Sunday, November 6, 2011


Watercolor Demo - Backgrounds

There are many ways to start a painting and one of my favorite ways to start a painting is to do an under painting that establishes my light source, this sets the mood for the painting from the start. It can seem scary at first but once you get past the fear and try it a time or two you will see what a dramatic difference it makes in your paintings.

While I can visualize how a photo may look using this technique you may what to look for photos that have a strong source of light and deep shadows until you feel comfortable enough to "ad lib" on your own.

Once you know where your light is coming from and were it is going to be on your paper choose a color for your lightest area. It can be any where from paper white to a warm color like yellow or orange or pink to a cool color in blues or violets or greens, this is totally up to you and the mood you are trying to set.

In both demos I did I wanted to establish a sunny warm feel so my lightest area was a cad yellow. After I thoroughly wet the entire paper – I wanted it very wet so it wouldn't dry out while I was painting my background - I started with the cad yellow in the sunniest area painting a rough circle slightly bigger then the area I want this color. Keep your colors light, use lots of water when mixing.

Mixing in the same area of my palette I added a slightly darker color for the bamboo background, it was orange, the other a light green, and water and painted this new color overlapping the outside of the yellow and into an unpainted area in a rough circle around the yellow. I continued this process each time mixing in the same area of my palette, just adding a darker cooler color such as to the orange I added a touch of red and to that red a touch or sienna and to the sienna a touch of purple until I was using the purple mix in the corners and the areas that would be my darkest, coolest areas. The key is to go from your lightest warmest area where your subject will be to your coolest areas when your painting is done it will give a very strong sense of light to your painting almost like a spotlight, it can be very dramatic.

My goal as a teacher is to expose you to different ways of using your watercolors because no two people are exactly alike and what may be fun for one person is tedious for another so I try to give you enough information and some different ways of doing things that you will try something new and different even something you have seen in a magazine or at a gallery, what you as a student need to keep in mind is you are learning. The things you see me paint or the things you see in magazines or galleries are from artists who have been painting for years. Let me repeat that: ….Artists who have been painting for years! Every artist has to start someplace and they all have a learning curve. They weren't perfect their first time out or even their second, they had to experiment and find teachers who could guide them, a process that can take years or even a lifetime to perfect as they develop their style.

I took classes for over ten years just like you are doing now until one of my class mates decided I needed to be in front of the class, not in it. I would have never thought to do it myself but I am so thankful that she pushed me past my reluctance because I truly love teaching each and every one of you and I marvel at the improvements I see in my students. You may not see it but I do and your classmates do, so please remember that you are learning at this point and while what you are doing may not be perfect, with each painting you are getting more skill and knowledge with each brush stroke. When you don't have to think about which brush or what color and just paint it is like learning a musical instrument when you start playing the music not worrying about which fingers go where.

When I can find them on TV, I watch other artist paint regardless of what medium they are using because I can always learn something and I think it was the late Bob Ross who said don't focus on the things that you don't like about your painting, focus on the things that you do. Pat your self on the back and blow your own horn because if you don't know one else will. He called his show "The Joy of Painting" because that is what it should be. If it isn't you may need to rethink why you are painting in the first place, art should be an expression of who you are not some other artist. Learn what you can but make it your own and celebrate the difference.

See you in class.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

FALL 2011 Watercolor Class

Watercolor Demo – Sketching with Pencil and the Brush

Most of you who have been in my classes for a while know that I encourage all of you to draw as well as paint. While drawing is an art to its self, it can also be a tool to use to make a better painting. You can work out problems or designs on sketch paper long before you ever get to your watercolor paper.

Whether you are doing a full blown drawing or just a few sketchy "thumb nails" drawing will help you in your painting. You can use it when you are on location or doing "plein aire" painting or you can use it when you are going thru your photos and you find an image you like but maybe the composition needs work. Or you may want to combine images from one photo into another this is called a composite painting because you are using elements from different sources to make one painting. I do this a lot and more often than not I just do a few thumb nails to work out my composition and many times I look at these sketches and wonder what someone else who didn't know what I was trying to do would think because it often resembles a bunch of chicken scratches on the paper but I know what I mean. It's like shorthand for painting and we all can develop our own "shorthand" it just takes practice.

Always keep a sketch book or a sketch pad with your art stuff. If you are using a large pad you can divide the page into several smaller squares and try different designs in each square. If you are working from a photo, try to imagine the scene in both vertical and horizontal formats, if it is a landscape try different times of the year. A good "rule of thumb" is if the subject is vertical, it works best in a vertical format. Be sure to use all of the space and move things around so you know where the best place is for all the elements you plan to put in your final painting.

I started out with 2 photos I took on a trip a few years ago. I really liked the house but the surroundings were real special except the tree. Same with the hand pump. I liked the pump itself but I just couldn't get the right angle for the pump and get a decent background so I took the picture of the pump for reference. When I was looking for images for this class I went thru my photos saw the house and thought I could use that then came on the pump and presto! I had my demo for the class.

In class I showed how to do a few thumb nails placing the house and the pump in different places and settled on the one that places the house in the background and the pump in the lower right foreground.

Now one of the "tricks" to sketching is not to hold the pencil like you are writing braced between the index and middle fingers with the thumb on the back and the pencil resting on the space between the thumb and index finger, instead hold the pencil between the thumb and index finger so that the back end of it is in your hand. This will let you have freer movement when you are sketching so you can twist it into a position to get the stroke or shape you need.

