Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Watercolor Special

Week 8 – Watercolor: Splatter Explained

I hope the acrylic class doesn’t feel left out, I’m hoping to post something for them before we meet again but I have to figure it out first. However, you can always learn something from other media that maybe you can incorporate into your own art. You just need to not have fear. Remember we “… don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents” as per the late Bob Ross learn to use them and /or buy a big bottle of gesso ;-)

I didn’t realize what a Pandora’s Box I opened when I showed the splatter technique from “Watercolor Artist” magazine, that is until I saw everyone with their tea bags and coffee filters! How great is that! As a teacher I’m always happy when I can inspire my students to try something out of their comfort zone, this is where your art takes off because you learn from trying something new and when you have success you find ways to use what you learned with the things that you know and suddenly, it becomes your own! Besides, this technique is fun and the results are amazing!

With that in mind, I thought I would do a step-by-step so you have something to reference while we are away for a couple of weeks. I hope that you take some time to paint during our break, remember we only have 2 weeks left after we come back and we will do a critique in both classes the last day, more on that later, so I want to see what you are doing. Enjoy.

While thumbing through the June 2008 Watercolor Artist magazine (, I came across an article by Wendy Hill that talked about loosening up your paintings by loosening up your backgrounds. I really like what she did knowing that I have a least one person in class who could stand a bit of loosening J Not wanting to go into class unprepared, I decided to find, among my own photos, something that I thought could work with Ms Hill’s technique and I found an old truck in my Death Valley pictures that was perfect and proceeded to experiment with her technique. Sometimes I even amaze myself!

When I was done I couldn’t wait to show my class this fun way to enliven their watercolors and I also couldn’t wait to try this with something else it was so much fun. I found several pictures that I think will work but the one I did here stood out, it was a picture I took of a lion fish at the Long Beach Aquarium.

First, I did a design on a piece of tracing paper. When I really want to be precise with my sketch on my watercolor paper, I will work out problems on the tracing paper until I get it the way I want, then when I’m ready for it, I transfer the design to my watercolor paper using wax-free graphite paper. In this case, I waited until I had my spattering done and it was completely dry before I transferred my design. I had to keep the design simple not extraneous stuff and I did check to be sure that the design would fit in the format of my paper (1/2 sheet Arches 140 lbs cold press) so that the design wasn’t too big that it went off the paper or would touch an edge when matted or look too small lit a goldfish in a lake. This is an important part of a design to use the space on your paper well.

Once I had my design, I looked at my photo. Ms Hill says that she splatters then looks to see what she can see in the splatters but I need a bit more information than just splatters on paper so I looked at my photo to find the colors I needed and where they needed to go on the paper. I first randomly sprayed my paper with water, you want dry areas and really wet areas to make this work and then I splattered my warm colors like burnt sienna, orange and yellows in a roughly diagonal pattern from the left corner of my paper but didn’t worry if some of that color went into the other areas where I splattered cooler colors (blues, purple and greens), again not worrying if some of the splatter got into the warm area where my fish will eventually go. The trick I see here is to get enough color down on your paper but not so much that you cover all the white of the paper.

When I had my color down the way I wanted, I torn up some used coffee filters (I don’t drink tea) and laid them along both sides where the cool and warm colors touched. I also sprinkled some of the used coffee, and salt and I added some wrinkled cellophane in a couple of areas. I let it dry completely before I removed all of the above and transferred my design on to the paper. I then masked out the light lines on the fish (see fist photo on picture page).

After the mask had dried, I went over the entire fish with a wash of yellows and orange, keeping the lighter colors at the top of the fish darker (relatively speaking) color to the bottom of the fish and then I let it dry. When it had dried completely I masked out more areas that would be hard to paint around in the next few steps like the spiky fins on top and the part that is separate from the main side fin, the smaller feelers around the mouth and the dot in his eye. Again, I had to let it dry.

I next started painting the rock he is coming out from behind using phthalo yellow green along the edge and blending the inside edge with just water, I also splattered some other greens (think it was emerald or phthalo, I was having too much fun and I think I used every color I have on this painting just about) and sienna, blending these colors so there were no hard lines on the interior of the rock and before it dried added more salt and cellophane.

The dark water was painted in a series of washes using turquoise, phthalo blue and green, emerald, purple and ultramarine blue. I started out behind the rock in front with a dark wash painting over the masked top fins, the tail, the under parts of the fish and the front side fin adding clear water as I moved further away from the hole he is coming out of and switching from the blues to the greens. Between each wash I added more salt in places and cellophane.

By painting over the lower parts of the fish and his tail, you start to establish shadows on the fish it is important to remember to blend out the color so you don’t create hard lines. After about the third wash going over the same areas to build up color, I stopped painting the fish and kept my colors mostly behind the rock and bled them out, just notice there was also a dark shadow under the fish I needed to paint in.

How many washes you do is a personal preference. I wanted it to be dark but still look like water and to show some detail in the rock shadows, I also occasionally splattered more paint must because it felt good. That is the fun in this type of painting is to not worry about the paint. You are looking for the end result.

Without taking off the mask, I started painting the body of the fish with burnt sienna and purple in the shadow parts of the fish and sienna and orange- sometimes some Indian yellow - in the sunlit areas. Note that the underside of the fish near the tail is slightly darker than the area around it but it is almost a lost and found line. I painted the eye in with indigo and purple.

Only when I thought I had the body of the fish shaded the way I wanted and had let it dry completely did I take off the masking. Over the tail end of the fish, I used a thin wash of phthalo blue starting at the tail and adding water to the wash to blend to about where the top spikes get smaller on the back part of the fish, remember, this part of the fish is in shadow. I also used this same thin wash along to bottom of the top spiky fin but was careful not to go more than half way up or onto the body.

At this point in the painting I’m looking to refine things such as smoothing lines where needed, adding detail, lifting if I have to. I get up and look at the painting from a distance quite often at this point so I know what I need to do without over doing it. This is where I decided that I needed to add more color to the top and bottom rocks. While the top was still damp I put more cellophane and on the bottom I added more coffee to the wet paint.

The dark areas on the fins and in some of the stripes were done with a mix of indigo, purple and sienna. It makes a very dark color that looks alive rather than using black.

Last but not least: When I couldn’t find anything else to do without fiddling I used my pens with permanent black ink to out line the fish and add detail to the edge of the rock and sign it.

I hope this has been helpful and gives you some ideas for things you want to paint. Keep it simple, only the main subject that is important the splatter becomes your background. Enjoy.

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