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Hydrangea, 30 minute class demo, watercolor on paper overall size approx 9″ x 7″
As a teacher we often face challenges on the best way to impart knowledge to our students. Most of us recognize that our students are individuals with various levels of ability and experience. I think one thing is certain. Many of us are visual learners to one degree or another. This is not just confined to art students. Years ago I taught private lessons to a pretty well known thoracic surgeon who had recently retired from a teaching hospital. As we progressed in our lessons he remarked that my teaching approach was very similar to the model his institution had used. They had labeled it as “Do one, teach one.” While artists may not think of themselves as surgeons there are some similarities. Painters, like surgeons must have good visual acuity and excellent hand eye coordination. Like many students they do better with concrete visual demonstrations that help support any written or spoken theory they may have.
Don’t talk; paint!
Many years ago I was a student in an art school. I had come from a university and was very well versed in all sorts of verbal art theory. In the first few days my new teacher cut me off in mid sentence with the stinging words, “Shut up and paint!”. Excellent advice. These days I still take that to heart. If you want to talk art, do that outside the studio with friends or acquaintances. If you are trying to help a fellow painter or student then SHOW THEM, don’t talk about it. At least that is my philosophy. I try to do impromptu demos for my students at least once a month, often more frequently. Whenever a question about an approach or techniques arises I get out my watercolor block paper and paints. We work out the issue at hand. No involved preliminary, just a simple sketch at best and then color. It seems to work wonders.
Recently one of my students was contemplating painting a hydrangea. If you love flowers then you know that this is one mass of flower petals that can be rather complex. So where do you start? How do you capture it? If you are the least bit compulsive you may want to attempt to capture every blossom. That can be a worthy goal but far too often one winds up with a stiff presentation of an over worked mess. This is especially true if you are just embarking upon our journey in painting.
Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a shot of the first layer of wash but hopefully you get the idea. First I want to dispel the prevailing myth that one cannot alter watercolor. In my opinion all painting is a series of refinements. I think these two examples demonstrate that fact. The first application was a general blob of new Gamboge that was of varying intensity that sort of approximated the overall shape of the flower mass. It was allowed to dry. Then each progressive wave of color was applied with increasing accuracy. Note the leaf structure in the first passage. It is no where near the proper size and the beginning layers of color in the flower appear to depict a type of rose instead of a hydrangea. The permanent magenta was strengthened with some thalo blue as the application of washes progressed. You can see how the thalo blue washes influenced the magenta to create a violet hue in places. Only a few key areas were refined to give the impression of individual petals. In final approach the stems of sap green and some thalo blue were painted on a fairly dry surface. Remember, if you want soft edges paint wet into wet, if you want sharp edges paint directly onto dry paper.
Flowers can be deceptive. Often the color is strong but the edges are at times softly blended. Start wet into wet and progress into dry applications as you seek to get more detail. Trying to explain this verbally is most difficult. Watching the painting progress is far superior. The student’s question was answered and she was able to apply the lesson to her own work.
Things to Think About:
Like other media, watercolor can be refined. Start with a general shape and get specific with each additional stroke. Look for a focal point in order to convey the spirit of your subject. If your first stroke is not too accurate seek to correct successive strokes. FOCUS. Glazing techniques in watercolor can be an excellent way to introduce subtle as well as dramatic color arrangements into your work. An added benefit is the illusion of depth due to multiple layers of color. As a general rule make sure each wash is completely dry before applying the next wash. If you need more softness or variation in effect you can alternate layers of wet into wet application with passages of direct application. The possibilities are limited by your imagination. For ideal effect just make sure each wash is dry before you apply the next. This piece took about 30 minutes to complete so don’t think that glazing can’t be quick and easy. Like anything else; practice makes perfect.
Artists on the Bluff Watercolor Classes With Don Rankin:
This is a typical class demo that is done when certain techniques need clarification. We do quite a few of these types of lessons. If you are close to the area, we meet every Thursday morning from 9-11:30 am. You can contact Ms. Linda Williams, the Director of Artists on the Bluff Art Center, Bluff Park, Alabama for details at 205-532-2769. email@example.com
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? Buy Direct: Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin is available at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
The Antique Shop http://www.createspace.com/350893 Enjoy a 1 hour 55 minute remastered classic now available in DVD format, even better quality than the original VHS. A live on site demonstration includes painting with the glazing technique plus additional tips on selecting and composing the elements for the painting.
