Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer '08 Week 4

Week 4: Acrylic Project – P.V Lighthouse on Cliffs

I started the demo by adding a suggestion of a light source behind the right hand side of the island. Using a flat bristle brush with white and little touches of yellow and orange I first loaded my brush then wiped out most of the paint. This has to be very dry brush to get the effect correct so be sure to wipe your brush before going to the canvas also, start out with a very light touch as the paint comes off the brush you can press harder to find more paint but start out using very little pressure on your brush.

Since light beams are straight, I picked a central point where I wanted to suggest the light was coming from and pulled “rays” from that point. This helped to show where the sun might be but it also softened the end of the island and the horizon line of the water. I also took some of that color and danced it down the water from the light source. I may do more of that later.

Looking at my reference picture, I took my dark mix – blue, sienna and purple - and created the rocks in the water. I varied the size and shape of the rocks and tried to make them as random as possible I didn’t want to create what Jerry Yarnell calls a “herd of turtles” which is extremely easy to do if you aren’t careful. Most of my strokes were not much more than dashes or dots, some were longer or taller; there were groups and singles a lot of over lapping rocks especially on or near the shore. Look at the picture and see how the rocks near the water and in the water are scattered, the more the merrier by the shore then fewer as the go into the water until all you see are the tops of big ones. Be sure to make rocks up on the shore as well. These are the wet rocks that might be getting spray from breaking waves so they will be dark.

Once the rocks are in you can start adding some spray and foam, this will be dry brush again and if you want you can use a smaller – 4 or 6 – bristle brush starting with white (I used gesso) with either some of the mud on your palette or a touch of blue and sienna to grey the color, you want a dirty white color for the under painting. Wipe out most of the paint and with small circular strokes base in some spray hitting some of the rocks especially the larger ones but don’t do what I did and get carried away (I will have to fix it next time). Keep in mind the direction the waves are coming from, the splashes and sprays will be at the back or the rocks where the waves first hit, not the front of the rocks.

With that same dirty white color, dry brush some foam in around some to the shore rocks. Look at your reference photo for suggestions where to place the foam.

Add some touches of blue and/or green to your dirty white so you get a light color, again with a dry brush along the bottom edge of all the rocks in the water using the long “U” type stroke, straighten out the bottom edge of your rocks, you can even pull this color up along some of the sides of the rocks – don’t get carried away – so it looks like the water is piling up against the rocks. This is very effective around the rocks that are near the shore.

I needed to put a highlight on my rocks before I did any more work on the spray. This color needs to be dark because the rocks are wet but just a bit lighter to help show the form of the rocks. I used mostly sienna with just touches of blue and purple and even a little white or occasional touch of orange. Just like I did with the underlying rocks, the highlights are just quick little smudges and dots, keeping in mind the light is coming from the right. These are quick strokes, not labored ones, don’t get out your one haired brushes and try to paint every grain of sand, it isn’t necessary and will do more harm than good.

To suggest some waves in the foreground I used a darker water color in the “trough” and added white to make a lighter color at the “crest” of the waves. A series of waves from the side look a bit like a tilde (~) the crest is going to be in the light and the trough is going to be in shadow. Remember that the waves are following the shape of the land under the water so will curve depending on the shape of the bay. Curves are also better visually so don’t have your wave line come straight down or your water will look like it is standing on end. Remember as well to keep your brush strokes parallel to the bottom of the canvas using the “U” stroke so you water still looks like water: Regular “U” shapes for the trough and inverted “U” shapes for the crest. The more pronounced these shapes the rougher your ocean will look, I kept mine fairly flat to suggest a calmer sea.

If you want to create an “eye” to a wave where it might be breaking, use a little bit of yellow and white, maybe a touch of green and right next to the foam of your breaking wave, dry brush in this color using little circles and working your way out just a little. Use your finger to blend the edges into the surrounding water. Repeat if necessary.

You can highlight the foam a bit now, or you can wait until the end, it doesn’t really matter, if you do highlight use a smaller bristle brush with white and a very tiny amount of yellow to warm it up a little. This color should still look white but it will have a warmer glow. Load your brush by tapping it straight down on your palette, this accomplishes a couple things: It loads your brush and it separates the bristles into a more random pattern, a good thing.

