Time to take stock:
In a few hours 2014 will officially close. It will be a part of our past. Whether it is a time to reflect on good memories or to say good riddance is largely up to you. What did you accomplish in 2014? Did you achieve some or all of your goals? What lies ahead ? While I am not into telling fortunes I do think it is wise to formulate some plans. Perhaps it is a good thing to take a hint from some pretty smart people from the past. One suggestion is to make a list. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the sheet. On one side list all of the good things; in the other column list the not so good things. See which one is in the majority. This approach is said to help in weighing decisions.
I think all of us make plans but do you write them down? It is reported that those who write their plans down on paper have a much greater success ratio than those who don’t. It is said that statistically there is a remarkable difference in the outcome of merely dreaming about it and writing it down. It seems that we are wired that way. If you don’t already do it; give it a try. It couldn’t hurt!
Working Together, Things to Ponder:
A lot of people write a lot of things about organizations. Does it help to be a member of this society or that group? I think the answer is up to every individual. However, I want to share an idea with you. A dear friend of mine, who is retired, like me shared an insight. I would give credit for this story if I knew the original author. Hopefully I will not butcher it because I will be paraphrasing. It is a story about Canada Geese. For a number of years I have enjoyed watching and sketching them as they congregate at a nearby lake and on the creek that flows behind my studio. I love watching them as they wing their way down through the valley over Paradise Creek and produce their sounds.
Have you ever noticed their formations? Being social creatures they help one another out. When flying in a V formation the lead bird is taking on the air currents and making a slip stream for his/her companions that are flying behind. They get to ride the slip stream provided by the birds ahead of them in the formation. When the lead bird tires another takes the point and falls back in the formation. Geese mate for life. When a bird is sick or injured its partner stays with it until it can recover and eventually return to the flock. Do you think we can take a lesson from these wonderful creatures? We are supposed to be smart, the top of the food chain but how often do we overlook the qualities these simple creatures seem to embody. Think about it.
Can We Help One Another ?
Now what does this simple story have to do with watercolor? Perhaps a great deal can be learned from it. I get a lot of correspondence from people who are concerned that watercolor is not as respected as oils. There are concerns about prices and selection in juried exhibitions. I hear more of this today than I ever did years ago. My son is a painter in oils who also happens to be talented with watercolor. Lately he shared with me that some of his associates encouraged him to drop watercolor in favor of his oil technique. It would seem that there is a growing group of ignorant people. This ignorance seems to be spreading even among educators who should know better. I will not go into great detail but the raw truth is that the average beginning watercolor painter who is using good materials (quality paper ,etc.) has a far greater chance of producing a lasting watercolor than the beginning oil painter. This fact shocks many people. The reason lies in education. There are several variables that can affect the stability of an oil painting. The use of a proper ground, the overuse of turpentine and more. Proper education is the key.
If you can accept the previous premise, what can you do? Educate yourself and others. You don’t have to be rude but first and foremost make sure you know your medium. Respect it enough to learn all you can. This is a life long journey. Learn all you can about other media as well. Sadly, a lot of educators today do not know as much as they should. This is not always their fault. Be careful what you hear and what you accept. Seek accomplished instruction. There are many good studios, workshops and individual teachers.
Finally Ask Yourself Some Questions About Your Paintings :
1. What am I most proud of this year?
2. How can I become better ?
3. Where am I feeling stuck?
4. Am I passionate about my work?
5. When did I feel most creatively inspired?
6. What projects have I completed ?
7. Have I allowed fear of failure to hold me back?
8. Do I have old habits I need to let go?
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Acadia is another piece that will be on display at the Chadds Ford Gallery when the show opens this coming Wednesday. At times I mention plein aire pieces. This miniature has the “feel” of plein aire yet it was finished off in the studio. In a way it is the distillation of a fond memory. If you live near the sea you don’t need me to tell you about the ever changing atmosphere and the energy that seems to permeate the place. It is difficult to write about the saltiness of the air and the mist as it shrouds objects both far and near; all I can say is that it is magical. Sound carries in an unusual way as well. The combination creates a wonderful elixir.
I enjoy painting out of the way places. I’m not really into painting “tourist” scenes although some might see this piece in that light since I was in the National Park near Bar Harbor when I experienced this moment. Perhaps some day I may paint another rendition on a larger format but for right now this small piece captures the moment.
Change of pace:
Very often we can get stuck in a rut, be it subject matter or size or formatting. Breaking the mold can be beneficial and helps us to expand our horizons. My invitation to exhibit in this miniature show provided the spark to get me to change my current pace and paint smaller. The change of pace was refreshing. How far you extend that philosophy is really up to you. Personally I prefer to paint representation pieces. In my career I have produced my share of experimental and non-representational pieces. Some have been exhibited while others have not. I think the works can be very helpful for spurring one out of a comfort zone. It is a perfect way for me to explore combinations and techniques that I can apply to my first love which is a representational approach. I love the textures of nature and the color combinations. I prefer to use nature as my spring board to create compositions and textural combinations.
