December Mist Watercolor 40″ x 25.5″
Perhaps this painting needs a bit of explanation. This goes against the old maxim that if you have to explain it, its no good. There is a story here, at least for me. I have painted at least three pieces on this site. Each one is connected to the place. This area was once a bustling American Indian community. Portions of this stream was lined with white clay and the running water was clear. I recall being shocked at finding the white clay tile lining a portion of the stream. Who put them there? Was it done by the original community? Questions for which I have no answers. Many of the trees are magnificent Beech trees. Their bark is smooth, yet rugged, and in some ways resemble concrete pillars. The light changes with the season and the time of day. Time and water has eroded portions of the stream bed wall revealing a network of roots that nourish the growth along the banks. There is a presence here. You can feel it if you quietly sit or walk among the giant trees.
Even in the dead of winter the Beech trees often hold on to a few of their summer leaves. At times they curl and become almost transparent in the winter sun but they hold on none the less. I see them as a silent testimony to the original people of this land. They remind me of the ones who did not get swept away in the Trail of Tears. The ones who still call Alabama their home.
I was there on a chilly winter morning with the rising sun burning through the morning mist with only the sound of the quietly running water as it slowly made its way through the old camp.
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2017 recipient of Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in Art and Education
Paradise Creek Watercolor on Paper approx. 5″ x 6″
Well, it is that time of year again. The 34th Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition opens Wednesday, December 3, at the Chadds Ford Gallery in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. (www.awyethgallery.com)
Needless to say I am delighted to be a part of the exhibit. Since we had such a brutal winter last year I opted to submit “warmer” subjects. A lot of folks don’t need snow and ice reminders! We will see if that was a wise choice.
It has been 30 years since my first book on watercolor glazing techniques, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor was published. According to the publishers it was the first authoritative book written exclusively on the subject. Since that time a lot of other books and DVDs offering their ideas on the subject have flourished. While that is fine; in some cases some offerings have only spurred confusion. In an effort to clarify some areas of confusion I will attempt to state my premise regarding the method. First, watercolor is a glorious medium and needs no defense from anyone. One of its greatest attributes is the ability to convey crisp brilliantly fresh washes. For me the last thing I would want to do is destroy that quality. However, some may have carried things a bit too far. Glazing should enhance the transparent quality of watercolor not create a dull field of opaque color. I had one painter proudly proclaim that he had used 50 layers of wash in one of his pieces!! My immediate thought was WHY??? I have heard other questionable feats as well. The objective should be to create and/or enhance the crisp transparent qualities of the medium. If you want to build up and eventually kill a passage of wash then switch to another medium.
How much is too much?
My reply to that obvious question is to use good judgement. While it is true that you can produce vibrant layers of multiple washes it is important to know something about the nature of your chosen pigments and observe a logical procedure. One important guideline is to allow each wash to dry completely before another wash is applied. There is some leeway here and experience is your best teacher. However, wisdom dictates that you work with your paints to gain more insight. You can also check the archives of this site and see some exercises.
A logical sequence:
My goal is to produce rich yet transparent color. I’m going to share some sequences with you that took place in Paradise Creek. Miniature pieces can often be more problematic than larger works. I consider them to be intricate like a fine Swiss watch. Regardless of size I often use this approach in larger works. Part of my goal is to portray the scene while allowing “accidental” surprises to enrich the development of the painting.
Yes, it IS very wet. The sequence is critical. Three colors were selected, M. Graham New Gamboge, Holbein Leaf Green and Mission Yellow Orange. The paper, 140 lb. cold press D’Arches, was completely dry and the washes were applied to dry paper over a rough pencil sketch. The sketch was there primarily to allow my students at Artists on the Bluff, in Bluff Park, Alabama get some idea of the concept. The wash was applied in broad sweeps and then I used a fine mist from a sprayer to hit the still damp washes. Since the paper was at an angle you can see some puddling. Beginners beware of those puddles. If left to dry on their own they will create unsightly “explosions” on your paper. While they can be removed with some care, once they are dry, the best method is to carefully blot them without disturbing the surface.
The object is to get rid of a lot of white paper while carefully reserving some key areas. What appears to be haphazard is actually a part of a plan. I want to keep the feel of a loose on the site watercolor. The first wash helps loosen up what could become tedious and stiff. Only a small yet critical portion of the paper needs to remain white. Many of the later elements will appear to be bright when areas of the basic wash are left untouched as the painting progresses. The three colors begin to merge but if you look closely you can see some of the green on the lower left side and some of the orange on the right side. The blending is uncontrolled and will produce subtle effects that can’t be obtained in any other way.
The darker green wash was applied after the paper had dried completely. For some the drying time is nerve wracking. However, if you paint outdoors a lot, sometimes the drying is so fast that you barely have time to work. The green was a Permanent Sap Green. In the upper portion of the page you will see some “explosions” that were allowed to form because they suggest foliage. In this sequence the upper part of the paper was sprayed with a bit of water in a fine mist. The green shapes in the lower right were applied to dry paper. This is one of the basic rules. A wet wash on dry paper will produce a definite edge. Edges on moist paper will be soft. While this is very basic I often see students who quickly forget the simple yet profound basic elements.
Step 3:In some spots you will see splatter in the foliage along with darker deliberate strokes with a pointed sable round in the foreground. The blue in the water is American Journey Andrews Turquoise. The darker greens are a mixture of Permanent Sap Green and Thalo Blue. The darker tree trunks were applied to dry paper using a mixture of Mission Yellow Orange, Permanent Sap Green, a bit of W&N Perylene Maroon and Thalo Blue. The object is to create an optical black. As you examine this example you should be able to see areas pf the creek where the turquoise blue was mixed with sap green in the middle ground. It is always good to make use of your colors in various areas of your painting in order to achieve a pleasing harmony.
