Thursday, May 28, 2020

May 28th, 2020 Beginning Homework, Wetter Wash, Thicker Strokes

Read this whole post before you begin painting, please.

This painting is made up of a sky and a field of sagebrush. Each was made by applying a  colored wash with some secondary strokes of texture, which were laid down while the wash was still wet.   We are going to try two different techniques for making the wash and stroke areas with all soft edges.

Starting with the sky, make a large puddle of a pale, warm neutral, and lay it over the entire top half of the page. Add some pigment to make a light grey, then paint the paler clouds with a few quick strokes. Add some more pigment to your brush to make the darker clouds.  Neither of these layers require more water. You already applied the water when you laid down the warm wash.

At this point, everything is soft-edged, right? If not, leave the top half alone and move on to the sagebrush.

Again, make a puddle of pale color for the initial wash. Lay it down over the entire field. Then, mix up the green for the 3 patches of sage. Add a tiny bit of red-orange to turn the green to brown and paint the middle of the field brown. Quickly add more pigment to the brown to make a darker brown for the branches of all the bushes, If the paper is dry, go on to the blue mountains. If you forgot and dipped your brush into the water bucket, remember to dry it.

OK, that's the approach called "working with the drying time of the paper." Now we'll practice re-wetting. This is the "no panic" approach. You'll need to stay aware of how dry the paper is, but you can take all the time you need.

Proceed just as you did in the first study, always watching for hard edges. When you see them, stop painting! All you have to do now is dry the paper thoroughly. Then it's ready for re-wetting. Apply a layer of clean water over the area where you want soft edges. Be efficient in your brushwork, not going back and forth and back and forth. That would cause the under layer to dissolve and move around. creating streaks and overlapping. Now apply the strokes of color while the paper is wet again
You should end up with two copy/studies, one from each approach. You've probably seen that you can combine the two techniques. You'll soon have a good sense of how fast the paint is drying in the current atmospheric conditions. If you're working outside and can't find the cordless hair dryer (because no one has invented it yet!), what you can do is work on two paintings at once, letting one dry naturally while you work on the other,

Intermediate Homework May 28th 2020 Lost Edges

For a variety of reasons, artists often choose to deliberately obscure portions of a painting, creating a so called "lost edge". It's an interesting term, since the artist usually knows exactly where that edge has gone. 

                                                                   Mary Whyte

In this dynamic portrait the artist has allowed the outline of the figure to dissolve along the shoulder blade. Compare the edge of the hood with the figure's right shoulder. Similarly, the right hand is perfectly clear and solid, while the left melts into soft edges that suggest another hand in action without specifying its activity. The feeling of movement is emphasized by losing portions of the hard edge profile. The overall feeling in the painting would be quite different if the entire figure were outlined with an unbroken hard edge.

Here's another beauty by Mary Whyte. Look where the shadow of the subject's hat comes across the bridge of his nose.

The brim of his hat, the shadow it casts and the subject's right eye all merge into a patch of similar value. Would it be a stretch to say that Whyte wants to display the man's connection to his work and his home, so she lets them share a shadow and an identity? 

Charles Reid

Charles Reid is another painter who makes use of lost edges to connect his subject to its background. For some reason I can''t discern, here he has selected purple spots as candidates for deliberate diffusion. 

Charles Reid

Reid also liked to allow parts of a figure's profile to dissolve. The right shoulder and the left elbow in this sketch have nothing but the initial pencil lines to separate the figure from the ground. It may be that Reid felt the left arm needed a little bit of shadow to keep it from disappearing altogether.

How does one decide where and when to lose edges? Some like to give the hypothetical viewer a job to do, so they look for places where they can "afford" some ambiguity. A sensitive viewer enjoys filling in the blanks, or at least a few of them. It can be overdone, of course.

Here are a couple of photos that may provide opportunities for experimenting with lost edges. Your own photos  will be fine, too. Try softening a bit here and there.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Beginning Homework 5/21/2020, Let Value do the Work

Here are a few images that rely heavily on the darkest darks to carry the narrative content of the scene. They have been desaturated to make it easy to make a monochrome version. Take all the time you need. When the monochrome is finished, dry it thoroughly. Now, paint with colors right over the monochrome as loosely and as sloppily as you please. Here's a chance to paint outside the lines! It's best not to stroke your brushes back and forth too much. That could cause the darks to run and get streaky. The idea is to see if you can depend on the darks to tell the story, and to get some wet and juicy edges that remain visible when the painting is done.

Intermediate Watercolor May 21, 2020 Mixed Edges and Good Intentions

Here's a scenario that may sound familiar;

Wet the paper.

Block in the pale major shapes (plenty of soft edges).

 Prepare and apply middle value shapes. The paper is now almost dry. Most of the soft edges from the first layer get covered by mid-values and darks.

Voila! Another painting with all hard edges.

What can you do? You meant to have a mix of hard and soft, but the paper got dry.

Here are a couple of strategies;

Many images provide strong darks that give definition to very fluid first and second layers.

