Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer 2010 Watercolor Class

Glass and Metal – Watercolor

Now that we have practiced painting metal and glass, we are going to put what we have learned to practical use by organizing our elements and adding a simple third element into a pleasing simple composition.

You need to draw your still life on your paper but before you start drawing, check your composition. First and foremost, you want to fill up your paper with your subjects. If you have something tall like my wine bottle and you go with a horizontal (landscape) placement of your paper, you are probably going to have a lot of wasted space around your subjects when you get finished so a vertical format will probably be better for tall things.

Again, rule of thirds. I placed the bottle close to the left vertical third line as well as the candle and the bell of the snuffer very near the bottom third intersection and the handle running near the bottom horizontal third line. This I usually do in my head but if you need to, divide your paper into thirds before you start drawing. Also, overlap elements in your composition. When there is space between objects they compete for attention, connecting them visually makes them a unit. You should be using at least a #2B pencil and a soft eraser when you need it.

Add as much information as you need or want to create the elements of your design just don't be so committed to them that you are afraid to improvise when you need to. Use masking fluid to protect your brightest highlights and be sure that the fluid is totally dry before you do the next step.

I know just how tempting it is to jump right in and get started on the main elements that matter most in a painting and worry about the background later, the thing is the background is like the stage set. Yes, you can act out the play without the set but it is very difficult to move the set in or get the props on or adjust the lights once the play has begun, I know, been there, done that and had to be physically held back from running on stage with forgotten props =-O (I still have nightmares). While you may not have nightmares if you don't get the background in first, you are going to have trouble trying to get the background to look like it belongs as you try to paint around your subjects leaving halos and hard lines and odd colors you may never get rid of, so trust me when I say" If your painting is going to have a background, do the background first, it will make your painting a lot simpler.

The background I demonstrated is simple but can be very effective no matter what color scheme you use.

The first thing I look for is my light source and which way the light will be traveling. In this case the light was in the front right so it will hit the upper left third of my background. I went over the "the rule of thirds" in class and if you do a search on the Internet, you will find a lot of sites that can give you more examples and explanations so I won't go into it here except to say that it is important to my composition to use the third lines when I am designing my painting and that includes the background.

Now that I have determined where my light will be the brightest on my paper, I can start painting. First I use my water sprayer to spray the entire paper and with my big wash brush I can add and spread the water to wet the paper evenly. When my paper is totally wet, I start in the area where it will be the lightest and pick up a tiny bit of the color I want to use. I did three different backgrounds in the three watercolor classes because I wanted to show these backgrounds can be any color you want or combinations of colors, it was the technique I was demonstrating not the color. For this explanation, I will go with the colors I used in my Torrance class.

This process moves pretty fast so don't stop between steps. I picked up a tiny touch of yellow on my brush and started working it on to my wet paper where the brightest light would be on my background. I was using a 1" angled shader but can be done with any large brush you have, save the small ones for detail. If I thought it was too yellow, I added more water because I want to keep this step light in value.

Next, I picked up a bit of orange and on the outside edge of the pale yellow worked the orange out a bit more making another ring of color. Blend the two areas together either with light strokes from your brush adding touch of clear water if necessary, you want a nice gentle blend. Keep working.

Next, pick up red, sienna and repeat what you did with the orange. You may find that on the left side you have run out of room for a complete ring, that's okay, just get your paper covered and be sure to blend the area where the two rings come together so you have a nice gradual transition.

The last step to the background will probably be mostly the corners maybe down the right side and bottom, use sienna and purple to create a dark color work that color in the corners. Again blend the touching areas so you don't have a hard dividing line. Now it must dry before you can start painting your objects. Note: on the green background I painted around the candle and snuffer (negative painting) because I didn't want the green to influence their colors in following washes.

When my paper was completely dry, I started with the wine bottle because it was the thing that was furthest back in my composition. I based it in with sap green and I was careful to paint around the candle to be sure that the bottle will look like it continues behind the candle. This is negative painting the candle. Looking at my bottle I added in yellow in the lighter areas, and sap with blue or just Hooker's green into the dark areas. I was using my ½" angle brush. Working other colors into the bottle while it is still wet – wet into wet – lets the colors soften into each other, just don't keep going over and over an area or you will stir up the color underneath and your colors could get muddy this is especially true if you are working with a complimentary color like I had with the red background and the green bottle.

