Recently a reader asked to see a larger rendition of this painting. Here it is. This piece has a bit of history and I’ll elaborate on the title of this article about taking chances. But first a little history. Up until recently, after a world journey, this painting was hanging on a collector’s wall. We have had a great relationship for many years and he and his wife had moved into a new place. They decided they wanted to upgrade to a larger painting. I don’t normally do trade ins but this was a special situation.
Bass Harbor Light was painted in the fall of 1985 and appeared in a few articles and one of my books. . It began on a rock below the light and was finally finished in my studio. Bass Harbor Light was in a number of juried exhibitions and won several prizes. It traveled to Japan and toured a portion of the country. A noted collector in Japan attempted to purchase the piece only to be insulted by a State Department employee who stated that the exhibition was for “cultural enrichment” and not for crass monetary gain! News to me! We attempted to heal the wound to no avail.
Now to the real story. In 1985 I was younger and very athletic, training in classical Japanese full contact karate on a constant basis. I had started writing my first book entitled Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor. I had traveled to New England and the Maritimes with my wife and children to do my research. I made many sketches and took numerous photos for reference as well as spots for the book. I returned home only to find that my camera had largely malfunctioned. I had no choice but to return to Canada in late summer, early fall. All of the vacationing people had left. School had started so my wife and children had to stay home. I took my aging parents since they were too old to travel alone. Late September we arrived on our return at Bass Harbor Light. I could see photos everywhere in all of the usual places that sell to tourists. I wanted to paint the spot but I DID NOT want to copy someone else. It was late afternoon and the park was about to close and I was standing on the observation deck trying to stretch a bit to get just the right angle. Mom and Dad saw the sign, realized that it was closing time and began the trek back to the car. I promised I would be along in a moment.
Leap of Faith?
Was it a leap of faith or just plain dumb? In a moment of clarity I realized that the best angle was beyond the range of the deck. No one was looking so I went over the rail. With camera slung around my neck and a sketchbook tucked under my right arm I took a mighty leap. I have heard some psychologists say that “jumpers” experience a moment of regret as they take their final leap. That may be true for suddenly airborne I began to question the sanity of my decision. The boulder that was several feet from the observation deck was about 10 feet below me and coming up fast. Thankfully, my landing was secure I got my sketches and photos. Later I climbed out with ease.
The Quality of the Light
If you live near the sea you know about that wonderful salty veil that diffuses the light. It is glorious. You can feel it, you can taste it! This was a perfect moment for capturing that late fall afternoon quality of light. The glazing technique worked well. After settling on refining the composition to get the design effect I wanted; I began with several layers of wet ‘n wet New Gamboge washes over the entire sheet except for the highlights on the house. I was careful to allow each wash to dry thoroughly. The darker layers of Winsor Red, New Gamboge and Winsor Blue were mixed to create the darker washes and were layered in sequences. No masking was used on any area. I merely painted around some spots and used clear water to blend and bleed some spots.
This will always be a special painting for me and I’m happy to give it a temporary home until someone else comes along and falls in love with it. Was it worth it? I think so. Would I take that leap again? Probably not, I’m past 70 now and my bones and muscles don’t react the same way these days. Why am I telling this story? I suppose the real question is what is your level of commitment? Now please don’t got jumping off high places because of my story. In the passion of the moment I took a leap. I must add that I had had a bit of experience with rappelling so it was not my first encounter with high places. In hindsight it was a dangerous move. However, I did have a great experience. .
ARTISTS ON THE BLUFF presents Don Rankin and David Rankin ..Opening Reception Thursday, May 7, 2015- 6PM-8PM http:www.artistsonthebluff.com 205-637-5946
Down in the Hollow, watercolor
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor Volume 1, Revised Edition is available direct from the artist at http://www.createspace.com/3657628 .
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Bluejacket, watercolor , 28″ x 20″ 300 lb. cold press Lana
I often get asked about using more than one color in the initial under painting. Questions range from can I do it to how do I do it?
I think it helps if you think of under painting as a process of setting a stage for what is to come. If you take the time to study past and some modern masters you will find many examples of artists who chose all sorts of underlying color schemes to provide a platform for what was to come in the final application of paint. Granted, most early works are either egg tempera or oil paint applications. I think that is one reason my first edition of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor created such a buzz. In fact, here we are at least 28 years later and the book, now revised, is still popular.
The arrangements of color can run the gamut.
Are you aware that some early painters would often use silver hued paints for under painting some of their grand ladies? Others would develop color schemes that depended upon the use of complementary colors to effect striking contrast. In the watercolor entitled Bluejacket, a combination of colors were alternated. The next three shots will show the underlying structure of color.