More importantly there is something I will call “place.” At this time in my life I am content to absorb the spirit and/or energy of the place I call home. Some of my more successful pieces have been painted in my back yard or down near the creek that flows past my studio door. I never have to worry about flooding for the water is at the bottom of a steep grade several feet below my studio.
This wonderful little spot is surrounded by boulders, sycamore trees and some small waterfalls. At times I am content to gaze upon the small minnows as they dart beneath the leaves in the still areas of the creek bottom with shafts of light piercing into portions of the shadows. Crayfish and minnows scurry out of sight if you are not careful when you approach the clear shallows. I have enjoyed Paradise Creek in all sorts of weather be it a crisp fall day or in a flurry of a snow storm. If you visit it in summer you have to be aware of the crawling ones who call the rocks and ledges home. Some of them have a tendency to bite unannounced. Early in the morning the rising sun comes through the creek valley and the sunlight reflects off the water and bounces light up under the canopy of the trees causing them to glow. In the fall, the leaves turn all manner of colors from brilliant yellow to bright red and orange. Down in the Stream
What is YOUR place?
I’ve briefly described my favorite place. What is yours? Because I like the quiet places doesn’t mean that other places are not as valid. Basically, I am suggesting that you find your love. It may be bright dazzling, traffic laden streets or it may be the sea shore. Go find yourself. I think it is the love you put into your work that compels others. I know there are a number of unlovely creations out there that are often labelled as art. That is not the scope of my discussion at this time. Call me old fashioned but I’ll take the love of the subject or the love of the place every time. I’m suggesting that every one find their own place. We humans are a lot like snowflakes…no two are identical. In this day of a lot of hype one thing has not changed in my mind. You are in individual. You can’t be me and I can’t be you. Individuality is a strength if you use it properly. Good painting!
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I would like to invite anyone reading this post to attend a very special Invitational Exhibition.
WHEN: the opening will be on Wednesday, December 3 from 1:00-8:00 PM with a preview on Tuesday evening, December 2 from 5:00 pm-8:00pm.
WHERE: the Chadds Ford Gallery, 1609 Baltimore Pike Building 400, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania 19317
For additional information contact : Ms. Barbara Moore, Director at email@example.com
In this post I am sharing 3 of 5 new pieces that will be on exhibit in December in Chadds Ford. I thought I would share a little bit about these pieces and how they came to be. As the name implies all of the chosen works are miniature. All of the pieces are the result of direct on site experience. Some of the works were derived from older sketches that were not painted immediately after they were drawn. I’ll try to explain that a bit more fully in the following narratives.
Many years ago I was honored to exhibit regularly at the Chadds Ford Gallery. Being invited to participate in this years show brought back a lot of pleasant memories of past associations and past sketching trips in the area. In most of these pieces memory and nostalgia play a very important role. The show will feature the works of about 42 artists; many with ties to the Brandywine Valley region.
At times I like to change up my routine. For those of you familiar with my site you know that I like to paint outdoors or at the very least I prefer to develop my sketches from life and then finish my works in the studio. Why life? While cameras are wonderful inventions I have yet to find a camera that can “see” what I see in a subject. Colors, textures and a whole host of other sensory data just isn’t always captured in a photo. Granted I have a fine digital camera and I wouldn’t be without it. However, I find I spend more time taking photos of my finished works than using it to capture subjects for painting. Having written that statement I do want to assure my students and readers that I will use a camera if time or other circumstance dictates. Of course many of my students are already well acquainted with my sketching and painting habits.
Miniatures can be a change of pace
I’ll never forget my first encounter in Maine. I love the rugged coast line and the beautiful pine trees. The atmosphere, the breeze, the colors and everything about the landscape intrigues me. In fact, I have enjoyed not only the State of Maine but the entire New England experience along with the Maritimes of Canada. I have many as yet unpainted pieces that are recorded in my sketchbooks. This small piece is just one of many possible attempts. A great deal of the content of my books on watercolor technique were derived from my experiences in those areas.
In the past few years I find that my memory seems to provide a very compelling sway over a lot of my work. I’ll explain. My memory seems to distill a scene or an encounter eliminating the non essential, leaving the bare bones of the subject. I also find that personal experience embeds itself into the act of painting in a far more powerful way than merely working from a snapshot. I look for subjects I know, subjects that are familiar. There are times when I will walk past a tree or a landscape taking note of certain characteristics. However, it may take years for me to get hold of that subject with enough clarity that I will begin to paint. There are also times when I walk past a certain familiar spot or object and it is as if I suddenly “see” it for the first time. It may be the way the light is falling on it or a combination of shadow and light. Suddenly, at that moment, I see the subject in an entirely new way. At times I like to savor the moment and will often “paint ” a subject in my mind before I put a brush to paper. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about painting procedures but I do find that as I get older I tend to take more time with some subjects. Perhaps I have less and less to prove and I can just enjoy the process of creating my watercolors and egg temperas.
