Sky, Interrupted

This morning I sat down to practice skies.  If I were to do the ones in my neighborhood, they would be blue.  That’s all.  Just blue.  Clouds are not a common sight where I live!

Anyway, so I scooted around YouTube and found some videos that had some good ideas.  One showed how to do lifting with tissue, advising not to scrub too hard on lightweight paper.  Important to know – I scrubbed a bit of the paper off.  Others used some rather wild color combinations, or certainly ones I haven’t thought about using.  Add to that, I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything more than playing, so it was altogether a fun way to start the morning.

This first one is a combination of Sodalite Genuine, by Daniel Smith, Ultramarine Blue, and Quinacridone Gold.  The Sodalite is a color I picked up on a whim, put in my palette, but had never used until this morning.  It granulates wonderfully, and is a good charcoal grey.  I think I will be using it again.

Then I started another one, wetting the paper once, letting it soak in a second time, and then wetting it again.  I am using Canson XL watercolor paper, which has a nice texture, is about 90#, and is a student grade paper.  I like it because it is working out really well for my needs.

After wetting the paper, I decided to start with a gradated wash, using the reverse side of another painting (to save paper, eh?).  The brush I used was a flat with rather stiff bristles, and the result was lines throughout the wash.  Oh, well.  Then I simply lifted the color off.  Then I began adding Carbazole Violet and Quinacridone Gold.

And then the phone rang!  My brother and his wife in Wisconsin calling, to wish us well for the holidays . . . . the painting was forgotten for the next several minutes, and this is the result.

Regardless as to whether or not this last looks like clouds, the colors have a lot of potential for a dramatic sky some day.  I really like the colors!  I like both, actually.

White space.  No mud.  I must be doing something right!



Nothing like the power of  the crop tool in your photo processing software.  This is a pretty bad sketch, but it was part of a lot of sketches done at the local mall.  On the original page it is all lost in space, but with a square crop, it turned out okay – just okay – but much more presentable.

This morning, I met up with a friend and we went up to one of my favorite local places, the botanical garden a few miles from my house.  Before you knew it, 2.5 hours had passed, filled with sketching, painting, chit-chat, and coffee.  Not a bad way to spend a sunny morning!

Back to Work – Let the Stress Begin!

I had all of last week off – 10 days total – and in that time period we celebrated two Thanksgiving, did a whole lot of baking and cooking, saw friends and family.  In between, I managed to sketch and / or watercolor everyday.  In that time period, I had a lot of fun and found myself feeling really glad to be painting again.  Of course, some stuff was pure rubbish, but others produced a sense of satisfaction.  Even better, I could begin to see progress.  The connection between mind and hand and color and paper is beginning to return.

But now – can I keep this up?  Certainly not at the pace I was doing it.  But I have made a decision:  I will use my photos as the basis for sketches and paintings, and try to turn out two a week minimum, perhaps three.  When will I do it?  In the mornings, while I drink my coffee, and instead of looking at the depressing global situation, I’ll look at lines and colors instead.  Seems like a good deal, if you ask me!


Round Things: Highlights & Shadows

Painting light and dark – contrast – values – is a hard one for me in watercolor.  I want to do it wet-in-wet, but maybe layering will work better.  I just don’t know.  So, when in doubt, look to YouTube!

Here is one video I found that I think does a very good job on both highlights and shadow, discussing reflected light and so on.

Another video which is also good, with a look at only the shadows on a spherical object, discusses the use of analogous colors to create the shadow on the surface opposite the light source.  This video can be seen below.

Because I was having problems with making grapes believable (see here), I decided to research highlights, shadows, and round things.  These two videos proved very helpful.  Rather than describing them in detail, they are definitely worthwhile watching.  The top one addresses shape and shadows on the object, as well as the cast shadow.  The lower one uses analogous colors to deepen the shadow on the sphere itself, which keeps the color of the sphere rich, rather than neutralized by a complementary color or an added grey, such as Payne’s or Davy’s.