Once I decided on the design now it is time to paint but I'm not going to draw the design on my paper first, I am going to use my brush to do the sketching. This is a technique that can work very well when you are out on location and it is another way to sketch plus you get the benefit of using color, just not as easy to erase as pencil.

For most of the painting I was using my ¾" angled brush because it gave me a lot of flexibility from big broad strokes to finer detail on the tip but you can use a round brush or a flat brush and remember to use a large brush to start out with, keeps you loose.

I mixed a gray color with my cerulean blue and a touch of orange and fairly light, I just want to use this color to sketch in my elements so I want something that is fairly neutral in color. If I don't get it right I can just put come clear water on it and lift it off but do not worry if you can still see the lines, they will disappear as you paint.

I started to add color by adding the lightest version of the colors I saw such as for the house I used a watered down cobalt and painted all the walls. The trees behind the house were the gray I was using with a touch of burnt sienna in it. The path was a touch of burnt sienna and yellow. All of these colors were their palest color. Things like the trees and grasses were done very loosely but my brush strokes followed how they grow: Grasses were shaggy and sort of vertical though not straight up and down they had curves and angles to them. The trees grew in clumps so my brush strokes reflected that but all these strokes were not little, dainty, precise strokes, they were very wild and free. I also didn't worry about covering every square inch with color, if I left white spots of paper that is a good thing. This type of painting you will see a lot of that because the artist wants to continue painting so will leave little slivers of dry paper so they can paint another color next to a wet area and the two won't bleed into each other.

Once I got my under painting done I started to deepen the colors where I needed to like adding shadows into the building or into the trees. I detailed out some of the areas like the pump and the path. I added the red trim to the house as well as windows and I repeated that red on the house in the flowers in the foreground. You can do as much detail or not once your under painting is established. If you want you can do a bit of pen and ink work on it, I use a Sharpie for this if I do it, it is less messy.

Painting like this really demands that you concentrate on shapes and the shape of the colors. This is a more suggestive way to paint, it is looser and freer than what we have done in the past and can be a bit scary at first but some of you might embrace this technique or try it when you take a vacation or when you are working from a photo you want to give your own personality. I do hope that you try it and maybe paint out in your yard to try and capture the essence of what is there rather than the detailed thing. It is good experience.

Please be sure you have something to work on in class, this goes for both PV and Torrance. Not sure what I will demo yet, still thinking about that so it may be a surprise to all of us. See you soon.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Watercolor Demo – Using Watercolor for Value Under Painting.

I continued working on the painting of the Colorado lake and fall colors to show how the value under painting using shades of gray made by using various blues and oranges and be a great way to start a painting. It doesn't mean that once you have your values established you can't go back in and tweak them as you apply color, it just gets you headed in the right direction. As you add the color you can fine tune the values where you need to or change something if you need to, we are working on paper not stone so make adjustments, they are part of the process.

Never be afraid to try something new or different or even take classes from other teachers, you can always learn what not to do but more often than not you may learn a new technique that you really enjoy. I should have had all my classes at the TAG meeting last week because we had a watercolor painter who works very differently than I do but I really enjoyed his process. While it may not be for me in a total change of the way I do things, it did give me ideas on how to do sketching with my brush and how to use one photo several different ways. If you want to do plein aire or if you like to take your sketch pad with you when you travel, you might enjoy this. This is new to me so I will be learning along with you but it should be fun.

See you all in class.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall 2011 Watercolor Class

WATERCOLOR DEMO – Values using Watercolor.

A few years ago I went on a week long watercolor seminar up in the Big Bear area, it was a fabulous learning experience and I often start my own painting the way the artist – Don Andrews – showed up how he painted. I like it because it establishes the values of the painting early and it sets the mood for the entire painting, besides, it is a good way to work.

Just like we used the ink washes to create the different values in our last project, we learned how to use our watercolor to do virtually the same thing starting with light grays and creating darker and darker mixes to get our values, then finally adding color. The results were quite satisfying.

A former student sent me the lovely fall photo that is on the picture page, it shows the fall color and is quite peaceful as well as being simple enough that I could do most of it in a class or two. I did adjust the composition a bit by moving the foreground tree closer to the right side, as an artist, I am the ultimate in Photo Shop so I can move trees if I want, whereas when you are the photographer you may not have the option to move something to get the photo you want, so you take the picture, you will be using it for reference only. Never look at a photo as the goal of your painting, you already have the photo if that is what you want, as a painter you need to add your feelings and interpretations to your paintings.

The biggest reason I moved the tree is it created 2 pictures. There was the main picture of the lake and hillsides on the left side of the tree but there was also a picture that demanded almost as much attention on the right side of the tree with the bright reflections surrounded by the dark tree and shadows. By moving the tree more into the shadowed area, those areas that were asking for attention become part of the larger image and therefore less distracting to the eye. Be aware of this when you are taking your own photos, bright things will attract attention and hard lines like the trunk of that tree can divide your image.

As I do with all things I am painting, I first look at the reference to see where my brightest highlights are and my darkest shadows. One thing I noticed about this image was there were no white whites. If you don't believe me, take out your value scale and place it on those white clouds. They are not white. The brightest thing I see is the tree trunks on the left and it is on the tan side but I did want to protect that brightness so I masked out the two trunks. EVERYTHING ELSE was given a wash of gray.

To mix my gray I started with my lightest blue on my palette, for me that is my cerulean blue and a touch of orange. The orange is a powerful color so a little goes a long way but it makes a very nice gray and I used a lot of water. I just wanted a tint of color this is where some of you get a bit heavy handed and you start out way too dark with your colors then have no way to get back to the value you want. It is better to have to put 2 or 3 washes of color on then to try and take it off if it is too dark.