Grape Tomatoes was painted in my backyard while looking off the edge of my deck. I’m probably not really considered a successful gardener. In fact, my wife suggests that I would do better going to the local farmer’s market instead of putting time and money into a few plants. However, I do try to raise a few plants every year. The growth of the plants and their shapes and colors intrigue me. This miniature piece resulted from watching the vines sway in the afternoon breeze as they cascaded off the side of my deck. The trees and the woods that border my deck provide a backdrop for the stream that flows a few hundred feet from my studio door. The swaying shapes in the wind along with the ever changing colors and the sounds of the stream provides a challenge. While a camera may not record the sound my experience of being there gives me a perspective that can’t be fully explained.
I have made mention of memory. Here is a perfect example. This watercolor is the result of a sketch I made many years ago. It was a cold February morning in the community of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. I had been summoned to discuss a project with the Franklin Mint in nearby Wah Wah, Pennsylvania. I was staying in Chadds Ford and the morning was cold and crisp. As a part of my habit I was making sketches and the cold was seeping through my bones. I made several fairly quick sketches that day while on my way to the mint. I have several sketch books and this sketch got buried or better said forgotten until a few weeks ago. After being invited to participate in the 33rd Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition at the Chadds Ford Gallery I found this old sketch and the result is this small piece. While the actual sketch is almost 30 years old it brings back the initial experience in a very powerful way. If I go back to the site it may no longer exist but it will forever exist in my memory.
As I have said before perhaps my present reliance on memory is due to age or perhaps some would say I am living in my past. Whatever, I try to find what works for me. The bottom line is that everyone must find what works for them. All too often editors ask that we write about technique, choice of paper, brushes and paint. No doubt that helps the editorial mind. However, I can’t help but think that WHY I paint a subject is far more important than HOW I paint it. Perhaps you agree.
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Adventure with a new paper:
The paper is not really new. In fact Twin Rocker has been around for quite a while. It is an American hand made paper and you can order on line. A few months back I was posting about various challenges some of my students were having with paper. If you paint you know some of the stories. Some painters will shy away from hand made paper because they either fear the price or they are troubled about quality. As a lover of paper I am always looking for great paper. I purchased a few sheets of Twin Rocker along with a French hand made that I will feature later. This paper is Twin Rocker 22″ x 30″ cold press A. I love the feel and I love the action. It has a hard surface and takes a good washing and is marvelous for drybrush. The color hold out is superb and the dried washes sparkle. The paper is tough. It can take scrubbing out as well as scratching out with a sharp knife. It will also take masking without disturbing the surface of the paper. I have several more sheets and even though I have quite a bit of paper Twin Rocker will remain high on my favorites list. Keep in mind that I pay full price for my paper just like you so I have no monetary incentive to hype some one’s product.
About the painting….A Long History:
This is a very recent watercolor but it has a long history. I’ll explain. In an earlier post I wrote about the fact that the sketches in my sketchbooks are not in chronological order. It has always been my habit to pick up the book that is near at hand. I’ll shuffle through and find a blank page and begin to sketch. Consequently, you can flip a page or two and note that some sketches are many years apart. Perhaps this will drive many people to distraction but for me the book is a tool. When I am in need of something to draw on I get the one that is readily available. At times I will go through the studio and attempt to organize things and sketchbooks and put them in some sort of order. After all, at some point a book does fill up. At that point it is no longer in my easy to reach stack. Perhaps I am a bit too frugal in that I really don’t like to waste pages and I try to make use of every page in a book.
You could say that I discovered this sketch in one of my books. Mind you, it had been there all along yet for some reason I had overlooked it. Better yet, in my philosophy, I found it when I was ready to see it. I actually experienced this spot on a summer trip to Maine many years ago. I sketched it and fully intended to paint right there but for some reason it didn’t happen. In reality I have a life time of sketches and ideas from Maine to Nova Scotia. In fact my first two books were compiled while in that region and many of the pieces at that time were influenced by my trips into that beautiful land.
Due to current technology many of my readers will have no frame of reference for clothes hanging on a line in the summer sun. My connection is my childhood. Every Monday was wash day in the Rankin household. The only thing that prevented or delayed that ritual was terribly inclement weather. If it happened to rain or snow for a few days clothes would dry in the house. However that was unusual. I can remember my mother taking a dampened rag and walking along cleaning the clothes lines before putting the fresh wash in the lines. I can still see her wicker wash basket and canvas bag that held her clothes pins. In my mind’s eye I can still hear those sheets and some articles of clothing flapping and flowing with the breeze . It wasn’t hard for a small boy to imagine that the sheets were huge sails on a pirate ship popping as the wind stirred them. When the clothes were dry and brought into the house the crisp fresh aroma of the outdoors permeated the room. At that time in my life air conditioning did not exist but the moving breeze through the open windows added to the wonderfully fresh aroma. This sketch brought back all of those wonderful memories full of sounds and smells.