Rex Brandt

As is often the case, the soft edges in the sky remain visible in the finished painting, but the artist has anticipated opportunities to use strong darks to allow other areas to remain soft. Look at the white building. When he painted the sky, Brandt left part of the building shape white. The edges of the building diffused slightly into the sky, but the hard edged dark details that came after the paper dried give it enough definition to make the whole shape feel solid. The shadow side of the building is also soft edged. When do you think Brand painted that?

 Trevor Chamberlain

If we could peel back the darks in Trevor Chamberlain's cityscape we would see that they were floating in a fluid matrix of grey and gold. Chamberlain left a series of light rectangles dry to represent rooftops while he painted the overall wash warm and cool and soft edged. He had faith in the dark trees and shadows to make that complex wash meaningful.

River Arno, detail

Here are some photos that have darks strong enough to tell the story all by themselves. You can be very loose with the lights and still pull the painting together. Have faith, and take chances. Feel free to copy one of the paintings if you want to take a break from photos.
I'd like to stay on this subject a while. Next week, rewetting.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Intermediate Watercolor, 5/14/20, Five Minutes (A golden oldie)

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...

Beginning Watercolor 5/14/20 The Monochrome Value Study

Please read this slowly before you start painting.

In the image above, which is darker, the door of the shack or the shadow on the bow of the boat? Where does the sunlit grass fall in the range of dark to light? It can be difficult to tell, especially with color complicating the task. A value scale would make this much easier. Here's how to make a rough but effective version:
Cut a piece of watercolor paper about 8 x 3 inches. With pencil, divide the paper into 10 strips that run across the narrow dimension.
Leave the bottom strip white, and paint the rest of the paper very light gray. Dry the paper.
Leave the strip next to the white one light gray and paint the rest of the paper a little darker.
Continue making layers and leaving consecutive strips until your last layer is a single black strip at the top. Ideally, each step on your scale would be an equal size jump from the previous one, but the scale will still work just fine even if your steps vary in how much they change.

Now use the scale to measure the value of the door, the shadow on the bow, and the grass. Which one is darkest?

For homework, find an image that resolves into just a few major shapes - fewer than 12, let's say. You can use the Cape Cod scene, above, or one of these below, or one of your own. 

Make a monochrome value study that deliberately over-simplifies the image. Just shapes, for example, no texture. 
The following is a fairly long excerpt from my book. You may want to read it more than once. It describes a process for making a five value (white, light gray, middle gray, dark gray and black) study in monochrome. It may be that the image you select can be nicely simplified down to only three values; white, middle and black. Your first job is to decide which is the appropriate treatment.
Remember, please, that the whole study should take no more than 20 minutes. If it takes longer, you are probably trying too hard to make it a handsome product. It's supposed to be kind of dumb. If it's too simple, it will tell you where you need more subtlety.
Then, paint a color version of the image you choose. Limit your palette to one red, one yellow and one blue. Any combinations of these three colors are welcome.

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 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 Value should 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, May 7, 2020

Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/7/20 Light, Middle, Dark

Seeing your painting subject as a series of layers is a very helpful approach. The transparency of the medium suggests that you proceed from light to dark, and most watercolor painters tend to follow this logical path. It is easier to add paint, after all, than to remove it. Some very good painters begin with the darks, but for our purposes now, let's see what happens as we begin with the lights,  continue with the middle values and finally apply the darks.

Here are a couple of images that resolve neatly into light, middle and dark layers. There are often multiple layers of the middle values, as is the case here. Notice the clouds have a horizontal band of shadow that is darker than the overall cloud shape. The water fits into this category, too. It is darker than the cloud, but definitely not as dark as the trees.

If you are feeling brave, try to match the edges you see in the photo. Otherwise, let the paint dry between layers.

Which is lighter, the boat or the clouds? Squint hard to see which shape emerges. When you get to the darkest darks, let the shapes have some color identity. Just because it's dark doesn't mean it has to be black.

You can desaturate an image to better read the values.

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/7/20 Simplify by staying abstract

When faced with a daunting scene or image it is understandable to fall back on accuracy. Instead of looking for a common feature in the rock pile, we begin by making each rock separate from its neighbors. It's like painting the forest tree by tree. Before you know it, you are committed to a degree of specificity that is not much fun.

Finding a way of simplifying the scene is how we keep the process enjoyable and the product expressive. Think about the subject as a singular noun, in this case a pile. Rather than starting with rock number one, make a general statement about the whole pile. It's too early in the painting process to get specific. Is there a common denominator you could start with? How about color? Generally speaking, the pile is a pale, warm neutral, with a few rectangles left white.
Then look for the next most general statement. How about the shadow pattern? What percentage of the pile is in shadow? How are the shadow shapes distributed? What kind of shapes are they? Organic? Geometric? What kind of edges do they call for? How many marks are enough?  (O'Hara says, "Fewer than half as many as you think you need").

The answers to questions like these are abstract in nature. They refer to form, not content. Following abstract guidelines requires faith that the identity of the marks and shapes you make will be recognizable to the viewer. Keep in mind that the audience for your work is actually you. What kind of paintings do you like to look at? Paint those. That's what I mean when I say it's not your job to make sure the viewer knows what they're looking at.

Accuracy is best spent on getting the values right. Then the rest is carefree.