Some of you may think I am going a bit off topic. I’m still talking about watercolor but watercolor with a bit of a twist. As all of us know, watercolor can be an extremely versatile medium. Many painters use it in extremely personal ways. The subject of this post is about lithography and watercolor.
Most of my work deals with watercolor and usually NO mixed media. Woodland Lace is a departure. I have a reason for submitting this and I hope my readers will take it to heart. Perhaps a proper title for this post would be something like, “Beware of Sloppy Inventory Control! “
That is what prompted this article. I hope you will bear with me. I must confess to being less than diligent regarding serious inventory control. After my retirement, one art dealer had a serious message to convey about the importance of proper inventory control.
Woodland Lace is a perfect example. In the early 1970’s I was selected to do a series of lithographic prints for a private mint. The approach was to work on mylar to create the necessary images in order to produce a full color lithograph. The mylar was exposed to a subtractive litho plate. In this manner the artist retains greater control over the final image and eliminates the rub up stage one would normally need if using a lithographic stone. In many cases during the rub up stage the artist loses control over the image. With mylar control is retained. I was taught the technique and began work. A political crisis occurred and our work was halted. I was paid well for all of my effort and returned home.
I began work on a series of nests. I chose to opt for printing only the black image and hand coloring the rest of the print. My reason was simple. I wanted to create a truly unique print. While the colored version would have been an original as well, the hand colored version just seemed to be more personal.
I chose three subjects for the series. All images were drawn and painted from life. The bird nest graced my studio. As I recall, my children found the abandoned nest in the fall in a Barberry Bush in our front yard. The nest was dutifully brought into my studio since the eggs had long since lost their chance to hatch. As winter progressed I could not resist beginning the task of drawing that simple little nest. The architecture was superb and in many ways surpasses human logic. How can a little bird build such a beautiful structure without hands or human education?
The answer for me is simple. G-d gives the creatures instruction. Well, after many days I finished my sketch. I even went so far as to paint the nest in egg tempera. I knew I had a non-compete clause with the mint who had commissioned me. But the project had been scrubbed when the silver crisis hit and time had passed, so I though the terms had been completed. Long story short: they had not.
I had printed the black portion of Woodland Lace producing an edition of 250 prints. I set about hand coloring some and then we shut down because there was a question about the time limit. The uncolored prints where packed and stored. They were soon forgotten.
End of the Story?
That could have been the end IF I had not taken the inventory advice to heart. I used to leave those details up to dealers and galleries. I was too busy painting! No offense toward any of my associates but that is not professional. I purchased a soft ware package called ARTsala. It is user friendly and makes inventory easy. I am told that there are other programs available. This one was not too expensive, about $45 I think.
Well, I found the packages carefully sealed and stored on a shelf under other items. Every print is in pristine condition after 39 years! Thankfully I had chosen a quality archival paper. Definitely no problem about any contract infringement at this point. I have also found other pieces that I had forgotten about.
Perhaps some will say my example is extreme, even unforgivable. Perhaps, but I think it is great example of what can happen when we forget to take care of detail. One person can’t do it all but someone has to make sure it gets done. How much have you misplaced or forgotten?
All artists should take responsibility for their work. Where is your work? Do you have control numbers on your work? I could go on and on. Hopefully you get the idea. If you can’t do it yourself get someone to help.
Found Treasure? What Next?
Well, it was like Christmas in June around here. Not only did I find Woodland Lace but I found the working drawings for the other nests. I plan to pick up where I left off. Meanwhile, I am going to display the other two subjects. One was painted on hot press watercolor board, the other on cold press paper. Both images were included in some of my previous published books. If you are familiar with my books perhaps you may recognize the subjects.
This study was painted from direct observation. A student brought this nest to my studio. It provided many hours of study and sketching. Very little pencil preliminary was done. The study is a combination of direct wash, glazing and dry brush. The beauty of hot press board is that every brush stroke shows. It is a wonderful way to create texture.
The City was a wonderful surprise. I was teaching watercolor classes and one my student’s father was a tree surgeon. One night he came to class proudly displaying this treasure he had found. We are all amazed for we had never seen anything like this. It immediately became an object of wonder and challenge. The honey comb stayed intact for a few years before it slowly began to break apart. Sadly, we had to bid it farewell but not before a lot of its color and texture had been recorded in sketch after sketch.
