Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Spring '08 Acrylic and Watercolor Classes

Week 5 – “Homage to Van Gough” – Acrylic

This was our last official day working on this project, it was more refinement than anything else: Finding highlights and shadows; double checking our composition; adding detail – all the things that bring a painting together.

I think that the hardest part of this lesson is it does tend to be random in nature. Most of the rest of a painting can be done is a somewhat logical set of steps: Start with the background, do your under painting, basic shapes, start some detail…However, when you get to finishing a painting some of that logic has to be put aside working in a more “controlled confusion” sort of way. You may start with some highlights but then see that you need to change the shape of something or you are putting in shadows and realize that it is a good place to have some lighter color next to it or you need detail in the area before you go on; this is perfectly normal and may actually be a better way to work because you aren’t concentrating on any one thing but the “whole picture” as-it-were and that will bring a natural conclusion to your painting, it won’t look over worked.

Another thing you really need to get into the habit of when your painting is getting close to finished is to stand back and just look at it often. I can’t stress this enough and just how important it is. When you are right on top of your painting you will literally see every brush hair that is stuck in the paint, every stroke you don’t like, every everything that will play tricks on your mind that this or that needs “fixing”, that is when you need to get up, walk across the room (at least 6 – 10 feet) and look at your painting as a whole, not as parts. More often than not, when you stand back and look at your painting you will see it magically went from a series of less-than-perfect strokes to something that looks pretty darn good to great!

When you are standing back looking at you painting, look for areas where you might need more highlight or shadow. Look for things that catch your eye and ask why they are catching your eye. In a picture like this one, your eye should feel free to move about the painting, stopping here and there but moving none the less. If you find you are looking at one thing or maybe jumping back and forth between the flowers, try to figure out why. One possibility is you may have too many of the flowers facing straight on, those centers will pull you right in and make you feel like they are looking at you or maybe a flower is bigger than the rest, in both cases you may need to change the shape or direction a bloom(s) is facing or make another blossom out of one that is too big.

Highlights for the blossoms start with titanium white (it is your whitest white) with the smallest amount of red to slightly tint it and it goes on the right hand side of your flowers for the most part but may hit some edges on shadowed blooms. Look at your reference photo and see how the natural light hits the blooms. To finish the highlights on the blooms you can use straight titanium white for edges and for some of the brighter petals.

Highlight for the branches is white with a little touch of yellow and orange, this goes on the tops of most of the foreground branches but put it on in “dashes and dots” not a solid line.

There are shadows that need to go under most of the flowers. Use a mix of purple and blue maybe a touch or sienna and under the flowers get some dark shadows on the branch. Remember you need dark to show light. You can even use some of this dark color on the underneath part of the branch but just like the highlight, use dashes and dots not a solid line.

Some finishing details are nice but not absolutely necessary so if at any point you feel that your painting is done, by all means, stop! I will just mention what I did on our project and if you want to include them fine, if not, that’s okay too.

I added some new leaves. There are a few in the reference photo and I like to see a few leaves as they start to emerge, I use a mix of yellow with a touch of sap green and with very quick little strokes put a few of them in, usually either out of the end of a new branch or under a couple of blooms. I highlighted some of them with straight yellow.

I also added a few “wrinkles” and buds by mixing sienna with blue to get a dark brown color for the wrinkles and adding a touch of red to that mix for some buds.

Finally I used yellow and white for the stamens in the centers of the blooms and for that you can use a liner or very small brush, you may even use a toothpick to pull them out if you don’t have a small brush.

Next week have something you want to paint ready for class. I will do some small single subject demos for the rest of the classes and will come around and help you with individual problems. If you have any questions or suggestions for a demo you would like to see you can leave comments here or e-mail me.

Watercolor – Two ways to Paint a Bucket

I like to use old wooden buckets or baskets for demos because they can show several things at one time: Direction of light, creating a three dimensional image on you paper and texture. An awful lot for one bucket so we have two ;-)

The bucket on the left is what I call direct painting, the one on the right I consider value painting (see pictures on the picture page). Neither is better than the other, both have their place, I tend to use them interchangeably some artists prefer one over the other, some use totally different approaches, the point here is to show you that you have options and you don’t need to be caged in to one style of painting. Experimenting is fun and very educational and you just might find something that fits your needs better as an artist.

I’ll start with the bucket on the left. I under painted it with straight raw sienna, if you don’t have raw sienna you can use yellow with a touch of burnt sienna to get a similar color.

Notice to the right of the paper I put a little sun and the words “light source” in the corner that is to remind you where my light is coming from and where it will hit my subjects. No, I don’t usually put indicators on my paper when I’m painting, I usually have a good idea where I want my light source, this is for your benefit but it may be something you might want to consider doing until you are skilled enough to always have it in mind when you are painting. You can draw a sun or arrows on the tape holding you paper down if you don’t want to draw it on you paper and I have seen other artist who have just gotten into the habit of putting that reminder on their painting so they don’t forget. What ever you do or don’t do, knowing where your light is coming from is very important in creating depth and interest in your painting.

The light is going to hit the right outside of the bucket and the left inside of the bucket. Keeping that in mind, using burnt sienna with a touch of purple plus a little water (it shouldn’t be too dark) and starting on the outside left of the bucket (shadowed side), I painted this color on the wooden slats to about half way, then I rinsed my brush and with a damp brush, diffused this color about another quarter of the way, I want to leave the very right of the bucket unpainted. You should have a graded wash starting dark on the left and blending to the light on the right. You will use this same principle on the inside of the bucket but you will start on the inside right and work left. Let this dry!

The next wash is virtually the same as the last with maybe a bit more paint to water ratio but it is still a wash so it will still be transparent when you apply it. This time however, instead of going over half way from left to right with the dark color only go about a third of the way, rinse your brush and with a damp brush, blend the color out to the half way point. Do a similar treatment on the inside. Each time you are going to paint less and less, as the layers build up, so will the shadows. Let it dry!

You can do as many layers as you want, I’ve heard of artists who do 10, 20, 30 or more layers before they get the look they are going for the key is to build up your colors gradually and not try to do it all at once. Layers build up color intensity as well as shadows so your colors will become richer and more vibrant the more layers you apply. The bands were done similarly but with a mix of sienna and blue to get a grayish brown built up in layers. The dark lines between the slates was a mix of blue, purple and sienna with little water and the wood grain was done with the edge and point of my angle brush using sienna or sienna with a touch of orange.

The second bucket was done in a comparable fashion but instead of using color right away I started with a grey wash which was a mix of blue and orange. This time I painted the whole bucket and didn’t skip over the bands. I have several blues on my palette so I started with my lightest blue which is cerulean blue and orange with lots of water for the first wash; cobalt blue and orange and less water for the second wash and ultra marine blue, burnt sienna (a form of orange) and some water for the last wash before I started to add color. On the sunlit sides of the bucket I used raw sienna and a touch of yellow and for the shadowed side burnt sienna with a touch of purple but when I was adding the color, I only added it to the wooden slats not the bands. The bands were painted with blue and burnt sienna just like the other bucket and were finished just like the other bucket.

One more note: The shadows on the ground for both buckets were a mix of purple and blue applied very dark right under the buckets and as it moved away from the buckets, I rinsed my brush and with just water painted in the rest of the shadows. Shadows are darkest under an object and become lighter because of all the light being scattered in the atmosphere. Also, while the shadow was wet, I dropped just a touch of sienna into it as colors often times reflect into the shadows.

Next week something fun (I hope). Something different.

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