The candle is translucent, keep this in mind because its shadows won't be as dark as a solid object. I used a mix of blue, purple and sienna and water to make a gray then starting on the inside where it would be the deepest part of the candle, created the shape of the edge I saw on the actual candle. Rinsed my brush and with a damp (I wiped out most of the water) brush, I went along the outside edge of that color (where it would be the inside of the candle not the outside edge) and spread it out towards the far edge of the interior of the candle. I rinsed my brush often because I wanted to keep it light. I used a similar technique for the shadow on the outside of the candle, starting with the gray color and bleeding it out with a clean damp brush. In some places I used the little bit of color on my brush to indicate shadows in some of the melted wax.

The center of the snuffer was the same blue, purple and sienna but with little water so it was very dark. I started in the darkest part of the bell then rinsed my brush and with the damp brush teased some of that color out to the front of the bell. This is much darker than what you did on the candle because of shadow and soot so you don't need to thin the color too much. This takes practice, if you have some scrap or test paper handy, you might want to practice first. The rest of the brass was painted in with yellow and a touch or orange or sienna. I used the same color mix on the candle holder.

Depending on how fast the class works – and I am by no means trying to rush you – we may get done with the painting next week and for sure the following week so please start looking for something you would like to paint. It can be any subject you want. Also, think about what you might like to do next semester so I can plan for something you want to learn or feel you need more instruction.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer 2010 Watercolor

WATERCOLOR CLASS – Glass and metal

There are similarities between glass and metal that will be apparent when you really look at the two, glass has the added element of being transparent for the most part, in both cases it is good to know where you are going with them and that requires a good road map.

You will hear me almost every time talking about drawing skills, my hope is to get a few of you to take it to heart. Like anything else you have to learn, the more practice you get the better you will become and if you concentrate on creating shapes rather than the thing you are drawing you will see improvement. Shapes are important in creating a road map for your glass or metal.

First, draw the basic shape of the glass or metal you want to paint. The outline and some basic "road signs" like a label or a corner is all you need to start. When that is done now look at your object and look for all the shapes that are reflected that are reflected. Don't worry about what is causing the reflection it is truly unimportant even if it is you that is reflected, just draw what you see. If it is glass you may see the shapes of things behind the glass such as the table and that will have its own shape. You may even see shapes within shapes, depending on how detailed you are going to make your drawing/painting will determine what you put in. Remember you do need to suggest enough of what you see to tell your viewer that it is glass or metal, beyond that is up to you as an artist.

If your subject is burnished metal or glass that is not as transparent you still to look at your subject carefully. Whether it is a tarnished copper pot or a ruby glass vase, it you look close, you will see that the things around them do reflect into them, maybe not as strong as something highly polished or transparent, but it is there and you need to be able to see it.

Once you have your "road map" – it could be a simple as a few basic shapes to note the most prominent things you see or it can be highly detailed, your choice – now you have to fill in the map. It doesn't matter where you start just hold off on your highlights until the very end. Even light shapes in a very reflective object aren't pure white so you will want to gray them down with a bit of mud from your palette or a touch of blue and sienna – teeny tiny touches – you just want to take the white down a bit.

When you are painting this for real, it will be to your advantage to mask out the highlights before you start. For the new students who don't know what masking fluid is, it is a rubber cement like latex that watercolorist use to protect their white areas so you can paint right over it and not worry about painting around small areas you want to leave white, then it rubs or peels off when you are ready for it. I will have some you can use in class but if you are going to continue in watercolor it is a handy thing to have in your art box. For now just be sure that you have marked where your major highlight is and worry about the small ones at another time, remember this is just practice.

If you are painting clear glass, really look at your glass. There is very little actual white, in the thickest parts it could be green or blue or gray and the overall color will be a very thin glaze or wash of that color so start off with that color and keep it handy you will need it to build up density. Don't get too dark too soon, in watercolor we work from light to dark and we need all those in between values to help us create three dimension on a two dimensional surface.

Don't be afraid to test a color next to your glass or metal on your paper to see how it looks. It is much better to test now and know if it is too dark or not the right color on your paper, than when you are working on the real thing. Test those washes, they should just be tints. If you get things too dark too soon, it may be hard to lift the color back off to where you wanted it and you could end up damaging your paper. Better to do it right the first time than fretting over it later.