Study watercolor glazing techniques on line with Don Rankin: Study the beginning levels of the watercolor glazing technique at your own pace.
LEVEL I: Simple exercises to help you understand the process of glazing; preview at https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
LEVEL II: a complete in studio demonstration of watercolor glazing technique from start to finish: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/
Watercolor classes every Thursday, except holidays, with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama. Contact: Ms. Linda Williams, Director, 205-532-2769. firstname.lastname@example.org Come enjoy one on one instruction geared for beginner as well as intermediate and advanced students.
Watercolor Demo 7.5″ x 10″ image 140 lb. cold press D’Arches block
I believe in demonstrating procedures and ideas when teaching a group. My weekly class at Artists on the Bluff gets impromptu demos a lot. The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words!” is so true. Very often a student will have a question that is best answered with a demonstration. I’m going to share the steps below.
Step 1…the beginning
First move: You can see some pencil lines. Usually I put these in so my students can get an idea of my plan. The basic pencil lines help to set boundaries. You can see the horizon line, some rough indications for the shape and size of the barn, etc. In short I have set up a basic road map. It is a road map I may or may not follow. The guidelines are there for orientation. Pencil lines and painted shapes of color have a different dynamic. I’m painting; so color rules.
Order: Everyone had an idea of the placement and composition. Now comes the execution. I usually paint sky and background elements first. Not always but usually. Why ? It is easier. The sky was painted wet ‘n wet. That is the paper was flooded with clear water first, taking care to avoid the shape of the barn. Hint: The wet wash will not freely migrate across into the dry area unless you have too much of an angle or too much water on your paper. As the initial sky wash of Holbein Marine Blue with a touch of Perylene Maroon was drying I carefully dropped a stronger wash of the same mixture into the dampened sky area being careful to avoid the silo and the barn shape as well as the foreground. While that area was drying I carefully applied the foreground of M.Graham Gamboge with a bit of the residue of Perylene Maroon and Marine Blue still lingering in my brush. The resulting bronze color is a perfect winter color. By the way most of this wash at this stage was executed with a 3″ flat brush. The exception was the pale vermilion red and blue wash on the front of the barn.
Study the image:
At first glance you can see some not so clean wash edges, in some places pretty crude. The white edge on the left side of the piece was left in order to prevent the wet sky and wet foreground from mingling. The white edge of the barn on the shadow side was inadvertently left and will soon be refined.
Why this demo, why this approach?
At times I think that we all think too much. This is especially true of beginning watercolor painters. Note I wrote “painters.” Like many of you I run across the woefully ignorant who like to think that watercolor isn’t a painting medium!! I’ve even run into this idea among so-called educated teachers with a lot of alpha bet soup tagged on the end of their names. My point is that painting is painting, period. The medium we choose does not negate the fact that certain concepts of painting are largely universal and only altered by the requirements of the media we choose to use. If you study the works and methodology of painters like Richard Schmid and David Leffel you will find that many of their approaches can be applied to other painting mediums. Certainly watercolor, like other media, has its own requirements and approaches.
Do you recall the first time you attempted to paint a watercolor? Did you make a lot of preparation, planning what you were going to do? While it is desirable to have a goal in our work; at times, students came become a nervous wreck by planning too much. It is almost as perilous as the brave soul who just jumps in without any plan what so ever. In many ways I favor the student who bravely dives in throwing caution to the wind. Having written that I need to clarify. Looseness in a painting methodology is NOT the same as being sloppy. Looseness comes from confidence and relaxation after one has mastered a few basics.
All washes were dry when I used a size 6 Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush to paint in the general shape of an old oak tree. The wash was American Journey Andrews Turquoise. The fence line was a mixture of the Marine Blue and Perylene Maroon. Note the fact the the shadow side of the barn was now repaired and a bit of Marine Blue w/ Perylene Maroon provided a shadow for the edge of the roof line. A dilute mixture of the same color was used to cast the shadows on the front of the barn.