I used this mix of cerulean and orange, mixing a bit stronger each time for the first 3 or 4 washes, then I switched to a darker blue – I have cobalt on my palette – and orange for another 3 or 4 washes. When I want my darkest darks I use my ultra marine and burnt sienna. Each time I paint a layer of value I am doing exactly what I did with the ink, I am leaving the next lightest areas unpainted until I have my full range of values.

In the sky, I lifted out clouds with a paper towel at the second and third washes of grey and because the sky is a fairly light in value, after about the third wash of gray, the next wash was cerulean blue and cobalt I made sure to lift out my clouds. The water is darker in value (use the value scale) but I did the same thing as I did in the sky only I waited to the third and forth wash to pull out the clouds and the 5th wash was color (cobalt, ultra marine and a touch of my Andrew's Turquoise). I waited to add color to the trees and hills until I was closer to being done with the washes.

One thing to remember when you are painting the water is to keep you brush strokes parallel to the top and bottom of your paper. This will make your water lay flat if you happen to leave streaks with your brush.

I will finish up the painting in class so you can see what I am doing, if you have any special requests let me know and I can do a demo for the class because chances are if you have a question someone else will also have a question.

See you all in class.

Friday, September 30, 2011


WATERCOLOR DEMO – Values and Color.

Torrance Class – You will need to go back a couple of weeks to get the first part of this value study, I did post a picture of the one I am doing in class so you can see where we are. I also posted a photo of my drawing for this version of the value study. This is good to note for both PV and Torrance classes because if you want to do detailed paintings in watercolor, you need a good drawing.

I started by transferring the drawing I posted on the picture page but then I took the reference photo and carefully went over the image looking for detail that wasn't included in the original drawing (figured it would scare the pants off everyone ;-) . I looked for shapes in the vase, and in the reflections, I also found that I had mis-drawn the leaf that is below and behind the flower so I corrected that. I put as much information is as I thought I needed to help me with my washes. You DO NOT need to do this! However, if you want to do more detail in your paintings, this is what you will need to do.

PV Class – I decided that I had most of my values for this study about where I wanted them so I switched from the diluted ink I had in the bottle to straight drawing ink because I wanted to get the black areas black. That is not to say that I didn't go back into some areas with a diluted wash, but I could just add water to the ink to make it lighter when I needed it.

There were many areas that needed to be almost as dark as the background, especially around the flower itself. To make the flower look light and bright, I really needed to get dark around it. Many of you were still way too light right around the flower petals so you flower didn't quite jump off the paper. I took my full strength ink and put it in between and around the petals, rinsed my brush and with just water, pulled the ink out to blend it in with what was there. I did this a couple times until I got the darkness I needed behind my flower.

This is the point where the artist has to make decisions: How much detail do I put in and do I add color? I added quite a bit of detail by using the reference photo and finding where I wanted/needed to add more values or darker values. When I was done I let it dry for at least 20 – 30 minutes so I was sure that the ink was completely dry then I came back in and added some color to the flower, leaves and vase. I did this so students can see what it is like with color, the one I am doing at Torrance I will leave black and white for comparison.

Next week I am going to do a demo using my watercolors in a similar way to build values, I will be working from a photo from a friend and former student Kathleen Russo who graciously said I could use it in class. However, I am not going to use this as a class project it is a demo, if you want to paint it you can, or you can find something else you would like to paint and just watch the demo.

I hope that students will find a project of their own to get started on so I can help you with it during the rest of the semester. See you all in class.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Watercolor Demo – Value Study Week 2

Torrance students we started on making our value scales in class, if you haven't finished we can do that on Monday. These scales come in handy in many situations so even if you don't do the project, I hope that you will finish the value scale. We will start the project on Monday so I hope that everyone has their drawing on their paper and ready to go.

PV students what we did was more of the same as last time but each time we add a wash of ink we are leaving out more and more areas until we get to the darkest areas of the photo.

You need to really look and use your value scale if you need to, to see where values change which values are darker than others and paint accordingly. The glass and the reflections are going to deserve your attention at this step. Glass not only distorts images of things in it or behind it but it can also distort the value of those same things so really look at the things you see in and behind the glass.

For instance: There is a shadow that goes behind the vase that is offset from the shadow but it is also a shade or two lighter than the shadow outside the vase.

There is a lot going on in the reflections, if you miss something and are still adding layers just paint around it so it may be a bit darker that it should be or you can forget it as long as it looks like a reflection you are ahead of the game. Remember we are artists. I think I've missed some things because my printer didn't print a good enough reference photo for me, but that's okay, it is just a study.

I also want you to notice that I stared adding shading to the flower petals. I did this just like I did the rest of the painting starting out with a light wash and gradually making it darker where it needed to be darker, I did leave the brightest areas the white of the paper.

At this point it is almost done thought I think that there are some areas that need to be darker and I may go ahead next week and take straight ink to finish of the very dark areas. I won't make that determination until I am satisfied that the darks are all I have left to do and that may take another lay or two of washes to make that decision. I'm not in a race, I could take the rest of the semester to finish this and if I were doing this on my own, I probably would take more time to get it "perfect" before calling it done but for instructional purposes torturing my students with more that a couple of weeks of ink washes is enough to get my point across. I may put some color on it when I'm done but I do have the option of leaving it as a black and white, since I am doing two, I can do both.

Please be looking for something you would like to paint whether it has glass and/or reflections in it or not because once we are done with the class project, I would like you all to have something to work on that you want to do and I can give you some help getting started and answer questions that come up. Choosing subject matter is also an important lesson.

