Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter 09 Acrylic and Watercolor Classes

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Acrylic Week 1 – “Dusty”

For the new people in class I just want to go over setting up your palette. While you need to find out what works best for you, I suggest that when you are starting out to get into habits that will help you in the long run. I always set my palette up the same way: First I wet paper towels, fold them into thirds and lay them along the outside edge of my palette (if you are using meat trays, put the paper towels in the bottom of one tray), this will keep my paints moist for weeks if I continue to keep the towels moist and the lid tight when not in use. When I put out my paints I start from warm to cool (reds and yellows to greens and blues), light to dark. Starting with my Titanium White, Cad Yellow light, Cad Orange, Napthol Red, Burnt Sienna, pthlo yellow green, sap green, Hookers green, Ultra marine blue and dioxizine purple. I always set my palette up this way so I don’t have to think about what color I’m picking up, it is there every time.

Another important thing I do is I put out ALL of my colors, not just the ones I think I’m going to use, because I don’t know what I might need and I don’t want to have to stop and keep opening paint. I find that with many of my students, they are afraid of wasting paint so they will only put out one or two colors and then wonder why their painting doesn’t look anywhere near to what mine does. Also, put out enough paint so you don’t have to keep adding more. You should put out a good inch or more on your palette so you, one, don’t have to stop so often to get more or two – this is important - so you don’t try to spread the paint so thin that it isn’t covering your canvas. This is where having a palette that is air tight or can be placed in an air tight container will save your paint from week to week and will be ready to go when you are.

The first thing we have to do is get our background established. While there are many ways to start a painting, I find working from the things that are furthest away first allows me to tie my painting together so it doesn’t have a “cut and paste” feel when I’m done. Unlike oils that can be worked weeks after they have been put on the canvas, acrylics dry within minutes so that it becomes almost impossible to soften edges to blend areas together. It is not “against the rules” to do the background after working on the subject of the picture, it is, is my opinion, just easier when working in acrylics to work from “back to front”.

First I lightly sprayed my canvas with my spray bottle, you just want to mist the canvas it shouldn’t be dripping, then using my large hake (pronounced “hockey”) brush and my gesso, I put on a thin coat of the gesso about ¾ of the way down the canvas which is in the horizontal position (long side on top). The gesso is there to help us blend, however, if you do not have gesso you can just use the water and/or some of your white for this step. I use gesso because it is more opaque and is a bit slower to dry giving me a longer working time. I also want to change the value of my background to grayish it to push it back, so if you don’t have gesso, to get this same effect you will have to use white along with your other colors.

My background is going to be primarily green as if Dust is out standing in her field – sorry, couldn’t resist – but along with the greens I will use every color on my palette. I know what you are thinking: It’s grass, it’s green, what other colors do you need? Part of my job as your teacher is to help you see the world around you; the world of the artist is more diverse than it is for non-artists. We are trying to convey to our viewers how we see the world around us and if we are more traditional artists as opposed to graphic artist or abstract artists we have to look closely to that which we want to paint. Yes, in general a field can be green if you need a quick answer, but I need you to look closer. What color of green do you see? Are there other colors? What are the colors in the distance as oppose to the colors in the foreground? How do they differ? This is something you can do when you are sitting at a light and looking down the street. Start noticing how light and color work. What is different from the trees next to your car from the trees down the street? What do you see different from the buildings next to you from those up on the hill? If you were going to paint that scene, how would you start? How would you get that effect? There are a lot of things you can do to help your painting without ever touching a brush because most of the work is in your head.

All that said, still using my hake brush, I dip into my green (I was using sap and Hooker’s in equal proportions so either/or both will work) on one side and blue and purple on the other. Using the edge of my brush I made long, curved, diagonal strokes across my canvas. I have to keep in mind what I am painting: An open field with tall grass and bushes. Grass does not just grow up straight as a phone pole, it bends with the wind and rain, some are straighter than others and some are almost bent to the ground, this is what I’m thinking as I am painting my background. When I run out of paint, I pick up maybe more green and sienna this time, still using the long strokes I apply these colors gently blending with the colors on my canvas. Maybe the next time I only pick up yellow and orange and blend it in to what is there, just don’t blend until you get mud, just soften the colors together, you want streaks. Pick up the blue and purple do the same thing, add green when you need it but don’t use it exclusively. If you aren’t using gesso, be sure to pick up white to blend in to your colors to soften these colors. If your paint feels like it is getting sticky, LIGHTLY mist your canvas and work the water in to your paint. You want what looks like a soft focus field of grass. You know its grass but you can’t see any detail.

