Thursday, July 28, 2016

Heroic Weed

The next assignment in my July watercolor class is to work on something heroic.

Not "heroice" as in Ripley versus the alien, or Batman versus the Joker, or Ellen Degeneres bringing love and laughter to the planet, but "heroic" as in a small thing painted way larger than life.

I chose this weed, which popped up in my garden last week, and which I was about to pull, but didn't, because I loved its amazing magenta and orange color.  It seemed the perfect subject.

The flower itself was about the size of a U.S. quarter.  I painted it on 18x 24 paper.

This was a challenge!  My goodness, flower details are hard.  I have always admired botanical art, though I've never wanted to do it, and now I know why.

I am very pleased with the shape modeling I got in the white petals.  And, as weird as they look, the inner parts of the flower are pretty close!. 

I had a great deal of fun letting the watercolor flow more loosely in the background.  That flow was a nice contrast to the controlled work I did with the flower and the leaf.  I used the natural flow and uncontrolled patterns in the watery background to pick out other elements of the composition, which I didn't have planned.

After I peeled the masking tape, I set the piece on my mantel for a few days to live with it.  

What might I have done differently, I asked myself, to make it more pleasing?

I went back out to the garden and did snap a photo or two of the bloom, in case I want to try to paint it again later.  That magenta center, those orange and green bits (I should learn my flower parts' scientific names again--I knew them in elementary school)... what a keen looking flower.

Glad I looked closely at that "weed" before I pulled it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Watery Portrait of Nikolaas

Hard at work in my July-long watercolor class.

My three goals for this class:
  1. Go Big
  2. Don't lose my sketchbook style
  3. Let the watercolor do more of the work for me

I've been looking at the books by Jean Haines for some guidance on how I might let the watercolor do more work for me.  I highly recommend her World of Watercolor, and other books, for looking at amazing use of color and letting the water do its thing.

Of course, she makes it look much easier than I found it to be.

Still, I gave it a whirl, working with my dog, Nikolaas, a Dutch Shepherd.

When I started I chose only a few colors, none realistic.  I started with the outline of the ears and then placed the eye and the nose. Then I worked with a whole lot of water and the colors I had chose, to shape his head and try to catch some of the modeling of the light on his head.

I intended to only do one eye; I wanted the other half of his face to fade into shadow.

I think, perhaps because of the quality of the paper I worked on (decent, but not great), I had a lot of trouble getting the water to simply flow.  I just wouldn't.  It soaked in too fast, and so the colors didn't move and mingle as I'd hoped they would.  

So, I am definitely going to try this approach again.  When I do, I'm going to start with the eye and probably the nose, then try to flow out from there.  I'm also going to do it on Arches cold press, which I think will flow better.

I don't think I'd hang this on the wall, or anything, but I am so pleased with the experiment and the results!  I love the use of the unrealistic colors, which do capture him some.  I'm pleased with the eye and the nose and the depiction of light.  I'm also pleased with the contour--yes, his ears are really that big! 

Fun experiment.  I learned a lot and can't wait to try it again.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Here Be Dragon(fruit)s!

In my quest for interesting fruits or vegetables to paint, I searched the vast expanse of the local grocer's produce section for something interesting.  I think it might be the first time I've ever stood and looked at produce without thinking at all about what I might like to eat or serve, but simply to consider it all in terms of what I might like to paint.

No surprise, really, but looking with a painter's eye sure makes you see things differently!

Anyhow, the minute I spotted the dragonfruit, I snagged one.

I have eaten these before and enjoyed them.  But I've never painted one.  So I looked forward to this.

And it seemed it would work as a subject for my three goals for my watercolor course:
  1. Go Big
  2. Don't lose my sketchbook style
  3. Let the watercolor do more of the work for me

I planned to capture this fist-sized fruit on an 18 x 24 piece of Strathmore 400 watercolor paper.

It took hours.  Mostly because, in order to capture that deep deep glowing, almost pulsating red, I had to paint about 7 layers of various red glazes on all that paper, then wait for it to dry!   My goodness, it takes a lot of patience to paint in watercolor!  Clearly, if I'm going to pursue this, I need to figure out the second hobby that I can pursue in the periods between layers of a watercolor painting!  Or have three or four paintings going at once...  advice welcome if any of you have have experience with this sort of thing.

Anyhow, here is a look at my class workspace, and the dragonfruit portrait in progress.

During this process I realized that working out of my little palette would not cut it for these larger paintings.  Starting tomorrow, I'll be bringing my tubes and something to mix in.  I completely emptied my red wells in my work today.