They say you can’t go back:
A writer once wrote that you can’t go back. Well, maybe he is not quite right. In reality I think I know what he meant and on some levels I agree. However, my sketchbook is my time machine. I use my sketches to propel me back to the moment so that I CAN smell the smells and hear the sounds. Granted, no doubt, much of the unimportant is forgotten or perhaps my mind remembers it the way it wants to. Regardless, there is a remembrance and I like my mind’s colors and memory better than most photographs. As I age I find even more treasure in solitude and the limited quiet of my backyard that settles near a lively creek. Perhaps there is a connection, I have always loved wilderness and now I am not as able to explore the wilderness so I draw upon memory.
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Coming soon a full tutorial on Goose-Xing…a recent painting.
I make no excuse for the fact that at times I slow down and work very slowly. I think all of us need to find our own rhythm. Some subjects develop quickly; others need to be savored like a fine wine. At least that is my philosophy. I have been working or perhaps I should say thinking on a subject for a few years now. It is a common ordinary neighborhood street. A tree lined street that is traveled regularly by a lot of friends and neighbors. The two lane street weaves its way past a golf course on one side and a pleasant lake on the left. In the spring and summer months the lake has more visitors than in the winter. Regardless, it is a local gathering place for young and old, walkers, joggers and moms and dads with strollers. Usually they are carrying lots of stale bread for the feathered inhabitants.
Nearly 35 years ago we began to receive new neighbors….Canada geese. If you don’t live on the edge of the lake perhaps you find them more enchanting. If they are overrunning your yard and your deck you may not feel so charitable. None the less they are now permanent residents. Since their presence is firmly established they even have their own traffic signs. It seems that the local human population has learned to adapt. It is not uncommon to see joggers take to the street to avoid a collision when the local goose population calls for a congregational meeting on the side walk. At times the group will choose to slowly move across one of the streets to a feeding spot in a nearby yard or return from their foray heading back to the lake. Whenever they cross, motorists slow down or come to a complete stop to allow the feathered residents to parade across the road. To human credit I see little sign of injury to any of the feathered pedestrians.
Earlier, I mentioned tree lined streets. At the edge of the golf course there are groups of ornamental fruit trees marking the boundaries of the course. Over the years I have painted several of these trees and incorporated some of their characteristics into sketches as well as paintings. I am greatly intrigued with their shape, color and texture. They have a presence that begs to be painted. I have indulged my passion for several years in that regard. I have tons of sketches and planned paintings that have not yet matured to the point of becoming paint.
In this case the sign haunted me for several months. I had never seen such a sign warning of a Goose Crossing. I am very familiar with Deer signs and have seen my share of Elk and Moose signs in my travels. However, a Goose Crossing was a new element. I though about it. I stared at it. I would drive by slowly and just look at it. Finally, I began to sketch it and some of the local feathered actors.
It is impossible for me to separate the process of thinking and sketching. However, for clarity I have broken these two elements into preparation and sketching. Preparation= contemplation. Sketching= bringing that contemplation into form. My personal taste is drawn to more direct observation and sketching with less photography. Don’t misunderstand, I own a great Nikon and I use it. However, I am more in tune with my own perceptions. In too many cases I find the photos don’t “see” or record the subject the same way my eyes and my memory does. As I have gotten older I have become less dependent upon the photo. Naturally there are times when the camera is absolutely essential. I’m merely trying to convey that I’m more concerned with my personal vision.
I fill up a lot of sketchbooks and I must confess that I often pick up one or the other when I need one. This has resulted in a group of sketches that are in no chronological order. In some cases there may be sketches on facing pages that are years apart in execution. No doubt that will disturb the neat and orderly ones. However, it is what it is. Lately I have had a couple of art dealers who have admonished me to become more orderly. I am making progress I now have a fairly accurate inventory listing of paintings along with where they reside. At this time my sketchbooks are still a bit of a chronological disaster!
Most of the time I use a refillable TomBow pen with black ink. Several years ago a dear colleague gave me one as a present. Since that time I have gone through about three or four. I tend to lose them and later find them in a jacket or pants pocket. I also use markers of varying widths. I find pencils to be messy and somewhat wimpy when I am in the field. I do own quite a few and use them regularly in the studio. Outdoors I like an instrument that is devoid of an eraser. It helps keep me focused.
Color is personal. As I began this piece I wanted to keep it low key but I wanted color. I chose to work with complementary combinations. Red and green were the primary agents I paired colors like Perylene Maroon with Permanent Sap Green and Hookers Green. Holbein’s leaf green with American Journey Copper Kettle. Other colors included Transparent Oxide Yellow, Gamboge, Andrews Turquoise and Joe’s Blue another American Journey color.
As stated earlier, color is personal. I paint in summer as well as winter. I love the cloak of muted colors as the plant world slumbers awaiting spring. When I look at the fungus on an old growth tree I see a riot of color, I also see silvery greys and tawny muted ochres. I try to create these colors with color combinations rather than using dull faded color. Experiment with the quinacridones. They are extremely transparent and can be manipulated in mixed combinations placed directly on the paper or they can be used in glazes to create vibrant jewel tones as well as lively yet subdued winter color.
