To all my students: Monday will be our last class for the semester, I encourage you to bring in something for critique because it is a good way to learn what you are doing right and what you could improve on. Bring something you really like or bring in your "problem child" you will be amazed how supportive the class is and what you can learn.
Many of my acrylic students still feel the need to do a detailed drawing before they ever start a picture, there is nothing wrong with a detailed drawing per se, but it is like trying to work shackled for most people because they are so afraid to loose their drawing that it ends up looking like paint by number and not at all like what they see in their mind. The drawing should just be there as a guide, a reason we use the vine charcoal or chalk to sketch in our design, it should not be chiseled in stone, as it were, because the drawing is not the important part, the finished painting is what should be important. If you are constantly worrying about the drawing, the painting can suffer.
I did a demo on skies using some existing rocks I had on my canvas from a previous demo. In the first example, I painted around what I had on the canvas. While not bad, it had a more impressionistic feel to it, if impressionism is what you want, then by all means, go for it, however, it has been my experience teaching that for beginners or people who are struggling, they want to do things that are more realistic yet are so afraid to start a painting without a detailed drawing and following it to the "T" they get impressionism whether they want it or not or worse, the drawing tends to make them want to finish sections as they go and there is an inconsistency in their painting from start to finish: some areas are over worked and some are under worked the result is not pleasing.
In the second demo I did, I ignored the rocks that were there and just painted my sky right over them, my only concern was the sky. I used my soft 2" blending brush starting with some gesso where my sky would be then adding color into the gesso and blending it with big "X" strokes. You can get some really nice skies using this technique but it does take practice because it requires a very light touch. Once I had my sky in, I went back and repainted the rocks and twigs, this sky looks like it is behind the rocks as it should be.
As I always tell you: There is no one right way to do anything, the right way is what is right for you but if you are unsatisfied with your painting, you need to try other methods until you do find something that pleases you.
Acrylic students, don't stop reading because much of what I am going to say about distance applies to all media not just watercolor.
I asked the class if there was anything that they would like to see a demo on, when one person said "How do you get distance in a painting?" there was a murmur of agreement. I will have to agree that one of the common problems I see with my students in both classes is when they are doing landscapes in particular, but with most of their painting in general, is being able to create the illusion of distance in their painting. I say "illusion" because we are really trying to trick the viewers mind that there is great depth in our painting even though it is on a 2 dimensional surface.
You often hear me refer to Betty Edward's book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", if you haven't read it I strongly suggest that you get it and read it. While I'd hope that you would follow the exercises as you read it, just reading the book will give you a good insight into how your brain works. She bases her ideas on studies done with people who have had brain injuries or surgeries where each hemisphere is working separately from the other. For most of us, we live in our left brains most of the time otherwise we would never get anything done, the right side is sort of a background program so we can move thru space or recognize a friend. The short version is the left brain has its own "short hand" for the things it encounters in day to day living, this allows it to recognize things name it and move on, the problem for artists is this short hand lacks detail, for example, grass is green so therefore all grass is green and let's move on. While this might be okay when you are driving down the street, it you want to paint that street, well that's a different story, because the grass isn't always green, the right side sees the nuance, the detail, the beauty. Unfortunately, for most beginners, the left side has control of the brush so paint the grass green and be done with it!
When you have quiet time, and I'm talking time to just sit and let your mind wander (this is a right brain activity), look out into the distance. What do you see? Don't actually try to name it that is left brain, but think about the color and where you would find it on your palette. If you were looking out towards Catalina for instance, you would probably note that it is a soft bluish or grey color, it may even be a warm reddish color depending on the time of day. You will see little, if any, detail, it will mostly be a light colored shape. When you go to paint this scene, try to bring that image to mind because your left brain knows that it is brown dirt with green plants and grasses that would look just the same as the stuff right next to you.
Keep this phrase running thru you brain when you are painting: Things in the distance are lighter, greyer, lack detail and appear smaller and closer together (think phone poles or fence lines going off in the distance). If everything in your painting is the same color and the same value (light or dark), you painting will appear flat. Start off in soft bluish/grey tones and add color as you move into the mid-ground. Just suggest distant objects and save the detail and saturated colors for the foreground.
In the demo, I started off with a light blue/purple wash to do my first line of mountains. The next ridge of mountains I added more color but it was still in blues and purples but it is still very light. The third ridge I added green to get a soft grey green color and used the edge of my brush to suggest tops of distant trees, still pretty light. The forth ridge, I added more green and detail and is a couple shades darker than the previous layer but still on the grey side. For the final layer, I used green with blue in a more concentrated form and created several closer trees. They are much darker and detailed then the previous layer, however, if I wanted to, I could still add things to the foreground that are closer yet. This works in all media because it is the illusion we are going for not the type of paint we are using.
We will be off for a couple of months so I hope that everyone keeps on painting and looking for that next project, remember I will just be doing specific demos from now on, not a class project so you need to start now finding something you want to paint. I also want to remind everyone to register for class as soon as you can. DO NOT WAIT until the last minute because they will close classes a week before classes actually start. Registration for Torrance residents starts Dec 1st, non residents on Dec 8th. Classes start week of Jan 10th. Bring your friends.