Keep painting.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Torrance Students this if the first of the blogs for the Fall '11 semester, you may be a week or two behind the PV Class as far as the demos are concerned so if you read a blog that seems like I've missed a step, go back one or two to catch up.

PV Students we started out our class by making a value scale with ink. Most of this class project will be done with ink although, you can mix a gray color with your paints and it will be about the same. I had pre-mixed ink in the class so every one had the same value of ink with the hope of getting some consistency with the scales everyone was making. I think it worked out to be about 1 part ink to 10 parts water.

Part of the reason I mixed up some ink is so everyone could see how by building up layers of one value, you can create darker values with each layer you apply. This is a key element when you are painting with watercolor and one I don't think many understand. Watercolor requires patience because if you are doing it right, you may go over and area many times to get the value and the color intensity to be deep enough. Too many of you try to get there in one fell swoop and you don't like the results, watercolor works best if you build it up layer by layer.

I handed out a strip of paper to everyone and gave out ink, I asked the class to skip about an inch at one end of the strip then paint a layer of ink on the rest of the strip, then let it dry completely. No, you won't be able to coat it in one stroke probably and if you want it perfect you will need to go to the art store and by a computer generated one, just try to make as even a coat of ink without going over and over or adding too much ink into the same area. It must be dry before you do the next step because, like watercolor, if the area is wet, it will bleed into the damp ink and ruin your results.

While you are waiting for the strip to dry, you can transfer the project drawing onto your paper, this will give you some thing to do besides watch paint dry.

When the first layer of ink is dry on your strip, skip another section next to the white section then paint another layer of the same ink mix on the rest of the strip. Do not dilute the ink. Be sure that if you have rinsed your brush, dry it well before dipping into the ink. Again, try to make an even coat of ink and let it dry. Continue this procedure until you have at least 10 sections painted on this strip, each time leaving a bit of the ink you just put down before you move onto the next. Your last section should be black or very close to it. When it is dry, you might want to take a hole punch and punch a hole in the centers of each section, this will allow you to isolate a value either on your painting or a reference photo so you can see just how dark you need to go.

Remember this procedure because this is how we are going to paint our project: Layer by layer.

I've had several requests for glass and reflections in the past couple of semesters, when you do glass you are more often than not doing reflections as well so I thought this would be a good project not only for the glass and reflections, but also for practicing values. I found the simplest vase in the house and the simplest fake flower I have and made the easiest set up I could think of so really, all you have to do it think of it as values and shapes, which when you come right down to it, that is all any subject is values and shapes.

You will be using your value scale while you are doing this project and the first place you will use it is on the reference photo. Before I ever start a painting, I look at my subject, this goes for any plein aire (on location) or still life as well as photos. What I am looking for are the lightest lights and the darkest darks. If a painting or photo only has a limited range of values say from white to about the fifth gray down you scale, your painting will look flat. You need the darks to show light and you need a range of values to create excitement in your painting. This is what I am looking for and if my reference doesn't have enough darks and lights, I look for places to put them. This takes practice but your paintings will benefit in the long run if you can learn this skill, but that is later.

I placed this setup near the glass doors of my back room that was my only light source, there is no other light other than any reflected light on my subject. Having only one light source keeps the lighting simple giving you a direction of light. The light is coming in from the right so all the shadows will be on the left.

Now that I know where my light is coming from, I look for the brightest areas of my painting and those will be the highlights on the glass and the flower petals in the actual vas not the reflection. Right now I am treating all of the petals as the same value and will go back to that when I am closer to finishing this painting. These bright areas can be masked out to save the white though I am going to paint around them.

I do want you to notice that the reflection in the Mylar is a couple values darker that the subject itself. Use your value scale if you need to, to prove to your self that it is because to make a reflection look natural it needs to be a bit darker than the thing it reflects. This is true for all reflections, not just these reflections, keep that in mind when painting water reflections.

This first wash is what seems to confuse most students who have not painted like this before, so I am asking you to trust me here, it should all work out in the end, for right now with the exception of those bright areas, everything is going to be painted with the same value of ink. The ink I mixed is a bit dark so there are a couple ways to dilute it: Add more water to the ink just not too much, probably best to put some out on your palette and pick up water on your brush, it should be about half the value of what it is now, or you can wet an area on your paper with water and work the ink into it, or you can put the ink down then quickly pick up water on your brush and spread it out. The value should be somewhere between the white and the first section on your value scale.

When I say "paint everything" except the brightest areas I mean PAINT EVERYTHING! Do not worry about your drawing at this point the only thing that will not be painted are the highlights on the glass and the flower petals in the vase, everything – including the flower petals in the reflection – gets a coat of this ink. There should be no other white showing on your paper. Do not paint around the vase or the reflections, p a i n t   E V E R Y T H I N G! You should have a nice light gray paper with a couple of light spots on it, that is a good thing. Now let it dry completely.

While it is drying, you need to look for the next lightest areas, the ones that aren't quite the brightest but almost. These will be the next areas that we will leave unpainted when our paintings are dry. Check them with your value scale so you understand, and more importantly, SEE the difference. The more you can see the subtle changes in light and dark of your subject the easier it will be to get them into your painting. I know that sounds like stating the obvious, but most of us need to learn to see these subtle changes in light and dark to even know that they exist. In our normal everyday life we have better things to think about but as artists trying to create something that looks real, these subtleties become very important.

Look at the reflections in the glass, notice the shape also notice that the shapes on the back of the vase are darker than the ones near the front this is what I mean about subtle. You will not paint the ones near the bright side this time, but the ones near the back need at least one more coat of value.

