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.

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