The stroke you will use is called “stippling”, you might want to test out this technique on your palette or piece of paper because it you do it too hard – like crushing a bug – you will not get the desired effect. This is a very light, gentle touching of the canvas, you only want the very ends of the bristles to touch so you see the individual dots left by the bristles, it you do this with too much force, you will defeat you purpose which is highlighting the foam. Again, look where your light source is and think about where the light will hit your foam. It will hit the top and backs of the foam but not the front or the underside. Apply accordingly.

Finish up your rocks near the water and your water. Check your values in your water, the distance should be softer and greyer near the foreground it should be more intense in color, deeper water is bluer and darker water near the shore is lighter in color. See that your rocks appear to be in the water and not floating on top.

Next week: Highlights on the cliffs, palms around the lighthouse, maybe finish up.

Week 4: Watercolor Project – Merging Piers

This week I finished the “Merging Piers” project. There really wasn’t a lot left to do except the water and looking for places I could intensify shadows or colors or places that I missed putting some detail. The purpose of this lesson was to show you that even if you have a complicated scene, you can paint large areas with a series of neutral washes to increase the density of your subject creating highlights and shadows long before you get into detail. It is the contrast that between light and dark that gives shape and form to your subject matter the detail and color are like the frosting the highlights and shadows are the cake, without the cake, your details will look flat and cartoon-ish and that is only good if you are actually doing cartoons.

In the water I used several different colors working them interchangeably so it doesn’t matter what color you use or what color is dominant it is the stroke here that matters most. I used any of the blues I had on my palette and I have several plus a “cool” palette with blues I don’t normally use, I also used most of the greens I had on my palette, like I said, it really doesn’t matter choose colors you like and those are the right ones to use.

I always use the largest brush I can use in this case I was using my ½” brush, loading it with paint with some water but not dripping and using long overlapping “U” strokes and using mostly the end of my brush, added color to my water. I kept it darker under the piers and lighter as it got to the middle. When I noticed that the paper had become wet enough that my strokes were blending together rather then holding their form, I let the water dry then repeated this step until the water was the intensity I wanted. You want to have movement in your water so don’t paint it solid, let there be brush stokes and different colors playing against each other and keep some light in the center between the piers.

Some finishing details on the building included adding suggestions of shingles to Tony’s and some shadows to the ridges of the roof. Using a slightly darker color that is already there and my small – ¼” brush – and just touching it to the roof, I suggested some roofing shingles but I didn’t paint in everyone I saw. Mixing a shadow color – blue, purple and sienna - and water, I lined the ribs on Tony’s roof, then rinsed my brush and with a clean damp brush ran it along the outside edge of the shadow to soften it.

Using this same shadow color I also deepened shadows under roof eves, added windows by negative painting the frames (you are painting the window panes), deepening the darks in some of the windows and using the very end of the brush with the shadow color touched the edges of the posts that hold the rails on both sides of the pier. Adding a bit of water, I looked for a few places where there may be a shadow cast from a building or object next to it such as the sky lights on the roof on the right, there is a bit of a shadow cast on that same roof from the building next to it and there is a cast shadow on the other side where that one part sticks out from the rest.

I also lifted some light back into the windows on the shadowed building on the right, not on all but a few to suggest that there may be windows on the other side of the building and I went over the very light roof on the right with a very light mix of mud from my palette using a lot of water to tint the roof slightly.

We also talked about cast shadows vs form shadows. If you can place an object like a round vase on a table with a strong light source such as a sunlit window or a lamp, look at the object carefully. Where the light is hitting it, it is very light/bright, as you move away from the light source the object becomes cooler and darker as it goes into shadow, this is your “form” shadow. Now look on the table at the shadow created by the object blocking the light source and notice the difference, it should appear darker than the shadows on the object especially near where the object sits on the table, this is a “cast: shadow. Both of these types of shadows are important one show the shape of the object and the other shows direction of light. Understand them and don’t forget them.

You can finish this project to your own satisfaction and start looking for a project of your own. I will be out of town on the 4th but there will be a teacher taking my place so there will be class. If there are any subjects you would like to have a demo on or technique, let me know as my demos until the end of the session will deal with individual subjects and not a full project.

Next time: Brush strokes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer '08 Projects Week 3

Week 3: Acrylic – “P.V. Lighthouse “

This week we started the highlight process. While these are not final highlights, these midrange values are very important to give texture and form to your cliffs. I used sienna and orange as a base for my highlights but added touches of all my other colors to give variety to my cliffs. When I got to where I knew there would be a lot of foliage, I used a mix of green with orange just don’t go over everything with these highlights or you will have to put your shadows back in. All of this was done using the dry brush technique and scrubbing these colors on, it keeps the edges soft and lets some of the under painting show through.