Darker washes were mixed to define the tree. At first glance the turquoise wash was not too powerful. However, alternating a stronger pattern of a mixture of dark blue and maroon created a strong optical black. Note where the darker wash was applied to the limbs and where it was omitted. Take time to study the patterns of light and shadow on trees to help make your images more convincing. The same dark was used in the space between the barn and silo to help clean up and define the edges of the barn. A portion of the fence appears to have a highlight as it approaches the barn. No masking or scraping out was used to create this effect. Recall that the shadow side of the barn was once a lighter color. Here the sequence of painting was reversed. The dark shadows between the fence rails was painted leaving the lighter wash to appear as a highlight. This is refined even more in the final stage of the painting. As an added thought, a bit of turquoise was applied to the shadow side of the roof.
The last refinements have been added in this small demo. You can see the planks in the barn siding as well as in the door. Some would think of the structural qualities of the building but I chose to use vertical lines on the door in order to break up the rhythm of the horizontal lines. While it is probably more accurate in terms of construction; I wasn’t concerned with that. I was thinking of harmonic rhythm and contrast. Contrast exists in all forms, not just in lighter and darker values. The fence gate was defined using the same technique of negative painting. That is the shadow shapes were painted and the lighter underlying wash was left exposed to create the illusion of highlight. Many wise painters stress introducing color into various areas of the picture plane. One commented on making an excuse to introduce color into various areas. Look carefully in the foreground and you will see some hints of turquoise and hints of red. It just helps to balance out the color.
I have written all of this to say….RELAX. Too many tall tales strangle the flow of watercolor. Examine each step and you will see how darker/stronger color has been used to clean up or refine the image. An attempt to produce perfect washes in every application often breeds frustration or a terribly stiff watercolor. I did this little watercolor to assure my students that you have the ability to refine and polish your work as you go. This is a small demo that required a short period of time but the principle applies to more involved works as well. As the layers dried I used smaller brushes for the defining moments but in the beginning I used the largest brush I could find. In the words of Delacroix, “Start with a broom, finish with a needle.” I can’t say it any better.
Want to know more about Don’s watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct from Don at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration of Don’s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at Udemy.com. Over two hours of short, easy to follow tutorials on the basics of watercolor glazing techniques, color theory, brush techniques and paper selection. BEGINNING LEVEL I https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
Level II..a full real time demonstration of the glazing technique: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/
Come join on going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. http://www.artistsonthe bluff.com Telephone 205-637-5946
WORKSHOP:WITH DON RANKIN: June 20-24, 2016 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, North Carolina. CONTACT: Edwina May for details ..email@example.com (888) 265-3356 (800) 227-2788
The Orchard 20″ x 16″ Ruscombe Mills, Cold Press watercolor paper
This is the latest effort to capture the beauty and the mystery of this orchard. I confess that as I age I take more time to hit upon a subject. I want to soak up the subject and then attempt to interpret my feelings for that subject. Compulsion? Yes. Yes, I paint the things that compel me to paint. Sometimes they nag at my mind much like a gnat or a fly often worries you when you are outside. Finally, at some point you just have to do something about it! Perhaps some will take offense at my analogy but that is the best way I know to describe my experience. I offer this analogy because I am accustomed to getting inquiries from interested parties wanting to know why or how I choose subject matter. Well, I don’t choose. I really believe it chooses me! Illogical? For some perhaps, but for me it makes perfectly good sense.
I grew up in a rural area; barns, livestock, orchards and woods were my everyday existence. These days I find myself appreciating those “good ole days” more and more. I don’t see it as escapism. Instead I see it as paying homage to the wonderful experiences I have been provided. There is something wonderful about being surrounded by nurturing plants or trees in a garden. There is a freshness there, a promise of life.
