Monday, June 2, 2014

Watercolor Demo Class: Shasta Daisy Daydream

Continuing with my demonstration class on flower painting, I decided to use the photo below, which was actually a small part of a large flower arrangement.  We spent quite a bit of time discussing getting good reference photos of flowers.  It is just as difficult to photograph flowers as it is to paint them!  One of the main problems is getting a good balance of light, so the shadows are not too dark, and the lights not too light. Contrary to what you might think, flower photos taken on an overcast day or in the shade often come out better.  But dazzling sunlight is so beautiful on flowers, so here are some tips on photographing flowers in sunlight:
  • In situations of very bright sunlight and dappled light on flowers the resulting images can be very confusing.  However sunlight on flowers can be so beautiful.  Compose the picture so the bright light effects fall upon a darker, simple background, not a tangle of leaves and stems. 
  • The camera will exaggerate light and dark, making very stark value patterns, unlike what you see with the naked eye.  Just keep this in mind when you paint the picture—you may not want the darks so dark.
  • Bring out details in the shadow areas by aiming the camera at the dark shadows while you are focusing and holding the button down halfway.  This way the light meter will adjust the exposure for the shadow areas, making them lighter.  However, this will make the sunlit areas even lighter.  You can take several shots, changing where you aim and take light readings. 
  • Try to compose an interesting interconnected white or light area through the painting—this will help give it a good overall abstract design.
Step 1.  I like the composition as is, and traced it onto my watercolor paper using Saral Graphite Transfer Paper.  To make the template, I enlarged the image with Photoshop to fit the available space (9x13") and then I printed it out in two sections on my desktop printer and taped them together.  Actually I lightened the template a little to save ink:

Step 2.  Here is how the transfer came out.  I lightened it a little with a kneaded eraser so the lines would not show too much.

Step 3.  I applied masking fluid to the absolute white areas so that I would not accidentally cover them:

Step 4.  Now I applied a background wash that would represent the shaded parts of the flowers.  White flowers are fun to paint because you can infuse the white shadows with subtle color.  Their general color needs to be shades of gray, though, and here I have mixed three primary colors to create various shades of gray:  hansa yellow, cobalt blue, and quindacridone red.  This may seem crazy, but I decided to impose a certain style on this painting in which every single part of the painting will have the salt effect!  Hence I sprinkled plain table salt all over the wet paint and let it dry naturally for a while.

Step 5.  Negative painting around the white flowers brought them out.  I have eliminated the green spider mum, but am using primarily greens and blues in the painting, and keeping a cool color dominance.  There are hints of orange added for contrast.  Also, notice that the background wash is gradating from light in the upper left to dark in the lower right.  I salted the background wash to keep the style consistent.
Step 6.  Here is the painting pretty much finished.  Sorry, I didn't take many step-by-step photos of this one!  After taking off the masking fluid, I decided to do more shadows on some of the petals.  Also the petals in the lower right were too dark, so I tried scrubbing them out a bit, but the paint was not lifting very well.  So I used a little titanium white on those and several others.  If you are going to use opaques in one area of a painting, you really need to use them elsewhere too, or they will stick out light a sore thumb!  Also, darkening the background behind these petals made them appear brighter.  It's all about the contrast and value changes!
"Shasta Daisy Daydream"   watercolor 9x13"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Watercolor Demo Class: "Blu' Island Blur"

Hello again, friends.  We just had a class on painting that time-honored watercolor subject, Flowers!  How can you teach just one class on flower painting??  You can barely scratch the surface.  I've always had a love/hate relationship with watercolor flower painting, and feel like picking off the petals one at a time, saying "I love you, I love you not"!  For me, flower painting has always been a lot harder than it looks.  Part of the problem is that flowers can be so incredibly beautiful in person, and it is almost impossible to adequately capture that glowing, ephemeral beauty.

The appeal of painting flowers is largely about the color, though, and I decided to use this opportunity to go crazy with color.  I have been experimenting with using Photoshop to adapt my reference photos into a less detailed, blurrier image, that focuses our attention on the big shapes and colors.

Here is the photo I started with.  I took it at an adorable little cafe in Venice, Florida, called the "Blu' Island Bistro" where we had breakfast.  This unusual table is made from two large slabs of rough-hewn wood with a big piece of glass on top.  They had the nicest little flower arrangements at each table, and I photographed many of them.  The morning light was gorgeous.

I cropped out this bouquet for my painting.

Next I reduced the pixel size of the image to 500 pixels across, and I applied one of the Photoshop "filters" to it, namely the "paint daub" filter:

I like the way this blurred out the image and got rid of the tiny details.  Yes, the original photo could have been used to create a beautiful painting, but my goal here was to do something more semi-abstract.  I am not going to address right now the controversial aspects of using a computer to aid me in abstracting my image.  If you have qualms about it, I suggest you try to paint from one of these photos before you conclude that we are making the process too easy.  Believe me, it is still quite difficult to get a good painting out of this!

