Morning Mist 20″ x 15″ watercolor
I have always loved quality watercolor paper. Without it I would be lost. Ruscombe Mills handmade paper in 300gsm (140Lb.) cold press is nothing new for me. However, this batch of Joshua Cristall historical paper is a new adventure. Morning Mist was my second attempt on this sheet. I’ll show my first try in a moment. I am accustomed to painting with fairly controlled washes where I can predict and/or manipulate the effects on the surface. Well, this paper gave me some surprises. Now I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. All of us need a challenge to wake us up.
This paper has a high linen content and I am told that there is also a measure of hemp in the sheets I ordered. The paper is beautiful and while I have stated unpredictable; I need to clarify my comments. Remember this is handmade paper and is a bit different from previous batches I have ordered. In this case it behaves as if one side of the paper reacts like a hot pres sheet while the other side acts like a cold press surface. Morning Mist was executed on the side that reacts like a cold press surface. The color hold out is quite good and while there are a few layers of glazing washes; a great deal of the approach was direct and spontaneous while some of the grass texture is dry brush. The foggy areas are the result of wet ‘n wet washes and you can see them crop up in numerous places in the back ground and foreground. The highlight of the lake surface is the pure white of the paper.
I really like the effects this paper produces and can’t wait to start another group of paintings. While moving my studio I found some old sketches from 1968! My wife accuses me of being a pack rat. At any rate I have some canal sketches and one intriguing group of the gondola factory that was on a less traveled portion of Venice. I was 25 years old and fresh out of art school when we arrived in Italy. In Venice I walked and sketched some of the areas that John Singer Sargent captured in watercolor. I never painted from the sketches but I think now I am ready to give it a try.
Cat on hot press side 20″ x 15″ Watercolor
At the time I painted this I really didn’t like it too much. I’m still not wild about it but I am showing it for a reason. This sheet is the other half of the sheet that was used for Morning Mist. This was the first attempt I referred to earlier in this post. This was the flip side of the paper, the side that exhibited “hot press” tendencies. One particular thing that will immediately stand out is the texture of brush stroke in the background. Hot press papers tend to show brush strokes and pose a bit of a challenge with layered washes for the previous wash will often lift very easily. When I was learning to paint egg tempera I was required to paint on hot press and plate finish paper. The reasoning was that properly prepared traditional gesso (not the commercial acrylic kind) presented a very smooth surface. One had to learn to deal with the crawl of ink wash on the smooth surface. In actual practice I’m not so sure that it is a really big deal. However, that is the way we were taught.
On the plus side the color is very vibrant. I’ll be playing with this surface some more. Both sides of the Joshua Cristall paper invite a lot of spontaneity. I really like having the paper on hand. If you are a watercolor painter you might want to give it a try. I know I plan to always have plenty of Ruscombe Mills paper on hand.
On line classes: NEW PLATFORM
Some of you may know that for several years I have been conducting on line watercolor classes. Those offerings have been pretty successful with over 500 students. One limitation is/was limited interaction with students. As I get older I prefer to have more painting time. In spite of that I still enjoy sharing watercolor. I am just curious about how many of you would be interested in an interactive on line class. This would involve each student being able to post their work and for me to comment and to do impromptu demonstrations of various visual problems. Sort of like taking requests. Students would be able to post privately or perhaps post publicly for all enrolled students to see and learn from written critique. The contact hours would be set on a given schedule and the numbers would be limited.
I realize that this is a vague outline but send me an email if you think you would be interested in such a program.
Interested in knowing more about the watercolor glazing technique?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct at www.createspace.com/3657628 . A revised and updated edition of the original classic.
The Antique Shop: remastered DVD of an onsite study painting demo with brief tutorial www.createspace.com/350893
Nova Scotia 21″ x 14″ Watercolor
The end of July is come and like other parts of the country, Alabama is under sweltering heat. Currently I am sitting in the cool of my studio waiting for a wash to dry. Momma red-tail hawk is outside my studio window calling in a shrill voice urging her young children to fly. Her sound reminds me of younger days and being outdoors in all sorts of weather sketching and painting. These days my activity is a bit curtailed. Geneal and I spent the last part of April and part of May in northern California. She had never been and I got to revisit places of my youth when I would spend time in California with relatives. Of all the state, I prefer northern California. However, it is a beautiful state with a lot to offer any visitor. My travel has been restricted for several years and perhaps this was a bit risky. The only down side was a case of HAPE, high altitude pulmonary endema. I’m still working through that. If you are getting on in years be very careful about airplane rides.