For this subject I chose to use a multiple colored under painting. The blue is Holbein Marine Blue, the green is M. Graham Sap Green, the red is Winsor & Newton Perlyene Maroon. A careful examination will reveal the location of each color. The early strokes are preliminary shapes. Many of those shapes go through modification and improvement as the painting progresses. At any rate, they provide a foundation for location of painting elements but even more they act as a guide to elements of composition. At this stage everything is very fluid and can be modified by stronger washes. While there are a few small spots of intense color most of the washes can easily be modified. So at this stage I have a combination of light and dark as well as the movement of light. The stage is set. I confess that I spent more time on the under painting than I did on the rest of the painting. I’m not totally sure why I allowed this to happen. I would like to think that I was planning and composing the final work in my mind. There are some pencil marks, outlining a few limbs. However most of the work consists of painting negative shapes and allowing those shapes to suggest limb placement. Tedious? For some people the answer is definitely. However, if you are in love with your subject and you are compelled to capture the essence then, no, it is not.
The Beauty of Freedom:
At this time we have not completely lost the ability to choose our personal painting path. I always advise students to learn all they can from various sources; then do the hard work of allowing YOU to shine through your work. Easy to write, often very hard for many to accomplish. Use what works for you.
For a while now I have had online classes on Udemy.com. The Orchard will soon appear as a new tutorial on watercolor glazing techniques. We are currently editing and hopefully it will be posted rather soon. If you would like to take a peek you can check the Udemy.com site. As of today we are editing so it should be ready in a week or so. I hope I don’t regret being optimistic!!
Want to know more about watercolor glazing? You can order Mastering Watercolor Glazing Techniques, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration of Don’ s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at Udemy.com Over two hours of short tutorials on the basis of watercolor glazing and brush technique. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/
On going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except Holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571Park Avenue, Bluff Park Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. http://www.artistsonthebluff.com Telephone 205-637-5946
UPCOMING WORKSHOP: June 20-24 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, North Carolina
Contact Edwina May for details. http://www.cheapjoes.com’art-workshops
Quite a few months ago I ran across a trailer of a video of John Salminen at work (ccpvideos.com). If you are an avid watercolor painter you already know of John’s ability, especially with urban landscape and much, much more. He was revealing some of his method for dealing with final highlights. While most of us strive to reserve the white of our paper for our brightest lights there are times when either it fails to work out or we need final adjustments to bring a watercolor to a desired conclusion. In the video John revealed a tool that I think he learned about from one of his students. A number of painters are no doubt aware of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. It is not new and there have been those who have written negative reviews fearing that the product contained some ingredient that would be detrimental to paints and paper. John took the initiative to contact the manufacturer and was assured that the secret of the product lies in its construction not in chemical ingredients. This is a simple video not a lot of fancy technique. I provide it for those of you who have not tried the product. My students at Artists on the Bluff have found numerous ways to make use of it.
As a painter you want to always remain open to new ideas and different techniques. I would caution against merely acquiring gadgets for the sake of acquisition. Engage with new ideas and new approaches in order to see what works for you. Be prepared to stumble a bit here and there. At the same time don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out!
This is probably where I digress from a lot of current thinking. I have just stated that one should stay curious and then I mention practicality. What am I trying to say? You really need to know the basics before you reach for the stars. What do YOU know about your paper? Not what have you read about it. How many washes have you applied to your favorite sheet? Do you KNOW by experiences (both good and disappointing) what your chosen paper will do? So you have a favorite paper; have you tried others to compare? The same question applies to your brushes and to your paints. Even more important, are your drawing skills where they ought to be? If not work on them. Learn the basics of your craft. Many students are taught to disregard craftsmanship. That is unfortunate for regardless of your approach competent workmanship should be a part of your goal.
Creating a relationship:
This may sound like a strange sub heading. In reality getting to know your materials is a lot like creating a relationship. By working with your materials you begin to come to know what to expect. While it will not come overnight, it will come provided you are faithful to continue to work. There will be disappointing episodes but that is not all bad. While it may feel like it at the moment you may come to realize that you learn far more from your perceived failures than you ever learn from your perceived successes. It may sting a bit but you learn.
Hang in there:
If you are a committed painter you really don’t need to read this line of encouragement. You already know that your abilities are sharpened by consistent productive work habits. That word discipline comes to mind. You need a schedule, you need to commit yourself to working. For some this is the most difficult thing. If you lack certain skills find a teacher even if it is an online source. Person to person is the ultimate in my opinion. However, in some cases that is not possible. If you have the drive and discipline you WILL find a way.
