Monday, July 30, 2012

Making Changes On Traditional Watercolor Paper

One of the things that make watercolor such a challenging medium is that it is difficult to make corrections. Unlike oils and gouache (opaque watercolors) you can’t change your mind by painting over passages. Watercolor is transparent so you can’t cover up what’s underneath.  It is difficult to make changes but not impossible and not as hard as I was led to believe.

Many watercolorists will talk about how you need to be so decisive that whatever you do has to work the first time you set paint to paper or that a watercolor has to be built up slow using pale washes of watercolor. When you look into the methods of past masters of the medium you get the feeling they were not afraid to make corrections and were a lot more aggressive at painting their images. Sargent used opaque paints so did a number of other artists. A description of Turner painting a watercolor shows how he attacked the paper…“he began by pouring wet paint on the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos - but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia, came into being and by lunch time the drawing was talked about in triumph.” Turner was also said to have dunked the painting in a bucket of water and grew a long finger nail to scratch out paint.

The first thing about making changes is that it works best on heavy paper- the heavier the better, 140 lb. watercolor paper is good 300 lb. is ideal. Using water you can loosen paint and lift out using a stiff brush, like the bristle brushes used for oil paint, and blotter paper or a paper towel. I learned that from Irwin Greenberg. Watercolorist Mary Whyte uses the same method and I also learned from her to use an old toothbrush to scrub water and wipe out with a paper towel. Some colors stain the paper so that you may not be able to get back to the white of the paper but that never bothered me since light and dark is relative to the values around an area or an object. If you need to get back to the white I read that Stephen Scott Young scrapes out areas with a razor and paints over the area using casein white to get back to the white of the paper. He then lets the area dry completely and then using a light sand paper sands it down a little and paints over the white area.
 At right and left is a detail of the painting above. I scrubbed out parts of the left arm using a toothbrush.I felt that the arm was to big and to low. Latter I decided to scrub out the hand as well (see bellow left). There were other areas I applied this same method too. I made changes in the guitar more than once. 

When scrubbing out areas you still have to be careful about damaging the paper. The paper I used here was Arches  140 lb cold pressed watercolor paper.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adding To The List Of Artist I Admire

Add new painters to your list of favorites all the time. (Irwin Greenberg)
John Singer Sargent

I have a long list of artists that I really like. Sargent, Sorolla, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Homer, Eakins, Gerome, Meissonier, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Wyeth, Duveneck, Chase, Etc. The list goes on. There are illustrators on that list too. N.C. Wyeth, Leyendecker. Dorne , Cornwell, Rockwell, Pyle, Abbey, Etc. That list goes on too.

Irwin Greenberg

David Levine
Irwin (Greeny) Greenberg,
quote above, comes from a generation that had little tolerance for the realist tradition. There were a number of artist around that time who struggled to hold on to that tradition while the art world was going another way. There is a documentary film called ‘TheView From Here’ about a group of artist who were of that generation. Greeny introduced his class to those artist showing us reproductions of their work, books that they’ve written and a visit to a gallery. Those artist included Burt Silverman, Harvey Dinnerstein, David Levine and Aaron Schickler
Burt Silverman
Harvey Dinnerstein

Among the newer artists that I’ve learned about and learned from recently are Dean Mitchell, Mary Whyte, Mario Robinson, Stephen Scott Young and Guan Weixing. Although there are many more artist whose work I admire I mention these because they all work in watercolor, a medium I have decided to focus on.  
Dean Mitchell

Mary Whyte

Mario Robinson
One of the things I enjoy about looking at portraits, ones that are done really well, is that a feeling of a living, breathing flesh and blood human being, a sense of the person’s character gets communicated. I see that in Rembrandt's especially. A sense of someone’s character lives on in the artist’s vision and he is able to communicate that across time and cultures. That is what enjoy about the work of these five artists as well. Besides all the technical things they do so well, which I enjoy too, their work speaks to me and I encounter another human being in their paintings.
Guan Weixing

Stephen Scott Young

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Giambatista Tiepolo

In my High School art class the instructor showed how Tiepolo, made simple value drawings as studies for his beautifully colored paintings. The values were considered first before the color. He kept the drawing simple by using one color for the middle value, one for the dark and the white of the paper for the lightest value, that's all he information needed to make a drawing. Although I am using more color I think of those drawings and try to limit my values so that the painting would read better.

These samples on the left are two Drawings by Giambattista Tiepolo, (there was actually a family of Tiepolos who were artists. The father, Giambatista trained two of his sons to assist him in painting frescoes and large canvases. Domenico Tiepolo became well known in his own right). The color is of course one of his paintings.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why I Dont Use Color Recipes

 A while back I posted a watercolor I had done of a trees along a parkway. After viewing it someone had asked me what were my color recipe's for green. At the time I didn't know what was meant by "color recipe's". I do now and I don't use color recipe's. When I look at something, It may be a tree I'm painting, I look at a color (maybe the green of the leaves) and I ask myself is it warm or cool, light or dark. If the green is on the warmer side I might mix in some burnt umber or burnt sienna or red or maybe yellow ochre. If its cool I might mix in some blue, but it is a response based on what I see and not some formula /recipe that is decided on before hand.

Page from a sketchbook
Of course after painting for sometime you are going to have a feeling for color and some idea of whats going to work when you mix it on the palette, but that comes through observation and experience. The thing is that while its good to keep a mental record of what has worked in the past it is more important to keep your eyes and mind open to the what may be a new learning opportunity in front of you, and that's where the fun of painting from life comes in.