I also added some detail into my shadows by using a little touch of alizarin crimson also dry brushed.

At this point I need to start thinking about the finished painting, I kept my reference picture close by and referred to it often so I could see where my highlights were exactly and where there were some changes on the cliffs, for instance, there is a light part of the cliff just below where the light house sits, it has it’s own unique shape and color. The color I used – and I did have to play with it to get it close – was the sienna with a touch of yellow, white and a hint of purple to grey the color, I added some shadows back into that area using blue, purple and sienna and what was on my brush.

Along the shore nearest the cliffs the rocks are lighter than those closer to the water because they are dry, in the same pile of dark paint I used for shadows I added white to get a light grey/blue color and scrubbed this color at the base of the cliffs.

I added the grass to the top of the cliffs, they had to be under painted first with green, purple and blued. Be sure that you don’t just paint a strip of green, if you look closely at the reference picture you will notice that the grass does come out on some of the tops of those bluffs, this will help again with creating the shape of the cliffs. After I got the base for the grass painted I went back to my dark shadow color and with quick, short downward strokes I added shadows just under the grass to give the grass some dimension.

This next part is tricky: drawing the lighthouse. While it may not see like a major problem, in many paintings I see with a lighthouse, it is almost always too big in its relationship to everything else around it. As humans, our brains assign priority to the things they see, the lighthouse not only representing something we associate with safety it is also a man-made object in the middle of Nature so our brain thinks it has to be important, so unless we are aware that our brains are trying to sabotage our efforts, we will tend to draw/paint the lighthouse too big. While the actual lighthouse may be 100’ tall, the cliffs it is standing on may be 300’ – 500’ and would definitely dwarf the light house if you could do a side by side comparison.

Keeping this all in mind, measure the lighthouse in the reference picture using the end of your brush or a pencil or some other straight thing (I have a chopstick for this purpose) then measure it compared to the cliffs starting just below the lighthouse and measuring to the bottom of the cliffs. I think I measured about 3 ½ to 4 lighthouse lengths to the cliff’s base. Now measure your paintings cliffs with your brush and try to find about a third to a quarter of the distance from the top to the bottom of the cliffs that is how tall your light house should be. Mark it with your charcoal so you know the height of the lighthouse then sketch in the lighthouse, don’t get it too wide for all the same reasons. Proportions are vital if you want to keep some realistic perspective to your painting.

The lighthouse is based in with a dark blue/grey color (blue, sienna, white and a little purple). Stay within your charcoal lines to the LH doesn’t grow. There is also a little thing on the end of the cliffs that can be painted in with this color as well. I added a bit more sienna to the dark color to paint the copper roof of the LH.

Finally, I painted some intermediate highlights on the grass on the top of the cliffs using sap green and yellow. I applied the paint with short downward strokes to give a soft edge to the top of the cliffs.

Next week: Rocks in the water and more.

Week 3: “Merging Piers” – Watercolor

This week we got a bit more specific and also started adding some color. First I made a wash of turquoise with lots of water (pthalo blue will also work) with this wash I went over all of the front buildings in the front both on the sunny side and the shadowed side of the building in the front, then down into the water with this color. Be sure to rinse your brush before you go into the water because you may have picked up some dark color when you went across the shadowed building. This wash needs to be just a tint so it looks like sunlight is hitting it in the final painting.

When you get to the water remember that this is moving water so use the end of your brush and paint the color on with long, flat, overlapping “U” shaped strokes. You can also add touches of green into the water, just keep it light in value (lots of water, little paint), we will be adding more color next week.

Again, using the same turquoise color but just a bit stronger in intensity (less water) to suggest the window pains on the top of the windows on the left. What you are doing here is negative painting in the frames that hold the glass (see the photo on the picture page), just like with everything else, you can just suggest the frames and let the viewer do some work.

I put some color into the roofs: Some yellow with a touch of sap green on the right and dropped some orange into that color while it was still wet and on the left used sienna with a touch of orange to under paint the roofs on the front buildings and on the Tony’s building.

While things were drying I mixed a dark color with sienna and purple though I kept it on the brownish side using little water, I used the chiseled edge of my brush to just touch to make the lines of the wood ornamentation on the buildings in the back on the right side and using the same color and technique created some of the pilings under the pier where we have the light water.

