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

Watercolor Demo Class: Landscape "Ambleside Walk"

Our second class in my three-part demonstration series was on painting the landscape in watercolor.  What a challenging subject!  I purposely kept the term "landscape" very broad, because it is broad, and encompasses so many possibilities!  For the purposes of teaching, I chose reference photos that represented landscape as we usually think of it: distant vistas, atmospheric perspective, sky, trees, perhaps some man-made structures, and perhaps some hills.  Below is the first reference photo I chose to paint:

This is a scene from Cumbria, England, near the quaint town of Ambleside.  Below is a close-up of the stone wall.  Sheep and mountain goats were present in other photos, as well as hikers.  Lots of great material to work from!  Always take more photos than you think you will need, because they might contain additional useful elements.

I made some decisions before starting:
  • that the painting would be very loose and not a direct copy of the photo
  • that I would use a lot of watercolor textures
  • that I would use sumi-e ink to darken some of the colors as an experiment
  • I would film the demonstration with a web cam attached to the ceiling above the painting (see resulting film on the Susan Murphy Channel onYouTube!)

Step 1.  I started with a wet-in-wet background wash and covered a lot of territory with this!  The paper was 140 lb Arches cold press stretched onto a Homasote board.  I did a minimum of drawing just to establish the line of hills and the stone wall.  Then I wet the entire sheet and started with the sky, using cerulean blue plus sumi-e ink and permanent violet for the cloud colors.  For the land I used perylene green, cobalt blue, quinacridone gold, and brown madder.  I spattered the wet surface with verditer blue and permanent magenta, plus salted it and then let it dry.  OK, I threw everything in the book at it!

Step 2.  Since I was filming the process, I did not take many step-by-step photos.  This next picture shows a lot of steps in one:
  • The distant trees:  I re-wet the distant hills and used thick perylene green to suggest the distant trees and shrubs.
  • The foreground grasses: I began to negatively paint around the stone wall with darker colors including brown madder and perylene green mixed with a little black sumi-e ink.  I used a large wolf-hair sumi-e brush to suggest the grasses because the hairs can be splayed out to make an irregular row of sharp points.  Also I softened the overly-strong texture from the salt a little.

Step 3.  This last picture is as far as I have gotten at this point:
  • Re-wetted the distant ground again and inserted more dark trees.
  • Defined the top edge of the stone wall by painting the rising hill behind it a reddish color.  Also painted some of the shadows of the stone wall.
  • Used sumi-e ink mixed with a little permanet violet to paint the cloud shadows right over the distant land.  Perhaps the one of the right is too dark, but the one of the left works nicely.
  • Last but not least, I used drafting tape and a stencil brush to lift out the sun beams!
"Ambleside Walk" almost there!

The painting is about 80% finished at this point.  I am planning to refine some of the shapes and edges, add a little English village in the valley to the left, and add some hikers crossing over the stone wall and walking down into the valley.  But for now I wanted to get this posting out for my students.

Susan Murphy, ARThouse, 5/6/14