Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spring '08 Acrylic and Watercolor Projects

I changed the look a little, seems a bit more artsy ;-)

Week 1: Homage to Van Gough - Acrylic Project
Picture Page:

To start this project you will need a canvas or canvas board, gesso, ultra marine blue, dioxizine purple, burnt sienna, napthol or cadmium red, a large brush – 2” blender or hake brush if you have it or a #12 flat bristle brush - a smaller flat brush - #8 or #10 – soft vine charcoal or charcoal pencil and your spray bottle. We will be painting in a landscape or horizontal format.

First, lightly spray your canvas with water from your spray bottle. It doesn’t take much, just a couple of squirts from your spray bottle, we just want to dampen the surface of the canvas. If your spray bottle isn’t one with a fine mist, you can use your large brush to even the water out after spraying or just use the brush with water instead, the main thing is to moisten the surface of your canvas to help spread the gesso on the canvas.

You might find it more convenient to put some gesso out on your palette or if it is runny, in a separate small container, you don’t want to be opening jars or pouring out more once you have started this process.

After you have moistened your canvas, using your large brush, cover the entire canvas with gesso. You just need a thin layer of gesso so don’t get it too thick, it won’t hurt what we are going to do next, but you will need to use more color to get the same results and you also don’t want the gesso to form runs on your canvas if it is the thin kind.

Now that you have your canvas covered in gesso, using the same large brush – you don’t even need to clean it – pick up a good portion of blue on one corner, about a quarter as much sienna on the other corner and a small touch of purple (either corner), streak those colors across the top of your canvas, then with big “X” strokes, blend those colors into the gesso already on your canvas. This is called brush blending and is very effective because it gives irregularities to the color and that is a good thing. If you need more color to cover your canvas, pick up your paint in the same way and start near the top and work your way down, the top should be just slightly darker than the bottom if you need to darken the top just add some more blue and a touch of purple apply this to the corners and work it in. If as you are working, you feel your brush start to drag or stick, it means that your paint is starting to set up and you will have to add a bit more water to keep it workable, you can do the but using your spray bottle, holding it back from your canvas at least 10” and giving it one or two squirts, then with your big brush, quickly work the water into the paint and you should be good for a couple more minutes. Repeat if necessary but be warned, there does come a point where the paint will not take any more water, it your paint starts to lift instead of mixing with the water, you will have to let it dry completely and then do what is called “dry brush blending” I will demo that in class on Monday.

When you have covered your canvas with this color and while it is still wet, first, rinse your brush and squeegee the excess water out of your blender. This next technique won’t really work with other brushes so if you are using a bristle brush expect to see brush marks but make those marks look like you meant them to be there by doing a series of small “X” strokes over the whole canvas to give it a more uniform look if you want. If you have a blender and you like nice smooth seamless skies, once you get this technique down, you will create beautiful skies with this brush, it will take some practice and some patience on your part but it is well worth the effort. With your clean dry brush, start up at the top of the canvas and with very light “X” strokes, gently blend the colors together working first across then down – from the dark part of the sky to the lighter part.

This is where most students have problems with this stroke because they are way too heavy handed and wonder why they are picking up paint instead of blending it. To quote the late Bob Ross this stroke is “2 hairs and some air” when it is done correctly. The bristles of your brush should hardly bend if at all, it is a very light touch like feathers across the surface. You will know if you have done it right because you won’t see any brush strokes and you should have a nice seamless blend.

After your sky is to your liking or at least acceptable, we need to put in the background limbs and flowers. Please keep in mind that these are in the background they are not where you want your viewer to focus they are there as supporting players to you main subject. So often, especially when you are learning to paint or draw, an artist will put as much or more effort into other parts of a painting that should just be supporting areas that the finished piece looks overworked or too busy, it is also hard for the viewer to know what is important if everything is so detailed. This part should be very impressionistic, we just want to suggest branches and flowers.

I used a #10 bristle brush for this next step. Try to get into the habit of using the largest brush you can and still accomplish your mission and leave the little brushes for last, this will also help keep your painting from looking overworked.

Using the same colors but this time more sienna, we want to mix on your palette a warm blue-grey that is slightly darker than the sky; this will be for our branches.

When painting things like branches remember that they are not phone poles! The more twists and turns the better. Look at the branches of trees or bushes and just see how irregular they grow. If you have a bit of a shaky hand, you are ahead of the game. If your sky is still wet it is okay to do the branches before it dries, just start the branches on the left side of the canvas and pull several branches across your canvas. Avoid starting a branch in a corner as it will act like an arrow pointing the viewer out of the picture. Remember to also put some smaller twigs coming off the branches.

When you are done with the branches the next step is to put in the background blossoms. Using the same brush without cleaning it pick up some white either the titanium or the gesso and a very small touch of your red and mix it together on your palette. You want a color that is lighter than your sky and is a slightly grayed pink color. Don’t use pure white at this point; we may use it for some very final highlights but not here and not now.

It is okay to occasionally make some of these shapes look like flowers, it is more important to create interesting shapes that could resemble blossoms. Look at your reference picture: The blooms are usually in clusters and many of them will over lap each other. This is what you are trying to accomplish when painting these blooms. Spread them out, clump some together and overlap the branches. Avoid placing them just along the tops of the branches, think of it as more an explosion of flowers and they are everywhere!

Once that is done, you might want to wait until your painting has had a chance to dry completely before starting the next step. Once your painting is dry if you need to, use your soft vine charcoal or charcoal pencil and sketch in where your main branch and flowers are going to be use either the pattern of the photo for reference. Notice that the branch and blossoms are larger than the background branches and a bit more detailed.