At any rate we came back with tons of videos, photos and sketches. Memories in a can, if you will. Those things are great but the personal experience is worth more than all of the reference. A lot of folks are anxious to see my California pieces. Knowing my way of working, it may be a while. I like to let things percolate inside of me before I put brush to paper. Sometimes it happens quickly, at other times it is a slow, perhaps painful, process. In the meantime I am working on a piece that I sketched many years ago in Nova Scotia. Talk about hopping the continent! While publishing two of my first watercolor books I spent time in Maine and Nova Scotia. I think viewing the Pacific and the Big Sur prompted me to compare it to the Atlantic coast. While both are beautiful, they are different.
I remember the day I reluctantly left Maine to board an overnight ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The rest of the family was up for it but I really loved Maine and felt that anything else would be anti-climatic. Well, I was very wrong. Nova Scotia was incredible. I made two trips up while writing my books. The first trip was in the Spring and the return was in the Fall after all of the tourists were gone. I have always been drawn to wilderness and the population was not crowded. In some cases the foot print of mankind was not as evident as in other places. The color of the water, the trees and the salt in the air has a presence that is different from any other place. The light is incredible. As I looked at my recent efforts in California the effect and contrast became very evident. While there are several physical differences there is an atmosphere that any coastal area seems to possess. While the atmosphere has similarities, it also has striking differences. Those differences are extremely important. Those are the things that I seek to embody in my work.
This current work has haunted me for years. It has haunted me every time I looked at my sketches or the photos I took,but I kept delaying. Finally, I told myself it was time to paint. I have no explanation for the delay. It just happens. I wasn’t ready. Now the time had come. I’ll digress and provide a little history. I remember that it was an early morning well before midday. The light is very different and in combination with the atmosphere it renders objects in a more dramatic way than in other latitudes. At least that is my experience. The light, the air, the stillness was like a magnet that drew me in.
I used a 140 lb. cold press sheet of Kilamanjaro watercolor paper. The paints were Andrew’s Turquoise from American Journey (available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff). M. Graham Gamboge, Holbein Marine Blue, Holbein Leaf Green, M. Graham Sap Green, Holbein Marine Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon, and Winsor & Newton Red. The reds and blues were mixed to create some of the stronger dark passages in the watercolor. The painting approach was very simple with a number of layers of color applied with brushes as well as a natural sponge for some of the foreground , especially near the edge of the building. The tiny flowers were suggested by using a combination of incredible white mask with a handy little gadget called Cheap Joe’s splatter screen. Texturing and masking tools: Natural sponge, Incredible White Mask and Cheap Joe’s splatter screen.
As a general rule I don’t ruin my natural sponges by dipping them in masking fluid. In the past I have used plain screen wire at times but Joe’s screen with a handle is a bit easier. A word of caution if you choose to use brushes in the masking fluid make sure you lather them thoroughly with soap first. If you don’t you run the risk of losing a good brush. Also dried masking fluid in a screen, brush or sponge is almost impossible to remove.
How I use it and why:
Hopefully the arrangement of the flowers in the foreground looks fairly random and natural. The idea that one would want to sit and methodically apply each drop of masking fluid to the page would border on insanity to my mind. However applying a bit of masking to the screen and then BLOWING a short breath of air creates a more natural, random pattern. If you hit spots you don’t like you can blot the masking fluid out or better yet, cover the areas you don’t want to mask with bits of paper. For the uninitiated we use the masking fluid to preserve either the white of the paper or previously painted areas. In this case both methods were used. Some wet ‘n wet wash areas of bright Winsor Red and Gamboge were applied first. After they dried masking was applied. Once the masking was dry, then I used a combination of washes (from light to dark) and a natural sponge to create texture. Some areas of dry brush and fine detail should be evident. If you are not familiar with dry brush technique, I’ll give a brief explanation. Literally it denotes that there is more pigment than water in your brush. It allows you to draw and create texture with your brush that is different than a broad wash. It requires a bit of practice but is a very effective technique for enhancing an area of a painting. Like any other approach, avoid over doing it. Too much pigment can produce a dull over worked effect. The same is true of glazing with layers of wash. Some painters go to extremes killing the natural beauty of glazes. Above all PRACTICE. Get to know your materials, it will pay off. We often learn a great deal more from out set backs than we do our fleeting successes.
