Week 3 – “Homage to Van Gough” – Acrylic
This week we started with a short demo on how to bring dimension to limbs and branches. Highlight and brush strokes are critical if you want to give your limbs the appearance of 3 dimensions.
First you determine which direction the light is coming from; if you need to, mark it on your canvas with your charcoal to remind you, you can wipe it off later with a damp towel. Remember to work in layers, this will give depth and texture to your painting as you go from your first under painting to your final highlights.
Using a bristle brush (use one that is as large and you feel comfortable using for the size of our canvas) I mixed sienna, purple and white to make a color a couple shades lighter then my under painting for the demo limb (I under painted in straight burnt umber), using a fairly dry brush technique and a combination of short choppy strokes, especially along the top of a branch or limb, or “C” shaped strokes along the smaller branches and the sides of larger limbs I highlighted my demo branch.
The key here was to give the impression of direction and where the branches were coming out of the main limb (see picture on picture page). Often I see my students sticking the branches of their trees and plants in the sides of a branch or trunk, giving the resulting tree/plant a “coat rack” appearance. In reality, if you look at trees and plants with branches, they come out from all sides of a trunk or branch as do the leaves and flowers. As an artist, this is a very important thing to be aware of especially if you are going for a more realistic look. Even an impressionistic approach needs to be aware how things grow. Look at the example on the picture page and note how I created the look of branches coming out from different directions and even crossing over other limbs bringing a more realistic look to the branch.
Back to our project, we began the highlighting in earnest. Have your reference picture handy at all times so you can look at it if you have to, to see where you need to go with a color.
The first thing we did this week was to establish the centers on some of the closer blossoms, not all of them because some may be turned away from the viewer or seen from behind. We just need to do enough of them to give the impression of blossoms. Vary the shapes on these and the directions just like you did in the background blooms. I used crimson but you can use the red with a touch of purple or blue to get a wine color.
Next, we did some more highlighting on the branches using yellow, orange and a touch of white. Using a dry brush stroke put this color on top of the previous layer of highlight but not covering everything we did before, remember these layers give us depth and texture so don’t cover all of your under painting.
One thing I noticed about my painting that I wasn’t real happy with, was I had made the background flowers too bright and the sky didn’t seem blue enough so I stopped the highlighting and went over the whole background with a very thin wash of blue. This is a good thing to remember when you need to push your background back, however, you need to be sure that you have a thin wash of color – very transparent a lot of water and little paint – and build up this color in thin layers, it should be very transparent, let it dry and see if it is okay (acrylics dry darker) or if you need another thin wash. I let that wash dry completely before continuing.
I started highlighting the blossoms using white with just a touch of red in it to give me a very light pink color (pinker blossoms are okay, they can be peach or nectarine blossoms, the photo is of apricot blooms), I was using a filbert bristle brush, but sable might work better for this step, and I started on the outside right edge of a blossom petal (remember where the light is coming from) and with a quick “flip” of the brush, started painting the first layer of highlights for my foreground blooms. When you are painting a flower it is always a good idea to work towards the center of the flower, either from the outside to the center (easiest) or from the center to the out side, that said, this color should stop about ¾ of the way to the center so you don’t cover up all the dark under painting which will be the shadows for the center of your blooms.
Not all of your blooms will be looking at you – at least they shouldn’t so some of this highlight will just be edges or light shapes that could be flowers you only see part of. You really only have to make a few actually look like blooms to trick the viewer into thinking that all that color is more blooms.
We did a similar thing on the shadowed side of the blooms but with a different color. This time we took white with a touch of blue to get a light baby blue. This color needs to be lighter than your sky and was the reason I did a wash over my background to make the sky darker. Remember we need to have dark to show light.
The reference photo will give you a good idea where both the light color and the cool color need to go, so look at it often as you paint these blooms.
The cooler side of the blooms is painted the same way as the light side. Again, that dark under painting is your friend you don’t want to cover all of it because it becomes the dark shadows and creases of the blooms and separates one petal from another. This cool color can also go near some of the centers that were left unpainted on the highlighted petals. Don’t spend too much time in any one place when doing the blooms either the highlights of the cool color, move around your painting, switch from one color to the other, you can always come back to a section but by moving around your painting it keeps any one area from looking over worked.
Often times when I come home and start to write these notes for the blog, I look at my painting and think “What the heck are you doing?” Talking and painting from the side has its disadvantage and I don’t necessarily see problems until I get home as was the case this week. I added another wash of blue to the background, re-established some of the background blooms with some light touches of highlight and repainted highlights and reflected light on my blossoms, just in case you were wondering why it looks a bit different. This is more what I thought I was doing in class. I will go over it on Monday.
