Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Intermediate Watercolor 10/18/17 Cosistency/Cohesiveness

Students often tell me they like their preliminary sketches better than their "proper paintings", but when they try to give the paintings the freshness of the sketches, it rarely comes through.
What's that about?
I think a lot of what a sketch has that more carefully produced paintings lack is an overall cohesiveness that comes from consistent brushwork. In the sketch below, there is a convincing feeling of strong sunlight that comes from an accurate reading of the values, but there is something else at work that contributes significantly to the sense that everything on the page comes from the same world. The brushwork all feels swift and uncorrected, as if it didn't matter whether that piece of paper turned out to be a success.
Can you do that on purpose?
On a good day, you can, but it's like the old zen conundrum: If I strive not to strive I am striving.

In the painting below, I shifted gears between layers and ended up with parts of the brushwork feeling very different from each other. Those hard-edged wavelets in the left foreground feel quite separate from the general statements about the water, as if theywere scraps of fabric floating on the surface. Similarly, the trees on the hill in the background have a different feeling from the hill. They are just a bit frantic, while the hill itself is very calm. The color choices almost pull it all together, and a glaze over the trees might help there, but the foreground would still need some first aid.

What do you think about this one? Is it cohesive?

For homework, choose one or more of the photos that follow and make very quick studies, no more than ten or twelve minutes, and don't correct them! Really. If something happens that you hadn't intended, let it be and keep moving on. There are some very useful lessons to be learned about the range of what's acceptable.

Keep it approximate. Ten minutes doesn't give you time to be fussy.

Beginning Watercolor 10/18/17 Limited Palette

The work we did in class creating neutral hues was focused and productive. Let's go a step further and review how to select a palette limited to one red, one yellow and one blue. Here's the way the thinking might go:

Cedar Stump        Tom Hoffmann            2016

How about quinacridone gold, ultramarine blue and permanent red? Could I make that sky with ultramarine? Does it really matter? Today I say yes, it does, so maybe I should go with cobalt. But, then would the darks be dark enough? Probably not. How about pthalo blue?

I like to start by making sure the colors I choose can combine to make a reasonable version of all the colors I see in the scene. "Reasonable" is defined according to the immediate needs of the individual painter. Some days you'll want more accuracy than others.
As usual, I start with a few questions:

What's the bluest thing in the scene? The reddest? Yellowest?
With those places identified I can select my primaries, at least temporarily. Which of the primary colors I have look most like those spots?

Then I want to look at the secondary colors in the scene, and ask, "With the colors I've selected, can I make the oranges, greens and purples?" If so, onward, but if not, I'll have to adjust my palatte. If I can't tell just by looking, I can try some mixtures on a practice sheet.
When I'm confident that my choices will make the colors I need, I want to also check to see if the combo can make a dark enough dark.

Before we go any farther, is anyone asking why we're limiting the colors? I mean, we've got dozens of colors. Why not just use whatever is closest to the color we want, and adjust it a little?

It's all about cohesiveness.

When everything on the page is made of the same three colors, all the shapes resonate with one another. The result is a scene in which everything feels as if it belongs with everything else.

Tom Hoffmann       On Balky Hill        2017

For homework, Choose a palette for one of the photos that follow, and paint the scene. If you'd prefer to copy one of the paintings, by all means go right ahead.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Beginning Watercolor 10/14/17 Wet Into Wet,

or should I say "Damp Into Wet", to remind you that the brush should be drier than the paper when the paint on the paper is wet. If you get the brush wetter than the wet paper, you will cause a bloom to

Here's a landscape by Frank LaLumia that demonstrates working into a wet area with increasingly thick paint. That purple wash was applied good and wet, and LaLumia brought the other colors in while the initial wash was not yet dry.

Trevor Chamberlain makes a gorgeous shadow behind the figure on horseback by starting with an overall wash and bringing in variations on the color while the area was still wet.

If you brought home one of the photos that were selected for their passages that would welcome a wet on wet treatment, pick out those areas and give this approach a try. Feel free to fill the page with various attempts. It's not necessary to paint a proper finished painting.

These will work, too.
Have fun.


Intermediate Watercolor 10/14/17 Shadows: Edges, Value and color

There's a very good way to take the guesswork out of watercolor shadows. When you mix up the local color, make a big patch of it on your practice paper (you do have one, right?). Then, when you think you've got the shadow color and value in the ball park, make a stroke across that patch and observe. Remember, if it looks right when you first lay it over the local color, it's too light. It should be a little too dark. It's always good to get your washes and strokes dark enough on the first try, but it's especially important with shadows. The more you fiddle with that first attempt, the less it looks like a shadow. The variations in saturation, the streaks and overlaps that come from uncertain brushwork read as texture, which is usually not a feature of shadows. In fact, I'd say that the most significant feature of a shadow is its insubstantiality. Like clouds, shadows can be thought of as "one try, take it or leave it" subjects.
Here are a couple of David Taylor's paintings. Notice how sure-handed he is with the shadows. You can tell he didn't go back over them to get them dark enough.