The painting Goose Xing has been recorded for instructional purposes. It is under going final editing. It will probably be several hours of demonstration. At this time the final cut is uncertain. It was painted in real time and will be available in a few weeks.
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The Antique Shop DVD, a remastered classic of the watercolor glazing technique featuring Don Rankin
The top image is the current revised, updated edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol.1 by Dr. Don Rankin. Most of you know that is me of course. This re-issue was published in 2011 and carries a completely different ISBN number than the original 1986 edition. You can see the current number posted in the caption below the cover shot. Due to popular demand this book was revised and updated with some new tutorials. The story of this revised edition is a bit long and I’ll not bore you with all of the details. I was blessed with about 5 books being published by Watson-Guptill Publications. Mastering Glazing Techniques was a big hit and was credited with being the first authoritative book ever written on watercolor glazing techniques. Other watercolor books followed in the series. Several foreign language editions were also produced. Due to their popularity it was decided to halt publication of the English editions for about 6 months and produce a large volume anthology of all of the books in one large edition. The idea was to produce a greater demand. Mastering Glazing marketing & publication was halted along with three other editions.
My editor left the company with a promise that our project was safe. Not so.
In the meantime I had resolved to not write any more books and to spend my time painting. Very soon this edition was being offered on line at enormous markup. I began to get cards, letters, long distance telephone calls and finally many e-mails asking if I would re-publish.
Never say never:
After so many requests and a number of conversations with associates I decided to re-publish with revisions. I could say more but hopefully you get the idea.
Many of you have run into frustration over confusion at Amazon.com. when you go to look for the new book. In a lot of cases you get the picture of the old edition and it may have a tiny link to a paper back edition. That will or should lead you to the new book.
Even worse you may scroll down a line or two and see the brown cover book for sale at prices of more than $50. Those are resellers, they are not retail. They sell it for $50 and I get a $2 royalty! Sorry if that sounds petty but it is true.
I’m not angry mind you. That is how the market works and I am glad that there is a market. But some of you have contacted me asking why the price was not in agreement with prices I have quoted. So in self defense I am sharing this with you. I am grateful for all book sales but once again BUYER BEWARE!
Price still the same:
If you decided to buy, you have two options; you can use my direct link: http://www.createspace.com/3657628 and the book should be about $34.95. The publisher will not allow a lower price.
Feel free to go to Amazon.com, select “Books” (yes, it seems to make a difference on some servers) use the ISBN NUMBER in the search: ISBN9781463749033. You may get a prompt telling you that no such number exists but alongside or right below you will see the picture of the book. Go figure! Amazon will often offer the book for $31.95.
There You Have it:
Hopefully this post will answer some of your recent questions. I have tried to simplify a long tangled story. I hope I haven’t belabored the point.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Again I thank all of you for your support.
An art dealer made a strong suggestion to me a few weeks ago. He urged me to do a complete inventory of all of my paintings both sold and unsold. ALL meant going back, way back into the sixties. It was a daunting task but it is now done. As I posted earlier I had been remiss in not keeping up with my work as thoroughly as I should. Along the way in this journey I had some pleasant surprises and was forced to review a lot of older sketch books that I had forgotten.
Class Demonstration: Simplicity
One of those items is the subject of my posting. Standing Nude was included in the updated, revised edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol.1. This is a small painting that was done for one of my life classes. It is a small piece yet it conveys a powerful effect. The piece is deceptively simple. I’ll also confess that I was very fortunate that it clicked so easily. I have always believed that students deserve complete honesty. I’ll explain. It is my opinion that students need to see an instructor work. It can be nerve wracking but there are times when we just bomb out and the demo just doesn’t work. OOPS! Can we say AWKWARD?
Doing an impromptu full figure can be a dangerous choice. Thankfully, this one worked beautifully in a very short period of time. Everything just clicked into place.
All too often watercolor students think that watercolor glazing techniques are slow and tedious. Well, they don’t have to be. The choice is yours. The work can be bright and spontaneous; it all depends upon you and your subject.
The first color, Winsor Violet, was used as an under painting or grisalle. The complement, Indian Yellow, was washed over the dried under painting. Nothing fancy, very simple, yet the effect is very profound. As I stated earlier this piece was a part of a life class demonstration. We were working with the wonders of color and complexion. At the time we were discussing the Royal Academy method of dividing complexions into various color schemes or sub-groups.
While one may not want to paint by formula the basic rudiments are very helpful for a foundation. It may be a surprise for some that with this method blondes, red haired models and some ethnic groups are often depicted with the fewest number of colors while brunettes have as many as seven (7) key colors.
I discuss these formulas as guidelines for those seeking to gain a foundation. Hopefully no one will allow the suggestion to become a strait jacket or rigid law of operation. Always let your model and your perception guide you.
