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.

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