Wet Work

I read too many spy novels!

So, if this isn’t about the darker sides of life, what is this about?  It is about watercolor painting.  As you may recall, I have been trying to work on my drawing and painting, between other life activities.  While I try to do one or the other daily, it doesn’t happen.  The thing that is happening is a beginning of focusing on various elements of watercolor.  Rather than just paint, I began to focus on retaining white space.  White space in watercolor is the paper itself – that is the only way to get a “true” white when painting, unless you put in white paint, such as a white gouache.  Many people frown on this.  So, retaining white means you paint around white areas, which have to be considered as you lay down color, or using a rubber-based frisket.  The frisket is great as you can paint right across it once it dries.  Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

In addition to retaining white space, I have added another focus in my painting.  Watercolor paper is painted on when wet or dry.  Painting wet-on-dry means applying paint to a dry paper.  Wet-in-wet means prewetting the paper, or painting onto paper where a wash is still wet.  Wet-in-dry allows for hard edges.  Wet-in-wet allows the paint to blur and blend, and how much it does this is dependent on the wetness of the paper and the slope of the easel.

The above picture was from a photo I took at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium of jellyfish floating around in their water.  The aquarium is backlit, and the light shines through the diaphanous membranes of the fish.  This was simply ink, followed through with a bit of color.  Drawing the jellyfish was fun – and in the lines of the tentacles, it almost became a dance with the jellyfish.

The jellyfish were drawn with a very fine point pen.  The Joshua Tree was done with a thick, permanent ink pen, about 0.5 in diameter (I think).  Here, the ink was used to create texture, with watercolor being secondary.

This is the point at which watercolor, ink, and white space became a focal point. I think these are a variant of snowbells, and they are found in the shade beneath trees. In such dim light, the white flowers are strikingly in contrast to the mulchy undergrowth, and in photos often are rather flat in appearance. This drawing demonstrates that flatness, but with the whiteness of the flowers preserved.

From the flatness of the line and watercolor drawing, I now worked on creating white in a dark painting. The flowers themselves look very flat because the paint I used to create – try to create – a 3D effect just pooled. The white is now filled with flat paint, which creates a flat picture. Here, the paint was applied wet onto dry paper, and the result is a bunch of hard edges. It is this realization that made me move into working a lot with wet-in-wet.

The pictures above are more attempts at preserving white, and working wet into wet. Probably the most successful one is the painting of the winter sky with the silhouetted tree.  Click on one of the paintings to cycle through the images in a slide show.

From the deliberate paintings I moved to wetting the paper thoroughly with water for the first of the two paintings above – soaking the paper with my brush, painting into the wet paper, and then painting again into the wet paint. The fir trees were more deliberate.  Here I tried to work with white space and with snow, trying to capture ways in which white can be interpreted with paint.  Again, click on one of the paintings to see the slide show.

While doing all these paintings, I started thinking about watercolorists whose work I admire, and who, I know, did wet-in-wet particularly well. Winslow Homer is one of the best watercolorists of the 1800s, and his skies have always appealed to me. The painting above is my rendition of his painting The Palm Tree, Nassau. I changed a few colors and compositional elements, but I used this as an exercise to study how Homer may have painted. He used wet-in-wet on the sky; white space for the waves and tower, and varying techniques for the palm trees and foreground.

Besides trying to understand how an artist created a painting, I also searched YouTube for artists working wet-in-wet. I came across Edo Hannema’s channel and was so impressed! He is a master of wet-in-wet, as well as working with white space. I learned a lot from observing and copying his examples; this painting may be from one of his videos or an interpretation of one I saw online – don’t recall. I think seeing his work, and copying his exercises, has started my being able to move forward. I plan to follow his lessons more in the near future. His paintings have a lovely simplicity as well as demonstrate a finely honed skill in wet-in-wet. He is from Holland, so many of his paintings show very flat land, which for me is fascinating as I live in an area with a lot of hills and mountains and valleys.

Finally, I did this one today. I was up at oh-dark-thirty, having my coffee, and thinking about all the things I have been painting over the past few weeks. It was time to try to paint something that used a lot of wet-in-wet, had a modicum of white space, and finally wet-into-dry, meaning wet paint applied over dried paint. I am pleased with what I have learned, from copying other artists’ works to my own experiments. Everyday is an exciting new adventure, and out of all of my interests and hobbies, watercolor is the biggest pleasure of all.

