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