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.