Week 8 (PV) or 6 (Torr)
Rocks seem to be the most challenging thing my students have to paint. Notice that I didn't say "difficult" or "hard" because once you tell yourself that something is hard, you have already set yourself up for defeat, rather than starting a project with failure already in mind, think of it as a challenging puzzle that you need to figure out how it goes together. Remember that if you are using acrylics you can paint it out and in watercolor, it's just a piece of paper. No lives will be lost, only a bit of time yet the time isn't really lost if you are learning something new or improving on a skill. Think challenge.
Rocks are a contradiction to our brains. Humans want to organize everything place them in some kind of order so they make sense to us, problem is Nature couldn't care less about our sense of order and things in Nature go every which way and are in every size and shape be it rocks, or trees or flowers or bushes. The rocks in this picture have probably tumbled down mountains or were pushed up by earthquakes, there is no pattern to them, only the shapes of the individual rocks. When you are painting rocks, keep this in mind and concentrate more on the shapes you see. Look for the light shapes and the dark shapes and paint those, the rocks will emerge if the shapes are correct.
I really didn't do much of a drawing to start, just more of a general placement so I know where the sky and the water are and the key features like the waterfall and the big rock to the waterfalls right and the dark shapes to its left. Detail at this point is, well, pointless. If you do too much detail in your sketch, you will want to paint it like paint by numbers and your results will look forced. Less is more.
This picture had very little sky, actually, I think the bright area at the top is actually sunlit rocks but to start out this painting is covered the small area with gesso and blended in some yellow and a touch of orange. Most of that will get covered with trees or branches so don't spend too much time worrying about it.
I then started my under painting by mixing up a medium grey color using blue, sienna, purple and gesso. If you want it warmer add more sienna, if you want it cooler add more blue or purple. If you need it darker, less white, lighter more white. I also picked up other colors on my palette as I scumbled this color into my rock area using a flat bristle brush. Scumbling is just a way of saying every-which-way. The more brush strokes in your under painting for the rocks, the better because it creates a visual texture.
Another thing I want you to notice is that there are definite warm and cool sides to the photo. To the waterfall's right is warm golden sun on the rocks, to the left it is very cool, you can even see blue in the rocks. When you are under painting keep this in mind and pick up colors that are appropriate for the sun or the shade.
The under painting for the water is still the medium dark color I was using but into it I added some sap green so it was a deep olive color. Keep in mind that water is flat which means that your brush strokes should also be flat (horizontal). You can add other colors into your water as you go as well because they will be reflecting what is in the rocks above them.
I let this dry completely before I started the next step.
When the paint was dry, I re-sketched in some of the main features of my painting with my soft vine charcoal. This was more for placement of these objects rather than looking for detail, still not to that point. Notice that I did not place the waterfall directly in the middle, it is off to the side. Both the waterfall and the large square-ish rock to its right are on or near a "thirds" line.
I mixed up a dark color with the same colors I had used before but this time with very little white mixed in, I used this for my base color and added color to it when I needed a change of color. With this dark color, I looked for my darkest areas, usually where there is a cast shadow like where the waterfall comes down the rocks or under rocks and between rocks or between the rocks and the water. I also needed to keep my edges soft so I either scrubbed in these areas and/or used my finger to soften the edges or blend them out. In the form shadow areas – these are what give something its shape - I added enough white to make and a touch of blue to make the color just a shade or two lighter than what was there and with a dry brush, scrubbed this color in looking for shapes of the shadows.
The first highlights on the rocks were done with a mix of white, sienna, touches of orange and yellow, probably even some "mud" from my brush. This is not a final highlight so don't use a lot of white and this is also done using a dry brush technique.
I did put some of these light and dark colors down into the water either by dry brushing straight across and then pulling straight down or visa versa. I also added green to the rocks where the moss was growing, you can get lost in the shapes you find, just keep in mind that they are just shapes: The shape of the rocks, the shape of the shadows and the shape of the light. If the shapes are right the rocks will be there when you are done.
We will finish up the rocks and the water next week. We only have 2 more classes to this semester and the new catalogs are out in both
First I showed the class how I would start a painting like this using a simple sketch. Each artist develops their own "shorthand" when it comes to their drawing. Sometimes all you really need is a few lines to guide you as you paint. One thing I did notice when I sat down to write this up was I probably didn't get the waterfall over to the left (its left) as I probably should have, it is a bit too close to the center, thankfully, it is only a demo J
Once I had my sketch on my paper, I picked up a touch of yellow and a lot of water to paint in the sky area. This is not really an important area, but it is there. I think I also added a very little orange to one side as well.
Next, I mixed up a very weak color for the sunlit sides of the rocks. This was yellow with touches or red and or orange and sienna and lots of water! If it is easier for you, you can wet the area first then drop the paint in, just be sure to avoid the waterfall and the water areas with the water. I worked wet onto dry paper picking up water when I needed it and covered all of the sunlit side. When I was done with the sunny color, to it I added a touch of blue and purple to cool and grey the color (I'm mixing compliments together), I still wanted to keep it very light so I added a lot of water and painted in the cooler shadows. At this point – if you want – you could use some plastic wrap into the wet paint or add salt, if you use the plastic wrap remember that it will take a lot longer for it to dry, up to an hour depending on weather and how wet your paper was, but you will get some interesting shapes and textures. It must dry at this point.
When your paper is dry, into that last cool color you mixed add touches of blue, purple and sienna but keep it to the blue side then start finding your shadows in both the sunny and the cool sides. We work up to our darkest darks so don't get too dark too soon or you will miss the shades of grey this picture needs. Blend out edges using a clean, damp brush it will create variations in the strength of your shadows. Remember you are only looking for shapes not detail at this point, and you will be using a combination of negative and positive painting. I should mention that a lot of my brush strokes were just touching the paper and lifting quickly to just make marks.
If you want and if you have a sea sponge, you can take this color and with the sponge tap it on the rocks to create more texture. You can also add salt to areas as you go like I did on the rock that divides the falls, first I painted it with sap green then added salt.
At the bottom of the rocks where they enter the water, you can bleed some of the rock colors into the water by using a damp brush and guiding the paint down. We will do more of this next week.
In the shadow areas there is a lot of blue color so add a wash of blue either cobalt or ultra marine, it adds to the sense of cool shadows just don't get too dark, it is just a wash. This blue color can also be used at the top of the waterfall and into some of the shadows on the rocks to the right which are under the trees.
On the wet streak on the rock in front I used sienna with a touch of orange to paint the area and while it was still wet, just dropped some ultra marine into it. You might have to lift the top of your paper to get it to run a bit but it adds to the watery look on the rocks. I also used a touch of orange at the top of the rocks where the falls come out and a bit down the sides of the falls, this is reflected light and adds interest.
We will finish the rocks and work on the water on Monday. If you are going to be working on this, please have a reference picture handy, it is posted on the picture page and will help you a lot as you are painting.
There are only two more weeks to class, sorry to say, it has been fun. The new schedules are out at both