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

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