Next week: Finishing touches.
Week 3 Reprise – Sunflower – Watercolor
This was the last week for the Sunflower project so have something you want to paint ready for Monday.
I know that it is hard to see what I’m doing when what I’m working on is small so I did a demo on how to get veins into the leaves of the Sunflower. Though the actual leaves on the project don’t require much detail, it is a good thing to see in case it comes up in a future project either mine or yours.
There are several ways to paint veins into a leaf. You can lift them out, paint them negatively, positively paint them, mask them out or scratch them in either wet or dry paper, either by themselves of in combination with each other. Three of the ways are shown on the example on the picture page, I did not do a positive painting or masking example this time.
Negative painting and lifting are probably going to be the most common to use in this situation, so this would be a good practice to do separately to get the feel of the brush and the way the paint goes on. If you need to, you can sketch on your veins so you know where you want to put them, but it is not necessary.
This can be done with either a round, flat or angle brush, as you know, I use an angle brush most of the time. A flat will work comparatively to the angle brush, the round requires an extra step but is no less affective. For this purpose, I will be referring to an angle brush unless otherwise noted.
I started with an example of a leaf I had already under painted with a light wash of sap green over a cad yellow background and it was completely dry, important if you want to get sharp lines. I loaded the tip of my brush with a combination of sap green and blue then gently mixed them on my palette so they would combine but not so much that the color spread to the rest of the brush. You can mix a batch of this dark green and blue color on your palette so you don’t have to keep re-mixing too often, but if you do, rinse your brush out thoroughly, dry it off and load only the tip. There is very little water n this mixture so it will be dark.
When you start a vein, place the tip of the brush on what will be the outside edge of the vein and the rest of the edge of the brush in towards the space between the veins. This is negative painting so what you will be painting will be what is around the vein. Keep your brush’s edge flat on the paper and out line one side of the vein, you should get a graded color (dark at the tip, light to almost nothing at the heel). It is important not to take the vein all the way to the edge of the leaf, let it fade out before you get there, it will look more natural. If you are using a rounded brush, paint the line of the out side of the vein, rinse your brush and dry it, then with the damp brush, touch the outside edge of the line you just painted and bleed it out into the space between the veins. Repeat on the other side and remember that the veins get smaller as the go to the edge of the leaf. Using just water with maybe a bit of the same color fill in some of the space between the veins to get rid of any hard lines where you may not want them. It can be as detailed as you want or don’t want, the choice is yours.
Lifting is probably the easiest if you have both paper and an under paint that will cooperate, some papers and paints work better than others so you will have to test yours to see if it will lift. In a sense, lifting out a vein is positive painting because you are using water instead of color to make the vein appear, the trick is in the brush. Make sure that your brush is clean and just barely damp before you start, nothing is more frustrating than starting to lift a color but instead you put down bright red, so be sure that you have all the paint out of your brush as well as most of the water. Using the very edge of your brush, lightly draw in your veins. You may have to go over the same area a couple times before you see a change, just be sure to not be too heavy handed when lifting or you might damage your paper. Wipe your brush on a paper towel each time to get rid of extra paint you are lifting and occasionally re-rinse your brush and dry it to get it clean again. Pat your paper dry as well to lift paint and excess water. You can use lifting to give a negative painted vein a bit of a highlight, experiment to see what you like best.
On the example, I also scratched in some veins on what would be the top of the demo leaf (we’ve been painting the underneath of the leaf thus far). Tops of leaves are generally darker and shiner then the under parts of a leaf. I painted a darker blue green color and while it was still wet, I took a sharp exacto knife and scraped in a few veins, there wasn’t enough showing on the project to do this.
On the project, I made sure that where the leaves and stems went behind the sunflower I got the color fairly dark. Please note that there is a stalk that is holding the flower behind the right petal that is hanging down, it is important to show what is supporting that heavy flower.
Little extras is did was I took orange and/or sienna on the tip of my brush and ran it along the outside edge of my leaves to make them look like they were dying back and maybe had bug bites, I also use a bit of burnt umber in certain parts as well. I also took some sienna with purple to make a dark color to paint the head and stripes of a bee, yellow with a touch of orange for the yellow stripes and lifted the wings with a damp brush. Done!
I will try to have demos that show individual subjects like wood, skies or water in the coming weeks but the next project is your own so have something ready.