When the roofs were dry, I also used that dark color and the edge of my brush to just touch under the eves to create some dark shadows to create some depth. Then using straight sienna on the end of the brush I touched the top of the little angular building where the tow piers meet to suggest it has tiles along the edge.

Going back to a shadow mix with some of the turquoise in it, I negatively painted the railings and the posts they are attached to. You are painting the building behind the railings you can also at this time with this color negative paint frames around some of the windows on that side as well.

On the left side where the sun is brightest, using the same color though maybe with a bit more of the turquoise color in it you will positively paint the railings towards the center (actually paint the railings and posts) of the painting and negatively paint the ones in the front of the building (see photo page) same as you did on the other side.

The roofs should be dry by now so we can add the suggestion of wood shingles or composite roofing shingles. Start with the wood shingles on the building on the left, using straight sienna or with just a touch of purple in it and a bit of water – we don’t want this real dark, just darker than what’s there – using a dry brush technique (keep a paper towel handy to take the excess water out of your brush) use the edge of the brush keeping it parallel to the top of the roof and make quick, little downward strokes. You don’t need to make the exact number of rows across and you can skip places, just try to keep them parallel to the top of the roof. If it looks a bit to detailed, wait until it is dry, then with a damp brush gently go over the area to soften the look of the shingles.

On the yellow roof it will be a similar situation but you will use a grey mix (actually, any mud you have on your palette will work fine) just keep it dilute and just a bit darker than the roof. Again, if it is too sharp, use a damp brush to soften the color.

Next week: More color in the water, some shadows and detail.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer 08 Projects Week 2

Week 2: Acrylic – P.V Lighthouse

This week we will finish our under painting for the cliffs and start some of the refinement process. Keep in mind that we are building our painting just like we would build a house: The foundation and the frame are just as important at the final picture, even if you are doing a more impressionistic type of painting, these first few steps are very important just as the foundation and framing are to a well built house.

We started out by working more on our water. Starting out at the horizon, using a bristle brush I mixed white with little touches of blue and/or green, I lightly mixed this on my palette but most of the mixing is done on the canvas. This color should be just slightly lighter than what you have in that area, this is part of the highlighting process but may not be the final highlight, we will determine that later as we are finishing up our painting. I was using a #10 flat bristle for more of the day’s painting.

Using long flat “U” shaped strokes (these should almost be flat lines with just the very ends slightly turned up) I worked my way down from the horizon overlapping my strokes but I do want to keep some of the color of the under painting showing through so it looks like movement in the distance, however, this is in the far distance so keep it subtle. Remember: Things in the distance are softer, greyer, less intense in color and have little or no detail.

As you work your way to the foreground, you use the same colors except you use less white. You want to keep the color a shade or two lighter than what is under it but not so light that the contrast is distracting. These are mid-tone highlights, again, not the final highlights. If you are near the shore, you can add touches of sienna or orange to your color, even some purple in the deeper water, just keep your strokes fairly flat, that is unless you want a very stormy sea. The more pronounced the “U” shape of your stroke the more turbulent your water will appear.

Don’t worry if you go into the area where your cliffs will be, you can paint right over them and it won’t hurt a thing. This will also accomplish something several of you found out the hard way, it lets you get the ocean behind your cliffs now so you don’t have to try and paint it back in later, which can be a challenging situation to keep the ocean looking like it is flat.

Once you have gotten this mid-range highlight on your ocean, you can sketch in the area where your cliffs and shore line will be using either your vine charcoal or chalk, just remember to blow off the dust. Again, this is not a detailed sketch but more of a guide to let you know where your cliffs are and how the shore line bends around. We are not worried about the lighthouse, trees grass or anything else, just getting the shape of the cliffs in at this point.

Still using the #10 flat bristle brush, I picked up my blue, sienna and a touch of purple to start the painting of the cliffs. I want to brush mix these colors on my canvas so I don’t get a flat even color, I want the variation that brush mixing will give me. The stroke I used was a sort of scumbling stroke but I did keep in mind the direction of the cliff faces. I’d pick up my paint and spread it around until it was almost a dry brush technique, it doesn’t need to be real thick at this point, also, there is a lot of vertical movement in the cliffs so I wanted my strokes to reflect that movement. Along with the fore-mentioned colors, I also picked up green, orange, red and touches of yellow trying not to blend everything so much that it becomes on solid ugly color. Near the bottom of the cliffs where all the piles of eroded rocks are, I just used the blue, purple and sienna with just a touch of white to grey the color to paint the rocks. Use a flatter stroke when painting the shore to give the illusion that there is a change of direction from the cliffs above.