Once you have determined which areas are the next lightest, EVERYTHING else gets another coat of value. That is the key to this kind of painting: going over the darker areas each time building up the value rather than painting sections at a time, your watercolor will work the same way building layers of color and value to create depth in your painting, it is almost like carving the image out of your paper, each time you make a deeper and deeper cut until the image stands out.

This will also be a lesson in patience something every watercolorist needs to produce quality watercolors, so this may take 2 – 3 weeks depending on how fast the class works. What I would like to see for your own project when we are done with the class project is if you can find something you would like to do with reflections and/or glass in it. This will help you see how you can use what you have learned in paintings you want to do and I can help you work thru the problem areas. Keep this in mind and start looking for references.

Next class, more of the same.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The new semester is about to start and I wanted to let you know what we will be painting this time.

I have gotten several requests to do glass and reflections so we will be doing both! With an added bonus of learning how to use values in our paintings.

One of the things I notice with my students is they are afraid to go dark with their values and most stay in a very safe range which makes their paintings look flat. You need the dark to show light and depth so we are going to be doing a black and white study to start, color can be added later. Yes, this is an exception to my "no black" rule.

I will bring some ink to class for those who would like to use ink or you can mix to your dark, I will show you ways to accomplish similar effects with your paints.

The photos on the reference page include the reference photo and some detail photos but I will also be bringing a set-up so you can see it in real life.

This should be a very informative lesson and I hope that I can convince a few of you to not be afraid of the dark.

See you soon.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer 2011 Watercolor Class

Watercolor – Demo: Pelicans in Flight Week 4

PV students, most of what we did in class this week is documented in the previous blog so check there for details. Torrance students you can go to last weeks blog to see how I did the water, I am going to concentrate on the hills on the island this time. Both classes we are basically done with the birds there are just a few details I might go over in class just in case you would like to see how I might finish, but this is nit picky stuff and you might want to move on to something you want to paint.

When I write these blogs, I have my paintings sitting next to me while I write so I can figure out what I did in class. Sometimes when I look at them I notice things that bother me but I'm too busy in class to figure out what it is, sitting here trying to make sense of all this it at times jumps off the paper, this was one of those times.

Looking at all 4 of my paintings (2 watercolor, 2 acrylic) I realized that not only did it look better with some ripples in the water (did that at PV and liked it), it also came to me that maybe there should be a bit more detail in the hills of the island, it just looked too plain, it needed something.

With that in mind, I mixed a color that was similar in value but just a bit more purple for my hills. Remember that watercolors are transparent and are accumulative in nature so that the color underneath will influence the next layer both in color and in value (darkness). The more layers the more intense the color and deeper the value, it is why we start light and work our way to dark in watercolor. I don't need to mix a darker value for my shadows because it will automatically be darker when I paint over the color that is already there.

I mixed my blue with my crimson – you can use the napthol red as well – to create a cool wine color that was about the same value as the existing hills. Be sure to add enough water so the color isn't too intense. The sun is coming in from the top left so my shadows will be on the right sides of the hills and down in the spaces between the ridges. I would put down the color, rinse my brush, then with just a damp brush go along the edges of the color to blend it into the existing color to create soft shadows.

Sometimes if you look at the dry paint, you will see shapes that you can use to your advantage to create cliffs or other distant details on the hills. Just be sure that your shadows don't have hard lines and that the color isn't too dark. If you need to look at a photo or at the local hills/mountains to see how the shadows play on the hills, by all means, see what Nature does when she paints the hills with shadows to give you an idea of where you need to go with your own shadows.

It is good practice as an artist to keep files on all different subject matters whether it is something you cut from a magazine or newspaper or photos you take for yourself, having a reference file available when you paint is invaluable if you don't have one, start one.

All students need to bring in something that they want to paint for next week, I can help you get started on it and if you need a demo on something I can do it in class for everyone. See you soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Watercolor – Demo: Pelicans

PV students look back in the previous entries for detail descriptions on doing the sky and the island, we did out clouds a bit different because instead of lifting, we negative painted the clouds. By using a little blue on the tip of my angle brush, I painted the sky behind the area where I wanted my clouds to be. In negative painting you paint what is around the thing you are painting, not the thing itself. Next, I rinsed my brush and with a damp brush, blended out the top of that line of paint into the sky so I didn't have a hard line. I rinsed my brush again and with a damp brush, lightly went over the other side of the line to soften it – clouds should not have hard lines – and I rinsed often so I didn't get too much blue into the tops of my clouds. I did a similar thing along the top edges of the birds to increase he contrast between their light areas and the clouds.

The under painting for the pelicans is also in the previous entry and please refer to the picture page to get an idea of where you need to be in class.

The one thing I didn't do in the Torrance class – I will when we meet next – is to do the water. It was suggested that the water needed to have more blue and though I do like the greenish color, I did think it could stand a bit of detail and I could accomplish both at the same time.

I turned my painting so that it was vertical and using my blue with a tiny touch of purple on my brush (I used my 1/2 " angle brush but a small round or liner brush will also work), using just the edge of my brush, I made a series of slightly curved, vertical lines. Sometimes these lines touched, sometimes they didn't, I wanted to leave the color underneath to suggest highlights and I sometimes used just a clean damp brush to lightly blend areas together. Also, the marks near the foreground were wider, darker in color and spaced further apart, as I went into the background, I was using mostly the color left on my brush making the marks lighter, I also made them smaller and closer together to create distance, they faded out altogether before they got to the island. I let the blooms that formed when I paintied in the island act like reflections in the water.

