first place.

Many of the devises we use as painters involve deliberately simplifying complex aspects of a scene. The tradition of separating a scene into foreground, middle-ground and background, for example, often requires eliminating much of the subtlety in an image.
In the market scene, above, the figures that are near us are quite different from those way in the background, but they are not so clearly separated from the middle-ground shapes. I am inclined to make the three closest women (and their baskets) more similar to each other and less like the five or six people just beyond them. How can I use edge quality, color, value and composition to make the space easier to read?

 What has Joseph Zbukvic done to clarify the foreground, middle-ground and background here? How could you use similar tools to make the following image easier to paint?

Look for a way to group the buildings into three separate levels of depth. That patch of sunlight could help, as could making the most distant buildings into a single shape (look again at the domes and towers in the background of Zbukvic"s painting).
 Pick one of these photos, or use one of your own to practice simplifying by grouping adjacent shapes and adjusting color, value and edges to make them more similar.

Beginning Watercolor 5/3/18 Getting to know a new subject

It was fun painting at Gasworks Park yesterday. So far, it always is. It's a shame that it was time to go just about when I was all warmed up, though. Do you think you could still make use of the time and attention you put in yesterday and paint a couple more versions of that giant collection of rectangles?

We formed guidelines for color and value, remember?
Most of the compositions stuck the structure right in the middle of the page. That aspect of your next attempt might benefit from some thought.
How about edges? Did you use a mix of hard and soft? If all your edges were hard, chances are the paint was dry by the time you got your next color mixed. If so, try making the first layer a lot wetter, so it will stay wet longer. You could also broaden the range of colors that are acceptable, so you can cut down on how long it takes to make something that will work. It's a pretty forgiving subject, after all.

Take chances. It's all an experiment!