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.

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