In the bottom left hand corner there will be some closer green bushes and weeds, you can under paint that area using the blue, purple sienna with either the sap or hooker’s green or both, you just want it very dark in that corner.

After your cliffs are dry, you can start to base in the shadows in the cliffs, still using the same brush pick up the blue, purple and sienna though this time mix them on you palette so you know you have a very dark color, mostly the blue and purple. This time you will be using a dry brush so once you have loaded your brush wipe some of it off so you don’t have and globs of paint on your brush. Again, these strokes should follow the angles of the cliffs. If you need to you can sketch in where the shadows are and also take note that the shadows have really dark areas and not so dark areas, this is important to give your painting 3 dimensions. To make an area darker use more pressure on your brush; to make them not so dark, lessen the pressure. Even using a “dry” brush, there is still a lot of paint in it
and the dry brush is a very effective way to work with acrylics.

Next week: Adding some grass and more highlights.

Week 2: Watercolor – Merging Pier

We are still working on establishing our shadows in our paintings so we are still using the same mix of paint: The blue and orange with lots of water to make a grey blue color. It is still the same value as we have been working with so don’t get it too dark. However, we are now getting down to specifics so if you need to use a smaller brush – not your tiny brushes, just a smaller one – it might help when you are painting around some of these areas. To keep your painting from looking overworked it is best to use the largest brush you can comfortably use in the situation.

With this grey color you can add some detail to the condos behind the pier, just don’t get carried away. Suggest windows or shadows on buildings or trees but just suggest them, they are too far in the background to have much if any detail and little or no color.

With the same color, paint in the windows on the buildings, doing one building at a time because you will need the area to be wet for the following step. While the paint is still wet in the windows pick up dilute (very watery) of any of the following color: Yellow, orange, red or even just water and just barely touch the wet window area in a couple of places. Do not try to paint this in, just touch the brush to the paper and get out of there! The water with the color from your brush will push the color on the paper away so it will leave shapes that look like you can see into the buildings, just let the water and paint do all the work, it is one of the things I do love about watercolor that no other medium will do for you.

After you have finished the windows you will still need to go over the shadowed side of the building on the right and under the entire pier. Don’t forget the backs of the signs on the roofs on the building on the right either. When you get to the water, you will need to paint around the outside pilings and boards under the pier. This is called negative painting and is an important technique in watercolor since we work from light to dark. At this point only worry about the closest pilings and just paint over the ones at the back in the very dark area and don’t worry about the other details under the pier, because there will be one more wash of this shadow color especially under the pier, before we really get into colors though we will start putting in some colors today.

First the “El Torito” sign. For now, just paint it red, the whole thing. It has to dry before we can do anything else. Next, there is a angular building right where the two piers converge (see reference photo) that is getting a bit of reflected color from the roof next to it so using a touch of sienna and maybe some red or orange and lots of water to dilute it, paint the corner next to the roof, rinse out your brush and pull that color down a ways on the building. It should fade out to nothing so don’t start with a lot of paint, this is very subtle.

Next, you can add some color to the store fronts that are behind the other buildings. There were some yellows and oranges but mix them with just a bit of sienna to tone them down a bit. Over by Old Tony’s is a bamboo fence use sienna with a touch of yellow for the top part of the fence and sienna and purple for the bottom. I painted this using the chisel edge of my brush in a vertical stroke. Think bamboo when you are painting it.

If your red has dried on the “El Torito” sign, you can get out a small brush and using sienna and purple and a touch of blue (you want a warm rich brown color) NEGETIVE paint the letters on the sign. Again you just have to suggest that it says “El Torito” what you are painting is the wood around the letters (negative painting again) there is also a logo. This is just one way of putting letters on signs, but it is effective.

With that same dark brown mix, you can paint the dark roofs (look at your reference photo) of several buildings. There is a pointed roof behind the row of buildings on the pier that needs to be lighter to show distance but you can use the same color just water it down. Be aware that there are some beams next to the El Torito building you need to paint around, although if you do happen to paint over them, you can lift them later and that will be perfectly okay.

