Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring 09 Acrylic and Watercolor Classes

Week 4 – Acrylic Project – Green Orchid

This is basically the final week I will work on this project, it will be up to each of you to finish you project to your own liking. I will have some black gesso in class on Monday for any one that would like to paint their backgrounds black.

Final highlights were the order of the day. I studied my reference photo closely – be sure you are using the photo of the actual flower and not one of the previous stages, we are beyond those picts – and I looked for the lightest areas. These are subtle differences but it you look closely you will see them. This is good practice to get you to look and really see what you are painting. Each petal has lumps and bumps that tell you that it is a curved surface and not a flat one. If you were to cut a cross section of a petal (see Pict page) you would see that it almost looks like a bow with the edges curved up, then a slight trough, then a bump in the middle, trough and up curve. These are usually not real pronounced, they are more subtle but they are there, your job is to recognize them and find a way to interpret what you see on your canvas.

This is where all your under painting efforts should pay off, that is if you didn’t cover up all your under painting. Under painting becomes the subtle shadows and texture of what you are painting which is why we start with a medium dark color. Some of you may have made your under painting too dark to start with so you will have a bit more work to do because you have to lighten more areas, but all is not lost just a bit more elbow grease and you’ll get there.

I mixed white with a touch of sap and yellow to tint the white. This is the dame color mix we have been using except now there is a lot more white than green. I was using my #8 bristle filbert the key is using a bristle brush, if you don’t have them, you really need to get some, this technique is hard on brushes and the bristle ones are relatively cheap. When I would rinse my brush, I made sure that I dried it completely before I picked up paint. I’m still noticing that many of you aren’t drying your brush and all that water dilutes your paint so that it is more of a wash than anything else, it’s great if that is what you want but very frustrating if it isn’t.

I loaded my brush with this white/green mix and starting in the lightest areas I scrubbed this color on using a dry brush technique. As I moved away from the brightest area, I lightened the pressure on my brush so that I had a gradual blend from the highlight to the shadow. Around the edges where it was lighter, I carefully put the highlight along the edge and blended it back into the body of the petal. I did this on all the petals until I felt I had my petals highlighted.

When I am at the final stages of a painting, I make it a point to step back and look at my painting from at least 10 feet to see my progress, where I need to do more work, places that are done… You need to see the “whole picture” to really get a sense of how your end product will look, so get into the habit of standing back to assess your work.

When I got to the center of the flower my main goal was to make sure that I had all the highlighting done before I added the red spots. As tempting as it is to want to put the spots on the flower, you really need to get as much of the highlights and shadows on as you can because once those spots are on, it will be difficult to highlight around them, so do as much as you can prior to putting on the spots. The process is much the same, look for the brightest spots then with white and an ever so tiny a touch of yellow – it should barely tint the white, if it looks yellow, you used too much yellow – highlight the tops of folds and the ruffles along the bottom edge. Again, think of a cross section (see pict page) and where the light is hitting.

After you feel that you have got your highlights the way you want, now we come down the home stretch by adding the red to the center. Using first a mix of my napthol red and a touch of blue (you want it on the red side of purple), still using my bristle brush, I took this color and using a tapping motion painted the throat of the orchid and also the “hood” part just above the throat and the spots along the fringe of the center. Using a tapping or stippling stroke will give you the look of the spots. Do this lightly, if you need more spots, just go over it a couple more times to fill in an area, just don’t get too “heavy handed” with this.

Don’t for get to do the white tip of the hood, it has two sections so look carefully.

While the red is drying, mix some yellow, green and sienna and or purple to make a brown mustard color, this is the under painting for the yellow pollen areas. There are also some yellow edges to the sides of the bottom part of the hood that are coming up from the throat that need this color.

When the red is dried, take straight napthol on your brush to highlight the top of the hood and to add some brighter color to the fringe area, again use a stippling stroke for the spots. If you need it to be just a bit brighter for the final highlight of the hood use yellow instead of white to lighten the red. Adding white will turn it pink and that isn’t what you want. To highlight the pollen use yellow with just a touch of white and tap it on.