Torrance students, we worked on the birds adding detail and more shadows, this is where having a good print of the photo comes in handy, some of you have much better printers than I do but don't get too caught up in the details of the main bird, look more for the value changes that give the bird its shape.

Mix up a very dark mix of your blue, sienna and purple (mostly blue and sienna with very little water), this should look black even when painted on your paper, if you can see color or see the paper white coming through, it has too much water in it, add more pigment to make it dark. You can thin it out on your paper when you need to but for now it needs to be very dark.

Now you don't hear me say this often and I'm only suggesting this for specific areas, but if you have black (pause while you get over the shock) you can use it on the wing tip feathers, the tail feathers and the back of the head ONLY! These areas are pretty much black in color so it may help you get them dark enough but please, these areas only. Make sure you rinse your brush well and that you don't have any black in your mixing area, it is a color killer, use the dark mix for the rest of the shadows because it will be more alive.

There are dark shadows under the wings, around the eyes and under the top part of the bill and under the body. You will notice that there is a bit of reflected light on the breast of the main bird I added a touch of orange to the wet area and lightly blended the edges into the surrounding dark with a damp brush.

Be aware of your brush strokes, they should follow the growth pattern of the feathers and will change depending on what part of the bird you are painting at the time.

My photo didn't have the pelicans in their mating plumage so I looked on the Internet to see what I could find to liven my birds up, they do become more colorful when looking for mates. Starting around their eyes, the feathers are a burnt sienna color that fades to orange then yellow as it goes back on the head, this will test your blending skills and be sure to use a small enough brush so you aren't fighting your equipment, I saw this with several of you. Even I change brushes occasionally.

On the bill, the tip of it is yellow, then it goes into a mix of red and a touch of orange, darker near the tip and fading back to the eyes, then under the chin it seems to be darker near the face and lighten as it goes to the tip. On the distant birds just a touch of yellow on the head and a touch of the orange red on the bill and that is enough to suggest detail.

While you can call this done at this point if you want, as I look at my painting as I write this, I see a bit more I would like to do. It isn't necessary but just in case you feel your painting needs a bit more, this might help you get some ideas, otherwise, have something you want to paint in class on Monday and I can help you get started.

See you all in class.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Watercolor Class – "Pelican's in Flight"

PV students, you are about a week behind the Torrance class so please check the archives to see what we have been doing. I cover the same material. If you are going to follow along with the pelican project, please have the photo and the drawing on the picture page downloaded and printed so you can have them for class. If possible, have the drawing on your watercolor paper before class so we can get started.

Torrance students we did get pretty far along with our painting with any luck at all, we might finish it in the next class so you might want to have something else handy to work on.

We have been practicing sky and clouds for the past couple of weeks so check the previous entries for detailed instructions on how to do the sky. This does take practice to get a nice graded blend, just remember that it is art, not a photograph so those little imperfections are what give your painting character. Perfect really isn't necessary and may not even be desirable.

If you feel it necessary, you can mask out the light areas of the pelicans with masking fluid, I really didn't feel it necessary, I just kept a paper towel handy and when paint was in areas I didn't want it, I just wiped it out of the area, this is just another way to save your whites and it shows you that you needn't panic about your white areas if you forget to mask them prior to painting the area. You could also wait until it was dry and lift color out if you haven't used a staining color. Mostly what will make it look white is contrast. I will get to that later.

Once you have your background in and it has dried completely (ß this is important), if you have mask on your pelicans remove it. Masking can create hard uneven lines so you might want to take a damp brush and soften and straighten your lines. Rinse and dry your brush often, otherwise you may end up putting down paint rather than lifting it.

We are now going to under paint the pelicans and I need to remind everyone that we do this in layers or washes. Everything that isn't white can all be painted with this first wash of color because it will be dark anyway and this gets us started. What you want to avoid is finishing as you go and when you are a beginner it is an easy habit to get into, you want to see it done but you need to have patience, it will pay off in the end.

I mix my standard grey – ultra marine blue, burnt sienna and a touch of purple – keeping it on the cool side. Mix in enough water to make a medium light grey color, not too dark not too light. This is the first wash of color I will use on my pelicans, it will go on everything that isn't white. In the areas where this color come close to the white areas, I rinse my brush and with a damp clean brush I run it right along the edge of my color to make a graded color that blends into the white area. This is exactly what we did in the sky when we were blending the color down with just water but on a much smaller scale.

There were also several areas like under the wings where there is a bit of reflected light shining up into the shadow areas, remember they are flying over water so there probably would be a lot of reflected light hitting them. I did a similar thing as mentioned above, I put my color in the darkest areas (this is where having the reference photo is your best guide), rinsed my brush then teased the color into the lighter area with just the water on my brush.

Another thing I want to mention is when I have to remix the color when I run out I am more concerned about matching the value (lightness or darkness of a color) than I am matching the color. I use the same 3 colors but if it is more brown than blue or more purple, I can always add a bit more of the other colors to get closer, it is the amount of water that changes the value in watercolor.

I also needed to darken behind the light areas of the birds so there would be some contrast between the birds and the clouds. I used a little bit of blue on my brush and put it next to the white areas of the birds, rinsed my brush and blended it out into the clouds behind. You need to have contrast – light against dark – to show that your light areas are really light. I may need to do more, but I will wait until the end to see if and how much more I need to do.

