Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall '09 Acrylic and Watercolor Projects

Week 1 Acrylic Project: "Feed Us!"

We are painting on a black canvas and that has a couple challenges we don't usually have when painting on a white canvas the first is how to get the drawing on the black surface?

Since we usually use charcoal to draw on our design we need to use something else because black won't show up on black, so for a black or dark canvases we need to use a light colored piece of chalk or pastel, something that will show up on the dark and can easily be removed. Do not use a grease pencil. It will never come off and you can't paint over it. The chalk or pastel won't hurt you paint so you can paint right over it and if you need to make corrections it will come off with a damp paper towel.

For those who don't feel comfortable drawing the design on the canvas, there are other methods of getting the design on the canvas. You can take your design or picture and have it enlarged to the size you need or there are programs you can buy that will enlarge the photo for you and print it out on your computer (a good one that is a reasonable price is at or you can work out the design on a separate piece of paper to the size you want but you still need to transfer it to your canvas. There are a couple methods you can use: One is to get some white transfer paper. It's like carbon paper but it should be oil and was free. Or you can turn it over and go over the back with white chalk, then put it on your canvas and draw with a dull point like a large Sharpie or the back end of a brush to get the image on your canvas.

Once you have your drawing on it is time to start painting. The first couple of weeks will be what is called an "Under Painting". We need to cover the canvas and establish the shapes and colors of our subjects. This is done in every painting medium I know and getting a good under painting is key to having a good finished painting. It is the foundation of your painting and if it is bad or missing you finished painting won't hold up, painting is a process and you must take it one step at a time, there are no quick fixes here.

I started on the orange fish using my #6 bristle filbert but you can use a #6 - #10 flat bristle brush and get a similar effect. I picked up cad(mium) red light (I'll just call it cad red here out), and a touch of burnt sienna at the same time, I will be "brush mixing" on the canvas for most of this painting, meaning I pick up two or more colors on my brush and mix them as I paint, not on my palette. This gives more variety and interest to a painting.

Starting at the back of the first fish, I just touched the end of it to the canvas and lift. If you are using a flat brush, load the paint mostly to one corner, turn the corner up and use a similar technique (see picture page, I used a #10 flat bristle brush for the example). This is more a touch-and-drag type of stroke, notice how the ends of the stroke fade out on the blue example, most students seemed to be using a stippling stroke where you are bouncing the brush up and down (orange example). You have less control of your stroke using stippling and it looks more textured, great for trees and bushes, not so much for fish.

Using those two colors, I painted the side of the fish all the way down to the mouth reloading paint frequently. Don't try to stretch you paint, we need to get this area covered so we don't have to do it over in the next layer.

When I got near the top of the fish, I used the cad red with a touch of Alizarin crimson and/or Napthol Red not the sienna. When I got to the top of the head and back I used orange and cad red. Around where the gills should be I used a touch of blue with the cad red and sienna, all of these areas were blended in to the neighbor areas using the same stroke so there were no hard transitions between colors, there are no hard edges on Koi so the transitions should be soft. The other orange fish was done in a similar way.

The white fish was under painted using a blue grey color. That is a mixture of white, ultra marine blue and sienna. Keep it to the blue side, darker on the sides (less white) and face of the fish, lighter (more white) to the top. Same applies to the white areas of the fancy fish at the top.

The fins can be painted in as well, notice that it is a more solid color near the body of the fish and streakier towards the edges of the fin. Use a dry brush technique for this meaning use a brush that is damp not dripping, very little paint and a light touch. This takes practice so you might want to get a spare canvas to practice on first. The harder you touch, the more paint will come off so a light touch is critical.

This is where we stopped. We will finish under painting the orange and white fish and the red fish next week and probably start the brightening process on the other fish.

Week 1 Watercolor Project: "Torrance Turtle".