This will take up the top 2/3s of your canvas, the bottom third will be part of the foreground and is handled a bit different. The biggest difference will be we will use little, if any, white. We want the colors to stay intense because they are closer to us. A good point to remember is: Things in the distance become softer, grayer, less intense in color and less detailed, again, when you are sitting at a light, look down the street especially if there are trees, what do you see?

I was still using my hake brush but if you are working on a small canvas or if you feel more comfortable you can switch to a Number 10 bristle brush for the foreground and if you want, you can lightly mist the bottom of the canvas though it is not necessary. We will use the same colors in the foreground as we used in the distance but we won’t use white and we will use our brush in a different way. Again, I picked up several colors on my brush, green being the primary color but this time instead of using the edge I used the flat side of the brush almost parallel to the canvas and did a quick “pat and push up”. As the brush touches the canvas, I quickly push it up a bit before lifting it off my canvas. This is a great way to make the texture of the grass but it was not the only stroke I used I also used the corner of the brush with tapping or stenciling motion for the suggestion of weeds or bushes. I also did a touch and lift motion with the edge of the brush to suggest grass, my goal was to create the look of texture in the foreground by varying my color and my brush strokes. When you are done, your canvas should be completely covered. Let this dry before adding the design.

For many of you, now comes the hard part – the drawing. I’ve said this before but it bears mentioning again – a lot of people come into painting because they can’t draw but think they can paint. While that is partially true, if you don’t want to be an abstract painter, you need to have some knowledge of drawing. The better your drawing, the better you painting will be. I recommend Betty Edwards’ book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and encourage my students to follow her instruction or to find a drawing class, your paintings will thank you.

That said, there are ways to transfer an image to your canvas, you will just need to work a bit harder. If you have a computer there are programs such as
Poster that will let you enlarge an image to any size you need. Or you can take it to Kinko’s or work it out on tracing paper using the grid method to enlarge it. Once you have the image the size you need you can transfer the image using either graphite paper or using a soft pastel or charcoal on the back side, then placing the drawing on your canvas and going over the lines. You may have to take your chalk or charcoal and go over these transferred lines but you will get the image on your canvas. Just don’t use a hard object like a pencil on your painted surface or you can emboss lines into the paint that you don’t want.

Whether you draw or transfer your image be sure that the image is large enough to fill most of the canvas and don’t place her in the middle. I designed this project with her front half on one of the third lines and her tail at the other with her head in a crash point. This is basic composition but it is important to bring interest to your painting.

If you are working on a smaller canvas you can use a smaller bristle brush but I was using a No. 10 flat bristle brush. I used a mixture of sienna, blue, purple and white for my base color and starting not quite to the lines of my drawing I placed my brush on the canvas and with quick strokes pulled in from the outside. She is a soft fuzzy dog so I don’t want any hard lines, I was pulling my strokes into the body or head which gives me a soft edge. I used this color combination for most of her body adding a touch more white in places like her face and tail and adding more blue and purple to create the dark areas of her nose ears and shadowed back leg. The tail had touches of orange and I used a longer more sweeping stroke because the hair on her tail is long and straight..

Get as much of this done by next week as you can because we will finish up some of the back ground and start giving this girl some fur.

Watercolor Week 1 – Tiger Paws

Watercolor students: you might want to skim through the above notes for the Acrylic class and take note of things I mentioned on learning to become more observant, drawing and options on transferring images to your watercolor paper (use graphite instead of chalk on the back of your design). New students also note that I set my watercolor palette up much the same way except I don’t use white and I do use a couple more colors than I use in acrylics though it is basically the same.

I will be doing two versions of Tiger just to give you some options, especially students who have been with me for a while though it is by no means confined to them; I just want them to think in different ways now that they (should) know what they are doing.

