Thursday, May 8, 2008

Week 6: Acrylic Demo – Skies

Skies or backgrounds are an important part of a painting, sometimes skies can be the focus of the painting so it is important to know how to do them right.

As with most things in art, there is not one right way to do a sky or background, they can be very “impressionistic” meaning they have lots of brush strokes or they can look seamless like a photograph, as an artist, you have to make those choices to satisfy you own personal tastes. I can only show you how I do a technique; it is up to you to make it your own through trial and error otherwise called practice.

When I start a sky, I usually first sprits the canvas with a bit of water – not much, a little water goes a long way – then cover the area where the sky is going to be with a thin coat of gesso. The gesso helps me to blend colors on the canvas but remember it will change the value of the paint if you are using the regular white gesso (they do make a clear gesso now). I use my 2” blender for this process because it helps me get the gesso on quickly and evenly, use small circular strokes to cover the area of sky.

I started out the demo showing how to first make a impressionistic sky using a #12 flat brush, if I was going to do a seamless sky I would have continued to use the big blender through the whole process.

A problem many beginner painters have when painting a sky is they want to have yellow near the horizon going to blue at the top, however, where the blue and the yellow meet, they get a green that just isn’t a natural sky color. To solve that problem you need more colors. First I put the yellow on near the horizon with “X” strokes leaving them very crude in appearance (remember this is the impressionistic version) then picked up some orange and applied it just above the yellow and lightly blended the two so there were strokes left but a transition area between the colors. Next I picked up red and applied it just above the orange and lightly blended those two colors THEN I went into my blue and purple and applied them to the top of the canvas and blended down into the red. Red and blue make purple so it solves the green problem in the sky. You can skip the yellow and orange and use the red near the horizon and mixed with the gesso makes a nice pink, or if you want the yellow you can just go to the red if you want a subtler sky without the orange, the trick is to have the red between the yellow and the blue to avoid getting green.

After I showed how to get an impressionistic kind of sky, I cleaned and dried my big blender so it didn’t have any paint or excess water in it and with very light strokes, starting in the light area and working up, using big “X’s” I blended up into the darker areas of the sky (I think I sprits the sky first with a little water because it was drying out, just be careful adding water, a little goes a long way, and be sure to get it blended in). Folks, when I say very light strokes I mean VERY, VERY light. The late Bob Ross would say “Two hairs and some air” and that is a good description of this technique. Most people I see are way too heavy handed when they are trying to blend and they end up picking up paint rather then blending. The bristles of your brush shouldn’t bend at all and it will feel like you aren’t touching the canvas enough to do much but that is what you want to get a very soft blend that will look almost like airbrush when it is done. Practice this and it will be useful in many applications when you need to soften edges or blend backgrounds. P.S. It is important to be using a soft blender a regular bristle brush just won’t work here.

After I finished the sky, I showed how to start clouds. I could have let the sky dry completely before starting this step but wanted to show the class that you can work into the sky while it is still wet to at least start a base for the clouds. For this I used my #12 flat brush again, I mixed blue, purple, sienna and a touch of white and using a dry brush technique (very little paint) and a circular motion to based in my clouds. This is only one way to do clouds, a more realistic version, impressionistic clouds would be painted with a series of strokes and would appear more solid and have more strokes showing. I let the whole thing dry before the next step.

Once the sky and clouds were dry, I use a similar mix of paint – blue, purple, sienna and white - to make a grey color and using the same dry brush circular stroke added detail to the clouds. I occasionally added some reds or oranges because these are colors in my sky and might be reflected in the clouds. Skies and clouds can be almost anything you want from flamboyant to subtle, sunny to stormy, clear to cloudy, you have to decide what will work best for your painting.

Next week more demos.

Week 6: Watercolor – Splash of Color

As a teacher I think it is important to expose my students to other methods of painting in the hopes of helping them find ways of improving their own paintings. I have noticed that most of my students get into ruts and their paintings suffer for it. Doing the same thing just because it is comfortable doesn’t mean that it is the best thing for your painting and throwing caution to the wind might just find some new ways for you to express yourself and add some much needed life to your paintings.

When I saw this technique in Watercolor Artist magazine, it looked really fun and I thought it might be a good thing for my class to see and from the response, I think I was right in that assumption.

The artist who wrote the article says that she does the splattered background first then finds something to paint over it. I need a bit more structure than that so I looked for a picture I wanted to paint then I had some idea where I needed to splatter what colors. You will have to find out want works best for you.

I first used my spray bottle and sprayed my paper but I didn’t want it completely wet so there would be some dry areas and some wet areas to give me blends and hard lines, then I started throwing paint quite literally (this can get messy). I tried to keep my warm colors (reds, yellows and oranges) separate from my cool colors (blues, purples and greens) for the most part, if one splashed into the other it wasn’t the end of the world. In the area where the two groups of colors met, I laid down dampened, used coffee filters sans most of the old coffee (the artist in the article used used tea bags. The grounds are great in the garden), then dripped some color on the filters, added a dash of salt to some wet areas and crumpled plastic wrap to others then let it dry completely a process which could take several hours because of the filter and plastic wrap depending on how wet your paper was to being with, just make sure it is dry before removing either or you could loose some very interesting stuff.

Next I transferred my picture onto my dry paper using non-waxy transfer paper. It is important that it not be carbon paper because of the oil in it or waxy graphite paper, the oil can ruin you paper and the wax can act like a resist and the paint won’t cover it (actually a good thing to know in case you want that effect ;-). I tried to keep my design simple only worrying about my main subject – boats in the harbor – and a couple of palms in the background, the rest will be left as is to exploit all the good splattering we did. I also masked areas that were “white” on the boats so I could paint over them then I painted as I normally would though I tried to stay within the colors I splattered with to keep a sort of color harmony.

I finished this at home and found that I wasn’t to pleased with the white of the boats, it didn’t stand out enough, so I used a bit of gauche to lighten the area and I also mixed the gauche with some turquoise for the blue on the boats to brighten them up. Once I was satisfied with the painting part, I took my Sharpie and outlined the major elements of my painting, I left the palms just painted.

This was very fun and I’m so pleased with the results, I hope to do more for my self and see what other things will lend themselves to this technique. Enjoy.

Next week: Demo on brush strokes.

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