Careful under painting is the secret:
The secret to success is careful under painting. What do I mean? Think transparent. The early strokes will make a great impact upon the final piece. Always remember that the white of your paper is your brightest bright. Consequently you want to make sure to avoid painting the brightest highlight areas. Some call it “saving your whites”. No matter what you call it keep your painting fresh. Be judicious but not uptight as you apply your first washes. Keep in mind that the initial washes will shine through and influence your finished painting. I hate to use the analogy, but think of a monochromatic photograph. In a properly lit and exposed photograph one can see a variety of values. Think about this when you are painting. Let your washes blend and merge with a delicacy that gives the illusion of flesh. The graded washes of violet are almost invisible in some areas while the Indian Yellow was applied very sparingly. In this interplay of color combination the colors tend to lose some of their individuality and merge to produce the illusion of living, glowing flesh.
Careful observation is the beginning and is of utmost importance to a successful painting. Take time to really observe your subject. For some of us this may take longer than it does for others. Find your own pace. Strengthen yourself to avoid being intimidated by what you think others are doing. Be true to yourself. After all you can’t really be anyone else, now can you?
You can see the date on this painting. It may have been painted before some of you were born. In the ensuing years some painting formulations have changed. You may or may not get the same effect from brand to brand. The answer is EXPERIMENT. All color in this depiction was produced with only the two colors mentioned. What is the point of the post? Open your eyes to the possibility of the color combinations you have. Take the time to play with your colors. Change the ratio of color mixes in order to see what happens.
Today I use M. Graham Indian Yellow and Winsor Violet. In the 90’s I may have used Grumbacher Indian Yellow or something else. As I get older some things dim in my memory. Regardless all sorts of color possibilities exist. Do you know what your colors can do for you?
You can see more of Don’s work at http://www.donrankinfineart.com
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Some of you may think I am going a bit off topic. I’m still talking about watercolor but watercolor with a bit of a twist. As all of us know, watercolor can be an extremely versatile medium. Many painters use it in extremely personal ways. The subject of this post is about lithography and watercolor.
Most of my work deals with watercolor and usually NO mixed media. Woodland Lace is a departure. I have a reason for submitting this and I hope my readers will take it to heart. Perhaps a proper title for this post would be something like, “Beware of Sloppy Inventory Control! “
That is what prompted this article. I hope you will bear with me. I must confess to being less than diligent regarding serious inventory control. After my retirement, one art dealer had a serious message to convey about the importance of proper inventory control.
Woodland Lace is a perfect example. In the early 1970’s I was selected to do a series of lithographic prints for a private mint. The approach was to work on mylar to create the necessary images in order to produce a full color lithograph. The mylar was exposed to a subtractive litho plate. In this manner the artist retains greater control over the final image and eliminates the rub up stage one would normally need if using a lithographic stone. In many cases during the rub up stage the artist loses control over the image. With mylar control is retained. I was taught the technique and began work. A political crisis occurred and our work was halted. I was paid well for all of my effort and returned home.
I began work on a series of nests. I chose to opt for printing only the black image and hand coloring the rest of the print. My reason was simple. I wanted to create a truly unique print. While the colored version would have been an original as well, the hand colored version just seemed to be more personal.
I chose three subjects for the series. All images were drawn and painted from life. The bird nest graced my studio. As I recall, my children found the abandoned nest in the fall in a Barberry Bush in our front yard. The nest was dutifully brought into my studio since the eggs had long since lost their chance to hatch. As winter progressed I could not resist beginning the task of drawing that simple little nest. The architecture was superb and in many ways surpasses human logic. How can a little bird build such a beautiful structure without hands or human education?
The answer for me is simple. G-d gives the creatures instruction. Well, after many days I finished my sketch. I even went so far as to paint the nest in egg tempera. I knew I had a non-compete clause with the mint who had commissioned me. But the project had been scrubbed when the silver crisis hit and time had passed, so I though the terms had been completed. Long story short: they had not.
I had printed the black portion of Woodland Lace producing an edition of 250 prints. I set about hand coloring some and then we shut down because there was a question about the time limit. The uncolored prints where packed and stored. They were soon forgotten.
End of the Story?
That could have been the end IF I had not taken the inventory advice to heart. I used to leave those details up to dealers and galleries. I was too busy painting! No offense toward any of my associates but that is not professional. I purchased a soft ware package called ARTsala. It is user friendly and makes inventory easy. I am told that there are other programs available. This one was not too expensive, about $45 I think.
Well, I found the packages carefully sealed and stored on a shelf under other items. Every print is in pristine condition after 39 years! Thankfully I had chosen a quality archival paper. Definitely no problem about any contract infringement at this point. I have also found other pieces that I had forgotten about.
Perhaps some will say my example is extreme, even unforgivable. Perhaps, but I think it is great example of what can happen when we forget to take care of detail. One person can’t do it all but someone has to make sure it gets done. How much have you misplaced or forgotten?
All artists should take responsibility for their work. Where is your work? Do you have control numbers on your work? I could go on and on. Hopefully you get the idea. If you can’t do it yourself get someone to help.