Want to know more about Watercolor Glazing Techniques? You can purchase the updated version of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor entitled Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor Vol.1 by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Enjoy a remastered classic on Watercolor Glazing Techniques by Don Rankin in a remastered DVD entitled The Antique Shop at http://www.createspace.com/350893
Study basic watercolor techniques with Don Rankin at your own pace with an online course, unlimited use of 31 lessons that cover basic watercolor glazing techniques at Udemy.com https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
LEVEL II: online in studio demonstration of the watercolor glazing technique: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/
Study watercolor techniques in person with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama every Thursday from 9:00-11:30 Am. For details contact Ms . Linda Williams, Director 205-532-2769 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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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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
Study on line with Don Rankin:
Now you can study the basics of watercolor glazing on your schedule at your own pace. The video tutorials reflect the basic lessons found in the book.
The Antique Shop: a remastered classic of a full watercolor demo available at :http://www.createspace.com/350893
YOU CAN CHECK OUT ALL THE VARIETIES OF KILAMANJARO WATERCOLOR PAPER AT:
For quite a while I have been fielding questions and listening to various watercolor painters who were /are venting their frustration about a very well known French brand of watercolor paper. In 140 lb as well as 300 lb weight, painters are complaining about D’Arches buckling before, during and after painting. In some cases it has buckled even while it was been stapled down. Many are experiencing buckling while it is still in the pack and after it has been mounted, allowed to dry and then removed for matting. The manufacturer’s specialists have offered various suggestions. So far none of the suggestions apply.
I always love the way solutions often present themselves. A few day ago an old friend called and while we were catching I brought up current paper and brush woes. Joe offered a possibility. I have 15 watercolor students in my Spring semester watercolor class. Joe Miller, most of you know about Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, proposed a test. I readily agreed. I provided each student, most of whom were frustrated with the buckling paper, with a sheet of a new paper that was also 140lb. cold press.. I did not reveal the name to them. I just told them that I wanted them to try this new paper. Immediately I got questions about the name of the paper, etc. I replied that I would answer all of their question but first I wanted them to paint on the paper and give me their opinions. All of them began to paint. It was interesting that some of them felt of the paper and said “Hey” this is really good paper isn’t it?” I withheld my responses until AFTER they had finished layering and splashing washes. Everyone was very happy with the paper.The interesting thing from a teaching standpoint was the respect they gave these new sheets. They began to develop sketches saying I want to do something really special on a piece of paper like this.
Now they know:
Yesterday, after a couple of days with the new paper, I answered all of their questions and they know that the mystery paper is Kilamanjaro. This is a proprietary paper made for Cheap Joe by the Fabriano Company in Italy. I had said before that it was good paper. Now we have an entire class that is sold on the product. Joe it looks like you hit a home run!
Here are some of their collective comments:
1. No one disliked the paper.
2. Everyone liked the clean white appearance of the sheet.
3. All students liked the “feel” of the paper and its ability to take color.
4. Almost all exclaimed that it did not buckle.
5. The paper held up with every technique that was tried.
No one mounted the sheet in any way. Some worked large areas of wash while others used multiple glazes. That is quite a feat for 140 lb. (300 gsm) paper. One student did soak his paper briefly and then laid it down on his board. It worked nicely and stayed flat.
So if you are looking for a solution to your paper worries check out Kilamanjaro from Cheap Joe’s
I want to comment on some new watercolors that I received in the mail. From the offset I want to make it clear that I have no monetary interest in promoting these colors. However, in view of the fact that I have taught watercolor for more than a quarter of a century, I owe it to my students. I want to thank Ms. Kelly Clawson, Brand Manager at Martin/F Weber Company for sending me these goodies. I was asked for comments. I think it is worth sharing with all of you. So here goes.