Using exactly the same brush and colors only this time they will be darker – more color less white - mix up a foreground branch on your palette. If you have some red out, you might also want to add touches of red especially if you are at the end of a small twig, however, it is not necessary. Paint in your branches. If you have to remix don’t worry if the color isn’t exact value is more important here.

The flowers, even though you think they are white, start out as a grey-blue color. Again, do not use pure white at this point; we will save that for final highlights. Just as you did in the background blooms, you will do with these foreground blooms: The shape and placement of the clusters is more important than painting individual blooms at this time we will start that process next time.

Next lesson: adding some sunshine.

Week 2: Sunflower – Watercolor
Picture page:

This week we started bringing up the color and adding some detail to the flower.

Because of the transparent nature of watercolor the order of how you do particular steps isn’t as important as the steps themselves. I did some steps first in class but then changed and did it different as I worked on my sunflower, here I will try to explain in a more sequential order what I did and how I did it.

It is important to look at your reference photo. Notice that near the bottom of the petals it is more of an orange-red color. This is actually shadows as the petals curve into the center of the flower. Also notice that on the upper petals this color goes up almost a third of the way of most the petals but on the ones at the bottom, that color is much shorter staying near the base. The reason for this is what is called “foreshortening”. The petals on the bottom are coming at an angle that is more towards the viewer than the ones at the top or sides. If you want to get dimension into your painting, you must be aware of what is going on with your subject and this applies to everything not just this flower.

To paint this color you will need to mix on your palette your cad yellow light, cad orange and a touch of napthol red and water to create a wash. Just as we did with the first layer of color we put on our flower, we can paint this shadow color without regard to the individual petals at this time, just be aware that as you get to the bottom petals that color is mostly around the bottom areas of the petals and in some of the centers (look at your reference picture so you know where this color is placed). Start at the bottom of the petals with this color, paint up to almost where it stops, rinse your brush and with just a damp brush – it should not be dripping – blend the color up into the rest of the petals. You should have a gradual blend, no hard lines.

While that area is drying, you can add another layer of yellow to your petals to bring up the intensity of the color. Yellow is a strange color because it never gets really very dark like other colors can, what comes out of the tube is as dark as yellow is ever going to get. However, you can bring up the intensity of the color to make it more vibrant by adding more layers until it is intense enough for your purposes. So while I was waiting for the interior parts of the petals to dry, I added another layer of yellow to the outer parts of my sunflower to brighten the color. LET YOU PAINTING DRY.

I did a separate demo where I enlarged a section of the flower so it would be easier to see what I was doing in class. Look at the photo of the flower then to the detail on the picture page (see link above). The petals have folds and curl backs especially near the bottom where they attach. Also notice that there is a slight greenish tint to the petals near the bottom as well, this is what we will be working on now.

I use angular brushes almost exclusively but other brushes will work if you don’t have an angular brush. I also use the largest brush I feel comfortable using in an area, in this case, I used my ½” angle brush. Using a larger brush keeps you painting from looking too busy or overworked plus it gets the job done faster.

Using sap green with a touch of ultra marine blue, I mixed on my palette a dark green color. I rinsed and dried my brush then loaded this color on the tip. I then placed the tip where I wanted the darkest part of the fold to start and negatively painted the parts of the petal that are turning in. Rinsed my brush again and dried it and using a damp brush blended this color up the inside of the flower about a quarter way up.

Negative painting is a mainstay in watercolor and it is a must if you want to take your painting to the next level. By negative painting I mean instead of painting the thing itself, we paint the area around the thing; in this case, the curl backs and folds. We are painting the shadows and in doing so the curl backs appear.

Follow the reference photo so you know where to place this color and work all the petals. Because this is a bit more detailed step, by the time you finish this step the areas where you started should be dry enough to add some more shadows without causing problems. If you feel that your painting is still too wet you can use a hair dryer or let it dry for a few minutes before proceeding. The one thing I see a lot of my students do is try to continue painting when their paper is still wet and this will cause problems like blooms or lifting of the layer underneath or damaging the paper’s surface. When in doubt: LET IT DRY!

On your palette mix a small amount of blue and purple with a lot of water. If you look again at the photo you will see that the shadows on the petals are very light and kind of grayish. That is why it is important to mix this shadow color very thin, if it needs to get darker you can add more of this color where you need it but you don’t want to get too dark too fast or you will have problems.

Use this shadow color in the same areas that you just painted but it can be used to add shadows or create curl backs further up each petal. When there is a petal that is behind another, use this color next to the petal in front to separate the two petals. Don’t take it to the very end of a petal unless a curl back starts at the end. Refer to you photo often. Also use a clean damp brush to blend shadows out.

I used a #8 round brush to do the center. I remixed the orange shadow color I started with and added a touch of sienna, and then with a stippling stroke (lots of little dots using the end of the round brush) I painted the outside part of the center disk of the sunflower. I varied this color by adding touches of orange, yellow or burnt sienna. Where the edges went in-between the petals I used more sienna to make it appear it is going into shadow and I also used more yellow in the upper right to look like sun hitting it. In the very center I first used a watered down sap green and applied it in the same way, then went back in with a more concentrated (less water) application of sap green in the very center. Notice just on the upper, mostly, right hand side of the center of the seed head I added some of the sienna, this creates some depth to the area above it.

Next week: more flower details and bringing some life to the leaves.

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