Category Archives: watercolor painting techniques

The Surface Makes a Difference

Have you ever noticed that some watercolors by the same artist  have a different look or impact?  While there are many possible variables there is one element that can have a profound impact on the effect. All else being equal, that is the same quality paint and brushes, the choice of paper can really change the dynamic. Most painters paint upon either cold press or rough watercolor paper. A few adventurous souls work on hot press and/or plate surface paper. What is the difference?  Basically, one is more absorbent than the other. Hot press and especially plate surface or finish paper is slick. The moisture and the paint have a tendency to crawl and creep across the paper rather than blooming or blossoming across the paper in the usual expected way. A slick surface brings on a whole new series of effect. Some of it can be quite magical while for some painters the whole thing becomes a nightmare.

My first encounter with the idea of painting watercolor on a less absorbent paper surface came about while learning to paint with egg tempera. While the gesso ground for traditional egg tempera is absorbent to a degree; it can be modified by the degree of polish one produces on the surface during the layering of the gesso. By the way this is NOT  the canned gesso you buy in most art supply stores. Traditional gesso is a mixture of hide glue and and ground chalk with or without pigment  and requires a rigid support to prevent cracking.  Very often beginning painters develop their painting skills on plate finish papers using watercolor washes. After a few maddening hours, if the student is willing, they began to see some intriguing results.

I would encourage any watercolor painter to work with hot press and plate finish papers and boards for the effect that can be achieved. Yes, it is different.  I’m going to share a few examples of watercolor on hot press boards. I keep a decent supply of the paper in my studio for those times when I want to get a different feel to a subject. Often the color is brighter and more vibrant. The reason is that the color dries mainly on the surface and has less tendency to sink into the sheet.  One word of caution.  Since the paint is on  the surface it can easily be disturbed and create mud. Melting OffMelting Off ,  16″ x 7″ (40.64 x 17.78 cm ) Watercolor on High Surface/ Plate Finish paper board. From the Collection of Sonat, Inc.

The palette was simple combination of vermilion, thalo blue with some gamboge and a dose of black India ink in the foreground, with much of the tree line poured onto the dampened surface and allowed to blend and puddle.

Compare that with the following effect on a traditional sheet of watercolor paper with a coldpress surface.

MarchDSC_0372_185March,  18.5″ x 32.5″ (48 x 38 cm) Watercolor on 140lb. D’Arches paper. Private Collection

While the palettes are similar the dark passages are softer, the blending is more subtle, creating a quieter image.  The basic message is that the paper surface can contribute to  making a big difference in the presentation and the feeling in a work.

The QuarryDSC_0345_165

The Quarry, 10.5″ x 21.25″ (27 x 54 cm) Strathmore hot press rag illustration board. Artist Collection

The mood and the palette are different. But note the sharp edges in defining the rocks on the edge of the waterline.  If you look carefully you can see hints of Gamboge in the upper edges of the treeline and in the limestone rock of the quarry’s edge. The colors in this work are Thalo Blue, Gamboge and Winsor red blended in with blue to create the darker passages.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?

Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin:                             BUY DIRECT at http://www.createspace.com/3657628

ON LINE WATERCOLOR COURSES: Join Don and learn more about watercolor glazing techniques at your own pace in your own home. Level I covers the basic techniques for developing wonderful glazing effects.  The course is designed using simple exercises to acquaint you with the underlying principles of watercolor glazing.  It also directs you in the better choices of color selection and the proper sequence of application. You can stop the video, do an exercise, master it  and continue or review as you wish.

https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/

Level II is a full (real time) demo in the artist’s studio.  The only editing is the omission of the drying time between some of the washes. See the progression from beginning to end.

https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/

MemPhoto_Generic6a  2017 recipient of Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achiever Award in Art and Education

Revisiting Old Paintings

Milking Time final cropMilking Time                                           27″ x 14.75″                    watercolor

This painting is a part of a larger story.  The actual piece  had its beginnings a little over 30 years ago.  I just recently finished the work but I think there is a valuable object lesson to be shared.  From time to time in my career I have been involved in painting portraits. One of my most unusual as well as gratifying opportunities came when a land owner commissioned me to do a portrait.  Not an usual request.  However, there was one exception.  This “family” member was a prize bull. I accepted the challenge and the painting was well received and was hung in a prominent location in the house.

During my time in the pasture I had an opportunity to see the light change and create many wonderful shapes as it played across the ground and the cattle. Milking time was inspired by that portrait session. Even though these cows had nothing to do with the bull and were kept in a separate pasture I was attracted to the light and the shapes they made as they patiently awaited milking.  A few weeks later I began to piece together my sketches and ideas and began the painting in my studio.  After a few days I just seemed to lose energy and questioned my original idea.  I set the watercolor, still secured to one of my plywood boards, aside.

Losing the energy:

As I wrote in the beginning that was a little over thirty years ago.  Perhaps the rest of the story will support my wife’s contention that I suffer from packratism!  Thirty years is a long time to ignore a piece of work that just somehow wasn’t clicking.  At least in my mind I just couldn’t get up the enthusiasm to finish the painting. A few days ago I discovered the old watercolor after I had completed another work. It was patiently waiting, still secure and no worse for the wait. I looked at the old piece and decided that it did have some potential after all. I began to apply new washes with a great deal of intent. After a few days of glazing and dry brushing I consider it finished.

milkingtime30yrMilking Time in it’s beginning stages. 

This photo was taken before I added any more work to the piece. It is a good opportunity for everyone to see what happens as more washes and refining strokes are applied.

The Moral of the Story?

While I don’t really recommend waiting thirty years to solve visual challenges in a painting; it is often good to put a painting away for a bit of time. I recommend this if you are having a problem trying to figure out what is going wrong in the work. Putting a piece out of sight for 2-3 days can do wonders for your process. If you are terribly impatient placing your painting so you can see its reflection in a mirror will help you see  areas that are not working.   If you are a painter don’t be too hasty to trash a work just because you are having trouble solving your visual puzzle.

Want to know more about glazing techniques in watercolor?

Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin  is available direct from the artist  at  http://www.createspace.com/3657628 

Online watercolor instruction about the watercolor glazing techniques with Don Rankin available:  LEVEL I: Building a foundation in watercolor glazing techniques with short and simple watercolor exercises.  Learn at your own pace. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/

LEVEL II: mDesigned for students who want to see the application from start to finish on  a more complex level: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-waterolor-level-II/

 

MemPhoto_Generic6

Marquis Who’s Who Award Recipient 2017

 

Don’t Talk About it, Just Do It!

Hydrangeademo3

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.

Progression:

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. artistonbluff@gmail.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. artistonbluff@gmail.com  Come enjoy one on one instruction geared for beginner as well as intermediate and advanced students.

 

 

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