What Happens Now?
We shall see if I can capture the essence of those drawings started so long ago. If I am successful then I will have three (3) lithographs to offer. Right now Woodland Lace is the only one ready for the public. Meanwhile we also located some copies of limited edition reproductions that we thought were sold out. You can see them at http://www.donrankinfineart.com
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available at
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I want to share a bit of a story about some of my paintings. I have been painting Indians for about 20 years or more. These are not made up characters. Rather, they are friends and relatives who hold deeply to their traditions. They are living human beings that I have known for many years. We have laughed and cried together, we have faced challenges together. A lot of folks don’t understand because they don’t have similar experiences in their life. I’ve had some who would often say, “Oh no, are you painting ANOTHER Indian?” Well, yeah I am. I’ve had occasions when I have asked myself, what is the point? Sometimes it gets hard to continue on a road. This is true when you get a lot of questions about why you are following a given path.
About 3 years ago a dear lady named Mary Whyte took a look at some of my paintings of my relatives and friends. One of her comments was, “Hey, I think you are on to something here. Keep it up!” Well, I have and now I am looking at a possible traveling exhibition that will record a little known portion of America.
Why am I telling you this? I have a motive. I can write reams about watercolor technique or the do’s and don’ts of just about any technique. You must remember one thing. Technique is only a part of the equation.
What is in your heart? What drives you to paint? What are you willing to continue to paint even if no one else understands?
Perhaps better stated what is it that you can’t avoid painting? What draws you, what drives you to pick up that brush and try one more time? What ever that something is; that is your passion.
I do paint other subjects. I recall listening to Raymond Kinstler urging us to not only paint figures but paint landscapes, paint still life. Get outside and paint. Leave the fear behind. Certainly learn some techniques. Find the best instructors you can and above all paint. The more you paint, the more you learn. I hope my words don’t make it sound too simple. No, it is hard work.
However, it is work that brings joy.
Every one of you who reads this has a still small voice inside of you. You have your likes and your dislikes. Find your path and travel it. Listen to your heart.
What about technique?
Yes, technique is important. Make your brush strokes count. Do you merely want to render a surface or do you want to use strokes that help build the sense of form. Think about this. Do you know what your colors can do? Mix them to find out. Write notes so you will remember. Pretty soon it will become a part of you.
If you have read this post you know that I have produced a new on-line watercolor course. I designed it with a method in mind. It is one thing to demonstrate or show finished watercolors. It is quite another thing to share principles. I developed several easy exercises. Nothing complicated. Just simple exercises that will help build confidence and share knowledge. The tutorials cover fundamental elements like paper, paints and brush handling; it is these things that build competence. Nothing fancy, at first. It helps you plant a seed. Nurture it with thought and work. Watch it as it grows. You can analyze this foundation below.
Under painting: this is the foundation. Two colors; Holbein Marine Blue and Winsor & Newton Permanent Magenta were used. Note the areas of concentration. Both colors are staining colors which means they are not likely to be lifted or disturbed by additional washes applied over them. Also note that in some areas the wash is applied directly to dry paper. How can you tell? Look at the edges. If they are sharp and crisp it is a light wash applied directly to dry paper. At the end of the arm and around the back of the head you see soft edges. Some are wet ‘n wet while other areas were applied in a direct manner and the edges were softened with clear water. The colors were chosen for their staining ability to help create transparent washes but also because they can help amplify the effect of flesh.
What is the point?
Use the technique to create an effect. Use your brush to suggest form not to just merely color in an area. Even a pointed round red sable has the ability to create interesting texture by dragging the side of the brush across the paper. Experiment, explore.
Want to know more about watercolor?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume 1 by Dr. Don Rankin
DVD: The Antique Shop, 56 minute tutorial selecting and painting a site
On-line watercolor course, by Don Rankin lifetime access. Watch the lesson, do the lesson, learn the lesson. Review as often as you like. https://www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor Regular price $49 .There may still be some reduced coupons available at $20 off the regular price. MGTIWa. Slots limited!