Friday, February 29, 2008

Week 5: “Winter Morning” – Acrylic
For pictures:

We started out finishing the trees we put in last time by putting the snow on them. We did this like we have will all our other snow by under painting the snow with a cool blue color, a mixture of blue, purple and white mostly to the blue side.

When you are putting this color on your trees, try to think in terms of shapes. If you can look at a pine tree or have some kind of reference material to study, note the shapes of the limbs of the trees, they are very fan-like so when the snow piles up on them the snow will also be very fan shaped when you lay it down. Remember to go beyond the ends of your branches with your snow. Many of you were starting a bit back from the end and while it is okay in some areas, to give the look of new fallen snow, the branches should look well covered. We also scumbled some of this color around the base of the pines as shadows between the trees.

While we let the snow dry on our pine trees, we started putting the bark on the aspen trees. All you really need to do to mix a color for the bark is to add a touch more white and a touch of sienna to slightly grey the color you have been using. For the larger trees you should be using either a sable or bristle flat brush (bristle will work best) at least a ¼ inch to ½ inch which ever works best on your size canvas. This will be a dry brush type technique though you and use a bit more paint; the trick will be in your brush stroke.

If you don’t know what a birch or aspen tree looks like, they have very beautiful white bark that has wonderful dark marks on it where the bark has split, it gives them a very unique look. To get this look on your trees, the original under painting for your trees is important, it needed to be on the dark side especially for the trees in the foreground. We can go back and add dark if we need to, but the more you have to fiddle with something the more over painted it will look so we want to keep this simple.

With you flat brush and using the whole chiseled edge of the brush on the canvas, put it on one side of the tree’s trunk, then with a quick “U” shaped stroke, drag the brush across the trunk. If the paint breaks and leaves some dark streaks, you did it exactly right! Be very sure to use a “U” shape when painting these trees and not a flat stroke. That little “U” shape will tell the viewer that the trunk is round and not flat, it is very important to remember what you are painting –round tree trunk – and paint it accordingly. Do this from both sides of the trunks, it maybe be harder going one direction than the other so you might want to practice on a piece of paper, your palette or scrap canvas before hand.

For the smaller or more distant trees, you might want to use your liner or other small brush for the smaller trees. They are in the distance so we don’t need to worry about too much detail, because we are going to have detail in the foreground trees, the viewer will assume that there is detail in the distant trees. Remember, we are illusionists when we paint and often times we are just tricking the eye.

Once you have put the first layer of bark on your aspen, let it dry and go back to your pine trees to put final highlights on the snow. Use the same brush as you used before and mix a highlight color using mostly white and the smallest touch of red as you can get. We only want to slightly tint this color so it will look very white when next to the previous color but it should not be pure white, we will only use that for our very final highlights.

Always keep in mind the direction of the sun and the way the light travels. One problem I saw many of your have was you went over everything with this highlight color, not only did you loose the dimension of your trees; you also lost the separation of your trees. The sun is coming from the left, which means that you will be highlighting the left sides of the trees but not all the trees will be highlighted all the way down, the ones that are behind the front trees may only have their tops in the sunlight, the rest will be in shadow especially near the bottom of the trees. The one tree I have in the front of my group and the one behind it to the left have highlights all the way to the ground because they are in direct sun, the rest only have their tops and maybe a few other top branches highlighted, some may have no highlights at all. This gives the illusion of shadows and depth in this group of trees, so don’t over do this step.

This highlight will go mostly on the very ends of the branches the parts that will be in the sun light, however, be aware of creating a line of demarcation between the shadows and the light on your trees, something I also saw a lot of. Because branches are of different lengths, some of the branches in the shadow side of the tree, especially near the light side, may be long enough to catch some of the bright highlight. Nature thrives on chaos theory, so as much as we humans would like things to be black and white/cut and dry, Nature not only throws in shades of grey, but the whole spectrum into the mix and we as artist need to embrace the chaos. Put a few dabs of the highlight color on to a few of the shadow branches so you don’t have a line down your tree visually cutting it in half.

While those highlights are drying, you can sketch in where your fences and the ruts in the road will be with your charcoal. The left side fence will be the easiest to draw because it has the simplest perspective, what you have to keep in mind here is size. The first post closest to you must appear tall enough to be a functional fence, it you make it too small it will look like a garden border, too tall and everything else will look out of proportion. Think of a fence about 6 – 8 feet tall and you should be okay and use your charcoal to sketch it in, if it looks too tall or in the wrong place, use a wet paper towel and wipe it off, a pencil will not work and can leave marks in your paint.