This is where we stopped, I hope that everyone (Torrance) can be near this point when we meet on Monday. Like I said, we may finish this project depending on where the class is at the end of the day so start looking for something you would like to paint.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


WATERCOLOR DEMO - Grids, Skies, Clouds and Feathers

I didn't want to start the project with the 4th of July holiday the next week because we would have to go back to square one when we did come back to class, however this was a great opportunity to practice what we will be doing on the project in the hopes of working out the bugs before we get to our project.

The first thing I covered is how to get an image on your paper. There are several ways to get an image on your paper that do not require a lot of drawing skills, which would be your first option but in a practical sense I know that most of you do not have good drawing skills, I will keep encouraging you but in the meantime you need some alternatives. You can buy a program that will enlarge a photo or a drawing in your computer, I have the link to Poster 7 in the side bar or you can use an opaque projector or even take your photo to Kinkos and get it enlarged but one simple way to enlarge a picture or drawing is using the grid system.

The grid system has been around for hundreds of years. Before photographs artists would create these huge elaborate grids with rope and wood and set their subjects in front of them to get a precise rendering of the scene. Today you can buy sheets of clear plastic with a grid already printed on it or you can buy paper with a grid pattern or you can buy a kit that will make you an "instant artist" using the grid system or make your own grid with pencil and ruler the process is the same.

What I do when I use a grid – yes, I have use the grid system when I need to – I will print a copy of my subject on a full sheet of paper, the image is usually around 8" x 10" and I mark off 1" squares, it keeps things simple. On another sheet of paper like drawing paper or tracing paper that is at lest the size of the paper I am going to use, say 16" x 20" I will make my grid with 2" squares because my paper is twice the size of my photo so the ratio is 2 to 1. I can make this as big – or as small – as I need so long as I create a grid with squares I can enlarge something to wall size if I needed to just be sure that you have the same amount of squares on your paper as you have on your picture.

It can be a bit tedious drawing the grids but once you have them drawn, the real work begins. If you are working from a photo what you will be looking for is the edges of objects and important detail such as eyes or doors or as much detail as you think you will need. You could do a line drawing from your photo either by using a light box or taping it to a bright window and tracing on another same size piece of paper the important lines, then putting your grid on the line drawing.

Pick a spot to start on your photo or line drawing, you can put numbers and letters along the edges so you can just go to the 3C square or just count over and up, then what ever shape you see in that square you want to recreate it on your paper grid. Note where the line(s) intersect the lines of the grid and where they stop and start. You can just put dots to indicate starting and stopping points or high and low points then when you draw you line it will be like the "connect the dots" you did as a kid, you do need to be aware of the line you are drawing as you connect the dots so if it is a curved line or a straight line you need to do the best you can to recreate the shape of that line. Remember: That is all it is, a line. A line that creates a shape and if you got all your lines and shapes close you will have your subject enlarged and transferred. Don't think about the thing think about shapes only. Practice this and you will be amazed at how well it works.

The next thing we practiced was skies. Awwww, the simple blue sky: So pretty yet so deceptive in its simplicity. As you probably figured out when you were trying this in class, getting a even, graded blue sky isn't as simple as you would think, it does take practice and patience but if you stick to it, you can create beautiful, flawless skies.

You will need to have the top of your paper elevated so that gravity will work for you. A roll of tape or a brush box will work great, just prop it up on something. Next wet the entire area that will be sky with water. If you have a drawing already on your paper, turn it so that the horizon is at the top. The horizon can sometimes be a different color (yellow to orange or red) and it is always best to paint the lighter colors first so they won't get contaminated by darker colors. What ever color you choose, streak it across the horizon area (this should be at the top now) and with just small amounts of water and gravity, guide this color down the paper. Brush the water just at the bottom of the color so it moves, you will get a gradual change from dark to light if you do it right, it does take practice but a graded wash is a valuable tool in your watercolor knowledge box.

When you have gotten the color about half way down the sky area, turn your paper so that the horizon is where it should be and with blue and a little purple do the same thing in the sky area. Your paper needs to stay wet for this whole process so wet it good to start and work quickly. You can rewet with your brush but you run the risk of blooms, though in a sky, they will look like clouds.

You can also lift clouds out while your sky area is still wet. You can lift them with a tissue or paper towel or you can use a damp brush. This will make soft nondescript clouds perfect for a lot of different land/seascape situations. This is also the easiest way to make clouds.

Another thing you can do while the sky is still a little bit damp (this takes practice to time it right) you can add and distant mountains or in this case, islands. Use a color that is just slightly darker that the sky it will be against and paint it in. The slightly damp paper will diffuse the edge and make it soft, a good thing for distant objects.

On the pelicans we will use a couple differ techniques, variations on a larger scale we just used. First the graded wash in a small area: If you are using a round brush you will first put down your color in the darkest area, rinse your brush and dry most of the water but not all. Run the damp brush along the edge you want to soften so that you are wetting the paper just beyond the paint as well as the edge of the paint. If you are using an angle brush or a flat brush, clean your brush and slightly dry it so it is still damp and load color onto the tip or corner, put that where you want it the darkest but put your whole brush on the paper and paint the dark area. You should get a soft graded color with both of these techniques.

Next we will be lifting color off with our brush so first we need to paint an area and let it dry. Be sure that you are using a non-staining color or a staining color with a non staining color. The diox purple is a staining color but the ultra marine and sienna are not. These three make a very dark color in combination with each other and when lifted the color that will stay mostly behind will be the purple. Test colors if you are unsure of their staining qualities.

