Thursday, January 31, 2013

Project: Clay Pots and Chilies – Torrance edition

As promised, I did a variation of a theme with the Torrance version of the pots and chilies. In many ways it is very similar to what I did at PV because you always work from light to dark but in this version rather than working with shades of grey, I worked with color and established my center of interest with a first wash that looked something like a spot light in the fog rather than a wash of grey over the whole paper. Everything else is basically the same, using layers of thin washes to create value and intensify color.

First off, I did use a bit of masking fluid to protect my brightest highlights on my chilies, a spot on the rim of the tallest vase and a few spots on the frayed ends of the knot, that was all because EVERYTHING ELSE will be a part of the color wash I will put on once the masking is dry.

Under paint light with color.
It is easier to do this technique if you wet the paper first either by spraying and/or with your big wash or hake brush so you can work wet into wet. Use enough water so that your paper is good and damp but you shouldn’t have any pools of standing water, elevating the top even a couple of inches will help here. Because I have to work vertically, I worked wet on dry the results are similar but you need to work much faster.

I first had to decide where I wanted my viewer to look when they are looking at my painting and for me with my design and where I was standing, it was the tallest vase that will be where I want people to focus. Starting in that area I took a thin mix of cad yellow and applied it in a rough circle working from the center out and inch or two in diameter. I use just water along the outside edges to soften them but if you have wet your paper this step should not be necessary, however, if you see a hard line forming you may need to use a bit of water to prevent it from forming.

The next color I used was cad orange that I mixed into what was left of the yellow on my palette. Again I used a lot of water to thin the color before I applied it to my paper. Starting just outside the yellow color, I applied the orange color about an inch wide all around the yellow, like target rings, then I rinsed my brush and with just a damp brush I blended the two areas together. If your paper was wet they may have already started to blend and that is a good thing, just help them along. Each successive ring of color will be done in this manner, working to the darker corners. My next mix of colors are as follows: to the orange I added a touch of red again lots of water. The next mix I added burnt sienna to the mix and lots of water and finally, in the corners I added purple to my burnt sienna and lots of water.

Paint your subject as you normally would.
When you are done your whole paper should be covered in this colorful under tone, let it dry completely and then forget it is there and paint as you usually do with thin layers of color or you can do value washes, just paint as usual. Most of this will get covered but it will influence the layers above it.

I also need to add that you can do this with any colors you choose, the key is to go from light where you want people to look, to dark around the edges to focus them in on your subject. You can use it on your whole paper or just in certain areas, experiment with it and combine it with other techniques to suit your needs.

Please try to have your drawing on your paper and if possible this first wash of color for next time when we will continue working on our project. See you in class.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Project: Clay Pot and Chilies

I finished my painting of the clay pots by intensifying the colors of my pots and the chilies. The intensity of the color is a personal choice and I was happy with the intensity where I stopped, others may like their painting less intense in color or they may want it to be more intense, it is a decision you need to make for your selves. You do need to keep in mind that each time you add color to increase the intensity you still need to protect your highlights so you don’t lose them.

Clay Pots and Chilies - from PV class. Finished.
When I add more color, I add it to an area I want to make more intense (colorful) and then with just a damp brush, I blend it into surrounding areas to avoid any hard lines. Let that wash dry first before adding more color because even though watercolor does dry lighter, it is better for your painting to wait between washes so you can assess where your painting stands. It is very easy to overdo one area making it overpower the rest of the painting causing you to repaint the rest of the painting to match or you end up mixing mud, losing your highlights, just a whole lot of problems that can be avoided with a bit of patience. As you become more in tune with what your watercolors will do, yes, you will be able to judge what your actions will do to your painting, but for now, slow down and let things dry.

From Class Demo
Most of the class time (PV) I was doing a demo on painting values, I went over this in the previous blog entry so I won’t go over it again here but I did do a short video I posted on YouTube ( that shows the steps I take when I am painting values first. One thing I want you to notice is that there is an area along the side that I show the value of the wash I used for each layer of wash, they were as close to the same value as I could make them, yet by using layers of wash their accumulative effect made a very intense dark. This is also what happens when you use color, the more layers you use the more intense the color.
I will bring in the set up to PV for at least another week just in case you want to finish, otherwise my PV students will need to bring in something that they want to work on. Torrance classes I hope that you are ready to work, you might want to review the previous blog entries so you know what we will be doing in class.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter 2013 – Watercolor
Project: Still Life, Clay Pots Week 2

Before I go over what I did in class (this was in the PV class but it does apply to everyone) I want to talk about how you watch a demonstration. I know it can be confusing, especially when it is something new and there will be a lot of trial and error on your part as you learn a new technique, so understanding what you are seeing is critical.

As I walked around the class I saw that many of you really didn’t understand either all or part of the concept of values I was trying to show by starting my painting with values of gray. I saw many of you painting around the pots or going over areas that should have been left unpainted with the next wash of value.

