Friday, February 28, 2014

From Photo to Concept to Painting

I thought you might enjoy seeing the story line between my photograph for "Flower Power" and the final painting. It was a long process. I have never done so many versions of a painting but I was just so in love with the idea of the image that I could not stop until I had actually created a painting that satisfied me. I hope it will be encouraging for you. Not necessarily to struggle for weeks! But to hold to your magic and know that you will figure out how to reach your goal.

Do you ever find yourself trying to make a really good copy of your photograph? (It's okay to say "yes"! We've all done it. It's just the natural thing to do). But I'd like to talk about how you might use your photographs simply as a "jumping off point" for a painting.

How to do it? I find that if I have a bit of a fantasy about what I want the painting to look like, or a story to tell, then I can get my imagination going down a path towards an idea that surpasses the photo.
Here's my initial inspiration:

I took this photograph over a year ago. The minute I saw this young woman with her boxing gloves, I knew there was a painting there.

I asked her to pose for me, standing with her arms by her sides, looking straight ahead, and "don't smile!". There was to be no aggressiveness in her stance;

 the appeal to me is in the contradiction between her sweetness and the associations that come with boxing gloves and a punching bag.

It's taken 14 months for me to finally do the painting that I dreamed of because even thought I was so excited about what I wanted this painting to say,  I wasn't clear about what method I could use to make it happen.

      My first attempt was merely a poor copy of the photograph with none of the magic that I longed for.
I didn't finish it because it became painfully obvious that it was not going to work.  I spent three days on this 22 x 30" "study". I had even hired another young woman to come and pose for me so that I could draw the legs and feet correctly as my photograph did not provide enough information.

By now I realized that I had lost my concept in the first try.
    My second attempt.
 I made major changes in my approach.

My passion for this painting was the contradiction between the vulnerability of a seventeen year old and her innocent confidence in her ability to face the world.  
I decided that I would use hot press paper instead of cold press as I had the first time and fluid acrylics rather than "regular" watercolors.

I masked out each of the flowers, and painted the background all around the figure.
After completing the figure, I painted each flower.

My last step was to paint black watercolor at the top of the painting and drag it down over the entire painting. Because everything else was painted with fluid acrylics and was permanent, it did not lift when I pulled the black pigment over it.

I'll be back tomorrow with the last chapter of the birth of this painting. I am so happy that it came to a good ending!


Monday, February 24, 2014

Love Painting BIG watercolors!

                                                                    "Flower Power"
                                                                         30 x 35"

 I'm sure that you can tell that there is a "story" behind this painting of a young woman with boxing gloves in a green world of falling flowers.
 I love the development of a painting from a fleeting idea to a full-fledged image.

This painting is being done on hot press paper; it's wonderful for creating puddles of color, texture and a watery look in all of those spring greens surrounding the figure. I masked out each of the flowers that are falling all around her, and then painted the background with lots of different greens. Since it is only 140# paper, all of that pigment and water caused lots of ripples and valleys in the paper. Rather than being a problem, it really was a big help in creating the mottled surface of the background. 

I'm really "hooked on" big paintings now! However, it does have its risks. As an example, see this photo below. Imagine putting a 35 x 42" painting in the bathtub!

Actually, it worked. I think I can now paint the bay and islands again. This photo is upside down. The blue is the sky (about 7 blues).  If it turns out, I'll post it so you can see why it was worth going to all this trouble to try to rescue it! The sky was the subject and despite all of my planning, the colors of the islands just did not work for me, and so thus the trip to the bathtub.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sea, Sun and Sand - A Limited Palette

Does the term "limited palette" leave you confused and wondering what it REALLY means? It seems obvious, doesn't it.......a painting with just a few colors. Until you start to plan the colors for your painting and then you end up holding your head and wishing for the "painting fairy" to arrive with some answers!
The painting that I finished today was inspired by the unusual colors that turned up in my photograph. There were actually just two colors: a very unusual "pea green" and violet.
I have listed the colors that I chose that would fit into a limited palette with those two pigments in the next paragraph.

