Thursday, April 11, 2013

A bit of background so you can understand the process: When I am looking through my photos looking for something I think we can paint as a class project I am looking for something that is not only interesting but also doable in both acrylics and watercolor as class projects. The photo I chose for this semester’s class project was one that really interested me but I had to see if I could break it down enough so it wouldn’t intimidate my students too much. I want to present you with challenges, not brick walls so I did a couple of studies you may have seen in class.

As I was doing the studies – one in acrylic and the other in watercolor – I saw that while it really wasn’t hard to do in either medium there were some areas that might cause some problems for students because they look complicated if you don’t know what you are doing, however, with a little practice I think we can muddle through and learn a lot in the process. So with that in mind I decided that for returning students it would be good review and for new students it would give them some practice with their equipment and paints if we did some practice studies the first couple of week. Once you have done it, it takes away the fear and I know most will not practice this on their own.

Since we always work from the furthest to the closest I thought we would start with the sky. This sky on the day I took the photo was after a rain so there were broken clouds that were white to almost charcoal with patches of blue shining through. The first thing I had students do was to mix up some gray. My standard gray – this should be committed to memory BTW – is ultramarine blue, burnt sienna (this makes a very dark color), water to change the value to a medium gray and sometimes just a tiny touch of purple but not so much that the color looks purple, the purple goes a long way so when I say tiny, I mean tiny. The color you end up with should be a nice medium value, cool gray. Mix enough because we will be using it in the next step as well.

I showed 4 methods of creating skies (sorry Torrance, I forgot one) 3 are wet into wet techniques the 4th is wet on dry, I will explain:

Wet into wet means that both the paper is wet and obviously, the paint is wet. Getting the paper to the correct amount of wetness seems to be the biggest problem and mastering it comes with time and practice, I will try to give you tips to help in that learning process, but you must do the work so you understand how your paper works.

Common problems are the paper is too dry and you end up with hard lines and the paint doesn’t blend on its own. Most paper needs to be wetted a couple times because like a sponge the first couple of coats of water will be sucked into the fibers of the paper. If you look at your paper from the side so you can see a shine from the water, you want to wait until the shine just starts to disappear before you add your color.

Your color goes all over the place and runs – you have too much water. The solution is the same wait for the shine to start to disappear before you add color.

The color just sits there and doesn’t do much. While I don’t recommend painting vertically like I have to in class, you really should elevate the back part of your paper/support at least an inch or two so gravity can help you with the blending process otherwise the paint will just sit like a lump creating pools that will take longer to dry.

My color isn’t dark enough. Keep in mind that to change the value of watercolor we add more water to thin it down plus, watercolor dries lighter so when you add color to wet paper you are also adding more water to the color making it more dilute, when it dries it will be a lot lighter than you expected. Next time mix your color a bit darker to compensate for the extra water on your paper.

My colors look muddy. This can be caused by dirty water you use when cleaning your brushes or you are not cleaning your brush often enough and contaminating other colors with colors you have picked up on your brush. This happens a lot when lifting with your brush so clean and dry your brush often and you might want a separate container for clean water.

These are a few of the problems I saw in class, you might want to print out this page for reference when problems come up.

Wet into Wet. See picture page for
bigger image.
Wet into Wet Sky: Using a 1 inch flat/angle brush and clean water, I wet my paper several times so there was a bit of a shine on the surface, I then added my color in streaks because I wanted it to look like broken clouds. I left some of the white of the paper for the white edges of the clouds and let the colors spread on their own.

Wet into Wet with Lifting: I started with the same brush and switched to a smaller brush to lift with. Again I wet the area as above this time I covered the whole area with color either blue or
Wet into wet with lifting
gray and let them touch and mingle. With my smaller brush just damp with clean water and keeping a paper towel in my hand to wipe off excess water (key is a damp brush not wet) I lifted off color for my white areas I rinsed and dried my brush often so I didn’t just move one color to another area. I also use clean, dry parts of my paper towel to lift out shapes in my clouds.

Dropping water or paint into wet paint
Wetting the paper with color and dropping color into it. I usually wet my paper with just water first when I do this technique but not always. I wet the entire sky area with a rather wet blue but with enough paint that it is bright. When the area is completely covered and while it is still wet, I rinse my brush, leaving it a bit wetter than I usually do so that water will flow out of it, I barely touch the sky with the wet brush in a shape of a cloud so the water follows out of the brush to create blooms. You can add color in the same way, it needs to be thin enough to flow out of your brush but you just barely touch the paper and let the water and paint do their thing. If it starts to run tip it on an angle and it will look like rain of mist.

Wet on Dry. Starting on dry paper, I painted my blue and gray, leaving white spaces between them for the white clouds. I rinsed my brush and with just a damp brush I softened all the edges
Wet on Dry paper
of the colors. If your paper has dried doing one of the above techniques, you may have to do this to soften the edges of your clouds and skies because clouds do not have any hard edges.

Lifting from Dry Paint. This is one I didn’t do in either class but it works really well also. You can paint your sky with any of the above methods of just paint it solid and let it dry, then using a damp brush or wet paper towel and you can lift clouds out of the color. You will have to rinse your brush often and dry it off between every few strokes or you will add instead of subtract color. Also, some colors are staining colors and will not lift so if you were planning to lift you might want to do a test first to see if the colors you are using will lift or you will be stuck with a solid color sky.

Last thing I will cover in this blog is a graded wash. These can be very tricky and you will not succeed the first time you try it but as water colorists a graded wash is important to learn especially if you are a landscape painter and you want to create distance in your paintings. Engrave this in your memory: as things go into the distance they become softer and grayer in color, less detailed, smaller and closer together. We are more focused on the softer grayer part of that but it should be in your mind when you are trying to create distance and 3 dimension in your paintings.
Graded washes can create
distance in your paintings
This is also a wet into wet technique but you will have to pay close attention to how your paper is drying. The wetter your paper is the more defused the shape will be creating soft lines if it is just right or blurry blobs if you have too much water and sharp lines if not enough, so just like with the sky, you wet your paper so you have a bit of a shine then count to 30 and it should be good for the first wash of color. This will be a watered down version of the gray you were using to paint the far distant hills/mountains. You should still be able to see the shape of these mountains without it getting too fuzzy. Wait for about a minute or so more (this will depend on the weather and how wet your paper was to start) there should be no shine but the paper should still be damp for the next layer. This layer will be at least a half to a full value more intense in color but still gray, the edges should still soften a bit but not as much as the previous wash. The next wash will be darker yet again and can be warmer in color as it comes closer, you might have to wait a couple of minutes but when you touch the paper you should still feel a bit of dampness, if your timing is right the top edge will slightly soften because of the damp paper. Let the paper dry completely before you put your final layer on and this will be much darker in value and can have color in it the edges should be sharp if the paper is dry.

If you have done this correctly, it should look like mountains going off into the distance. You can do as many layers of wash as you need what the purpose of this exercise was for you to see and learn what it takes to create distance in your painting, this will take a few times to master probably the hardest thing you will ever have to do in watercolor but it is important.

Torrance students I know we did do some trees and some negative painting but we will be going over that again so I will write that up next week. Both classes we have probably another week of practice and the following week we will start the painting, I will help those who need help with getting a drawing on their paper a good drawing will be important to the success of this painting. See you all in class.

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