The photos below feature strong shadows. See what you can do to translate them efficiently into watercolor.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Beginning Homework 10/5/17 Making a Monochrome Value Scale

Begin by making a value scale. A strip of 140# watercolor paper about 3" x 8" will work well.

1) Paint the whole strip #9 (the lightest grey), except for a patch left white at one end.

2) Let the strip dry, then paint the whole thing #8, except for a patch of #9 and white.

3) Let it dry, then paint the whole thing #7, except for the patches of #8, #9 and white.

4) Continue getting darker by increments, always leaving a patch of the previous layer. It's OK if the steps are not perfectly even,  as long as each one is darker than the last.

Don't leave white between your patches.

The rest of your homework for this week is posted below.

Beginning Homework 10/5/17 Name That Tune

The wall in sunlight; the shadows; the roof overhang. Light; middle; dark. I can name that tune in three layers. 
Shape by shape, the painted version of the scene comes together as a series of layers. How many layers will it take to paint the door? The sky? The cobblestones?
Wherever possible, try to keep the whole page at a similar degree of completion, rather than bring one shape all the way to realization while the rest are still white paper.

Some parts of this scene require three layers, some only one or two. Keep it simple.

The shadow is the second or third layer of the road, depending how much of the joint lines you want to include. In either case, the shadow is painted on top of the lighter layers, rather than alongside them. If this doesn't make sense, send me an email!

Hmmm. This one might need 5 layers!

For any of these images, it may help to make a monochrome value study first.

Your homework has 2 parts this week. Please see the directions for making a 10 step value scale, above this post.

Intermediate Homework 10/5/17 The Value Range

In the real world, does light have a brightness limit? I'd sincerely like to know, if anyone has the answer ( I know I could look it up on my tie-clip computer, but I have to get this homework posted).
 In the watercolor world the brightest light is the white paper, of course, but there are a few steps you can take to enhance the effect a little.

Contrasting a light area with a relatively strong dark makes the pale "sunlit" streak in this scene look extra bright.

When you surround a white space with a soft-edged, intense warm, like Quinacridone Gold, It glows even without a contrasting dark nearby.

If the lightest area in a painting is not pure white, it is a good idea to consider tinting it with a powerful transparent hue so you can make it very pale and still have a significant amount of color.

Here are a few photos that involve powerful brightness. Have some fun with them, and try to get your darks dark enough on the first try. Feel free to copy the paintings, too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Beginning Homework 9/28/17 The Whole World is Just 3 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.

Please read all that again. It's a little confusing, I'm afraid.

Intermediate Homework 9/28/17

Yet another way to simplify

Casa Cutural, Oaxaca
Try this exercise from life if the weather stays fine: 
Reduce your scene (or photo, if you end up indoors) to three values. Work in monochrome, with a color that can get dark enough to represent black.
Starting with a middle value, paint everything except the very light shapes, which will stay white. You may have to round areas up or down and commit to calling them either white or middle.
Next, paint all the strong darks black.
That’s all. Take note of where you want more subtlety (something between white and middle, for example).
Now expand your palette and paint a picture, using what the study taught you.
Vecinos, Oaxaca
Have fun
Palacia de Carne, Oaxaca

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Beginning Watercolor Homework 9/21/17

Translating an image or a scene into watercolor is easier if you can envision the painting as a series of layers. Using the image you selected at the end of class or one of those below, make a simple study along these lines.

Start by identifying the major shapes that comprise the image. These are the shapes that need to be separated from each other for the pictorial space to be apparent.

This market scene depicts a shallow space, crowded with shapes. It seems important to make clear where the individual components are, relative to each other. I would want it to be obvious that the car is closer than the umbrellas, which, in turn, are closer than the sunlit people. Beyond them are more shapes, subsumed in the deep shade. For each of the major shapes in your scene, draw a simple outline to locate it on the picture plane. Remember, this is meant to be over-simplified. We only need to know where the shapes are, not what they are. You will learn more about what needs to be in the painting and what can be left out if you resist the temptation to make your study a handsome product.    