First, let's look at the "green". It is so unusual that I knew I wouldn't be able to mix it.  I remembered that when I made the 3" color charts of all 279 tubes of Daniel Smith watercolors, that there was a green that might just be right.  I pulled out my color charts. Sure enough! There is one called Duochome Pearl Green that was very close to the color I wanted to use for the light struck areas of the beach. Here's where you find it:

                                                         "Sea, Sun and Sand "
                                                              22 x 30" image

My two major pigments were Daniel Smith Duochrome Green Pearl  and  Dioxazine Violet
The other pigments that I used were:
Greens:   Viridian Green, Sap Green, Cobalt Teal
In the Violet "Category" - meaning that they are all on the "RED" side of the color wheel, and near each other:  Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Cadmium Red Light.

And one other pigment: Holbein Verditer Blue. You can find it here:

I used this opaque blue with a touch of cadmium red light to mix a neutral mauve for the shadows of the rocks. I wanted to keep the rocks back in the distance.

And so, I actually used 8 tubes of pigment. But the overall color dominance is violet with green as the secondary color.

For this painting I used a full sheet of Arches 300# cold press paper.
First I mixed up large puddles of the green and violet, making sure I had more than I thought I would need.

I wet the entire sand area with a large hake brush. i made sure the entire surface of the paper was really wet and then I brushed vertically and horizontally with the brush to remove the excess water. This resulted in the 300# paper being thoroughly damp all the way through.

I loaded my 3" Golden Fleece brush and painted the shapes of the Green Pearl pigment on the sand first.  Then I put down the violet shapes, letting the edges of my strokes meet the green shapes so that they merged. I wanted the effect to be  changing areas of wet sand, with natural looking edges.
The violet was a little too intense for my liking and so as soon as I put it down, I quickly added a light wash of viridian green - right over the wet violet wash. I did not lose the violet color, but the green neutralized the violet a little so that it was not as "bright" and was more pleasing to my eye.
While the sand was still wet, I reenforced the values of the green and violet by "wet glazing" a few wide strokes of pigment on some part of the original washes. I really needed the sand to be the correct color and value as I wanted to add the dark shapes of seaweed while the paper was still damp and so there would be no going back in again once I had added those shapes.

By painting the seaweed and debris with a brush loaded with thicker pigment (less water) applied to damp paper, the forms "sit into" the paper and look natural. If they are painted onto dry paper, they can have a "pasted on" look which isn't appealing to me.

If your paper dries too quickly and you have missed the moment for the wet on wet application, let it dry completely, and then dampen the paper again and start anew.
I think it's important to add little dark marks of the beach debris in patterns that look spontaneous and "natural" (I've used that word three times, quite deliberately as I feel it's most descriptive of the effect that I want in this painting).

I've also included some violet and orange in the seaweed. The pigments were allowed to mix on the paper so that when you look closely, you can see the different colors sitting beside each other. This gives a lively surface even thought the overall shape reads as a greenish-brown.

The figures are quite small, and yet they become the subject of this painting. They also provide "scale", giving the viewer a sense of the distance from the foreground to the far-away rocks.

 There is no definition of features, just shapes of color so that the figures would stay in the background.
 I'm excited to tell you that I've been invited to teach a watercolor workshop in Spain in September 2015.
For information, please visit the website and scroll down to the bottom to the September dates.

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 If you have a question, please send me a comment. I'll be sure to respond.

 'Til next time, happy painting!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Final Brush Stroke on "Painting A Beach on A Snowy Maine Day"

Believe it or not, it is snowing again! It was a perfect day to be in the studio (I am saying that a lot lately!)

I must say, completing this painting has been quite an interesting experience. I am not sure if I'm going to use any more of that un-sized paper!

 When I left you last time, I had painted everything except the figure that I had "masked" so that I could freely pour paint for the sky and sand.
When I took the mask off the figure, there was absolutely no "tooth" 

left on the paper. It was just like a blotter. I painted the area of the figure with Daniel Smith "Watercolor Ground"
and left it to dry for 24 hours. This ground provides a new watercolor paper surface to paint on. 

I poured a wash of cobalt blue at the top of the sky, letting it merge into the first wash of manganese blue.

The sand required several applications of spatters to built up textures. I used all of the same colors that I had used for the sand, as well as some naples yellow and chinese white. 

Artist at the Beach 
36 x 42" image

The figure required several applications of paint. Perhaps I could have applied a heavier coat of "ground". I found that a stroke of teal blue on the shirt folds would literally disappear once it dried. So over the past four days, I have re-painted the entire figure until I was satisfied with the changes of values and temperature.
I did put in three sea gulls; I like the bit of movement that they add to the painting. I kept them very close in value to the sand or sky so that they did not draw attention.

