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.

Working with Contrast, or, A Day Without Mud

Today, my little Meetup group was really little.  Initially there were to be 4 of us, but one cancelled, and then the third unfortunately got very lost using her GPS.  She wrote she was 3/4 of an hour late . . . and we waited 10 minutes, too.  Next time I post a Meetup meeting, I’ll spell out directions, so hopefully that won’t happen again.

So, contrast.  I am dreadful with it.  And with painting things so that they look like things rather than blobs of color.  However, that is probably something that time and experience will cure.  Today, though, I did manage to not turn everything into mud – a major accomplishment, let me tell you!

We went to a local place, the trail by the Chumash Museum nearby my house.  (The Chumash are a California tribe.)  We were there for about an hour.  I began with a pencil sketch, and then, color.  We were settled in a small oak grove, with dark and light contrast about as contrasty as you can get.  At the end of the hour, this is what I had painted, knowing full well I would look at it and work it a bit once home.

As you can see, I did leave areas of white!  Another first . . . As I was painting I made a monumental decision, too:  paint long horizontal stripes to represent the grasses under the trees, and the shadows crossing the foreground.  I sat there and painted stripes.  It was nerve wracking.  The blobby white areas were deliberately left for consideration later.

And once home, I looked at the painting.  Still a need for contrast, and a bit more detail.  More pen, more ink brush, more colors, and some warmth.

Overall, the one above came out okay, but if you look on the mid-right, to the left of the furthest trunk, there is a bit of an odd space, so I went in and worked it a bit with ink to try to mitigate it.  I found it very distracting.  Here is the final image below.

The area has a few more lines in it, a bit busier, but somehow more in keeping with similar areas of the painting.

My palette was somewhat unknown!  That is, I was not really sure the names of the colors as I was using them, but I do have a list of how they are laid out on the palette, which is why I can tell you now!  I used Koi watercolor brushes and the following paints:  Quinacridone Gold, Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Medium, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Teal, Ultramarine Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Phthalo Green, and Burnt Sienna.  I used a Stillman & Birn Beta Series 8×10 inch softcover notebook, and scanned the images using my trusty, not rusty, Epson V600.

Remembrance of Things Past

If I want to be honest – which sometimes I don’t want to be! – I never realized that in watercolor, as in sumi-e painting (which I haven’t done for a few years), the brush is important.  In sumi-e, brushwork is important as it expresses what color cannot – color is not found in sumi-e, only shades of blacks and greys and white, with the subject hinted at, not indicated in boldface!  Playing with leaves made me remember this . . .

Because my chronic struggle in watercolor always seems to be overworking and mixing too many colors together, I decided to pick up a book called Everyday Watercolor:  Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days, by Jenna Rainey.  I figured some kind of disciplined plan could work.  Her style of painting is not necessarily my style of painting, but that was not important as far as I am concerned.  My concern was to stop making mud and to relearn what I have forgotten over the years.  The examples in Rainey’s book are pretty basic, pretty straightforward, and actually, a lot of fun to do.  It has helped me drop that little, nagging, nasty perfectionist who always criticizes.  Rather, it is far better to just do, and quit the role of critic.   She does studies such as shapes, allowing colors to bleed into one another; she discusses design in the abstract exercises with squares and circles.  There are simple exercises in drawing and painting trees with foliage in shadow, and depth, with lighter pine trees in the distance, and darker ones in front.

What do I find the most valuable in this book?  Crazily simple lessons.  Step 1.  Step 2.  Step 3.  Limited palettes of color.  Most how-to-watercolor books are wonderfully full of tantalizing pictures, but few that I have seen really drill down to making it simple.  I enjoy the work of watercolorists such as Winslow Homer – people with a loose, free style which I would love to emulate.  I am not a contained person in the sense of wanting to fill in the lines, like in a coloring book, but I also appreciate the disciplined approach of people like Birgit O’Connor, who paints huge flowers, beach debris, and so on.  I am still struggling with watercolors enough to have no style of my own – I am still attempting to master the brushwork, water, and colors.

Currently, I have just finished Day 11, which is wet-into-wet and some dry brush.  Like in dry-into-wet.  Something like that.  It’s a papaya.

I’m looking forward to 19 more days … sort of a diet!  And to date, no mud!


Book Larnin’

I did some watercolor studies, derived from David Dewey’s The Watercolor Book.  This is the edition my local library has – there is a newer edition, but I have no idea how much different it is from this one.

Dewey’s book came highly recommended from one of my favorite sites,  There are others, too, but this one is the one at the local library.  Packed full of text and pictures, demos and a plethora of information, at first it seems like a rather intimidating book.  It is.  There is a ton of information, and to me, it was hard to sit down to look and to read.  However, once I started, I decided my best approach is to begin with some exercises.  Other parts can be read for information – I wanted to get into actual painting!  What really draws my eye to Dewey’s work is the beauty of his washes – clean, simple, expressive.  You can see his more recent work on his website.  Given my usual propensity to messy, muddy stuff, his work is simply elegant – not splashy and spontaneous like Charles Reid, but serene and calm.

Okay, so here is what I did.  This is the first exercise I did.  I used glazes and mixed colors.  This was a drawing from one of Dewey’s exercises in warm and cool colors.

Not an especially inspiring image – and poor photography as well!  However, what I did learn was a bit about glazes and managed to leave some planned white, some bleeding, some patience, and how certain colors mixed.  I did an overall underglaze of Quin Gold.  The sky was laid in with a glaze of cerulean blue, while the ocean was a layer of ultramarine.  I mixed some alizarin and viridian (complementary colors to tone down the red of the alizarin), along with some burnt sienna to create the float of the shack.  The islands were my favorite part – carbazole violet and burnt sienna.  I’ve never used the violet, so it was a fun mish-mash.

Next, water studies, which I feel were more successful than the washes and glazes, but I was also warmed up.  These are also from demos in Dewey’s book.  Here, an underlying wash of ultramarine with a touch of cerulean.  Once dried, ripples in cerulean with a bit of permanent rose.  Finally, the greenish color is a combo of phthalo blue and burnt umber, a blend I’ve never done before.  I really like the colors!

This next image is done in essentially the same way with the same colors, only the ripples are circular.  The photo is crummy, but the results are rather clear.

Certainly no works of art, but successful exercises in a few areas.  First, getting reacquainted with watercolor is rather painful.  Glazing and washes take a bit of patience.  Finally, there is the real pleasure of learning new color blends, as well as having a sense of derived satisfaction with a study fairly well executed.

I am excited to be painting again.  During the week, it won’t likely happen because of work, but I hope that some drawing might occur.  Weekends are likely to be very much taken up with painting . . . yay!