Stage 1: The washes are faint. Three colors were used. You can see a combination of Thalo blue, Permanent Magenta and Violet
mingled in varying strengths of intensity. Some areas fade into nothingness while other critical points are fairly bold. Some of the washes were applied directly while the softer areas reveal that a wet into wet approach was used. These first washes help set the stage for what comes later. Keep in mind you are in control, make sure you have a concept or a direction in mind BEFORE you begin. Have a plan, then set out to execute it. The under painting session is the time to set the stage. Make use of wet into wet, direct wash and charging of washes to accomplish your goal. What is charging ? Some may ask. Relax, you don’t need your credit card! Charging consists of dropping a new color into a damp field of color that is already on the paper. With a little practice you will determine the optimum timing for this application. I would caution you to avoid the attempt while the passage is still very wet unless you want your charged color to dilute a great deal. Waiting until the paper is too near dry will also create unwanted effects. Once again practice on scrap paper until you get the hang of it.
Stage 2: If you recall basic color theory then you remember that violet and yellow are complements. Their combined use helps to increase or intensify the effect of one another. Perhaps it could be argued that Permanent Magenta is not violet but it is close and its presence doesn’t deter from the effect. I always try to teach students about the vital difference between pure color theory and the paints with which we work. Pure theory is one thing. Learning to work with the limitations imposed by our finite materials such as paint, is another matter altogether. Take a moment to compare the first two steps. The yellow in this case is M.Graham Gamboge.
Stage 3: At this point a little hint of what is to come reveals itself as you examine the shadow side of the face where a combination of M. Graham Gamboge and American Journey Copper Kettle are combined as a tentative wash to see how the color combination will work. When I am painting faces I choose to develop distinct shapes that depict the architecture of the head I am attempting to capture. Don’t be afraid to use brush strokes in watercolor. Too often watercolor is considered to be pale, pastel and understated. Consider the works of Sargent and Homer. Look at the power they conveyed while using watercolor.
See the watercolor glazing technique in action: A number of years ago I was fortunate to have a wonderful producer named Dan Brennan. He and his team produced a video of my painting technique complete with a final segment that contains a composition and brush tutorial. The original VHS sold thousands of copies. I am delighted to announce that the original master The Antique Shop was found in Dan’s archives and has been remastered in DVD format.
It is now available at http://www.createspace.com/350893
You can also obtain Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I, Revised Edition at
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
Looks Like Snow
Watercolor (22″ x 30″) 300 lb. Lana
Hopefully the color looks very rich and lively as you examine this painting example. Creating vibrant color that is almost as intense when it is dry as when it is wet led me to explore glazing for effect. The real story began with a man by the name of Rex Brandt. Neither he nor I were the first to adopt this approach to watercolor but he planted the seed that enticed me.
As I have stated before glazing doesn’t have to be tedious nor extremely laborious. It can be, if that is what your vision requires or it can have spontaneous effects as well. If you look closely you will see wet ‘n wet techniques coupled with some dry brush and some careful detailing. Each technique is orchestrated to create a special effect for a specific purpose. Once again the main rule is to allow previous washes to be completely dry before the next wash is applied. In this attempt there are no opaque paints, no masking agents; just simple layers of one color over another.
The list of paints used is very basic. The yellows are M.Graham’s, Gamboge, and American Journey, Indian Yellow. The blues are American Journey, Joe’s Blue and Holbein Marine Blue. The reds are American Journey Fire Engine Red and Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon. The portions that appear to be black are an optical black created with almost equal mixtures of the maroon and Joe’s blue. The bottom line is you don’t really need a boat load of colors to get strong effects.
The Foundation, choosing complements
The genesis for this painting was a sort of remembrance. I was in the Cumberland Gap a number of years ago walking the old trail to the Gap with a number of my relatives. The sleet was beginning to sting a bit and the air was cold and crisp making it easy to imagine what it was like for my ancestors as they trekked through this area. The chief was standing gazing at the sky with his blanket folded over his hands and arms. It was a natural. I began the painting with an under painting of red and blue.
At this stage the colors are Holbein Marine Blue, dilute Fire Engine Red and a touch of Perylene Maroon. Reds can be tricky so at this stage they need to be dilute lest they bleed and sully the colors that come later. The Marine blue is lively and helps boost some of the later applications of color. By necessity, the under painting is pale. However, primary features are established as well as major folds and shadows. Keep in mind all of these elements are still fluid. By that, I mean to say that stronger washes can over ride or modify any of these preliminary strokes.
At this stage several layers of yellow washes have been carefully applied and the figure is now defined by the additional surrounding colors. No additional work has been done to the red/blue under painting on the figure. The effect is heightened by the use of complements to help set the stage for the final work to come.
A Clear Path
If you take the time to study the beginning under painting, then the color addition, as well as the final piece you should see the path. Everything is rather simple when you look at the layers. Allowing colors to blend wet into wet and then polishing some areas with careful, deliberate brush strokes helped to create a unity. For some individuals winter is drab. For me, it is invigorating and full of rich yet subdued colors. The range of greens, oranges as well as rich reds all sprang from the selection of a few colors.
When you have an idea or inspiration; make a plan. Without a concept or destination your journey is futile. Allow YOUR senses to direct you. As you follow, remember the basic rules of color.
I have been under a very demanding schedule and recovering from the adverse effects of an auto accident. The weather man says our temperatures will drop in the next few days. There is a stand of beautiful old gnarled trees not far from my studio that beckon me. Hopefully, I’ll be out doors for some plein aire work. I hope to post that in the near future.