Part of that, I think, is due to not understanding the nature of watercolor. Yes, you know it is transparent but what does that mean and how can that work for you when you paint? The other part is the whole concept of values from dark to light. This transition from a light area to a dark area is important if you want to make something look 3 dimensional on your paper and to give a sense of light. Change in value is all we have to trick the eye into seeing a third dimension when we are working on a 2 dimensional surface.

Before I started painting the first thing I did was to find where my whitest whites were and I determined where those areas were by squinting my eyes and looking for the brightest areas in my subject. What I saw was that my brightest areas where the highlights on SOME of the peppers because of their shiny surfaces. These areas I protected with masking fluid before I started. EVERYTHING else was grayer in value. This is the part many of you have a problem with understanding: That next light value is in EVERYTHING that isn’t the bright white I protected at the start. It not only will be the next lightest areas but that value is also part of the darkest areas of the painting. This is where the transparent nature of watercolor comes in. I can literally use the same value of gray –or any color that will get dark – to go from the lightest gray value to the very darkest value just by adding layers of that light value to increase intensity to my dark areas.

We have done this in class before when we made our value scales and when we did the ink washes (for the students who have been with me for a while), this is a very useful exercise and it teaches you a lot about the nature of watercolor or any other transparent medium. As a watercolorist, you will use this technique throughout your painting life because it is the most useful tool in your box of knowledge, so it is very important that you understand exactly what is going on with your paint.

When I started my painting, I mixed a light gray value with what was on my palette along with a bit of blue and a touch of orange and I went over EVERYTHING. Let me repeat that: I used that light value of color and I painted the entire surface of my paper with it – background, pots, chilies, foreground – E V E R Y T H I N G! The entire paper was now a very light shade of gray.

The next tricky part is what do you leave next? This value you just put down becomes the next lightest areas such as the highlights on the pots, the foreground and the chilies. These areas are big enough to paint around so you don’t need to mask them but you do need to note them in your mind so you don’t paint them because whatever isn’t this next lightest values gets the next wash of the same value. EVERYTHING! You are only painting around the next lightest areas, not just the pots or the chilies or the background but everything.

You will do this with each wash, leaving the next lightest areas unpainted until you get to your deepest shadows. So as you are getting darker and darker, you are leaving more areas unpainted but you are still painting everything with that value if it needs it. I will try to come up with another demo to clarify this a bit more, but I hope this helps.

Now back to what I did in class.

I added another couple of washes of value on my paper using a bit darker mix of paint. I had been using cerulean blue and orange to make gray when I ran out of “palette gray” so I went to my next darkest blue which is cobalt with orange. You can use the ultramarine and sienna if that is all you have but if you have light blues you might want to start out with one of them and work down to the ultramarine and sienna as you darks get darker.

Once I felt that I had established my values, I then started to add color. To the background I added blues, if you have pthalo blue on your palette, it is a god color here, greens, purple and turquoise in in a very mottled way. It is very strokey, it is also very dark. The pots I started with a mix of yellow, orange and a bit of mud from my palette and lots of water for the lightest areas and as I painting I added more orange, sienna and touches of purple as I got into the shadows. I also dropped a bit of very thinned our red into some areas. You will have to look at the pots to see what works best for you but remember you are still working from light to dark.

The chilies I under painted the entire bunch with yellow and a touch of orange and came back in on the shadowed side with red and alizarin crimson. Please note that all my colors are washy (thin) at this point because these lighter values (there’s that word again) will become my highlights as I add more color to the area.

The foreground I started with a mix of yellow, sienna and a touch of purple to gray the color, again keeping it very diluted for the first wash. In areas where I know I will have shadows, while the paint was still wet, I added more purple and sienna in small doses. You always want to sneak up on your watercolor, it really doesn’t like to be hit over the head and you won’t like the results either. Watercolor requires patience but in the long run, you will be happier with the results.

That is where I stopped. I may be able to finish my painting at our next class, we will see, however, I will bring the set up in for another class or two for those who want to finish their own paintings. If you want to move on, please find something of you own to work on and I will help you as needed.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter 2013 Watercolor
Project: Clay Pot Still Life

Original set-up at home.
This project is going to be a bit different from other projects we have done in the past. There is no reference photo. There is no drawing, there is only the set-up in class which we will all be working from and it is going to be different for everyone depending on where you are sitting in relationship to the set-up. I want to be a bit more methodical with our approach to this project though I do encourage students to work at their own pace, some are going to find this easy but most others will find it a challenge.

Set up at PV. Note change of angle, better lighting.
It is totally different working from real life whether it is working plein air or working from a set up in a studio, the artist is faced with challenges you do not have when working from a photo everything from how do you crop your subject? WHERE do you crop your subject? Composition of the subject on your paper/canvas and other things you don’t usually think about when you work from a photo that has a lot of that already taken care of for you. It is also easier to draw from a 2-dimentional photograph then to draw from the 3-dimensional world, this is where drawing skills come in handy and you will see how important they are if you want to improve as an artist.