If you read the first few paragraphs of the acrylic blog, you will see that they have a similar problem to all watercolor painters: How do you get your design on your watercolor paper? The answers are also very similar with a couple other options. I have gotten away from working out my drawing on my watercolor paper for the most part, the reason for this is the surface of the paper is very delicate, if you erase too much or too hard, you can damage the paper causing all sorts of problems when you try to paint on it. I would rather work out my design on drawing paper or on tracing paper (sometimes both) so I can make adjustments and not have to worry the whole time about my paper. Once I get my design worked out there are a couple ways I can transfer it to my watercolor paper.

The first way is similar to what I suggested for the acrylic class. Make the design the size I need then using wax free graphite paper (DO NOT USE CARBON PAPER) you can find at most art stores, place it between the design and your paper and using a soft pencil or something with a rounded point like the end of a brush, transfer your design. Try not to press too hard or you will leave indents in your paper that will show when you don't want them to. When buying transfer paper be sure that it is "wax-free graphite paper", this is important because the wax will act as a resist leaving white lines on your paper. Carbon paper has oil in it and can cause similar problems and create a black mess.

If you don't have any transfer paper, you can use what I call the "poor man's" method: Turn you design over and using a soft graphite pencil (#4 or #6), cover the lines of your design with graphite using the side of the lead. Make sure that you have covered enough of the paper around the line – at least a ¼" – so when you transfer the drawing to your watercolor paper there is some "wiggle" room. When you have covered all your lines, place it on your watercolor paper and go over the lines like you would with transfer paper.

Another option is using a light box. I usually darken the lines of my design with a felt pen then place it under my paper either on a light box or, if I don't have access to one, a sun-lit window. You should tape both the design and the paper to the window to keep them from moving, but it does work well.

This painting is going to be started a bit different form other paintings we have done in the past, I like to show my students that they aren't boxed in to one way of doing things that, playing and experimenting is a good thing. Not everyone likes the same thing and doing paintings the same way day in and day out gets boring, we all occasionally need to loosen up and try doing something a different way. Sometimes we may even find something we really like to do. You won't know unless you try. So after doing this turtle in a more traditional way, I felt we needed to do it different.

I had my paper at a slight incline (a roll of tape works well) and I started out by lightly spraying my paper with water from my spray bottle. I did not spray the whole paper I only sprayed here and there because I wanted dry paper in places. Next, I mixed up some yellow paint with LOTS of water, I need my brush (I used a 1" wash brush) to be very drippy for this step and this is the only time you will hear me say "you need a drippy brush", most time we need to really control the water in our brush but not this time.

With my brush loaded with water and paint, I splattered my paper with this color by shaking my brush, you can also tap the brush handle on a finger or another brush handle or use a tooth brush, the goal is to splatter paint. I did the same with orange and red, just be careful, this can start to feel way too good and is easily over done. When you are done, your paper needs to dry completely. When you use watercolor you spend a lot of time waiting for the paper to dry, especially if you are using this kind of technique.

When you paper is totally dry – test it with the back of your hand, if it is cool to the touch it is still damp, you can use a hair dryer if you need to – use your masking fluid to protect the head down to about the shell and at least ½ inch along the top of the shell and the rock, cover the rest of the shell and rock with a paper towel because this time you will be splattering cool colors like blue, green and purple and we don't want to get any on the turtle or rock. Splatter the same way you did the warm colors and remember to not get carried away. Let this step dry completely before moving on.

The last thing we did on our first day was to suggest water behind the turtle and rock. Use a blue (ultra marine, cobalt, cerulean or any other blue you are using, thin it down with some water you want it light and transparent then starting near the rock and turtle, paint the area with this color. When you have the area around the turtle painted, rinse your brush and with a damp brush blend the outside edges of this color out until it just fades out leaving the white paper with splatters. Your paper must be dry before you do this step and do it quickly and don't fiddle with it, you want the splatters to show through and if you take too much time getting it "just right" you will end up with mud as you pull the splatters up into the blue paint.

Don't worry about the masking for now we will take it off next time. Be sure to check out the reference picture and download it if you haven't already, it is always good to have your reference handy and I don't think the turtle will sit still in class. See everyone Monday.

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