The final thing I did in class was I started adding the black gesso to the background areas of my painting (thanks Lynn). I used a bristle brush but you might have better control if you use a sable brush especially around the flower you will get a smoother application of paint. Be careful when you are doing this because you can get it on your hand then all over your flower or if your brush is too wet it might run down over your flower, if this happens have a wet paper towel handy and wipe it off ASAP otherwise, you will have a patch job to do.

When I got home, I put my painting up where I could look at it to see if there were things I needed to do to finish it. Most of what I found was more “tweaking” than anything major – more shadow here, a little highlight there, clean up an edge or two – just little things I felt I needed to do to finish it. One that that had been bothering me was I had made one of the folds up at the top of the center too big and I knew I just couldn’t leave it that way so I painted out the “extra” part with a middle green color like my original under painting then redid the highlights and shadows. Don’t be afraid to fix something if you have to, you will be happier with your final painting rather than seeing it staring back at you every time you look at your painting, just look at it from a distance, even let it sit for a day or so before making the final decision to change something that might not need to be changed.

Next week: Using black gesso and finishing the painting. Have something you want to paint with you in class.

Week 4: Watercolor – I-Pops

Basically, we are finished with the poppies, however, if you want to do some extra detail to make them look more real you will need a fine point Sharpie and either a single edge razor or pointed Exacto knife.

The poppies are very “fuzzy” along their stems and on the flower pods, if you want to add that detail use the Sharpie to make quick little strokes along the stems and pod. Try not to line them up in rows make some longer some shorter some can just be dots on the front side, get them going in several directions and do it like you mean it, if you add just a few, it won’t look real so add quite a few. Then with the blade, using the very tip of it, scratch out more “fuzzy” lines especially along the sun lit side of the stems and pod. If your background is dark enough, this will look like little sun sparkles off the fuzz.

I went over a couple things in class that I think are important for all painters but maybe even more so for watercolor painters and those are how your paints blend with each other and how does your equipment work.

When I get new people in I usually give them a suggested colors list to get them started but like all good artists we are drawn into buying fancy colors because they look beautiful or because another artist swears by that color, the reasons are many and so are the problems.

You have all probably noticed that I have a fairly limited palette and certain colors I use all the time, my “at home” palette has a few more colors on it than my class palette but it is pretty much the same. I do have some secondary palettes that have colors I use in special cases but I don’t use them often. Because I do have a limited palette, I have learned what will happen when I mix two or more of my colors together, at least I have a reasonable idea because I am so familiar with the properties of my paints. If I add a new color to my existing ones, I will test what this new color will do when added to a mix.

What I am seeing in class are students who have colors different from the ones I use and when they go to mix what they hope will be the same color I have, they end up with something completely different! And so the problems begin.

I honestly do not care what colors you have on your palette so long as you are happy with them, who am I to question it. That said, if you have different colors say pthalo blue instead of ultra marine, you need to learn how your blue mixes with the other paints on your palette. It will NOT be the same as ultra marine, it is greener so it has more yellow, if you add red, you will get a muddy color because you have now mixed all 3 primary colors together (blue, red, yellow). A good way to avoid this is to create your own color chart. You can do that by painting stripes of each color on a piece of paper, let it dry, then paint stripes of each color again going the other direction and label all of these stripes. Until you know this in your sleep, this chart can save a lot of headaches when you need to mix colors.

Another thing I’ve been seeing is how much students are struggling with their brushes. I will say it again, you’ve got to take the time to practice! Use a scrape piece of paper or the back of an old painting or get some cards to practice, even news print will work because you are just trying to get the feel of your brushes. Twist them, turn them. Press them down and pull up. Flick them. Dry brush. Wet brush. Flat, round or angled brush, use them all. Especially the liner brush, you’ve got to get familiar with it to use it correctly. You can watch me use my brushes from now until we both die but unless you do it yourself, you will never get the control. That comes with time and practice.

Also, see how your paper works. This will require real watercolor paper but try wet into wet, wet on dry. Dry brush. Lifting, blending, salt, water, rubbing alcohol, coffee grinds (that’s always fun), scratching or scraping into wet or dry. All of this will not be wasted effort, in the long run it will let you paint without having to think “What was it that Lerri did?” you will just do it. Find time during the week outside of class to just paint for even a few minutes, the more the better but any time you can get will be time well spent.

Next week: Have your own project to paint, I’ll think of some demo. Any requests?

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