Now, back to the shadows. For this wash of color, we will change the mix just a bit, this time instead of mixing your blue with orange, mix it with just a touch of sienna. The color you get can be a bit darker in value than the previous mixes though it is still on the diluted side. This color will appear more like a charcoal blue grey, keep it to the blue side.

You will definitely need a brush that you can control, either a #4 round or small flat/angular, because we need to paint around the pilings under the pier. Before you start, look at your reference picture. Notice that it gets very, very dark where the two piers meet and there is very little visible detail, we are going to add some suggestions of detail in that dark area so it looks like the pier has some support but it is going to be subtle, we just want the viewer to think that the pier isn’t floating in air that there is some sort of structure there but not so detailed that it distracts from the rest of the painting. You are the artist you can make changes to your painting, in this case adding some detail in the dark shadows, you are never chained to a photo or other reference, if you want to add, change or remove elements that is your prerogative as an artist, you have a license, use it.

You will need to negatively paint around the pilings with your shadow color and you don’t have to paint everything you see or think you should see, just suggest the pilings and boards that are to the outside of the pier towards the back and maybe hint at a next row and that’s all you need to do. Remember also that you are painting water so when you come out from under the pier you need to flatten your strokes and blend that dark color into the lighter areas with just clear water.

The windows on the buildings that are in the shadow on the right can be painted in with this color using the same technique as you used on the other windows: apply the dark color then drop either color or water into the wet window. However, notice in the reference photo that some of the windows near where the two piers meet, there are some lighter windows that are reflecting the buildings across from them, you can achieve this look by using a clean, damp brush and gently going over the area a few times to lift out the color. Keep a towel handy to blot the area which will also lift out more color. By contrast, the lifted windows will look much lighter than the building around them that is the look we are going for.

Next week: We add color and get into some detail.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer '08 Art Projects

Photos for both projects can be found on the picture page at:

Week 1 Acrylic: P.V. Lighthouse

I started this project by first marking the horizon line aprox. 2” down from the top of the canvas, this is important because we are looking at the ocean and the ocean should not look like it is running down hill. Using my charcoal and a ruler I drew a straight line across my canvas. The charcoal will not hurt the paint and can easily be wiped off with a damp paper towel if you need to make changes. Blow off any excess dust.

Next, I wet the sky area with water – both with my spray bottle and brush – just be careful not to get it too wet it just needs to be enough to help spread the gesso and paint across the canvas. Using my #10 flat bristle brush (rinse and dry it off before you go into your paint), I picked up a touch of Napthol Red and a little orange, I just want to tint the gesso so keep the amounts small, you can always get more, I streaked these colors across my canvas just above the horizon and blended them up about ¾” on the canvas. I rinsed my brush then picked up Ultramarine Blue, a little touch of Burnt Sienna and a little touch of Dioxizine Purple (unless I otherwise indicate, I will refer to the aforementioned colors by the underlined portion of the color). You should have more blue than either the sienna or purple, the sienna is just to slightly grey the resulting color and the purple just helps deepen the color, use it sparingly because a little of the purple goes a long way. I streaked this along the top of the canvas and work it down to almost the pink color at the horizon. I then rinsed the brush well, dried it off you don’t want any excess water and blend the two areas together using “X” type strokes, starting in the lighter area and working up into the darker. Wipe the brush often so you can keep your light area light and not get too much of the dark color down into it. If you have a soft blender brush, you can lightly go over this area and blend the colors remember it is a very light stroke, you barely touch the canvas with the brush.

Try to work as quickly as you can, acrylics set up within a few minutes and though the gesso and the water we started out with will add some working time to your paint it is best to work quickly so you get things blended and also so your sky doesn’t look over worked. Also, run your finger along the bottom of the horizon line or use a dry brush to soften the line, it is best if you try to avoid hard lines as they are very hard to get rid of later.

If at any time you are working and you seem to be picking up more paint than you are putting down, your paint is starting to set up and you will need to stop and let the area dry before going back in to fix it or you will just make it worse. Another problem students (and their teachers) have is having too much water on the brush. It causes the paint to be very thin and it won’t cover the canvas. Be sure that after you rinse your brush that you dry off as much water as you can to avoid excess water in the paint. If you need to add water to thin the paint it is better to take it from a drip on your palette or touch a wet brush rather than dipping into your water container because you can get more than you need and your paint will be too thin.

The next step can be done while your sky is still tacky or you can wait until it is dry. If you are picking up paint instead of putting it down, it would be best to wait.