Below is a gallery of all the above paintings, and a couple of others as well.  Enjoy!

Rick & Me

About a year ago I found the YouTube channel of Rick Surowicz, and artist of considerable talent, and a formidably talented teacher.  In the space of just over a year, he has garnered 25K followers, and I am one of them.  Check him out if you don’t know who he is!

Anyway, I did two of his videos, both of which make use of frisket.  In general, I like to “travel light” – meaning, I like the idea of spontaneity for success, not thoughtful pre-planning.  The result for me is usually disaster and disappointment.  Rick’s videos are clear.  He explains what he does and why.  The results speak for themselves.  I decided to get off my don’t-panic-I’m-organic high horse and follow along.  These next two paintings are from his lessons, which I followed.  I can honestly say I enjoyed doing them, even in the moments of terror – that frisket!  those colors!  

Each one of these paintings required the usage of liquid frisket. I applied it, let it dry, and got to work. The beauty of the liquid frisket is that it allows the application of broad washes across the paper without the loss of white paper, or having to do in painting or negative painting. This actually gives a bit more ability to be spontaneous and splashy than not using it! (Surprise lesson here.) I did each of these paintings over a two or three hour period, watching the steps in each video a number of times.

At some point, we all have to try our wings. I took a photo of a weed patch behind La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, California, last summer during a visit. There were white flowers – perfect for frisket – and yellowish grasses – also good for painted-over frisket after it was removed. This painting held a lot of terror, let me tell you! However, I am fairly pleased with the end result – simplification coupled with detail.

This morning, I did this painting, derived from a public-domain photo of an aspen grove. In the photo, light was shining from the right, and in looking at the picture carefully, the trunks of the aspens, which are a brilliant white, much as birch trunks are, were actually darker than the brilliant yellow-green foliage in the distance. I used frisket for the white areas on the right of the trees, and then, as I laid down layers of color, added more frisket here and there to protect areas of color. I did this for three or four layers until I finally removed it all, and then painted in areas needing more detail or contrast.

By following Rick Surowicz’s tutorials, I finally learned something. Frisket is not scary and can be an aid to a spontaneous or splashy wash as it helps preserve white paper. In the process of copying Rick’s process, I learned a bit about color, reworking areas, contrast, and whatever. I was also able to paint a representative of a bush or leaves rather than hankering to paint the details and losing the overall effect. I am thinking about redoing the last two paintings without frisket, just to work at white space without an aid. That will be more of a challenge I think than not using frisket!

Sunday Morning

This morning I had one goal in mind:  paint.  With a gloomy sky here on the California coast, the damp and cold penetrate you to the bone.  Once it leaves, it’s a great big sunny day ahead!  So, while waiting for the fog to dissipate, I took a few pictures of a bouquet I put together of chamomile flowers and small, red carnations in a rectangular glass base.  I didn’t do a value study because I wanted to look at the colors – light, dark, and so on – to see what I could produce.

I penciled in the basic drawing, took some notes of the colors and mixed this and that, testing them on a scrap of paper.  Looking at the vase, I saw the different shades of color through the glass with water and without water, as well as the water line and edges of the vase.  Chamomile leaves are multi-lobed and floppy; carnation leaves are rather spiky.  Chamomile flowers are happy, daisy-like flowers, and quite small.  Carnations are upright.  Both are really lovely!

Process was like my last two flower paintings – start with the large areas of color and move into details.  Overall, it worked here, until I started getting into the hodge-podge of leaves.  I think I should have simplified their masses of color, but I didn’t.  I like the negative painting I accomplished for the chamomile flowers, as well as the edges along the bouquet where the white flowers have to merge into something.  The carnations were far more difficult than I thought, and once more, I made something more complicated and tight than I would like to see as “my” style.

Nonetheless, I feel that this painting is a moderate success.  I was patient and let the washes dry, working from lighter to more dark, thinking about white space and negative painting.  And I still have a bouquet of flowers to enjoy!

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!