Found Treasure? What Next?
Well, it was like Christmas in June around here. Not only did I find Woodland Lace but I found the working drawings for the other nests. I plan to pick up where I left off. Meanwhile, I am going to display the other two subjects. One was painted on hot press watercolor board, the other on cold press paper. Both images were included in some of my previous published books. If you are familiar with my books perhaps you may recognize the subjects.
This study was painted from direct observation. A student brought this nest to my studio. It provided many hours of study and sketching. Very little pencil preliminary was done. The study is a combination of direct wash, glazing and dry brush. The beauty of hot press board is that every brush stroke shows. It is a wonderful way to create texture.
The City was a wonderful surprise. I was teaching watercolor classes and one my student’s father was a tree surgeon. One night he came to class proudly displaying this treasure he had found. We are all amazed for we had never seen anything like this. It immediately became an object of wonder and challenge. The honey comb stayed intact for a few years before it slowly began to break apart. Sadly, we had to bid it farewell but not before a lot of its color and texture had been recorded in sketch after sketch.
What Happens Now?
We shall see if I can capture the essence of those drawings started so long ago. If I am successful then I will have three (3) lithographs to offer. Right now Woodland Lace is the only one ready for the public. Meanwhile we also located some copies of limited edition reproductions that we thought were sold out. You can see them at http://www.donrankinfineart.com
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23 Years Already?
When I was 18, the thought of a 20 year career in the military seemed like an eternity. Although I never made a career of it, at that time 20 years seemed to be so long. Today, as I look back, it seems the 23 years of teaching in one school is like a vapor. Wow! It all went so fast. A lot of things seem to change almost daily. The attitudes regarding painting and teaching in many schools seems to have swapped sound foundation for flashy contrivance.
I am old enough to have known some of the so-called greats. They all had one universal tenet. They stressed the importance of learning to draw. While some come to it more easily than others; it is still a skill to be honed. Don’t misunderstand; learning about design and understanding color are also extremely important. However, drawing is the bridge between that vision in your soul and being able to share a bit of it with others. The most frustrating thing is to have a wonderful vision and lack the physical ability to bring it out to share.
A Tribute to My Students:
My classes for Spring 2014 are over and grades are posted. Many of my students are headed home for summer or to various locations for work and/or relaxation. I want to take a moment to feature some of those who have done outstanding work. Not every student in the class is featured. Unfortunately not every watercolor got photographed. These works are the result of approximately 14 weeks of class, meeting formally twice each week for about 2 1/2 hours per session. Also most of the students featured are sophomores. For every student this was their first class in watercolor. The teaching model I use is based upon a time tested approach. I’m not interested in producing clones. Rather, I’m interested in producing energetic, dedicated students who aren’t afraid to take basic principles and develop their personal strengths. Toward this end I spend the first two weeks of the beginning semester demonstrating basic principles. I work on small easy to execute projects that may take up 30 minutes of the class period; sometimes longer depending upon the students’ grasp. The students watch and listen. Then they take the rest of the time doing the exercises while I am available for comment and critique. After about two weeks they begin developing their own works. Many work on quarter sheet sizes at first. They often get the best results using a 140 lb. (300 gsm.) 14″ x 17″ D’arches cold press watercolor block. Some use individual sheets but at this stage most find the block to be very convenient.
For additional instruction, I show examples of personal paintings in progress that are usually stapled to a plywood board to prevent ripples. In the very beginning a number of students find it more convenient to use the block since it is lighter and often easier than carrying a stretched paper to class. Regardless, they all get the drill about the proper use of a cold water soak to allow the sheet to become pliable (al dente) enough to attach to a board.
Introducing some of my students from the Spring 2014 class:
Once again I want to stress that none of these students have had any previous watercolor experience. I am very pleased with their progress and I hope this spotlight will help to encourage all the members of the class to continue working with the medium. They have given me a great retirement gift because they performed so well and were so eager to learn. Thanks so much.
A Friend, 20″ x 28″image, 140lb. cold press D’Arches
Trevelyn enjoys working from actual models and like most younger students often uses her Smart phone to take reference photos as well. Back in the studio she likes to create a light pencil grid on her watercolor paper and develop her drawing from study sketches and the images she has captured on her phone or camera.
Kyle demonstrated a great deal of progress in this class. Unfortunately I was not able to get more examples of his work. During Spring Break Kyle had an opportunity to really work on his watercolor technique. Things began to make sense and click for him. I look forward to seeing more of his work. He produced a number of promising watercolors.
Figure Study, 16″ x 14″ 140lb. Kilamanjaro
Emily enjoys a wide variety of subjects and has demonstrated an ability to work with powerful darks as well as soft neutrals. As many of you will know getting clean washes in very dark passages is often a tremendous challenge for a beginning watercolor student. Emily does it well. I have encouraged her to work more from personal observation/ life. I think she will do well.