As you look at the last example you should notice how certain areas appear to be almost white. In step two we don’t see that much remarkable contrast. So what happened? The steps you see here are the actual steps. So what is the answer? Colors react to one another when they are juxtaposed. In this case the contrasting darker values begin to create very nice contrasts. A lot of this could be considered accidental. Personally I prefer to call it serendipity. Far too many times a person will carefully sketch on their paper and then try to follow all of the lines. In most cases, this results in a stiff dead work. If you will think about the values of your color you will find that you can begin very loosely and refine as you develop the work.
Here is another example of starting off with a loose concept. The section of blue caught my eye and was the reason for the beginning of this piece. Once again a very simple palette, M. Graham New Gamboge, Permanent Sap Green, and American Journey Andrews Turquoise plus a bit of red.
See if you can see the sequence of washes. It is pretty much like the other two examples. The white highlights are the white of the paper. This piece, Brandywine Memories, recalls an experience in early May many years ago. There was a wonderful atmospheric quality. It was almost as if I were in a time machine transported back a hundred years or more. Read the rest of this entry
This is a cropped version of a piece that was inspired and developed on site in Maine a few years ago. If you have never experienced a salt marsh, do so with a bit of caution. What appears to be solid ground is often anything but solid. In a few hours all of this lovely expanse of grass will be underwater. It all depends upon the tide. Those of you who live in areas such as this know all too well how things can change very quickly and without warning if you are unaware. It is sort like life. My palette was purposely limited to a few predominant colors The initial sketch in was done with a lot diluted new gamboge on a damp piece of paper. If you look closely you can see the new gamboge peeking through a portion of the trees and even a bit in the sky. About the only section that did not get covered with color was some of the lighter reflected areas in the marsh. This piece was executed in a fairly rapid manner. The composition or placement of the shapes was critical to the effect I was attempting to achieve.
Most of the work was completed with a three inch bristle brush. Yes, I use bristle brushes at times. I just make sure that they have never had anything other than watercolor in them. Experimenting with various techniques and tools can help you make meaningful discoveries. Naturally the opposite is also true. There are times when experiments fail. No one is perfect; if you crash and burn just chalk it up to experience. If you opt to use bristle just remember that damp watercolor paper can only stand so much scrubbing before the surface gets scarred. Use a delicate touch unless you want to create a rough surface. Also be aware that if you disturb a portion of the wet surface; when it dries the color will be darker than the rest of the passage where the paper was not abraded.
The Next Step:
After the initial wash was dry I wet the paper again and flooded a light wash of thalo blue into the sky and down into the water area. Once that was dry the darker washes were applied. The first area of foreground was a mixture of new gamboge and thalo blue. While portions of the wash was still wet; a bit of Winsor red was introduced in select areas to produce the brownish effect. After that wash dried I came in with darker washes of thalo blue, sap green and Winsor red with direct strokes on dry paper. The edges of the trees give evidence of the effect of the damp brush on dry paper. Some of the final strokes in the foreground were accomplished on dry paper.
Fairly quick execution:
Although the paper is a full sheet, the execution was pretty rapid. Painting outdoors will help motivate you to move quickly. Even though this piece was finished in studio the initial execution was influenced by the first encounter. If you sketch and paint outside you soon realize that the lighting changes rapidly. In fact it changes every two seconds. It may not seem that way at certain times and at times the change is somewhat subtle. However, when you get to the end or beginning of the cycle (sunup & sundown) the change becomes more apparent. As a result you need to make quick decisions and plan accordingly. Think about big shapes and how they interact with other shapes. Explore the effects of color in relation to shapes. In short, keep on painting. If the first attempt is not stellar then try again. In fact, if you are totally delighted with the results of your painting effort then chances are that you are not testing yourself enough! . Don’t beat yourself up but do be your harshest critic.
A Novel approach with the Mr. Clean Eraser:
At times when I’m in the studio and a large wash is drying I will cruise the Internet just to see what I can see. This was one of those moments. I happened upon a recent work by John Salminen and was admiring his approach. Now John has a large number of DVD’s and if you really want to get into this you will want to buy some of his videos. First I would be remiss if I did not give credit to John for this discovery. I think a workshop student introduced it to him. There was some internet postings expressing concern over the use of this product for watercolor. A few painters were concerned that it might contain some chemical that would be harmful to watercolor paints and/or paper. John went to the trouble to contact the manufacturer and was assured that there were no chemicals. This sponge works because of the nature of its structure. I have used it and introduced it to my students at Artists on the Bluff. They have been amazed at its versatility. You can use it to clean up washes and you can use it to paint.
My personal preference is to build tones and textures with multiple layers of wash. However, I’m always alert to new ways of doing things. This little sponge has merit. There are times when all of us can use something like this. John took the initiative of contacting the manufacturer to find out something about the product. Once again, the major question was whether there was some additive in the product that would be detrimental to watercolor and/or watercolor paper. Procter and Gamble says the unique quality is in the composition of the sponge not in any chemical additives. So check out John’s video and see if you can find opportunities to add this to your paint box. (An added note: I had developed a video for this sequence. Unfortunately we had serious problems with the video sequence but not with the sponge! The entire saga is too long to convey. Needless to say soft ware changed have been made so hopefully we will not have any future delays of this nature.)
Do bear in mind I am aware that this is not breaking news but for those of you who have not yet encountered its (Magic Eraser’s) use I thought I would share.
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