From time to time I get questions about the strength of color in my paintings. Some want to know how I get such powerful luminous washes in watercolor. While the glazing technique plays a large role in the creation; there is another component. This is something that perhaps I have neglected to mention.
Old Hackberry Lane approx 8″ x 6″ watercolor*
FRESH PAINT: In order to fully explain I must digress to 1983. I was writing one of my first books on watercolor. Since I was writing I felt that I should get some technical data from the manufacturers that made what I considered to be the best watercolor paints. While there are a number of excellent paints these days; in 1980 there were two very popular brands in the USA. I made contact. Winsor & Newton was very open to discussing their paints with me. Wendell Upchurch was my contact. When we first began to talk, I asked him what was his job. His reply shocked me. He stated that his primary job was traveling around the country correcting all of the erroneous information that was found in so many of the watercolor books that were being written! He was delighted to spend time with me explaining the processes and the actual facts concerning producing and using quality watercolor paints. Needless to say we spent many hours discussing watercolor paints.
Two Choices: Most watercolor painters in America tend to use watercolor that comes in a tube. Many painters in the UK and parts of Europe prefer to use tub colors. What is the difference ? Aside from the consistency the most important aspect is the degree of binder and preservative found in the paints. The colors that are packaged in tubs are a bit more tacky and they allow for constant re-wetting in daily use. Tube colors have less preservative and binder and it is suggested that one should only put out as much color as will be used in a day’s session. Many are accustomed to putting the tube colors on the palette and wetting and re-wetting the color until it is used up. Then more color is applied to the palette and the cycle resumes. In my early years I followed this pattern myself.
Everybody Does it or Do They? Be honest, most people follow this pattern. However, a lot of painters have found a better way. You can test this yourself. Put out a little fresh paint, dampen your brush and apply a wash to a piece of paper. Rise out your brush and moisten a portion of the same color that has dried on your palette. Look at the results. Surprised?
Old Hackberry Lane is a memory painting. Years ago it was one of the routes that would bring you to the eastern edge of Shades Mountain. The narrow two lane chert road made several switchbacks up the side of the mountain. At times you would feel hemmed in as the orchard tree branches would scrape across the fender or roof of your car. Luckily, I never encountered an oncoming car. There were no street lights and often in the fall and winter as the night began to fall the bare branches would be cloaked in the gathering gloom of mist and the settling of smoke from the numerous fireplaces. Painting luminous darks can often be a challenge. I prefer to create the dark using a wet into wet technique, layering fresh dark colors over a vibrant under painting. The fresh color is more powerful and luminous. Simple to apply yet profound in effect. If you are new to this the power of the color can be scary. However, it is a good idea to practice and see what it can do. *Original on view at Andrew Wyeth Gallery, Chadds Ford, PA
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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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