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
Paint what you know:
I know that seems to be my common theme. However, I don’t think it can be said enough nor often enough. My point is simple. You are unique. Even if you have an identical twin no one sees like you do. No one thinks like you do. No one reacts in the same way to those things that happen around you. In short, your greatest asset is your unique individuality. To be certain all of us have shared feelings and shared viewpoints. In spite of that; your reactions are largely personal. While some may not see it our individual traits are our strongest asset. I am reminded of two very powerful events in my life that support my belief. When I was very young, about 14, I was admitted into the Famous Artist School, in Westport, Connecticut. It was my first experience with distance learning. I was absolutely amazed at the ability of the faculty. I recall submitting a project that was heavily influenced by one of my idols of the time. When my critique was delivered it was a sharp rebuke. It read something like this, ” I see you were heavily influenced by a particular artist, etc.,etc.,…in short why in the hell do you want to copy someone’s mistakes?” Mind you this piece was influenced by a very famous, extremely talented painter!
Many years later I had the privilege of training for 25 years with Saiko Shihan Oyama of World Oyama Karate. Over a period of years one fact was replayed over and over again as young and old students would be demonstrating their knowledge of kata. Students would get nervous before and during promotion and they would glance to see what movements their neighbors were making. Almost always the neighbor would be doing it wrong! What is my point? Be yourself. To quote Shihan, ” If you make a mistake make it DYNAMIC!” Have the courage to stand on your own two feet and follow your heart. Sheeple get led around and never break out of the herd.
While I stress individuality I do not stress it at the risk of producing quality. Learn the basics first. At the same time feel free to break out and explore. In the realm of exploring this small piece was produced on a French handmade paper that is well worth your time and effort. This watercolor was painted on a paper from Ruscombe Mills in France. I love the quality of the paper and the color hold out. I really have no complaints. You can find it by doing a search for Ruscombe Mills.
However, I will give you a caution. READ the instructions that come with the paper. It will tell you to soak the paper and then mount it in order for the paper to smooth out. After all, this is handmade and it comes out with some ripples. At first you may think the paper is a bit thin or at least thinner than a number of commercially produced papers. Don’t let that fool you. This paper is strong. My first attempt at stretching resulted in disaster. I drew in pencil upon the paper and put the sheet in a tub of cold water. Since the paper felt lighter than other papers I placed the staples fairly close to the edge of the paper. While the paper was still very wet I washed in some Winsor and Newton Rose Dior and some random swatches of ultramarine blue. The very wet paper allowed the color to cascade down the sheet as it sat at an angle on my board. I left the room in anticipation of painting the next morning. That would give the paper time to dry and I would resume the process again.
The next morning arrived and as I walked into the studio I could see that what I had judged to be a thinner than usual watercolor paper had the strength of a Goliath! The wire staples had pulled loose from the plywood mounting board, while some had ripped through the paper. The result was a wrinkled mess. I was fresh and relaxed and realized that I had misjudged the strength of the paper. I removed all staples and plunged the paper back into the a cold bath. After it soaked for about 10-15 minutes I placed on my mounting board. This time I positioned the staples at least 1/4″ from the edge of the paper. The sheet dried with a beautiful taut flat surface.
This paper doesn’t disappoint. I’m glad that I bought several sheets. The washes in this painting are all transparent colors. I very rarely use opaque color and when I do it is for special effects only. The glazing techniques I employ do not produce vibrant color if you use opaque paints or body color. Those approaches block the light and kill the vibrancy of the washes. The surface of the Ruscombe paper I am using produces clean sparkling color. It takes dry brushing and seems to be open to washing back or lifting color if you desire. The paper holds a wide range of values with ease. The surface is tough enough to allow for scraping. I can say that this will be one of my favorite papers. Try it . I think you will like it. As I sit here and write this I am already making plans to visit a nearby orchard. More about that later.