Again, have the thing you are going to paint in front of you and put in as much or as little as you need to tell your viewer what it is, the detail is up to you. Just work in layers and let the layers dry before you attempt to add more layers (washes). And feel free to experiment, this is the place where you can learn how to use your brush, how to add washes, how to lay down paint then rinse your brush and use water to bleed the color out. Or play with the color of your object to get the right mix. This is just practice so practice!

We are going to put these objects all together this week and create a simple still life so you will need a fresh paper and bring in your glass and metal along with one other thing for your set-up. It can be a piece of fruit real or not, a silk flower but keep it simple, your glasses if you don't need them to paint, a book, a candle…What ever you think would go with the other two objects that isn't a project in itself. I want it simple for your sake, this third item will help you compose your painting easier than with just two but it should be something you are familiar with painting-wise.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Watercolor Summer 2010

Getting into Our Right Mind. Glass and Metal

I know that most of my students thought that I had lost what little mind I had left with our first assignment of the semester, but as you later found out, there is method to my madness.

As a teacher it is my job to help you along your artistic journey. I watch as I see my students struggle with even simplified scenes, I know what they are going through because I've been there myself, but until they understand on their own, the struggle will continue.

Most of that struggle comes from how our brains work. Students who have been with me for a while will get tired of hearing me mentioning Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" but it is an excellent book on how we see things and how our brain processes the information dividing it up into the left and right sides of the brain. It is the right side we need to tap into as artists but more often than not, the left side just won't let go of the brush so we can get closer to our artistic goals. This is the struggle and we need to find ways to convince ourselves that it is okay to let that creative side take control, which was the purpose of the exercise.

The left side of your brain has a very short attention span, if you will. It wants to name things and move on. If it looks like a chair or a flower or a car or whatever, that is what it is now let's move on! It is your right side that sees the difference between a delicate rose bud and a wilting daisy; or a beat up old Vega and a hot new Porsche. It sees the beauty and nuance of the world around you but with the left brain in charge, it is like driving on the freeway with someone with a lead foot and you are trying to look at the scenery. You need to find a way to make it stop.

Fortunately, we do have ways to slow that side down and the more you feel that shift in your mind, the easier it will become. One of the best ways to slow your brain down is to turn your picture upside down adding the element of the opposite hand brings it to a stand still! What you are left with are shapes and color, the very thing that interests your creative side. When you get right down to it that is what all painting is about: Shapes and color.

You will hear me say quite often that it is just shapes: Shapes of the highlights, shapes of the shadows, shapes within shapes. If when you get done putting those shapes together and those shapes are similar to the original shapes you will have a painting that looks close to what you pictured in your minds eye, the picture will be there.

All in all, I think all of my classes did a great job. It was different and a challenge but in the end what we had surprised everyone and that is a good thing. It is also good to know that if you do have problems with a painting, turn it upside down. You don't have to paint it with your opposite hand unless you want to but it gives you that option to tap into your creative side.


We started a bit on what we will be doing for the next couple of weeks and that is working to create glass and metal. I want to just do some studies to begin with because it is an important step to understanding how everything goes together.

As I mentioned in class, most beginning and intermediate artists want to get right to the business of painting their masterpiece but more often than not, there are elements in that masterpiece they are at a total loss as to how to proceed. Rather than stopping and doing a few studies to work out the problem, they will work and re-work the areas that cause them problems until the rest of the painting suffers and there goes the masterpiece.

I just did a quick demo on focusing in on certain areas of the subject like a glass bottle or polished metal vase, neither are as they seem. Glass in particular can be reflective, transparent and have its own color, things you need to deal with if you want a convincing piece of glass in your painting. Even if you are doing a more impressionistic rendering, you need to see what is going on in that glass so what you have will look transparent instead of solid. Glass and water have a lot in common so this is good practice for both.

Metal is much the same with out being transparent. Metal has its own color but it also picks up the color of things around it, even burnished metal or tarnished metal, they will still reflect the things around them.

We will work on this more in the next class so don't forget to bring something glass and something metal, I say this because it helps to have it in front of you rather than going by a photo alone.