Saturday, May 4, 2013

Project: Az Wash

Much of this is copied from the Acrylic blog though I have made some adjustments to account for watercolor but as I was reviewing what people were doing in all my classes many of the same problems came up regardless of the medium, if you work in any other medium most of this will apply, only the medium changes.

So far in our project we haven’t done anything that we didn’t do when we were doing the study so if you need to review what we did, go back a couple posts for any of the technical descriptions you might need, I am going to talk here about some of the other issues students were having. These issues are no less a problem than knowing how to do a technique properly and will make more of a difference in your painting than perfect technique so it is well worth the time to go over.

First off be aware of your brush strokes. Your eyes are very sensitive and pick up on even slight discrepancies, it is important that your strokes follow the shape of the thing you are painting. It doesn’t matter if it is a mountain, bird, ocean, or vase, whatever you are painting has a shape unique to it and your brush strokes need to follow the unique shape of what you are painting. This was true of the mountains in this project. Many of you were using vertical strokes all the way down the cliff s into the rugged ridges at the bottom so you weren’t getting the look of the ridges.
Torrance Version watercolor

The sheer rock faces of the cliffs only go down about a quarter or less of the whole mountain, then it spreads out in to the ridges that make up the bottom ¾ of the mountain, this is caused by eons of erosion and rocks tumbling down and piling up at the bottom. You can see this for yourself if you pour dirt or sand from a bucket (sugar or salt will work but needs a container to pour into), the bucked it the top of the cliffs. As you pour from the bucket, a mound will form in a roughly a cone shape, if you pour the dirt down the side of a wall it will build up a wedge of dirt. Now do several pours next to each other so the cones and wedges overrun each other, this is what is happening on a much larger scale when mountains erode, this is why you need to change the direction of your stroke to get that “feel” of those hills at the bottom of the cliffs.

Shadows are another problem area for most of you, many of my students – both acrylic and watercolor – make their shadows too warm and shadows are cool both in reality and in visual color temperature. What I mean by visual color temperature is what colors do we associate when we think of heat, for instance? I doubt that anyone thought of blue or purple when I mentioned heat, you probably thought of red or orange or yellow because those are the colors of fire or warmth. If you have a room that is always too cool, paint it a warm color and it won’t feel so cold. Conversely, if you have a room that is always too warm, paint it a cool color (blues, purples and greens) and it will seem cooler. Designers know this and use it to their advantage. There are a lot of references in our language as well such as “red hot” or “so cold he turned blue” so you are no stranger to the concept, most of you who have this problem are fighting the influence of your left brain.

PV Version watercolor
In your mind, you know that the mountains are all a warm earthy color so logically – in your mind at least – the shadows would just be a darker version of the rocks on the sunny side and you translate that into using more of the sienna and orange, maybe tiny touches of blue if it doesn’t get dark enough but it still looks warm like sunlit rocks because it is way too warm in color. These visual clues to our viewers are how we create a three dimensional look on a two dimensional surface, it also shows the direction of the light which in turn shows time of day or set a mood, it is very important. If you are painting shadows, they need to be in the cool visual range, mostly using blue and purple in your base color and water to change the value.

Almost all of you had this next problem to some extent and that is organizing the unorganized. As humans we like to have everything in nice, neat, organized groups, guess it is why I like Nature so much because Nature is chaos. The rocks on the cliffs are broken in to different sizes and shapes: tall, skinny, short, wide, missing… You name it, no two shapes are the same, yet, as I walked around many of you (and I can include myself as well if I’m not paying attention) had nice, neat pillars of stone that looked like they just came from the stone mason and set into place. This same thing happened when you got to negative painting around the trees, they will looked like hedges on someone’s manicured estate and not trees that fight for survival in harsh desert conditions.

While you do not have to be exact to the photo when you are painting, you do need to be more random in the way you paint especially something like rocks and plants that are the essence of random. Someone looking at your painting will see any repetition of shape faster than you’d imagine because it isn’t natural and looks out of place. As an artist, it is your job, even if you are painting more impressionistic, to create the illusion of Nature on your canvas and that means being aware of repetitive, unnatural shapes. Check your painting for these repetitive shapes and find a way to break them up visually by adding shadows, cracks and crevasses, or whatever it takes to make the shape look more natural. These same suggestions also go for straight lines and hard lines, they are usually not usually found in Nature and you as an artist need to be ever vigilant when you are painting.

Negative painting is still confusing to most of you, even those with experience with watercolor, it is something you need to practice. One of the reasons I like negative painting vs using masking is that masking can look too stiff and more often than not, after you take the masking off, you don’t go in and add the “see throughs” or rough up the edges. Negative space is very important because it is what gives the thing you are painting its shape and suggestion of texture around its edges, the masking always smooth out an edge and those edges can look hard and unnatural and because of that instead of looking like you painted it as a part of the whole painting, it will look cut out and unnatural (Hard lines see above)

We will continue on our project next time so I hope that all of you are up to this point on your own painting. For homework, I want you to be more observant to the world around you and you can do this both indoors and out. Look at the difference between shadows and lit areas, inside and out. Try to figure out how you would paint it. What colors would you use? What technique? Outside, you can do the same thing and also really look at the nature around you. Look at the different colors of the trees and how they grow. Notice the color of their trunks and branches or differences between plants and flowers. Watch the clouds and the patterns they make both in the sky and on the ground. Look at the PV Peninsula and really pay attention to its shape. If you have a camera take photos both wide images and close-ups for reference. The more you “see” the more you will understand and the better artist you will become.

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