Once your dark paint has dried, with a clean, damp brush (I like my angle or flat brushes for this) using the edge, lift lines out of the dark paint. If your lines are too fat and fuzzy, you had too much water on the brush, rinse and dry, and try again. You will need to rinse and dry your brush often to keep from putting the paint back on the paper but you can get some very interesting effects with lifting.

Next is dry brush. This is where so many of you have problems with either too much water on your brush or too much paint or you are pressing too hard…Remember, dry brush means exactly that: Dry brush. Rinse and dry your brush well, pick up paint with your brush but remember that you are also picking up water along with the paint so lightly squeeze the bristles near the ferrule to remove excess water and with a light stroke touch brush to paper. Press too hard and the line can be too solid, this will also happen if you have too much water or paint. Practice is the only way you will learn how to control the water but this is a great stroke for all kinds of textures from feathers to hair to grass and wood grain, it will be worth your time and effort.

I hope you all have time to practice these techniques before the next class and if you can, please try to have the drawing on your paper. Remember, if you are tracing the drawing onto your watercolor paper be sure to use graphite paper or rub the back of the stencil with soft graphite and copy it that way. Never use carbon paper, it has oil in it.

Have a good 4th of July, see you soon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Preview

I have posted the picture I will be doing in class if you want to take a look. As always, you do not have to do the project so if you aren't interested in pelicans you can find something else to paint, just remember you can learn something from every project, even ones you aren't thrilled about.

Class project link.

We have enough people to have a class but we may have to shorten it time-wise unless we get another person to sign up. I think if we do shorten it by a half hour we can still get out 9 weeks in and keep the office happy.

See you soon.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spring 2011 Watercolor Class

Watercolor PV Class – Washes and Trees

Since we aren't doing a project, I am trying to concentrate of some specifics. I look around class and see where you are having problems or struggling too hard to make things happen, remember my saying: If you fight the watercolor, the watercolor will win. Most of you are still waging war with your watercolors and loosing the battle. You cannot will things to happen with watercolor, you need to learn to work with it, when you finally do, you will be much happier.

First washes. As I look around class, I see that many of you still do not understand what a wash is or how to create one. Basically, a wash is a wash or glaze of color. It can be just one color or many but its main characteristic is its transparency.

You can create a wash a couple of ways, for beginners the easiest way is wet into wet – wet paint onto wet paper. Before you put brush to paper, make sure that the top of your paper is raised so gravity can help you (at least an inch or two) also, you might want to create wells or puddles of the colors you will to use for your wash and then wet the area of your paper where you are going to use these colors. A wash can be as big as your sky or as small as an individual leaf, think about all the places you can use a wash. While your paper is wet add one of the colors and let it run down through the wet area. When it has gone as far as you want, you can add another color or colors, you can turn your paper, tilt it change the angle…Experiment with how the paint blends as it moves through the wet area of the paper. You can also add just water to make it move more, how it moves is yours to explore, I can only give you suggestions to try.

The other method of creating a wash is wet on dry – wet paint on dry paper. With this method you paint an area with your color, rinse your brush and with the damp brush, start at an edge and work the color across. If you want a graded color (dark to light), rinse your brush often as you move across the area you want covered. You can also add other colors the same way starting in a dry area then blending with water until the two colors meet. The only way you will know how this works is to do it and that means practice.

You paint brushes are your tools. I know that sounds obvious but how you use them will dictate the outcome of your painting. Like the difference between a master carpenter and a kid building his/her first bird house, while the tools may be the same, the outcome is very different. That master carpenter probably did start out building bird houses that no self respecting bird would get caught dead in but as the skill of the carpenter increased so did the likelihood that the houses became more desirable. He/she may still be using the same saws, hammers, planes that were used on the first bird house, so that hasn't changed, just the skill and knowledge of how these things work in concert to help the carpenter to make bigger and better things. The same thing goes for your brushes, the more you use them and try different things with them the more knowledge you have on how they work and where they work best. Practice.

I did a demo on some different tree barks. Trees come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Some have rough bark, some have smooth, some have peeling bark, some have thorns, it is your job as an artist to create the idea of these different textures since you aren't creating the actual texture of the bark, just a visual representation of the bark. Remember: We are illusionists; with our brushes we create illusions of things we want to share with others.

For the rough textured bark, I used the edge of my angle brush - working on dry paper- straight on, making short, choppy, vertical strokes. I went from a dark mix of sienna, blue and purple to orange/yellow using this same technique across the trunk of the tree. The smooth bark tree can be done with either a wet into wet wash or wet on dry. If we into wet, you can put the paint down then turn your paper so the paint will run into the wet area and lay it flat when you want it to stop. You may have to lift a bit of color in the sunlit area. If you do wet on dry, remember to rinse you brush often and if you use choppy strokes you can create some texture on the tree.

The eucalyptus was done wet into wet with a base color of sienna though some are more gray, then dropping color into the wet tree trunk. These trees can have almost any color from greens and blues to pinks and oranges especially if they have just dropped their bark. Look as some up close, take pictures. Have fun.

The final tree was a white barked tree like a birch or aspen. Remember, just because something looks white doesn't mean that it is white. Quite often there is little if any actual white and that would be in the brightest spots. That said, I made a shadow color of blue and purple and started in my shadow area and with just water moved it around to create a graded wash on the trunk. While that dried a bit, I mixed a very dark color adding more blue, purple and sienna to create my darkest color. This is mostly paint with little water. Be sure that your brush is dry and a flat or angle brush will work best here. With this dark color, dry brush little "U" shaped marks on the tree or little dots and blotches. This is good for trees in the middle ground; close up trees may need more detail but work on this first.

May do more wood as a demo, I'm thinking about it.