Saturday, July 4, 2009

Summer 09 Watercolor Class

Watercolor – Week 1: Peaceful Alaskan Village

For this painting I used 2 photos, taken by my sister-in-law Susan, of the same place because each had elements I wanted to use that weren’t in the other, this is called a composite and it is a great way to create a more interesting painting than using only one source, artists were the original photoshop. This is why I tell you to have reference material at your disposal whether it is your own photos (the best option) or collecting images from magazines or now, finding them on the web. They will provide you with inspiration.

I also used my “artistic license” when I designed the drawing. There were more houses and no mountains visible so I removed some houses and added mountains, remember, this is art and you art the creator of the art, you have power to move or remove, add or subtract anything that will give you the painting you want. If you want to paint every stick and leaf, that is up to you, however, it is better to simplify and let your view do some of the work rather than hit them over the head with detail.

When I drew my sketch on my watercolor paper, I only drew the main elements of the scene, basically the mountains, houses and the boat. These are really the only things I need as long as I have my reference photo handy, the trees and weeds, even the water will change depending on time of day or year so it doesn’t matter if I have every single one planted exactly where it is in the photo, no one is going to care. If you feel the need to place the positions of the trees in your painting, just draw straight lines, you will be filling the rest of the tree with paint.

Before I started working on my painting, I did a quick demo on how to get distance into your watercolor using a wet into wet technique and using several light washes to get the desired effect. This is something you need to practice because it is a bit tricky at first but it is part of the learning process. First I wet a section of my paper with just water and let it sit a minute while I mixed my first wash. Things that are in the distance are lighter and greyer in color and don’t have any hard edges because of scattered light and all the atmosphere between them and the viewer, knowing this, I started with a cool grey color (see mix below) and painted my first layer of mountains across the wet paper and also on to the dry area for comparison. This should be a very light wash. The next layer or mountains I added more color and less water and repeated the process just below my first range. On the third pass, I added some green to the mix and again painted another range of mountains. With each successive range, the paper became drier so when I painted the next range it was less diffused from the one before it creating the illusion of distance.

When I start painting, I generally start from what is furthest away and work forward, obviously, the sky is always going to be the most distant thing in your painting. The reason I usually start this way – and there are exceptions to every rule – is so I don’t have to “paint around” things in front to get those distant things in later, you can end up with something that looks rather “cut and pasted” rather than part of your painting. This painting doesn’t have a lot of sky but it still needs to be done first so we don’t have to worry about it. It is a partly cloudy sky, I mixed blue (I used cobalt here but ultra marine will work so will cerulean, avoid thalo, it won’t work here) and burnt sienna because I wanted a cool grey color, I also use a lot of water to dilute the color. I pre-wet my the sky and mountain area of my paper (about the top third) with just water and starting at the top, lightly touched my brush (my ¾” angle brush) filled with my sky color along the top part of the sky. I rinsed and dried my brush so that it was damp but not dripping and touched the bottom of the color I just put down so it will move done the page. While the sky was still wet, I picked up very dilute (a lot of water very little color) colors like blue and red and just touched the wet sky with the brush this will look like clouds and sky when dry. Let the water and paint work for you, just touch or drop the paint into the wet and let it do its thing.

This stage will go quickly because you need the paper to remain damp to get the desired effect, applying a new layer at each stage of drying. First, I need to let that area dry just a little before I start on my mountains but I don’t want it totally dry, you should still be able to see a bit of sheen of water on the paper. While I’m waiting, I added a bit more blue and sienna but little water to the color I just used for the sky. I want it maybe a shade or two darker than the sky but it is still going to be a light blue grey color. I painted my first range of mountains while the sky was still wet. If it needed a bit of help diffusing along the bottom of my mountains (your paper will dry at different rates depending on the weather, how much water you used, where you sit in class and how long you take to go from the sky to the mountains so this is good to know), I rinsed my brush and with a damp but not dripping brush, just like I did in the sky, I run the brush along the bottom of this color to soften the edge.

The next layer of mountains is closer so this time I added some sap green to the same mix with little water to get a soft grey/green color. The paper should still be damp, you want the color to diffuse when you put it down. If you need to, lightly brush the area with clean water to rewet the area if it has dried, then paint this next range of mountains this time don’t paint a smooth edge, wiggle your brush a bit the uneven edge will look like distant trees.

Quickly, add some more green and a touch or blue and/or purple to the same mix of color, you want a slightly darker grey/green for this step. Using you brush on its edge and using downward strokes, this next layer will be trees that are much closer to us so we will be seeing some basic tree shapes. It is the top most edge of this layer that is important, you want to vary the height of the tops of the trees so you suggest individual trees off in the distance. The bottom of this layer should come down almost to the first row of houses. This is where you will let your painting dry completely before going on to the next step. If you want, you can use a hair dryer to speed the process.

Controlling the value of a color (its intensity) depends on how much water you use. The more water you use, the lighter the value; the more pigment (color) you use, the darker the value (more intense). This is important to understand because you need to have a good variety of values to bring depth to you painting. If you start out with too much intensity/value to your paint, you have nowhere to go and your painting will look flat. Conversely, if all your layers are very light your painting will look flat but this is easier to fix than a painting that is too dark. Keep this in mind.

Up to this point our layers should be on the light side, with this next layer, we will be moving more into the foreground so our colors will become more intense, this means more paint less water. We also need to control our brush a bit more, I don’t mean nose to the paper type of control, just learning how to use our brush to get desired effects.

Remember this step the paper needs to be dry, feel it with the back of your hand if it feels cool, it is still wet and needs to dry. It should feel like room temperature when dry.

In the same puddle of paint we have been using, I mixed Hooker’s green (sap will work if you don’t have Hooker’s), ultra marine blue and a touch of purple to create a dark green color. Using my ½” angle brush, I start each tree by first using the edge of the brush to draw a line by touching the edge to the paper, then with the tip, I do quick “flips” with the brush to create the top most branches. The strokes become longer the further down the tree I go. Think of a pine tree and how they grow while you are painting. Also, as you go down the tree, you can pick up more blue and purple to darken the lower parts of the trees as if they are going into shadow.

To that basic mix of paint, you can add burnt sienna or orange even red to vary the color of the trees, just remember to use it in other places in your painting or you will have a unique color that can be distracting to your finished painting.

Vary the height and size of your trees as you paint them. Congest the bottoms. Get them dark behind the houses. Have darker ones and lighter ones. All this variety adds interest and make your forest more believable.

To paint the other types of trees I used sap green with some yellow and painted some tree shapes in front of the pine trees near the houses. To create branches in these trees, while they were still wet I took my finger nail and etched in some branches. You can use the tip of a sharp knife, exacto blade or cut up credit card as well, just remember that once you break the surface of your paper it will always react different than the rest of the paper, so this is permanent.

Next week we will finish these trees and start on the houses and the water.

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