May 2016 be a prosperous season for you!
Want to know more about mastering glazing techniques in watercolor? Buy: Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol.I by Dr. Don Rankin direct from the artist: http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Almost 2 hours of a remastered classic now on DVD featuring Don Rankin demonstrating the watercolor glazing technique... The Antique Shop http://www.createspace.com/350893
Join students who enjoy learning watercolor glazing technique with Don Rankin at their own pace at Udemy.com https://Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor.com
Enjoy personal instruction at Artists on the Bluff in Bluff Park, Alabama. On going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except holidays. Contact Ms. Linda Williams at Artists On The Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama (205) 532-2769. http://www.artistsonthebluff.com. OR ..firstname.lastname@example.org 205 637-5946
Paradise Creek , watercolor on 140lb.cold press approx 16″ x 12″
About 150 feet from my studio door lies Paradise Creek. I never have to worry about flooding because my studio is about 35-40 feet above the creek. That gives me a great vantage point. The location never really disappoints for there is always a visual delight awaiting me. The creek has been my constant neighbor for at least the past 30 years. During that time I have seen a number of changes in the creek, many of them not to my liking. The public works fellows came in to do some “improvements”. Those actions spoiled some wonderful spots. In spite of their actions the creek has survived. Like many of us it goes through seasons of change. In the spring and part of the winter it is often a raging torrent. In the fall it almost always sings a pleasant lullaby when we open the windows to enjoy its song. In the hot summer the water may slow a bit and more rocks are exposed as the fish and other creatures seek refuge in the deeper pockets.
All in all Paradise Creek has been a good neighbor and an unending source of inspiration. I have enough memories and sketches to keep me busy for another lifetime.
The power of glazing:
There are so many ways to make use of glazing. You can use it in a very controlled manner working in a traditional way with a brush or you can try other approaches. The beauty lies in versatility.
Don’t be negative:
How many times have you heard someone say something like; ” Oh watercolor is so hard, you can’t cover up your mistakes!” Think for a moment about that statement. It also means that transparent watercolor can be used in glazes or layers to create a wonderful range of colors! You can create under painting texture, wonderful color combinations and /or prepare a careful under painting likeness. (Hint: you can use splatter in one layer, let it dry and repeat or you can build color via multiple layers alternating wet ‘n wet passages or direct wash on dry paper. The possible combinations are only limited by your imagination.) The secret? Know your colors and follow a proper sequence. So what is proper? That is largely up to you. You can review the archives of my blog for some tips. Basically two rules should be at least observed. I say at least because you may find opportunity to break or severely bend them. As a general rule best results come from allowing each wash to dry thoroughly before applying another wash. Another suggestion is to use your most transparent colors FIRST.
Beginning Paradise Creek:
If your eyes are keen you will see that there are no preliminary pencil lines. My apologies but the shot is a bit blurry but hopefully you get the idea. Three colors were applied, Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green, M.Graham New Gamboge and American Journey Andrew’s Turquoise. I use a three inch brush on almost all pieces. I do not want the beginning to be picky and that is what beginning with a small brush tends to produce. In the words of Delacroix, “Begin with a broom and finish with a needle.” Sounds scary? Not really, try it.
Keep it simple:
These initial passages were applied to a dry piece of 140 lb. cold press D’Arches watercolor block. I find the block to be the most convenient item when I am working away from the studio. Once the washes were applied I used a bottle with a fine mist to hit some of the areas. You can see where the colors blend and you can also see where the edges of the wash are crisp. Crisp edges denote that the paper is dry soft edges tell you the surface is wet. As many of you will know this is basic watercolor; nothing fancy. The real secret here is to RELAX. Let the wet color do it thing. If you don’t like a particular run or effect, pick up the paper and rotate it and coax the color to go a different way. When you get the effect you want, let the paper lay FLAT. Watch out for puddles, blot when necessary. In this case my paper was propped up and the color ran just the way I wanted it to go. Be ready to let the unexpected happen.
See if you can see where the major light areas are going to develop. Remember the brightest bright to have is the white of the paper. Respect and reserve the white of your paper. In this case I kept the paper dry in the areas where I would later have the brightest highlights.