Rule of thumb when doing perspective: Things in the foreground appear larger and more detailed and as things to the distance they become smaller, closer together, less intense in color.

The right side of the road will be a challenge for most of you because the perspective is coming almost directly towards your, this is called foreshortening. Some of the previous rule applies – things will get smaller and less detailed as they go into the distance – but with a foreshortened perspective some of the posts may appear closer together or may even be over-lapped by the posts in front of them, so this is where you must pay attention to size. Again, we are only creating the illusion of a fence and a lot of that illusion is created with your paint so don’t worry too much about your sketch.

You may also want to sketch in the 3 aspen on the right side of the road. They are a bit larger than the ones on the left but will be painted much the same way. You can sketch in the ruts in your road at this time as well. Perspective is very important here: The front of the ruts will be wider and further apart than they are when the go over the hill in the distance so don’t draw them straight back. Start your road a bit in from the fence on either side, if you want, as a reminder, you can do the front part of this sketch as flat “U” shapes that get smaller as they go back until it is just a broken line. These represents the depressions left in the snow by a car or sled, so keep that in mind when drawing or painting these ruts. Blow the excess charcoal dust off your painting before you start painting.

The under painting for the left fence and aspen trees is the dark brown color you get from mixing sienna, blue and purple, you will also use this color for the shadowed side of the right fence. You can use either a bristle or sable brush here but always try to use the largest size brush you can like an 8 or a 10, don’t get out the tiny brushes until you get into detail and then only if you absolutely have to.

The ruts in the road are painted with the blue, purple and white color we use for the shadows. Use a flat “U” shaped stroke in the front and as you go into the distance that stroke should get smaller until you are just touching the chiseled edge to the canvas.

Next week: Finishing touches.

Week 5: Experimenting with different supports for watercolor
For pictures:

Since we finished up our class project last time, I thought that I would bring in some different things to paint on besides paper to expose the class to other options they may want to try. The first was Yupo watercolor paper.

Yupo isn’t actually paper, it is a synthetic support made of plastic. It started out in the printing field then someone decided to try and paint on it. It is interesting and very challenging to paint on but the results can be very rewarding. If you don’t like it, you can wash it all off under the faucet because since it is plastic, the paint just dries on the surface and can be washed off. That is a blessing and a curse because if you use too much water on your brush when laying down a layer of paint, you can lift off everything you just did, plus the paint tends to pool up on the paper. I take a ScotchBrite and lightly sand the surface before I start to paint and this does help prevent the pooling. Be patient and experiment and it is best if you dry your brush and use the paint with as little water as possible. This is a great paper for those who love to lift paint.

The next thing I showed was painting on a watercolor canvas. You can buy pre-treated watercolor canvas or you can buy a jar of Golden’s Absorbent Ground and make your own and save a bunch of money. For about the cost of one 16” x 20” pre-treated canvas you can buy a jar of the Absorbent Ground and probably convert 10 regular canvases to watercolor canvas.

The difference between this ground and gesso is it is more porous then gesso and the watercolor will act more like it is on paper. You can paint on a gesso treated surface but it will tend to be more like the Yupo paper mentioned above.

The main reason for working on a watercolor canvas is mostly connivance when it comes time to frame the painting. With traditional watercolor on paper to be presented properly, it should be matted and mounted behind glass and this can be costly especially if you are taking it in to be framed. If it is on canvas or masonite you do need to spray it with an ultra violet protective fixative but you can just put it in a frame and not worry about matting or glass.

Working on the watercolor canvas is much like working on paper with a big exception: It is very good for lifting color back off. It is much like Yupo paper in this respect but it is much more forgiving and many of the things you can do on paper, you can do on the watercolor canvas. It is also a lot tougher than paper so if you don’t like what you have you can wash it off back to white and start over.

I also showed the class how to start a painting with by wetting the paper and just dripping and splashing color onto the surface then letting it run. It is a great way to start a painting you just have to keep in mind that you are going to be adding more color to the painting so done get too intense with your colors at first. This is fun and can add a lot of character to your finished painting.

Next week: Maybe more surprises :-)

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