If you need to, you can draw in the outline of Catalina with the end of your brush if your paint is still wet, or with your vine charcoal. Blow off any excess dust before painting. If you think you can paint the island without an outline it is perfectly okay just keep in mind that it is in the distance and really not very high on the horizon (see reference photo on photo page).

(I used the #10 flat bristle brush for everything I did with the exception of showing how to use the blender) This time I started with a good sized dollop of white (either gesso or titanium white, gesso is just a bit more opaque and softer than titanium) and I added to that a blue, little purple and red and mixed on my palette to get a soft reddish purple for the island. Sometimes we mix paint on the palette to get a more even color, other times we mix on the canvas to give variety to our color and the different colors mix un evenly.

After my island color was mixed, I loaded my brush with paint but did not have a gob of it on my brush, you do not want to have excess paint to deal with here. Starting on the top edge of the island mountains, I placed the entire flat edge of the brush against the outline I’d drawn and pulled down. This will give you a softer edge along the top, keep in mind it is “26 miles across the sea…” so there will be no detail, no hard edges. You can pull the paint down into where the water will be it won’t hurt your painting just be sure you soften the bottom edges as well, hard edges will show up under layers of paint and are hard to get rid of later on so take care of them now. I let the island dry before I started the next step.

With my charcoal, I made a rough sketch of where the peninsula jutted out from the land so I knew where my water needed to go. Even though I knew I was going to go over this sketch. It let me know where the water was going to be so I could go far enough over to get the water behind the cliffs. With acrylics it is easy to just paint over something rather than try to avoid an area your charcoal marks can always be re-drawn.

Starting at the horizon line (if you need to, re-draw your horizon so you know where to cut the island off) I added a bit of gesso to the top part of the ocean, I extended the gesso down past the top of my cliffs, into that area covered with gesso I picked up little amounts of blue and Sap Green and with horizontal, long flat “U” shaped strokes I blended the blue and sap into the gesso. I picked up more color as I needed it and even added sienna. The water in the distance should look a bit on the grayish/blue side; however, you don’t want a solid color. Variation in the color is a good thing, don’t overwork and area until you’ve lost all that good variation.

As you work down the canvas with the blue and the sap, add more colors. Water isn’t just blue. Go down to the ocean and look at it, if you can go up to PV and look down, even better, you will notice that while the primary color is blue it has all other colors and various blues as well. Out in the open water it may be a deep blue or blue/green, maybe even purple. Closer to the shore there will be more greens, turquoise even sienna and oranges where the sand is being churned up or where there are kelp beds or rocks. The water is full of color because it not only reflects the color of the sky – which can be all colors as well – it also is transparent so things in it can change the color. You, as an artist, need to remember this so when you are painting water you remember to use all the colors on your palette, not just the blue.

Another rule of thumb: Things in the distance are softer and greyer in color and have little or no detail, as you come into the foreground things become more colorful and have more detail. Keep this in mind and you continue painting your water, once you get past the area you painted with gesso you may need to add some occasional white to blend into the upper part of the ocean but use the white sparingly near the bottom keeping mostly to the pure colors (mostly blue but any of the other colors on your palette including the red and yellow). You can paint into the cliff area so don’t worry about getting your ocean colors into the cliff area just remember to watch those hard lines.

What we are doing is called “under painting” and it is a critical part of the painting. Consider it like the foundation of a house the better the foundation the better the house. It may not look like much now but give it time and it will start to take shape.

Next week: Some water details and the cliffs get under painted.

Week 1 Watercolor: Merging Piers

Just so you know because I may have not made myself clear on the first day and I apologize, you can find the drawing and the reference photo for class projects on the picture page I have set up for class. I put them there so you can download them to have for your reference and for class. I thought this might be a way for me to cut down my own expenses and let my students have access to better copies than the school copy machine can make especially of the photos. I apologize for any confusion.

A little background on my teaching philosophy: When I started teaching a few years ago, I wanted to take a more positive approach to the subjects and my students. I try not to use terms like difficult or hard, I try to use words like challenge or complex. There is power in words so if my students hear me use the word difficult all the time or hard, they may think that if it is so hard, why am I trying to get the poor students who know nothing to do something they are going to fail at doing?

I do not want my students to fail, I want them to believe that they can do anything or any subject no matter how challenging the project, you just have to break it down into its most basic components and just do one thing at a time. It is just a piece of paper, if it doesn’t turn out, you try again. This is an important thing to keep in mind no matter what medium you are using but particularly with watercolor, it can be challenging all on it’s own and as I often say in class, “It will teach you patience.”