Coming in May at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama
While this is a watercolor site I want to share a first with you. Coming in May at Artists on the Bluff, in Bluff Park, Alabama my son, David, and I will be having our first joint father and son show. The art center was once an elementary school that has been refurbished as an art center hosting individual studios as well as new class rooms for teaching artists. One of those new studios will be for my watercolor students.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? You can purchase Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor , Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Learn from a DVD entitled The Antique Shop that features Don’s approach to painting on the scene at http://createspace.com/350893
Study with Don Rankin On-line. Approximately 2.5 hours of watercolor instruction that allows you to work at your own pace in the convenience of your home. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
Study watercolor with Don Rankin. For more information contact Ms. Linda Williams at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama 205-532-2769
The Tunnel, to be featured in Level II on-line Udemy course
Sorry for the delay in posting a new article. Health issues have intervened but I am now back on track…for the moment. My on-line course with Udemy.com is attracting students. In fact, we are about to launch “Level II”. It will be an on-line tutorial of one painting from start to finish. The drying time has been removed but the basic critical steps are recorded. While it is not productive to record every step we have sought to preserve the key moments.
Subject matter: Process and Purpose
As I have stated before everyone is unique and we approach our work in different ways. No one can truly be anything other than themselves. While we may admire the work of others and often be inspired; at the end of the day we need to find our own way of working. There is no question that we can gain valuable insight in process from observing the works of others. However, the bigger question is to what purpose do we observe and absorb? Various writers have elaborated upon these two words noting the intertwined relationship between them. Consider it simply as a part of developing a painting or completing any task. Perhaps you would prefer to call it putting ideas into action. All successful art has a concept. It may be the play of light upon a given object or the interplay of a selected color range. Once the art concept is conceived, if it is to be realized, then comes the necessity or process of developing it. This is one of the reasons I always encourage my students to develop sketches with loose color studies. The ones that follow the advice have a greater success ratio than the ones who don’t.
Why do they have a better success ratio? I think it is because sketches help get the process started. Putting marks on paper begins the cycle that brings us forward in the march to realize our goal. This previous statement is only valid provided the person making the marks has some idea regarding design, color harmony, etc. I interject this because regrettably we have too many voices today espousing “do your own thing” without any regard for basic fundamentals.
This is a painting that I have been sketching and thinking of for several years. As a youngster, I was accused of being impatient with a tendency to rush things. I received excellent instruction from gifted masters about how to develop a painting. As a youth I ignored the advice. I wanted to paint! I didn’t want to fool around with boring sketches, charcoal studies and color value studies. So I just jumped right in. Then I would lament that my painting didn’t work out too well. Finally as I got a bit older I learned to take one teacher’s advice. I was verbally spouting contemporary art theory when very abruptly I was told, “Shut up and paint!”
I have lived with this subject of this painting for 23 years. I have lectured, sketched and done quick watercolor demos for students on this site in all sorts of weather. While teaching, my focus has been on teaching my students; leaving little time for a deeper personal on site exploration of the subject. There have been a few quick watercolors of various spots and numerous plein aire demos in relation to class. Now I am gaining the time to really develop some serious pieces.
Why name it The Tunnel?
Great question. The open space is a gathering spot on campus named Ben Brown Plaza. It is a popular gathering spot for students and makes a logical location for various events. The large building is the Harwell G. Davis Library with a slight hint of Reid Chapel off in the distance. The beautiful oaks form a canopy along the sidewalk with wonderful shadows and playful light hitting the ground as well as the people and the buildings. In this piece the tunnel is not fully realized but come spring and full summer and it will be a different mater. I have work on progress that depicts that tunnel effect more strongly. However, for most of the students if you mention the tunnel they know what you mean. Hence, the title.
Preliminary under painting:
This is the foundation. Take note of the various colors and their position as well as relationship to one another. As the work progresses these colors will play a stronger role in the painting. Do note that some of the passages were executed in a wet ‘n wet technique while the washes with sharper defined edges were painted directly on dry paper. All of these techniques can be used in glazing. I have left the edges of the paper showing so you can see the staple marks. This is how I mount my paper to a 3/4″ marine plywood board to prevent the paper from rippling. Yes, unfortunately even 300 lb. paper will buckle these days. My plywood boards are quite old and I sealed them with marine grade varnish over 30 years ago. Some prefer to use gator board and that is fine. I see no need to toss out something that still works for me.