You can see that I have used a limited palette in this painting. I use the blues in the sky, water and clothing to unify the painting. You can't really see in this photograph but I've used the complementary colors to enliven the painting. i.e. 
orange marks on the skin, spatters on the sand, and the clothing of the figure out in the water.
Little spots of Chinese white also add sparkle.
The two little figures provide scale and a sense of distance.
I did not use the literal value of the easel and palette. They have very dark edges and accents, and in this mid-valued painting, those darks would jump out too much. So I've made them a mid tone with just small color marks to define the shapes.

On a value scale of 1 - 10 with white being 1 and black being 10, this painting is a good example of  a painting with a range of values that goes from one to about seven. There are just a few dark accents (on the hair and easel).
The atmosphere of the air at the beach bathes everything in a slightly translucent light without sharp shadows. This is also due to the time of day; it was late morning.

The iridescent pigments are fun to use; this is the first time that I thought I had a subject that was appropriate. I think they work well for the texture of the beach.

The pigments that I used were Iridescent Sandstone, Scarab Red, Goldstone, Ruby, Sapphire and Duochrome Mauve.
You can see the blue that was spattered on the sand. Again, this was done to help unify the image. I like a limited palette, and carrying colors throughout the painting is very effective.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Painting the Beach on a Snowy Maine Day

I had such a great time today! It snowed all day so even my Pilates class was cancelled and I had the entire day in the studio. I have a box of 36 x 42" paper and I thought I'd try it. It has no sizing that I can tell, and so although it's quite thick, I know I'll have to put the paint down and leave it alone. It's also going to stain right away, and hard lines are going to be permanent. (I confess  I did wonder why I was going to invest so much time when I wasn't sure if the paper would even be workable)

But I have been wanting to try it, and just in case it doesn't work, I also put a smooth layer of gesso on another of those big pieces so it's ready for me for another painting.I've been thinking about a composition from a photo taken of me painting on Popham Beach here in Maine. It's a beautiful curved beach that goes on forever. I mixed up manganese blue in a plastic cup and after wetting the paper, I poured the whole thing on the sky area and let it settle gradually into the paper. It actually worked quite well - I really wasn't sure how the paper would take the paint or how much would just be absorbed into the paper.

                                                       First Step - 36 x 42" image

I masked the figure and easel to make it easier to pour paint on the sky (manganese blue) and sand. I also masked some white areas for waves in the background.
The paper was so absorbent that I had to work really fast to build up enough value in the first washes.

I had an inspiration for the colors of the beach! I looked at my color charts of the Daniel Smith irridescent pigments that I had won in the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, (just have to use this photo one more time!) and selected five warm and one cool pigment that seemed appropriate for sand and shadows. (I've listed the pigments that I used below).

Then after mixing up all those puddles of pigment, I dropped "sand" colors and shadows on the beach shape while it was still wet. As the paper began to dry, I added some Holbein Verditer Blue for shadows on the sand and spritzed the edges gently so they would "sit" into the paper. I also wanted to  use the blue to unify the painting - the clothing will be various shades of aqua and blue and the blue of the sky and water will help to knit the different shapes together.

                    Detail of water and sand with two small figures masked out.

I always try to let the watercolor work its magic if at all possible, and in this case the "bleeding" that you see where the sand meets the water was a welcome gift. It makes a very interesting edge.
You can also see that I have used three different  blues to add variety, including some of the manganese that is in the sky.

Detail of sand texture

The iridescent pigments are fun to use; this is the first time that I thought I had a subject that was appropriate. I'll be observing how they look as the painting progresses.

The pigments that I used were Iridescent Sandstone, Scarab Red, Goldstone, Ruby, Sapphire and Duochrome Mauve.
You can see the blue that was spattered on the sand. Again, this was done to help unify the image. I like a limited palette and carrying colors throughout the painting is very effective.

I've just taken the mask off the figure and easel. I am not surprised to find that any slight "sizing" that was in the paper is totally gone from that area.
SO - I think I will put on some Daniel Smith "Watercolor Ground" in order to get a surface that I can paint on so that I can complete the figure.
I have to let it dry for today, and so I'll let you know what happens next time.
I also think I may invite some seagulls into this painting. They are always there, just waiting to swipe away someone's lunch so it would be quite okay to let them stay in the painting!

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