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Revisiting old sketches, places

Nova Scotia corrected_

                   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.

Nova Scotia:

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.

Materials:

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. masking toolsTexturing 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

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 artistsonbluff@gmail.com

23 years, already?

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.

Trevelyn Campbell:

girlportrait                                     littlebrother                                                 Little Brother,  18″ x 26″ image 140lb. D’Arches

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 DeMarco:

kylefrog                                                                                                     Tree Frog,  9″ x 12″ approx. Image

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.

Emily Elder:

         emilyfruitStill Life,  12″ x 14″  Image, 140lb. D’Arches                       Still Life12″ x 12″ image,   140lb. Kilamanjaro

 

 

 

 

 

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:

IMG_2551                                      annfoleytree                                           Tree,  12″ x 9″ Image , 140lb. cold press D’Arches

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 Guffin:  chief2                                                                                         Chief, 15″ x 16″ Image, 140lb. Kilamanjaro

 

 

 

 

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.

Lindsey Hall:

drunken elephant                       lindseybear                            Bear,  14″ x 10″,  140lb. cold press D’Arches

 Drunken Elephant,  17″ x 14″ cold press D’Arches

lindseyhorse                                                                  Celestial Horse, 20″ x 15″ 140lb cold press Kilamanjaro

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 McQueen:

 

                                                                                                           merrellbeach                                                    merell                                                                                                                                                      Portrait, 18″ x 24″ approx.

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 Montgomery:

melissamoose                                                                                         Moose, 24″ x 18″  140 lb. cold press

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 Wallace:

jasminewallace                                                                                         Sunset on the Gulf,  14″ x 11″ 140 cold press

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.

Summation:

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.

FOOT NOTE:

About Stretching;

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.

Good Advice:

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.

ABOUT PAPER:

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.

https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor

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:

http://www.cheapjoes.com/kilamanjaro-original-bright-white-watercolor-paintbooks.html

http://www.cheapjoes.com/kilamanjaro-original-bright-white-watercolor-blocks.html

http://www.cheapjoes.com/kilamanjaro-original-brght-white-watercolor-pads.html

Kilamanjaro won’t buckle when you need it most

Problem:

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.

Alternative:

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  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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