I also used the computer and my medium format printer to create a template that I could trace to get the image onto my watercolor paper.  Another controversial practice, but one I feel justified in using since I know I can draw perfectly well, and wanted to save time.  Here is the template attached to the paper, which is a half sheet of Arches 140 lb cold-press:
And here is the image transfer that resulted after using Saral Graphite Transfer Paper (wax free) to trace the image onto the paper:
Step 1.  Applying masking fluid.  I masked out only the absolute white areas so that I wouldn't accidentally loose them.  Let me give you a big tip on using masking fluid so that it goes on smoothly and doesn't clog up your brush.  A few years ago, my husband (who is a chemist) and I created a masking fluid solvent and flow extender that we call "Sue's Solution".  It contains a chemical that masking fluid can dissolve in and it will not hurt your brushes.  We actually sell it on!  You pour a little out in a bowl and dip your brush in it before dipping into the masking fluid.  You rinse your brush in it every 3-5 minutes while painting with masking fluid.  It will completely prevent your brush from getting gobbed up with the masking fluid!  You can also unclog applicators such as Masquepens and brushes with dried masking fluid on them.  We have tested sable brushes in Sue's Solution for up to six hours, and no damage or change at all occurred in the brushes.

Step 2.  Start with the light, bright colors.  I started with the bright yellows, using Hansa yellow by Da Vinci (also carried as Winsor yellow by W & N, generic name arylide yellow).  I covered areas under the oranges and greens too, since they can use yellow.  Nothing makes a painting glow like yellow!
Step 3.  Next I added some of the red areas, using quinacridone red, and some Winsor red.  Quin red and Hansa yellow make a beautiful orange!  I am going to have a full range of values, so I added some darks very early in the process so that I would have a means of comparing values.

Step 4.  Keeping my colors pure and clean, I started adding the blues and greens.  Generally I am using transparent, non-granulating colors in this painting to preserve the transparency.  Flower paintings generally benefit from using clean transparent colors, rather than semi-opaque colors which can sometimes produce a muddy look.  I actually have a separate palette for flower painting that avoids the semi-opaque watercolors and contains more staining transparents than I would normally use.  Here I am mixing greens with Hansa yellow and peacock blue (Holbein's thalo blue), and using a little perylene green for the darkest greens (later).  The purple is permanet violet by W & N and I have used a little opera rose in the pinks and oranges to make them brighter.
 Step 5.  Working on the darks.  I really like the division of space in the background area on the left in the photo, and am planning to use it as is.  There is a peculiar white streak coming down from the pink flower on the left, though, and although I kind of like it I will probably have to kill it...  Also, at this point I am still laying down base colors and will have to adjust all the values later.  For blacks I am mixing permanent magenta and thalo green, and getting a beautiful dark that varies from warm to cool.
Step 6.  Glazed over the background.  I knew my brown spots at left above were too light, so I mixed up a big wash of purplish black and glazed over the left background.  Also I filled in the large white shape on the left and am debating what to do about the composition.  At this point my demonstration class had gone home and I had more time to think about it.
Step 7.  Major decision about the background.  I decided to change the division of space in the lower left and make it more horizontal.  All the weird vertical shapes seem to be hurting the composition.  So I applied drafting tape around the edges and removed a lot of paint using Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Step 8.  A this point I am working all over the painting.  I've made an almost black section behind the flowers, and I really like this as it adds a point of sharp contrast and also a resting place.  Also I've been working more in the vase, trying to convey the feeling of the glass pebbles without actually painting them.  I am diverging quite a bit from the photo at this point, and will not refer to it much from here on.  The main thing is to make a good painting, not make a copy of the photo!  Also as you can see below, I've added a continuation of the shaft of light to the right of the flowers.  I like the way this moves your eye across the picture with the flowers in between.
Step 9.  Add signature!  I am not sure if it is really done yet, but I signed it so that I would not forget!  I may do something with the odd shapes in the upper right, perhaps extend the black over into that area a little.  Also I will tweak the values a little and think about the whole thing for a few days before I really call it done.  It was a lot of fun to paint this picture and I am pretty happy with it!  Let me know if you have any questions or comments, especially my students who attended this class.
Susan Avis Murphy, ARThouse, May 29, 2014

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Watercolor Demo Class: Landscape "Down on the Farm"

Another of my Watercolor Demonstration Classes saw the painting of this landscape, and I have made a YouTube video of it that you can watch.  I chose the reference photo below because it contained so many typical landscape components and would be a good teaching tool.  I took this photo about 35 years ago, and it is probably from upstate New York.