Detailed sketches from home set-up
I start out doing what are called “thumbnail sketches” both vertical and horizontal of the subject. This helps me with a couple of things: first of all it helps me see my composition and to define the boundaries of my painting and where my light source is. A common problem when you are working from life is to make your subject too small on your paper or canvas including too much of the surrounding space that has little to do with the subject. By drawing in a couple rough rectangles on your sketch paper and placing the elements of your subject within those rectangles you can “fill up” the space that will eventually translate to your paper or canvas. The sketches themselves can be as detailed or un-detailed as you think you need, they can be anything from some basic shapes to a detailed drawing or something in between, as long as it works for you, that is all that matters. Write down any information in the margins you think you might need next to your thumbnail such as where the light is the angle (high or low) how many peppers were in the bowl to start…Whatever you think may be needed as your painting progresses.
Quick sketches from PV

The other thing about doing thumbnails, it lets you see is whether you want to do it vertically (portrait) or horizontal (landscape). I look at the negative space to see which way I want to paint. My subject should take up the biggest percentage of my paper or canvas, if in one direction my negative space is nearly equal to or greater than the space my subject occupies then I need to look at the other position or if there is some way I can adjust my design to fill up the space without compromising my composition. There are many things to work out before you ever set brush to paint.

This is also where your camera comes in handy. You want to take your photo from where you are working, if you have a zoom so much the better you can use it to crop the subject taking both vertical and horizontal photos. Remember if you work standing up take the photos while standing, if you are sitting take them while you are sitting. If your camera does not have a zoom or can’t get in close enough you can come up to the set-up but try to take the photo from the angle you see it from where you are working, it won’t be a perfect reference but it will be close.

Acrylic "sketch"
Once you have your design settled you may want to do some color sketches or a rough painting to give you an idea of what colors you will be using. The background on this one is going to be up to you so you might want to experiment with just blotches of color to see what you like best. Another thing you might want to do before moving on to your watercolor paper or canvas is to do a line drawing on regular drawing paper that you can use to transfer your design to your paper, this will allow you to do as much erasing as you need to do without hurting your watercolor paper and can be more efficient when trying to get your design on a canvas. I usually work out my design on the paper then use a Sharpie to make my lines clearer before transferring to my paper or canvas.

When working in watercolor, I tend to choose how I am going to start my painting partially by instinct forged over decades but also by subject need. It is about 50/50 and by need what I mean is what I feel is the most important aspect of what I am painting, in this case, for me, it is the light and dark of the subject the color – while important – isn’t as important as establishing the light and the shadows. At PV I am going to do a gray-scale under painting to start my painting, at Torrance I will do a different technique so you can see the difference. There are countless ways to approach a painting and I try to show you different way so you can find what works for you.

Used gray washes to find my values.
I started by first masking out my whitest whites. I squinted while looking at the subject and it turns out that the only things that really showed white were the highlights on the peppers. Their surfaces are shiny and reflect the light better than the soft mat surfaces to the pots. Everything else got a wash of a very watered down gray. EVERYTHING! This wash becomes my next lightest value. With each wash of gray, I leave a bit of the previous gray wash untouched, building to my darkest darks. I will eventually introduce color but not until I feel I have my values established. The string of peppers don’t need to be a meticulous chore, they are just shapes and all I am doing is adding shapes that will become the darker areas of the peppers by making quick slashes and dabs with my brush. Don’t over think this.

Please remember to sit where you were sitting in the previous class so you have the same perspective as you continue working on your painting.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a good holiday and New Year and are now ready to get back to work.

I have had many requests to do another still life, your wish is my demand. I spent part of my vacation looking for what I hope is a perfect setup for the still life but you need to be aware that because it is a still life - meaning that you work from the actual things - there will be no line drawing for you to copy or transfer. I do suggest that for the first class that you have paper and pencil to do some sketches to determine whether you want to do vertical or horizontal, a camera preferable with a zoom to take a photo  from where you are when you start the painting and maybe set your paper up to do some quick, thumbnail watercolor sketches before you start you main painting.

This is good practice for all paintings including if you want to do plein air. It is a lot different working from a subject that is in the 3 dimensional world and working from a flat 2D photo, even under the controlled setting of a studio. This will be a challenge for many of you but one I'm sure you are up to.

I am posting a couple photos here to show that there is a difference between a vertical and horizontal composition and you may use them as reference only because they won't be in the same position you will see them in class. I'm not even going to use them for the painting I will be doing in class.

Another thing you may want to think about is what kind of background do you want? This is a suggestion especially for my students who have been with me for a while, yes, you can follow along with what I do but you may also want to find something different for your own needs. I will talk about that more in class.

I am looking forward to the start of class, I really want to get started on this project. See you all soon.