Next, block in each of the shapes with a first layer. The layers will progress from light to dark, allowing each successive layer to be applied on top of the previous ones. To help see a couple of layers ahead of yourself, try asking, "Is there a way I can paint the entire shape with a wash that will underlie everything that will come later?" In most cases, this will be the lightest tone you see in the shape.  Think of it as a common denominator.

There is another progression that parallels the movement from light to dark. Thinking of the information that is being depicted as starting out very general and becoming more specific, layer by layer, is a good way to keep from putting in more than the viewer needs to be shown. In the deepest shade in the market scene, for example, it is difficult to know exactly what those dim shapes are. Instead of leaning in very close to the picture to try to make them out, lean back, and let them be vague. Give the viewers an opportunity to interpret part of the scene for themselves.

Some parts of the picture will be sufficiently depicted after two layers. others will need three, or maybe four. If you feel the need to use more than 4 layers, it's time to rethink your approach. This is meant to be too simple. It is not a painting, it's a tool for learning how much information is enough. Just because you can see it, doesn't mean it belongs in the picture.

Use three colors, one red, one blue and one yellow, to make all the colors you see.
Have fun!

Is it necessary for the viewer to be able to tell the identity of every shape?
Squint! Light, middle, dark.

How many layers do you need to describe the stairs and the shadow that crosses them?

Intermediate Watercolor Homework 9/21/17 Hard or soft (or both)?

While we're on the subject of edge quality, I have to ask if you think we all see hard and soft edges similarly. Every time we discuss edges I get the feeling some people see hard where others see soft. It may have something to do with whether we see form or content first. Content has a way of influencing what we think we see. I always see soft edges in the sky, for example, even when the majority disagrees. Is that because I think of clouds as ethereal elements of the landscape? Could be. However you look at it, it's a slippery subject.
One thing I'm sure of, we can all use some practice deciding what kind of edge is appropriate, and then more practice making that edge where we want it. Technique and awareness!

Regarding edges, how important is it to be accurate? Does this landscape depend on making the clouds soft and the branches hard for the feeling it displays? What if some of the clouds were hard-edged? What about that hard line at the crest of the hill between the tree in the middle of everything and the left side of the frame? If that were soft, would the tree need to be softened, too? How about the foreground? A lot of painters believe that the foreground needs to be in focus because it's close to us. What do you think?

This fine old homestead makes a beautiful box full of light. What if you let some of that light leak out around the edges of the windows? It might be an evocative addition to the emotional content. Or, it might just be a mess. Will someone give that a try and pin it up next week?

For homework, give some thought to how these images might be adjusted by changing the edge quality of some of the shapes. Keep track of what you were curious about, and be prepared to tell us what you changed and what you learned.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Beginning Homework 9/14/17 The Illusion of Space


To see the illusion of depth in this photo it is necessary to understand which shapes are in front of which. Take a look at that diagonal pipe, for example. See where it disappears behind the dark pile of sawdust? Just before it does, it crosses in front of blue hill, revealing that it is situated between those two shapes. Overall, the composition of shapes in this photo relies heavily on overlap to show us where the shapes are located in space. In fact, with the exception of the puddle, every shape in the scene overlaps or is overlapped by at least one other shape.

If the scene you've chosen to paint seems disappointingly flat, it may be that the shapes need to be moved around a bit, or another shape needs to be introduced.
In the photo, below, most of the shapes do not overlap each other, making the illusion of depth somewhat ambiguous.

If the dark overhang above the opening had a post holding it up that crossed in front of the building we would be able to see where all the shapes are relative to each other.

It's a good idea to tend to composition first, since the shapes are easier to rearrange when you haven't begun putting paint on the paper, but the other variables have a role to play, too. Let's look again at the sawmill image. The blue mountain disappears behind the tank and then reappears on the other side. That double overlap makes clear which shape is closer to us, but the color of the mountain also contributes to the feeling that there is considerable space between the two shapes. 

In class, we observed how edge quality could be adjusted to make the space more or less obvious. In the painting below, notice how the edges of the yellow trees go in and out of focus. The color and value differences between those shapes and the dark background are potent enough that the foreground will still separate from the background even if some of the edge that sets them apart is softened. The advantage of deliberately losing some of that edge is that the yellow trees look more integrated in the scene when they are not completely surrounded by a hard edge.

Using the image you were working with in class or one of the illustrations in this post to explore how adjusting the variables (composition, value, color ,edge quality) affects the illusion of space. You can fill a page with experiments in the form of unrelated vignettes. The idea is that you are trying out possibilities as a learning process that precedes making a proper painting. For our purposes, the learning is the goal, so it's fine if you never actually paint the whole scene. If you have time, by all means go ahead and put it all together in a painting, but, in either case, bring whatever you do to share with the class. And, have fun.