The brand is called Mission Gold by Mijello. If you Google the product you will see it listed at Cheap Joe’s and Dick Blick as well. No doubt other suppliers have them too. The package I received contains a few colors I don’t normally use. In fact, if I merely relied upon names, past experience with other brands would lead me to avoid the use of some of the paints. However, if you are going to try a product; you really ought to give every offering a fair shake.
First things first:
My first test was to use the colors full strength over a black India ink field. I prefer to use circles because they conform very easily to a book format. Circles can be tedious so if you want to duplicate my efforts any black line or bar on watercolor paper will do. I would suggest that you use waterproof black India ink for this test. Other paints such as acrylics may pose an absorption problem. My desire is to use the paint under the same conditions that I test all new paints I use. To do otherwise would devalue the results of the test.
Why a black field?
Beginning students will often ask me why I use a black field to test paint. In order to excel with watercolor you really need to know the relative transparency/opacity of your colors. Simple tests like this will tell you volumes. Full strength washes will give you a good idea of the nature of the paint. It will be obvious to those of you who utilize this test that some paints will be fairly opaque at full strength yet surprisingly transparent as you dilute them into washes. The only way you are going to know this is by working with your colors.
Starting with the first red, Permanent Rose, I’ll name the other colors as we work around the circle. You will note that I used a clean enameled butcher’s tray for my paints. The order of colors is as follows: Permanent Rose, Permanent Red, Rose Madder, Permanent Yellow Light, Viridian, Burnt Sienna, Van Dyke Brown, Peacock Blue, Yellow Orange.
Checkout the circle:
The circle was painted on a sheet of 140lb. Lana Aquarelle cold press paper. For those who follow me or my books regarding the glazing technique you should note that some of these colors would be on my caution list. The reason is that in some brands, colors like Permanent Yellow and Yellow Orange would tend to be on the opaque side and thereby not a good choice for beginning layers of a glazing technique. If you look at the chart you will see that while there is some degree of film with these two colors and with Permanent Red; there is not as much as I have seen with other paints. Well, perhaps the Permanent Red is a bit opaque. That doesn’t mean that I would necessarily jump right in and use those colors right off the bat as beginning washes. However, take a look at the next series and lets see what happens.
Watercolor Exercise beginning wet into wet:
In this first pass I wet the sheet with clean cold water. I introduced Permanent Yellow Light with a 3″ flat brush and let it run down the sheet. I was immediately impressed with the strength of the wash and its ability to hold color while diluted. Into the sky I brushed a small portion of Yellow Orange and a bit of Peacock Blue. For years I have avoided paints with catchy names like periwinkle blue, etc. These names often suggest less than serious color. Not so with this blue . While the sky was settling I brushed in Viridian in the foreground. The photo was taken while the paper was still wet. If you look carefully at the bottom of the wash you can see the puddle. I wanted to capture the intensity of the wet color. All of us are familiar with colors “drying back”, that is, losing a bit of their intensity as they dry. Please keep your eyes on the intensity as you view the next few frames. By the way ALL frames were shot in my studio as they were produced. No shots have been manipulated.
The paper is still wet and a lovely misty quality is revealing itself. None of the first wash has been manipulated; it is drying unmolested. The only new color to be introduced is in the tree line. The paper is still rather damp. The tree line is a combination of Viridian, Van Dyke Brown, and Peacock Blue I used the side of a flat brush and took care to keep the fresh wash from mingling with the green pasture. I also left a spot for an outbuilding or two that will emerge later.
The paper is still a bit moist. I added the hint of a road with a bit of Burnt Sienna and used a small brush to work around the buildings. Note how the dark treeline accentuates the yellow of the tree. This is one of those happy accidents if you will. If you like misty watercolors this could be a good stopping place. Start to finish I would estimate that perhaps 25 minutes had elapsed allowing for some drying time. The color is still holding well.
The color speaks for itself and I could have just stopped here and concluded that I had proven the worth of the paint. Its good stuff. One of the most intriguing things for me was the fact the the color holds its intensity even as you dilute it as a wash. After I did my work I Googled the product and found a factory presentation that consists of running a wash from a full strength dab of the color. Very interesting.