Ann Martin Foley:
Deer, 12″ x 14″ Image, 140lb. cold press Kilamanjaro
Ann produced some very striking floral pieces as well as these two works. Unfortunately no images were available for this publication. Like many in the class, Ann is a Graphic Design major and makes good use of negative space in her work. The young fawn is a good example.
Grace’s Barn, 17″ x 14″ 140 lb. D’Arches watercolor block
Grace likes to work with subjects she knows. I’ve entitled the barn as Grace’s Barn. She may not like that but it was her first watercolor. It was inspired by the brief snow storm we had and classes were cancelled. The barn is near her home and served as a perfect inspiration. Chief is a close up portrait of her dog. It was painted on Kilamanjaro watercolor paper. The original displays a lot of subtle yellow and grey tones as well as some strong dark passages.
Drunken Elephant, 17″ x 14″ cold press D’Arches
Lindsey enjoys painting animals and in some cases incorporating elements of the constellation. Drunken Elephant was inspired by an article she saw depicting wild elephants gorging on fermented berries and getting falling down drunk. Seems even elephants have a taste for the fermented fruit of the vine! Lindsey spent a great deal of time on an intricate study of Russian architecture in anticipation of her summer work in a Russian orphanage. She was successful in selling some of her paintings to help pay her expenses.
Merrell does excellent work. Unfortunately the exposure on these two images do not do justice to her painting skill. Rather than leave them out I have chosen to show them. The actual colors are very vibrant and fresh. The portrait of her brother is far more vibrant than the image we see here. While it is never professionally advisable to show images that one must explain I made the decision to show what was available rather than leave her out. If I am able to get better shots I’ll swap them out.
Melissa is also a Graphic Design major. As I recall this was one of her first major attempts in class. I hope she will continue to work on watercolor in spite of her heavy Graphic Design schedule.
Jasmine has exhibited a lot of energy and a lot of talent. Her use of strong dark passages is not something one regularly sees in a beginning watercolor painter. However, she handled it well.
I can think of no better way to say farewell to the Samford School of the Arts than to spotlight a number of my students. To all of you who helped make this last class a success; I thank you. I look forward in the coming years of seeing more of your work as you mature. I take pride in the fact that you all exhibited such a high degree of proficiency in one short semester.
Honestly, the word makes me nervous when I talk to students. I’ll explain. My career began as an oil painter. We cut our own stretcher strips and we STRETCHED our own canvas. Many of you know the drill. In that case one physically stretches the canvas in order to have a taut surface. With watercolor paper we merely allow it to shrink after we carefully attach it to either a plywood board or gator board. As the paper dries it contracts naturally and if we have been faithful to carefully and gently blot the air bubbles out and straighten the paper; we get a nice smooth surface. The canvas is pretty tough. The paper is very vulnerable when it is wet and it scars easily. So caution is the watch word unless you don’t mind bruised surfaces.
How to Prepare Papers:
I hope the people at Ruscombe Mill will not take offense if I quote them directly regarding this matter. They are the makers of extremely fine hand made watercolor paper.
The finished paper will almost always not be flat due to the nature of the drying and sizing process. The surface finish may also be exaggerated: this problem is overcome by stretching the paper before starting to work on it. This process will render the surface flat with the appropriate texture and minimize any tendency for the sheet to buckle when washes are applied.
The paper should be soaked in cold water for between 5 to 15 minutes according to its weight. (Sponging the surface is not recommended since it may damage the size and does not produce an even moisture.) Holding the paper by the corners, allow the surface water to drain and lay the sheet on a flat board. It should be secured by strips of pre-wetted, gummed tape, about 2 inches wide across ( all around the edges of the paper so that the sheet is firmly attached to the board) the paper and the board. The gummed tape should be firmly pressed to ensure that it is securely glued to all edges of the sheet and the board. The paper must be allowed to dry naturally and slowly: heavier weights may require 48 hours to dry and in no case should the drying process be accelerated.
Properly executed you will then have a drum-tight, tough surfaced, flat sheet of the correct surface texture which will encourage smooth brush work.The toughness of these papers will support the lifting off of washes as well as other techniques such as scratching and scrubbing.
-Ruscombe Mill Instruction Sheet.
I make some alterations to this directive in that I prefer to staple my soaked paper to a board. There are times when I have a work framed with all of the deckles showing. Often the staple holes are either not noticed or they add to the irregularity of the sheet. My purpose for including the above directions is because they can apply to almost any watercolor sheet. Unfortunately some sheets will still buckle AFTER the dried, finished work has been removed from the board. This is a new challenge.
In an earlier post I commented on the problems with some D’Arches sheets and the performance of Kilamanjaro. Now that all of the testing is done; I can say the class consensus was unanimous. ALL pf my students preferred Kilamanjaro. Even when they painted on it without stretching, it did not ripple to a large degree. If you paint you know most of us have an independent streak.
To that end when teacher says you must prepare your paper there will be those independent souls who have to test it for themselves. I don’t begrudge them that spirit! I want them to be able to stand on their own.
Textbook used in class:
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol 1 by Dr. Don Rankin available at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
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