That said the most challenging part of this project is the drawing. Yes, it is complex, however, if you break it down into its most basic component you will notice it is nothing more than a bunch of straight lines. I showed in class various ways you can get the drawing onto you paper by using wax-free graphite paper or by rubbing your pencil on the back of the drawing to create what I call “poor man’s” graphite paper or you can draw directly on the paper being careful not to erase so hard that you rough up the paper’s surface. If you want to learn more on drawing, a book I highly recommend and have mentioned it on this blog many times, is Betty Edwards “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. It is a great book to help you become a better drawer and a better all around artist. Drawing really is fundamental.

Once you have your drawing on your paper your next step is to look at your reference photo. I cannot stress just how important having good reference material is no mater what you are painting, even fantasy, it helps to have something to look at so you know where you are going with your painting. What I want you to see here is where the lightest light areas are or basically, where the sun is hitting the subject. On a two dimensional surface such as our paper, we only have dark and light to show a third dimension of depth. We have our lightest areas, our darkest areas and everything in between to create the illusion of depth and we need to do this in steps.

Watercolor is an accumulative medium because it is transparent. What is underneath a layer will show through and as you apply washes the color becomes more saturated and it also becomes darker in value. We start with first with finding those light areas or areas that will be white. Traditionally in watercolor white is the paper and we work from light to dark building up the intensity (the richness of the color) and values (light or darkness) of colors through the use of thin washes of color.

Once you have identified the lightest areas which are mostly the roof tops, a spot under the right side of the pier, the right side of the sky and the walls of the building on the left, using the biggest brush you have using clear water, you will paint with just the clear water everything EXCEPT those areas that need to be left white at this point. Wetting the paper helps the paint go on quickly and evenly. When you paint around something it is called negative painting and we do it a lot in watercolor.

While your paper is still wet, pick up the slightest touch of your red (napthol or cad red) on your palette mix it with water, we just want to tint the upper right hand side of the sky. When you have a light pinkish color, apply it to about a third of your sky area starting at the top right and working down into the building area it won’t hurt your buildings. If it still seems too red, rinse your brush and with just clear water move the color down the paper. Keep a paper towel handy to dry you brush or to lift excess water or paint from your paper.

Next, mix your lightest blue (if you only have ultra marine blue, don’t worry, it will work fine) such as cobalt or cerulean blue and just a touch of orange to grey the color – you are looking for a light blue/grey color – this mix is going to be mostly water with just a hint of color and you will be using this same mix for several layers. Paint everything with this light mix EXCEPT your lightest areas and the corner of the sky you just painted. Start in the left top corner of your paper and work your way over and down. When you get close to the pink area of the sky, rinse you brush and use just water (a damp brush, not a drippy one) to blend the two areas together. Try to use the largest brush you have to cover your paper quickly if you need to re-wet an area that is okay, your paper will dry at different rates depending on heat and humidity, working quickly keeps you from concentrating on any one area too long especially now when you are just starting a painting. Don’t forget the top of Old Tony’s roof and the rails in front of the building on the left. When you are done with this first wash, LET YOUR PAPER DRY. This is where the patience part kicks in, your paper must be dry for the next wash or you will get what are called blooms or back-runs as the wet paint seeps into to the drying areas. If you know how to create them you can use them to your advantage, but when they pop up where you don’t want them, it can be really annoying.

While you are waiting for your painting to dry (you can use a hairdryer if you want), look at the photo again and see where the next lightest areas are in the picture. This would be the sky, the fronts of the buildings on the right, the top of the glass roof of the building on the left and tops of a couple of roofs in the background. Using the same mix at the same value (this is important) paint your next wash starting with the condos in the background and work you way down the paper though this time you will paint everything again now with the exception of the original white areas and the “new” light areas I just mentioned. Add just a touch of the pink color into the condo area if you want, we won’t be doing much more to this area and a little color will help. If you need to use a smaller brush to get into some of the smaller areas, it is okay but try to use the biggest brush you feel will let you do the job. Be aware of the El Torito sign, there is now some light area behind it so you will positive paint the sign area.

Lastly, using the same thin mix, we painted some of the distant background trees. All you need to do is suggest trees, they are too far away for detail they just need to suggest a palm tree or other tree, don’t get out the one haired brush, think simple.

Next week: More layers and maybe some color.