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?
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Watch and learn about watercolor glazing techniques from Don Rankin. This is a perfect companion to the book.
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Classic video tutorial The Antique Shop, a remastered classic favorite now available on DVD
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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:
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.