Below is the final dragonfruit portrait.  

About those drips.  Cool huh?  Kind of takes the portrait and makes it meta.  Is it a dragonfruit?  Or a painting of a dragonfruit?  I love the way they change the entire composition.  I think they add a liveliness to the painting that it didn't have with just the fruit.

Should I claim I planned that?  Or should I admit that the first giant drip occurred when I went to the bathroom, so I couldn't even begin to catch it in progress and clean it up?   I could claim the truth, which is after I wailed (but only for about 10 seconds), I realized, hey, that looks kind of good.  I should add a few more drips...

I celebrated that I didn't let the drips derail me.  And that I actually used them to get something much cooler than anything I could have thought of on my own.  

I think that might be part of my learning to "let the watercolor work for me."  I have to let the water have more freedom on the paper.  Sometimes that means I'll ruin a piece, because I'm still learning what I'm doing.  But sometimes it means I learn something I never would have thought of on my own.

I will have to try to remember this the next time I ruin a piece.  It all balances out.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

This Beet's It All

I did a lot of sketching in my watercolor class today, including my first attempts at working on 18 x 24 paper.

I felt intimidated.  So much space.

My teacher, a compassionate man, told me that maybe I would feel more comfortable stepping up.  Using a 9 x 12 sketchbook (one of my largest), but doing something "heroic"--like one vegetable (or fruit), larger than life.

Ok.  I finished class with one golden beet, large.  And an experiment in black gouache (which I've never tried before).

I am pleased with this piece, especially in terms of my three goals for this class:
  1. Go Big
  2. Don't lose my sketchbook style
  3. Let the watercolor do more of the work for me

Check (sort of), check, and check!

I started by painting the negative space around the beet with thick black gouache.  I wanted it to be opaque and matte and unvaried in tone.  I thought a lot about the composition before I started, and chose to leave the greens mostly out of it.  I liked the basic diagonal direction of the object, with the large circle in the lower left.

When I got to the beet itself, I used layer after layer of color to build form and (I hoped) a sense of the glowing color of the golden beet.  Juxtaposing these transparent colors to the opaque matte black helped them stand out and glow just a bit more!   I am pleased that this seems to catch the lumpy odd shape of this particular veggie.

You know, I don't really like to eat beets, so I never buy them.  As a result, I've never really looked at one.  Have you?  Because dang, they are gorgeous.  I kind of feel like I could paint purple and golden beets many many times before I'd get tired of the colors in the root, not to mention the amazing greens.

I'm inspired to go to the grocery before my next class and grab something else I never eat that would be fun to draw....  so I'm off to troll the fruits and vegetables, looking not for something good to eat, but for something good to paint!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Big Beet--The Going Big Project Part 1

First up in my July watercolor studio class:  fruits and vegetables.  Our choice.

Farmers' Market is going great guns here in Michigan right now, so I trolled all the available goodies and decided on some beets of various colors.  I liked the roots, the greens, the deep colors.

I go into this painting class knowing that I have trouble getting deep colors, with the level of contrast that I like.  So these seemed like a good subject.

I reminded myself of my three goals:
  1. Go Big
  2. Don't lose my sketchbook style
  3. Let the watercolor do more of the work for me
First thing, to warm up, I sketched a golden beet in my sketchbook.  I'm working in a Strathmore mixed media 500 book right now.

I'm pleased with how this sketch turned out, with a sense of the roundness of the root and the layers of the various leaves coming off of it. 

I also discovered the Daniel Smith quinacridone gold is one of my new favorite colors!  You see it here throughout, but most clearly in the top of the beet.

Next, for fun, I tried the same beet again, on a super rough watercolor paper from India.

Exact same colors and brushes.  Very interesting how the color settles in the pockets of the paper and creates a more mottled effect.  Plus, scanning the paper throws all kinds of weird shadows (that's why it looks gray speckled in the scan above).  

Finally, I felt warmed up enough to tackled the beets!  ALL THE BEETS!!!  PLUS GREENS!!!!


So here is my Go Big version of the beets, on 18 x 24 Strathmore 400 watercolor paper.

And for fun, here's a final shot of the beets and all three of my versions, done in about three hours.

I moved pretty fast, as you can imagine, to get these done (along with chatting and drinking coffee with my colleagues) in three hours.

I think, however, that's part of my sketchbook style.  I like to move quickly most of the time.  Sometimes, yeah, I like to sit and really draw something measured and detailed.  But most of the time, I'm more interested in fast lines, with some level of accuracy, that capture and convey what I'm noticing.