The first version with be a more traditional handling of the subject, the alternate version will be much the same but the background is handled a bit different, the kitten will be done the same way on both.

As I said in class, traditionally in watercolor, white is the white of the paper and watercolorists work from the lights colors to the darkest so our first step is to find the whitest areas and decide how to keep them white. If they are large areas we can paint around them, we could “lift” back to almost white, do a resist with wax but that is a permanent solution and can’t be changed or we can do what I have done which is to protect the areas with masking fluid.

Masking fluid is like rubber cement and will easily peel off when we are ready to uncover the light area. Your paper has to be absolutely dry when you put it on and you need to let it dry for 15 – 30 minutes depending on how much and how thick you put it on. One it is dry you can paint over it and not worry about what is underneath. I put masking under his nose, a bit on his chin and paw and dots in both eyes and if you want you can also put a couple of dots in the rim of the basket (look at the photo for placement). The let it dry completely before starting your painting.

On the alternative painting I needed to protect the whole image and part of the basket so I covered the whole kitten with mask before starting my background. The basket weave is not as hard as it looks, just think of it as if you are weaving it: draw lines for the ribs and as you apply the mask think over (apply mask) under (skip to next rib), over, under…Next row is reverse: Under, over, under, over…Until you have as much done as you want, notice I only did some of the basket with the mask.

The background on the alternative painting was done by first just spritzing the paper with a bit of spray from the spray bottle you can just splatter water with your brush as well, just don’t get carried away, a couple of spritzes and you are good to go. Then use any color you want – I used greens and yellows with a lot of water and splattered the color by shaking my brush over my paper. I want splatters and blobs (you can see why I needed to protect the whole kitten not just the white areas), I kept the lighter colors to the top and changed to darker greens and blues and even purple towards the bottom. When I was happy with my splatters I let it dry completely before removing the mask (if the paper is damp removing the mask could tear the paper) the re-applied mask to the areas of white I protected in the other painting. The rest of the kitten is painted much the same way as I will paint the traditional painting, I will note when there is a difference.

The first part of this painting is more a tonal painting to establish our light and shadow areas first. While there are many ways to start a painting, I am finding that I like this method because I don’t have to worry about color right off the bat, I can find the lights and darks then worry about color but it by no means the only way to work a painting and I have and probably will find times when I totally change the way I approach a subject. Everyone will find a ways that best suits their needs, and I try to give you as much info as I can.

We already know where the lightest areas are because we have protected them with mask, what I did next was to tone everything else down with a grey color. I used “palette grey” which was just adding water to the left over colors on my palette that made a nice grey, but if you need to mix gray your blue (any of your blues, I used cerulean blue, ultra marine will work just fine) with a touch or orange or burnt sienna. You need to add a lot of water because you just want to “tint” the paper. Watercolor is accumulative so each time you add another layer of color it will get darker. Here we need to build up to our dark, remember, in watercolor, we work from light to dark.

I used this color over all the paper, if I think it is too dark, I get just plain water and add to what is on my paper to dilute the color. This should be just one or two shades darker than the paper itself. Once the whole paper is covered, it must dry before the next step.

In each of the following steps, the color will be the same: A light washy gray. Each time we are going to leave more and more areas unpainted and as we add layers to the darker areas, the dimension of the kitten and basket will start to emerge. The second wash, I went over everything EXCEPT the next lightest areas like the right side of his face and head, the edges of his ears, the white area on the right side of his chest, and the rim of the basket, everything else was toned down. Let this dry before proceeding.

The following layers were done the same way by painting around the areas we want to leave lighter. The next layer I left most of the kitten unpainted except for some of the shadows in his ears, under his chin, along the side of his nose and behind the shoulder on his body. On the basket, I just painted the outside edges then with plain water blended it towards the center. The rim is brighter than the rest of the basket, keep this in mind. Everything else was painted with the gray wash. Let it dry.

The next couple of washes are to build up the contrast between the lightest and darkest areas, now excluding the edges of the basket but still adding it around the bottom and especially in the corners. The kitten should be quite visible now and becoming quite dimensional.

Try to get to at least this point by Monday, I may do another layer in the background before starting with the color, it will depend on where the class is, I don’t want to get ahead of you. See you all Monday.

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