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:
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
Watercolor; a great choice for plein aire
Perhaps no medium is more adaptable to outdoor on-site painting than watercolor. It is quick drying, very light, versatile and easy to carry. Many years ago I developed a travel pack that takes up very little room while offering me a great deal of flexibility in the tools and paints I can carry. I became accustomed to trekking into wilderness locations. Anyone who has enjoyed back packing knows that your gear can become very heavy. While french easels and the like are great, try carrying one along with your other necessities over rugged terrain. It won’t take long before you decide it is not worth it. My gear is very simple and light weight.
The travel pack consists of a clear plastic container that measures about 5″ x 9″ x 1.25″. It has a snap lid and will float and has a built in bracket where you can attach a lanyard if you like. The sketchbook is a 9″ x 12″ American Journey sketchbook. As for an easel or painting surface, I make use of what I can find in the wild. I may use my lap, a rock or log or the gunwale of the canoe; whatever works.
Make sure you have some sort of water container. Years ago I would carry an Army surplus ammo can. However, if you carry it full of water it can be rather heavy. The most important thing is to make sure that you are using a reliable water source. Contaminated water can adversely affect your painting. You can filter drinking water or take a little from your canteen. In the sketches I will display I took my water directly out of the lakes.
Boundary Waters Trek
These days one would wisely think twice about drinking directly from a lake or stream. Years ago I had the joy of canoeing the Boundary Waters just northeast of Ely, Minnesota. We canoed from there up into Canada. The following sketches chronicle some of the moments of that trip. These are watercolor sketches that were produced during my down time between paddling sessions. Most of them are quick pieces that I completed while “deadheading”, that is sitting in the middle of the canoe while my partners paddled. There was a small cup tied to a lanyard. That was our drinking cup. We would drink directly from the lake when we were not near beaver dams. We were in an area where no internal combustion engines were allowed and the water was clean.
Imagine , if you will, reclining in a canoe in late summer in the north woods completely out of range of any telephone, TV or radio. Nothing but you, the dark water, billions of stars and a magnificent display of northern lights. Sadly, my sketch doesn’t even begin to approach the beauty of the moment. However, this simple sketch does help me to recall the experience. Will I ever be able to do it justice? We shall see.
Imagine acres of ripe blueberries. For me it was like heaven since I dearly love blueberries. One caution, the bears love them too. You have to be very respectful and mindful of your furry neighbors if you decided to feast.
A fleeting scene of the landscape as we made our way toward Le Grande Portage and into Canada.
Le Grande Portage
The lakes are interconnected. When one lake ends you get out and carry your canoe overland to the next lake. At times the lakes are at a much higher elevation. In this case were were jumping from boulder to boulder on our way into Canada. I had the privilege of scaling a cliff with a canoe. It really helped me get in touch with my ancestors who used this path on a regular basis.
In the Mist
A wonderful way to paint wet into wet is in the rain. Never say never. Finally the mist gave way to full rain and I had to close my gear.
At times I find painters who are reluctant to show some of their sketchbooks. I do this because I have students who are often confused about plein aire work and why it is important. I think it is important for many reasons. It helps sharpen our observation skills. Working on the spot is an never ending challenge. It is also a wonderful lesson in humility. We win some, we lose some. We keep on trying.
These are quick fleeting sketches. By no means do they approach a finished state. Yet, in their simplicity I wanted to use my brush to capture moments for me. The world may not hold them in high regard but this is a part of my working method. I’m not sure why but there are times when I will mull over sketches for years before I paint the subject. No explanation for it. It is just my way. Perhaps that way I filter out the unnecessary. When I come back and do the final pieces I’ll get more involved.
Too often students and the general public will think of the glazing technique as a long boring labor intensive chore. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Glazing can be what you want or need it to be. Get out in your own neighborhood, select a spot and paint. Try to focus your attention on a simple subject and don’t try to paint the entire world in one sitting. Focus, focus. Be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to dive in. Good Painting!
You may order Don’s book, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I direct at : www.createspace.com/3657628