And hey!  Look, ma!  No pen!  No pencil either, actually.  I went right onto the paper in all three of these directly with paint on my brush.  I'm not sure if I'm letting the watercolor do more of the work for me, yet.  I think it's more like now I'm drawing with paint instead of pen.  But I did remember to allow the washes to bleed and blend, particularly on the beets themselves.

Super fun.  Looking forward to drawing more beets soon.  And maybe some other fruits and vegetables!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Going Big with Watercolor

Making the transition from small and private to so big it really can't be private can be a scary thing.

A friend suggested I sit in on a watercolor studio class, and having gone once and talked to the artist in charge, I'm going back during the month of July.  Three hours a day, Monday through Friday for four weeks.

He generously looked through several of my sketchbooks and said many lovely things.  Then told me he wanted me to work on three things in particular:

1.  Going big.  Bigger than any of my sketchbooks, for sure, but better, at least 18 x 24.

2.  Not losing my sketchbook style when I go big.  Whatever that means...

3.  "Letting the watercolor do more of the work for you."  Whatever that means....

But that's why I'm going to take the studio!  To learn!

So, I went home, dug out an 18 x 24 Strathmore 400 watercolor paper pad, and worked on a painting.  I wanted to keep my sketchbook style (or try) so I started off the bat with my trusty fountain pen.  Then I went in with the watercolors.  Many many many layers of watercolors, to get the values the way I wanted them.

This took me about five hours.  

I worked from a photo I took when I visited Ireland some years ago.

That was particularly fun because I've dedicated my scribbling to live subjects for the last two plus years, so I haven't worked from the many many wonderful photographs I have from travels and even from around my home.  I feel like there is a treasure trove there waiting to be used.

I'm pretty pleased with it, especially as a first shot at creating something that big.  I can see that the work I've done is really paying off.

So, for the next few weeks, prepare to journey with me in the "Going Big" painting project.  Not sure what's in store... but it will be big.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On the Highest Edge

I work in a lovely old building that used to be a chemistry building (many decades ago) and now houses humanities types of things.

Like many of the buildings on Holland, Michigan, the architecture models a traditional Dutch style.   Built from a lovely red-orange brick, this particular building has lovely off white scroll work along the uppermost edges.

One day last spring, as school neared its end, on perhaps the first "warm enough to sit outside and draw" day, I did just that:  I sat outside and drew.

I went out there thinking I'd scribble the whole building, but instead, I really sat and looked at the scrollwork on the top edge.  And I drew that.

What a lovely thing to do on a spring day!  As I sat and really studied the proportions and design of this building that I've seen many times a week for the last 30 years, I appreciated things I'd never noticed before.  Like the way the big blocks occurring on the sides and under the eaves are also off-white.  How they highlight the white between the bricks, and contrast the red-orange, making it seem even brighter.  How the whole thing glows under a brilliant clear blue spring sky.

Look at all the color references I made there.  Yet the sketch is in black and white!  Funny, huh?  Looking at the sketch takes me straight back to those moments of intense observation, and I remember many things that aren't even in the actual sketch.

Now that I'm writing about it, in fact, I remember that a student came up to say hi and look at my sketch.  Then, instead of heading on, he introduced me to the friend who was with him, and then they hung out with me in the sun, talking about classes while I scribbled away on the bricks.

Sketching makes amazing things happen in your head, and your heart.  And in the world around you as well.

What sort of detail can you notice today on a building you enter and exit many times a week?  Try to capture it in a new scribble!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Losing A Beech Tree to the Beach

For the last few years, I have met friends at a cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan.  We chat.  We sketch.

Often, we sketch the old beech tree that borders their yard, where the flat ground ends and the dune leads down to the lake.

Here is a sketch of that tree from 2014.

This spring, as the result of high water, sand movement, and other climate change, this beech, which has stood for over 100 years, fell into the water.  Very sad.

So today, I painted it again.

Still pretty, but a bummer, huh?

On a more fun note:  the friend I paint with did the same tree, and we snapped this lovely shot of our two interpretations (neither quite done when we took the photo).

Scribbling with other folks, especially when you are sketching the same subject, reveals so much about each person's style and how he or she sees the world.  No matter the extent of someone's drawing skills, you get to glimpse how that person sees, what that person sees, and how it differs from what you see.

Wonderful reminder, especially at times like this election year.  What I see is not what everyone else sees.

Worth it to take the time to understand what others see in the world around them.