Step 1. Working on a half sheet of Arches 140 lb cold press stretched onto a Homasote board, I first wet the entire sheet and started with a light wash of the late afternoon sky.  The sky is almost always the lightest section of a landscape, and it is important to keep the correct values of the sky versus the land relative to each other.  I used Hansa yellow in this background wash, letting it come all the way down to the bottom of the sheet so that it would also color the grass a bit.  Quinacridone red was washed over the top of the sky.
   While that was wet, I started to put in the distant row of trees, using thick perylene green, plus touches of brown madder and verditer blue.  Not too much water or the paint will spread too much!  You can see the gap I left for the barn.
   I also washed in the grasses with a mixture of Hansa yellow and cerulean blue.  I used a little black sumi-e ink in the mix because I think it is capable of producing some interested textural effects.  I splattered this darker wash with water to create backruns and spattered it with some blues.  I decided to leave the lower left unpainted to accentuate my intention of creating a loose painting.

Step 2.  Since I was filming the whole process with a web cam, I didn't stop to take enough step-by-step photos!  The next photo shows the painting about 80% finished.  First I started putting in the trees, using black ink mixed with burnt sienna and a rigger to apply the paint.  I experimented with various ways to get the suggestion of the leaves remaining on the trees.  A combination of spritzing with a spray bottle and then spreading paint around with a brush worked the best, along with a little spattering. 
    I detailed the brush along the foot of the trees with some darker paint, using my wolf hair sumi-e brush with the hairs splayed out to create the feeling of long grass and brush.  Also I used this brush in the foreground grasses.
    Next I painted in the barn and windmill (still need to add the windmill's blades).  I kept them simple and not fussed over.  Some long shadows in front of the barn give the feeling of late afternoon.  To finish this painting, I am thinking of adding some cows scattered about between the windmill and the barn.  That's about it for this one!  
"Down on the Farm" almost finished

By the way, I took a workshop recently with Baltimore artist Stewart White, who is a fantastic plein air painter in watercolor.  He has a little acronym  that I tried to apply in painting these landscapes:

D O N ' T:
     D = Don't Dilute too much
     O = Don't Overwork
     N = Don't Noodle
     T = Don't try to fix!

I think this is very useful advice if you want a painting that is fresh and spontaneous.  Yes, you can fix a few things along the way, but don't overdo it!  Have fun with your landscape painting--

Susan Murphy, ARThouse, 5/6/14

Watercolor Demo Class: Landscape "Batchellor's Forest"

For one of the groups that meets in my Watercolor Demonstration Class, I painted a landscape from right next to my house.  We have a country road that runs along our property called Batchellor's Forest Road, and it is the route taken by school buses to the local middle school.  I love to walk along this road and take in the Maryland countryside and some of the beautiful oak trees.  Here is the reference photo, from a misty fall morning:
Again, I made some decisions before starting:
  • that the painting would be loose and not an exact representation of the photo
  • that I would try to capture the misty feeling and light at the end of the road
  • that I would eliminate the very straight tree trunk on the right (it looks like a telephone pole!)
  • that I would add a school bus down the street coming toward us, with its stop sign out and some children waiting to board
  • that I would film the painting process with my webcam 
Step 1.  Working on a half sheet of Arches 140 lb cold press stretched on a Homasote board, I started on dry paper by suggesting some of the light background colors that exist behind the big tree.  I splattered water on the wet paint to encourage backruns and textures to form, and I spattered with some cerulean blue.

Step 2.  After it was dry, I decided to re-wet and add more mist up in the trees in the form of ultramarine violet--I wanted the feeling of light at the end of the street to be stronger by virtue of the contrast.  I also did more spattering while this was wet.

Step 3.  Working from light to dark in this picture, I added an evergreen tree that will be behind the big oak tree.  I tried to make the leaves interesting.  Also I began to add some of the tree branches and trunks on the right.  The way to capture the feeling of mist is to make the objects progressively darker as they come closer to you.  Things in the foreground, such as the large oak tree will be the darkest.

Step 4.  I continued painting lighter trees in the background.  When they were dry I started to paint the large oak.  Each type of tree has its own unique skeleton, and oaks are always very contorted.  Many of the other trees here are beech trees, and they have elegant, straighter limbs that bow gently in the wind.  I hope I am capturing the feeling of mist here, but probably need to accentuate it more.  This painting is not finished yet and this is as far as I have gotten so far.  Sorry!
To finish:  I plan to add a small trunk and limbs to the red tree on the right.  Also I will add that school bus near the middle telephone pole.  I will purposely put it farther down the street and make it not too bright, to add to the feeling of morning mist.  When you add figures or objects to a landscape that are not already there, you need to be very careful to size them correctly for their position in the perspective of the scene.  I hope to add a picture of the finished painting to this article as soon as possible!

Susan Murphy, ARThouse, 5/6/14