The darker greens in the trees are a combination of the sap green and Hookers Green. Some of the initial washes were used with the wide side of my largest flat brush. Note the wet onto wet blending in the tree on the right as it bleeds into the water. I couldn’t resist leaving it untouched. One of those wonderful accidents. I used a brush as well as a small segment of natural sponge to create the foliage effect. The limbs on the left side are a combination of scraping out and painting negative shapes. Simple sweeping washes with a one inch flat brush was used on the water. As you look you can see a mingling of color that suggest reflection and ripples in the moving body of water. Recall that negative statement? Well, I see it as opportunity! All of those wet colors blended into a soft sheen that I could have never done as well with a deliberate brush stroke. They are transparent and the colors applied over them are transparent and we get a wonderful combination. The beauty is that we get some wonderful unexpected blending of color. Take advantage of it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Jump in and give it a try!
As I looked at the almost finished piece I felt that the center area wasn’t really working for me. While I had a movement of wash going across the middle it didn’t seem to be enough to really pull the work together. So I introduced the oak tree and some other small trees to complete the effort.
Planning your composition: Notan
Ideally you are aware of the term “Notan”. It is a Japanese word that describes the relationship of light and dark. It can be a very useful tool for helping you develop your paintings. In some ways you might think of it like a large puzzle. This illustration was taken using my smartphone and choosing one of the editing features. If you are not familiar with the concept of Notan by all means study it. It will help you to see the large parts. Recall that I mentioned starting the painting with a big brush. After conquering the large elements I can settle down to refine the smaller items. As you look at your screen if you are near sighted merely take off your glasses and see the large blurry shapes. If you have regular vision merely squint your eyes. You should see how the shapes interlock with one another grays working with white and black. Plan your composition making use of Notan. It works very well with just black and white. The shot above is a camera conversion of the finished painting. However, I think it serves to make the point. Your painting needs a good frame work. This will help you see it. We all need to hone our skills to develop better paintings. This is a great tool. Use it.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? You can purchase Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I. by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Enjoy a remastered classic on DVD entitled The Antique Shop by Don Rankin http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin online at your own pace at any time that fits your schedule. Over 30 tutorials on various watercolor techniques more than 2 1/2 hours of content at https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
Study with Don Rankin at Artists On The Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama. Classes are held from 9:00 Am- 11:30 every Thursday except holidays. Contact Ms Linda Williams at http://www.artistsonthebluff.com
Paradise Creek Watercolor on Paper approx. 5″ x 6″
Well, it is that time of year again. The 34th Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition opens Wednesday, December 3, at the Chadds Ford Gallery in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. (www.awyethgallery.com)
Needless to say I am delighted to be a part of the exhibit. Since we had such a brutal winter last year I opted to submit “warmer” subjects. A lot of folks don’t need snow and ice reminders! We will see if that was a wise choice.
It has been 30 years since my first book on watercolor glazing techniques, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor was published. According to the publishers it was the first authoritative book written exclusively on the subject. Since that time a lot of other books and DVDs offering their ideas on the subject have flourished. While that is fine; in some cases some offerings have only spurred confusion. In an effort to clarify some areas of confusion I will attempt to state my premise regarding the method. First, watercolor is a glorious medium and needs no defense from anyone. One of its greatest attributes is the ability to convey crisp brilliantly fresh washes. For me the last thing I would want to do is destroy that quality. However, some may have carried things a bit too far. Glazing should enhance the transparent quality of watercolor not create a dull field of opaque color. I had one painter proudly proclaim that he had used 50 layers of wash in one of his pieces!! My immediate thought was WHY??? I have heard other questionable feats as well. The objective should be to create and/or enhance the crisp transparent qualities of the medium. If you want to build up and eventually kill a passage of wash then switch to another medium.
How much is too much?
My reply to that obvious question is to use good judgement. While it is true that you can produce vibrant layers of multiple washes it is important to know something about the nature of your chosen pigments and observe a logical procedure. One important guideline is to allow each wash to dry completely before another wash is applied. There is some leeway here and experience is your best teacher. However, wisdom dictates that you work with your paints to gain more insight. You can also check the archives of this site and see some exercises.