The colors I used were Andrews Turquoise by American Journey, Winsor & Newton Permanent Magenta, M. Graham Gamboge, Holbein Leaf Green, 300 lb. D’Arches cold press watercolor paper full sheet,and a 2 inch showcard sable flat brush, with assorted Winsor & Newton Series 7 rounds.
The Tunnel 20″ x 30″ watercolor
The final piece. Very little activity on this day. It was very cold and few people were stirring. Other pieces will probably have more people.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
The revised, updated edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol 1 by Dr. Don Rankin is available at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Watch and learn about watercolor glazing techniques from Don Rankin. This is a perfect companion to the book.
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
Classic video tutorial The Antique Shop, a remastered classic favorite now available on DVD
The Antique Shop http://www.createspace.com/350893
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:
Making use of neutrals can give your watercolors a powerful boost.
Take a look at the two color charts. The combination is simple. A red, a blue and a yellow is all that is involved. Choosing the best red, blue and yellow will depend upon your experience. How do you know which combination to use? Experiment!
What is in the charts?
The chart on the left is made up of Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin, Holbein Marine Blue and M.Graham Gamboge.
The chart at the top consists of American Journey Joe’s Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon and M.Graham Gamboge.
While all of the paints are in the red, blue or yellow category you should be able to see that there are differences in the results. Compare the pale wash examples to the stronger wash examples. Also note the change in effect between the combinations. Take time to explore your paints on a piece of paper not when you are actually painting. When you are painting you should have some sort of concept in mind. However, it makes good sense to keep a separate piece of watercolor paper close by. It can come in handy when you are trying to make sure of a color passage BEFORE you apply it in a critical area.
Get a grip on color
I am accustomed to lecturing on color theory for several hours in my classroom. It is a vast subject. However, on this page I’ll stick to essentials. If you study the concept of subtractive color you will realize that as painters who work with pigments we have certain boundaries. In pure theory our red is known as magenta, blue is called cyan and yellow is called yellow. Simple enough. However, not every paint named yellow is close to process yellow, not every blue is process blue and pure magenta really doesn’t look like the reds most of us are accustomed to seeing.
What is the solution?
If you have not done so, take the time to look at these process colors. Every printed color page you view is based upon subtractive color theory. Be aware that it is different than additive color, the color of light, such as the color you see on this screen. Take time to learn the difference. If necessary, memorize what the colors look like. If you will do that you will find your color mixing frustration level greatly reduced.
As you examine the charts you will note that the swatches in the center look different from the other examples. The center swatches were produced by charging. Charging is the act of loading another color into a wet or moist field. It is very much like wet into wet painting. You will note it produces a soft effect while the other swatches that are glazes have hard edges. Both techniques have their place.
The watercolor at the top is a small painting measuring about 10″ x 14″ (25.40 x 35.56cm). It was produced using Grumbacher Thalo Blue, Grumbacher Indian Yellow, and Winsor Red. Every neutral was created by manipulating the ratio of color in each wash. The painting contains combinations of glazing, charging and dry brush. Basic flat washes were applied first. Selective areas were charged with color while still moist. Can you see where? Hint: the sky was washed in and while it was drying the foreground and middle ground of a pale yellow/red wash was applied. The sky was not allowed to touch the foreground and middle ground lest they bleed together. That was the plan. However, if you look on the left side you should be able to see that some of the blue sky seeped into the middle ground while on the right past the barn you can see almost pure white paper. After all of this dried, the entire sky was dampened with clean water (this was done to prevent any inadvertent streaks). At this point a darker combination of thalo blue and red was used for treeline. As it was drying more of the mixture was added to the trees to enhance the dark value. The charging was done with the tip of the brush and the color was allowed to bleed into the wash. The barn roof is another combination of blue and red. In the final stages a dry brush technique was used in the grassy area.
Please feel free to contact me.
Similar pieces and more involved tutorials are available in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at www.createspace.com/3657628