Friday, March 26, 2010

Painting on watercolor canvas

Painting on "watercolor canvas"

I have always wanted to try that "watercolor canvas" sold by Fredrix, because I thought it might produce some interesting surface characteristics, especially a nice "woven" look. Painting watercolor on canvas didn't make much sense to me, I admit, but I am always looking for unusual textures. So I bought a bunch and had my classes experiment with it. It cost about $5.00 for a 12x16 inch piece, and comes with a nice brochure explaining its use.

At the same time, I have been painting a lot of portraits lately, and have always wanted to paint from old-fashioned photographs of ancestors, etc. One nice thing about watercolor canvas is that the paint wipes off with water extremely easily, so it lends itself to my favorite technique of putting the paint on and then taking it off! That is, selectively removing the paint to get the light areas of the picture without laboriously having to paint around them or mask them out. I like to use this technique for portraits and have been doing a series of paintings in this style.

So we all brought in old black & white or sepia-toned pictures and had fun selecting. We discussed the importance of painting from your own photographs first, though. In this case, we did not take the photos, but it seems like they should be fair game because after all, they are pictures of our own family members and we should have a right to paint them. I am referring to the dilemma of borrowing subject matter that has been gathered by others before us. This is a tricky subject in the art world. Generally, you would not be able to submit a painting based upon someone else's photo to a juried show, where the premise is that the artwork is completely your own, from start to finish.

There is a large "gray area" here though, in my opinion. Of course, for your own painting, you can paint anything you like. For the sake of your integrity, though, you shouldn't try to pass it off as your own if it is based on someone else's photo. It is not just a matter of copyright, but of the fact that a lot of creative effort goes into choosing the subject matter and circumstances of shooting that photo, and you had little to do with that creative effort except in choosing the photo as a reference for your painting. What about cases where you incorporate just a little bit of someone else's material, or abstract it a lot? A rule of thumb is that if a non-artist should look at your painting next to the source material and be able to say that "this is a copy of that", then it is too close. All artwork is derivative to some extent. We are all influenced by other work and subjects we see, but our work must not be so derivative that it is obviously a copy.

That being said, however, I chose to paint a picture of Charles Dickens as a demonstration of painting a portrait on watercolor canvas. I would not submit this painting to a juried show. But I think the image, which I obtained from the web, is fair game for a painting. The image is about 150 years old and Charles Dickens died in 1870. Why can't I paint him? What do you think?

The other painting is of my great-great-grandmother, Lydia Hurlbut Loveland. How do you like that name? She was married in 1850 to Robert Packer Brodhead, I believe, and they lived in Kingston, NY. The painting on the wall in the picture is one of my paintings of my son Paul. So it is my great-great-grandmother sitting in front of a painting done by her great-great-granddaughter of her great-great-great-grandson! How's that for time travel?

The paintings were both started with a wash of burnt umber, and then paint was both removed and applied after that. It is a fun process and the surface is highly re-workable, similar to an oil painting. I think I really like this watercolor canvas! Let me know what you think...


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Painting watercolor on gessoed board

I am teaching a course in my studio, ARThouse, this spring about painting in watercolor on different surfaces, other than the usual Arches 140 lb cold-press that so many watercolorists rely on. Last time we painted on gessoed illustration board, something I hadn't done in a while, and the results were very interesting. If you've never tried this, you really should! Above are some of the demonstration paintings I did for the classes.

On this surface, you end up seeing the brushstrokes made when applying the gesso. It has an interesting effect--almost like an oil painting that is actually a watercolor. But it depends on how you apply the gesso. Here is how I did it:

I took a sheet of 4-ply Strathmore 500 illustration board (acid-free) and cut it up into the desired size (the mug is on a 6x6 inch sheet, while the painting "Beach Boys" is on a 12x19" sheet. Then I taped the edges with 1" drafting tape to get a clean edge at the end. I then applied acrylic gesso with a 1" flat brush, using about 1 Tbsp for every 6 sq inches of board. I applied it evenly and then created interesting brush marks in the wet gesso, similar to one of those old-fashioned plastered ceilings. I let this dry for several hours.

When you paint on this surface, it is kind of weird. The watercolor beads up at first and just lies on the top. The great thing is that it is almost completely removable when dry. So this surface is extremely "re-workable". My painting style relies a lot on selective removal or paint, so I love this attribute. Try it--you'll like it!