A logical sequence:
My goal is to produce rich yet transparent color. I’m going to share some sequences with you that took place in Paradise Creek. Miniature pieces can often be more problematic than larger works. I consider them to be intricate like a fine Swiss watch. Regardless of size I often use this approach in larger works. Part of my goal is to portray the scene while allowing “accidental” surprises to enrich the development of the painting.
Yes, it IS very wet. The sequence is critical. Three colors were selected, M. Graham New Gamboge, Holbein Leaf Green and Mission Yellow Orange. The paper, 140 lb. cold press D’Arches, was completely dry and the washes were applied to dry paper over a rough pencil sketch. The sketch was there primarily to allow my students at Artists on the Bluff, in Bluff Park, Alabama get some idea of the concept. The wash was applied in broad sweeps and then I used a fine mist from a sprayer to hit the still damp washes. Since the paper was at an angle you can see some puddling. Beginners beware of those puddles. If left to dry on their own they will create unsightly “explosions” on your paper. While they can be removed with some care, once they are dry, the best method is to carefully blot them without disturbing the surface.
The object is to get rid of a lot of white paper while carefully reserving some key areas. What appears to be haphazard is actually a part of a plan. I want to keep the feel of a loose on the site watercolor. The first wash helps loosen up what could become tedious and stiff. Only a small yet critical portion of the paper needs to remain white. Many of the later elements will appear to be bright when areas of the basic wash are left untouched as the painting progresses. The three colors begin to merge but if you look closely you can see some of the green on the lower left side and some of the orange on the right side. The blending is uncontrolled and will produce subtle effects that can’t be obtained in any other way.
The darker green wash was applied after the paper had dried completely. For some the drying time is nerve wracking. However, if you paint outdoors a lot, sometimes the drying is so fast that you barely have time to work. The green was a Permanent Sap Green. In the upper portion of the page you will see some “explosions” that were allowed to form because they suggest foliage. In this sequence the upper part of the paper was sprayed with a bit of water in a fine mist. The green shapes in the lower right were applied to dry paper. This is one of the basic rules. A wet wash on dry paper will produce a definite edge. Edges on moist paper will be soft. While this is very basic I often see students who quickly forget the simple yet profound basic elements.
Step 3:In some spots you will see splatter in the foliage along with darker deliberate strokes with a pointed sable round in the foreground. The blue in the water is American Journey Andrews Turquoise. The darker greens are a mixture of Permanent Sap Green and Thalo Blue. The darker tree trunks were applied to dry paper using a mixture of Mission Yellow Orange, Permanent Sap Green, a bit of W&N Perylene Maroon and Thalo Blue. The object is to create an optical black. As you examine this example you should be able to see areas pf the creek where the turquoise blue was mixed with sap green in the middle ground. It is always good to make use of your colors in various areas of your painting in order to achieve a pleasing harmony.
As you look at the last example you should notice how certain areas appear to be almost white. In step two we don’t see that much remarkable contrast. So what happened? The steps you see here are the actual steps. So what is the answer? Colors react to one another when they are juxtaposed. In this case the contrasting darker values begin to create very nice contrasts. A lot of this could be considered accidental. Personally I prefer to call it serendipity. Far too many times a person will carefully sketch on their paper and then try to follow all of the lines. In most cases, this results in a stiff dead work. If you will think about the values of your color you will find that you can begin very loosely and refine as you develop the work.
Here is another example of starting off with a loose concept. The section of blue caught my eye and was the reason for the beginning of this piece. Once again a very simple palette, M. Graham New Gamboge, Permanent Sap Green, and American Journey Andrews Turquoise plus a bit of red.