That said, I spent a bit of time on these old spheres today and yesterday.  Here are some of the results of my practice.

The image above is based on the exercises in the first video.  The ones with the red and blue spheres are the most believable, I think.  The spheres and shadows are essentially wet-in-wet, with the final thin lines of darkest shadow done with a finely pointed brush on a dried image.

Here is another round of studies, trying slightly different techniques, such as wetting the paper first, then applying color.  The techniques followed were the same as in the first video, with greater success.

Here, the spheres were made as in the first video, but then I went in to darken the shadows using analogous colors.  The blue spheres were done in ultramarine blue, and the deeper shadows were a glaze of indanthrene blue.  Below the 4 spheres is a bunch of spheres, sort of like grapes.  The spheres were done with quinacridone rose and ultramarine blue, with analogous layers in the shadows to include carbazole violet and then Payne’s grey (see note on lower right of image).  The shadows were done wet, and linked to the grapes to bleed color in.  I deliberately left areas of white, even if they didn’t make sense, just to create areas of white between grape and grape, and grape and shadow.

Finally, the above image.  I have a bunch of oranges I want to paint, so I thought it was now time to incorporate all my lessons into one little orange.  The one on the left is the example, with, I think, the best orange colors.  These were hansa yellow, pyrrol orange, and organic vermillion – all three are colors new to my palette.  The ink is carbon ink from Sailor on the left, and just a fountain pen with regular black ink on the right, just if you are curious.

My orange is my favorite of all the exercises as it pleases me the most.  The grapes are OK, but they are glazed, which I am not too excited about.  It could be that I am just not adept at glazing.  Anyway, there we have it:  Thanksgiving morning exercises.


Copying the Master(s) and Stealing (Their) Secrets

This book remains a favorite of mine, in part because of the history behind art apprenticeships, but also because it serves to remind that in all arts, a period of apprenticeship – with or without a teacher – is needed to gain mastery.  As I struggle with watercolor, I remember how I struggled when I was working with sumi ink.  In sumi-e, the brushes, ink, and paper are enough to make you scream.  Watercolor is perhaps worse!

What makes watercolor difficult?  For me, it is always a matter of less being more.  With colors, I am a magpie – all those colors!  I am hard-pressed to use only a few.  With sumi-e, you have one color:  black.  And shades of grey (50 if you want).  Another struggle is to not create mud.  I seem to be moving away from that.  And finally, lines.  I like lines.  However, I want to paint without lines . . . sort of like giving up training wheels on a bicycle.

At some point, I expect I will be able to master watercolor far more than I am now, but it is a long, hard haul.  And, I admit, one I am not very happy doing.  I wasn’t happy with the struggles with sumi-e, either.

Finding a master is not something easily done in this day and age.  Rather than being apprenticed to learn a skill or craft from a master, many of us go to school.  I am way past spending 4 years or more in college – I am an old workhorse – so I learn by observation.  This means finding an artist I admire and trying to copy his / her work, as well as subscribing to numerous YouTube videos.  I also have to learn by doing, which is the most challenging part.  A part of me expects to be perfect, and my temper flares when I feel frustrated.  That is when it is time for the proverbial deep breath, retreat, regroup, refocus, retry.  Patience is also taught with such apprenticeships!

Thus, in cruising the internet, yes, I do “steal” from the master.  In “stealing,” I learn about color and composition, light and dark, contrast.  I do not ever intend to pass someone’s work off as my own – that is not right.  But, if you go to a museum, you will find people sketching the work of a master.  Why?  To learn.  The best learning is by doing.

Various painters come to mind whose work I enjoy; when I find someone whose work I admire, I like to look at their paintings and try to figure out how they did it, the order it was done, and the colors used.  By copying I learn about color mixing and how to create an image that (might) work.  Every artist is unique, and each has something to offer.  There is a lot to learn from out there, and I am humbled by the talent I see.  And I learn when I copy from the masters.