I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Later in the afternoon I looked at the completely dry sketch and wondered what would happen if I glazed some new color over the tree areas and in the immediate foreground. So I got a small brush for spots of detail in the barns and fence area. I mixed up Peacock Blue and Viridian and washed over the greys of the trees. I also introduced some Rose Madder into the landscape in several areas to provide a little balance. The results of the simple glaze was striking. I really didn’t know what to expect because as a general rule the results would have been a bit muddy without additional glazing washes of the same color. As a result a little bit of almost all of the color samples found their way into this little watercolor. It may never hang in the Louvre but it gave me a great deal of encouragement for this new paint. One last thought the grey in the immediate foreground was bit of Rose Madder and Peacock Blue
I will be purchasing a number of the colors that are not in the sample pack. I can’t wait to use them in a major piece I am developing right now. I think the color results will be outstanding.
For more information about Don’s revised edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I visit:
This is a bit of a different approach to my usual way of working. I’ll explain. I usually work with large brushes only using small rounds toward the end for detail. I rarely use any sort of masking agent and prefer to control the use of color by carefully dampening some areas of the paper and leaving other areas dry. The wet areas versus the dry areas is very logical since watercolor will not usually bleed into a dry area. A little practice and a LOT of patience plus some compulsion will pull you through!
This particular work has been completed after I have had some major health setbacks. Last summer, I was the victim of a rear end collision. Today I have to walk with the aid of a cane. It limits my mobility and the ability to carry a lot of gear. This piece was done in my backyard after a rainy spell.
In this piece I shifted my approach. Working on a 300lb. Lana cold press sheet (30″ x 22″) I used round brushes to set the under painting stage, large brushes for overall washes; then small Kolinsky rounds for detail. One additional item was maskoid or frisket. A bottle of liquid maskoid will last me for years. In fact they usually dry up before I can use up the bottle. One tip: If you purchase a medium to large bottle, open it up and put a marble inside. Decant a small amount into a tight fitted film can. Work out of the small airtight container. Replenish from the larger container. EVERYDAY when you come into your studio flip the larger container over on its head or base. The marble will help agitate the mixture and keep it fluid. Merely shaking the container with agitate the air in the partially full larger container. The shaking and infusion of air will cause your supply to dry up faster.
My brushes for this painting were :
- #8 Mary Whyte Kolinsky round. (It only comes in a size 8 from Art Express.)
- #4 Winsor & Newton Series 7
- Grumbacher size 20 “Gainsborough” bristle brush
- 1″ flat sable or sable blend brush
- Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon
- M.Graham Indian Yellow
- Holbein Marine Blue
- Holbein Yellow Green
- Winsor & Newton Emerald Green (Blue Shade)
- Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green
- Winsor & Newton Manganese Blue Hue
- I prefer a brand called White Mask
- In this case I wound up using a tinted Grumbacher variety
Prior to applying the first wash I made a number of preliminary sketches. I capitalized on a somewhat obscured “X” design in the basic concept. Watch of it as the work progresses. You will note that there are mixtures of Indian Yellow and Marine Blue predominating the page. Note some major leaf shapes, the branch and a few flowers have been left white with only the shadows being delineated.
After the limited under painting was dry I applied the maskoid. The pink areas denote the rubber masking fluid application. I can give you several reasons for not liking maskoid even though I use it once in a while. Primarily I find it blocks spontaneity and inhibits changing directions when “happy” accidents occur. The predominant yellow you see is the M.Graham Indian Yellow….good stuff!
The making on the flowers is straight forward. The masking of the lichens on the limb are another matter. The overall shape of the lichen mass was masked. As several layers of wash was applied I would modify the masking area. It is very simple. I would put down a wash, let it dry. Sometimes the wash was only on the lichens. After it dried I would use my fingers and rub the masked surface randomly disturbing the surface. Then I would apply another wash of another color. The final result is a random selection of colors that help create a natural texture. Experiment with it. It has many applications.
After a lot of time the painting is nearing completion. I love to get lost in the little minute areas of these sorts of studies. The colors blend and swirl over one another. I will elaborate on some of the steps when Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume II is published some time in the future.
Meanwhile Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I is available direct at
Also available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff and other outlets.