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.  

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