See if you can see the sequence of washes. It is pretty much like the other two examples. The white highlights are the white of the paper. This piece, Brandywine Memories, recalls an experience in early May many years ago. There was a wonderful atmospheric quality. It was almost as if I were in a time machine transported back a hundred years or more. Read the rest of this entry
This is a cropped version of a piece that was inspired and developed on site in Maine a few years ago. If you have never experienced a salt marsh, do so with a bit of caution. What appears to be solid ground is often anything but solid. In a few hours all of this lovely expanse of grass will be underwater. It all depends upon the tide. Those of you who live in areas such as this know all too well how things can change very quickly and without warning if you are unaware. It is sort like life. My palette was purposely limited to a few predominant colors The initial sketch in was done with a lot diluted new gamboge on a damp piece of paper. If you look closely you can see the new gamboge peeking through a portion of the trees and even a bit in the sky. About the only section that did not get covered with color was some of the lighter reflected areas in the marsh. This piece was executed in a fairly rapid manner. The composition or placement of the shapes was critical to the effect I was attempting to achieve.
Most of the work was completed with a three inch bristle brush. Yes, I use bristle brushes at times. I just make sure that they have never had anything other than watercolor in them. Experimenting with various techniques and tools can help you make meaningful discoveries. Naturally the opposite is also true. There are times when experiments fail. No one is perfect; if you crash and burn just chalk it up to experience. If you opt to use bristle just remember that damp watercolor paper can only stand so much scrubbing before the surface gets scarred. Use a delicate touch unless you want to create a rough surface. Also be aware that if you disturb a portion of the wet surface; when it dries the color will be darker than the rest of the passage where the paper was not abraded.
The Next Step:
After the initial wash was dry I wet the paper again and flooded a light wash of thalo blue into the sky and down into the water area. Once that was dry the darker washes were applied. The first area of foreground was a mixture of new gamboge and thalo blue. While portions of the wash was still wet; a bit of Winsor red was introduced in select areas to produce the brownish effect. After that wash dried I came in with darker washes of thalo blue, sap green and Winsor red with direct strokes on dry paper. The edges of the trees give evidence of the effect of the damp brush on dry paper. Some of the final strokes in the foreground were accomplished on dry paper.
Fairly quick execution:
Although the paper is a full sheet, the execution was pretty rapid. Painting outdoors will help motivate you to move quickly. Even though this piece was finished in studio the initial execution was influenced by the first encounter. If you sketch and paint outside you soon realize that the lighting changes rapidly. In fact it changes every two seconds. It may not seem that way at certain times and at times the change is somewhat subtle. However, when you get to the end or beginning of the cycle (sunup & sundown) the change becomes more apparent. As a result you need to make quick decisions and plan accordingly. Think about big shapes and how they interact with other shapes. Explore the effects of color in relation to shapes. In short, keep on painting. If the first attempt is not stellar then try again. In fact, if you are totally delighted with the results of your painting effort then chances are that you are not testing yourself enough! . Don’t beat yourself up but do be your harshest critic.
A Novel approach with the Mr. Clean Eraser:
At times when I’m in the studio and a large wash is drying I will cruise the Internet just to see what I can see. This was one of those moments. I happened upon a recent work by John Salminen and was admiring his approach. Now John has a large number of DVD’s and if you really want to get into this you will want to buy some of his videos. First I would be remiss if I did not give credit to John for this discovery. I think a workshop student introduced it to him. There was some internet postings expressing concern over the use of this product for watercolor. A few painters were concerned that it might contain some chemical that would be harmful to watercolor paints and/or paper. John went to the trouble to contact the manufacturer and was assured that there were no chemicals. This sponge works because of the nature of its structure. I have used it and introduced it to my students at Artists on the Bluff. They have been amazed at its versatility. You can use it to clean up washes and you can use it to paint.
My personal preference is to build tones and textures with multiple layers of wash. However, I’m always alert to new ways of doing things. This little sponge has merit. There are times when all of us can use something like this. John took the initiative of contacting the manufacturer to find out something about the product. Once again, the major question was whether there was some additive in the product that would be detrimental to watercolor and/or watercolor paper. Procter and Gamble says the unique quality is in the composition of the sponge not in any chemical additives. So check out John’s video and see if you can find opportunities to add this to your paint box. (An added note: I had developed a video for this sequence. Unfortunately we had serious problems with the video sequence but not with the sponge! The entire saga is too long to convey. Needless to say soft ware changed have been made so hopefully we will not have any future delays of this nature.)
Do bear in mind I am aware that this is not breaking news but for those of you who have not yet encountered its (Magic Eraser’s) use I thought I would share.
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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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