168. Daffodils

Today was just too nice of a day to stay home, so I headed out to the local botanical garden, cameras in hand, pen, and paper.  Bulbs are up and beginning to blossom; the ones in the shade are getting there – more for later visits!  Birds, butterflies, bees, cool breezes.

Since I have been playing around with the exercises in Alphonso Dunn’s fine book today, I decided to continue the adventure and draw some daffodils with pen and ink, but follow through using watercolor pencil.

I laid down the major lines in pencil, and followed through with a fine pointed Namiki pen with waterproof ink.

Next, direct application of Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils.

And finally, using a water brush, I wet the colors, taking time to use a light touch.  A few lines of extra ink, and it was done.  Below is a gallery if you wish to cruise through the sequence from pen, pencil, and water.

167. Lines

Every now and then an outstanding artist and instructor shows up on the scene.  When they write books that are accessible and practical, it’s even better.  Alphonso Dunn is one such person!  He has a personal website, a YouTube channel full of information and wonderful tutorials, and two fantastic books.

The workbook was published after the simple guide, but is used in tandem with the exercises found in the workbook.  Besides using the two together, head over to YouTube for a really great set of instructions.

Today, rather than paint, I finally sat down and did some exercises from Dunn’s books.  The exercises were on lines – direction, shape, shift.  It takes a bit of patience and time to understand what may be going on.  I had to think about how I had my pad of paper, how far up or down my fingers were on the pen, whether to use my fingers, my wrist, or more of an arm movement.  In many ways, doing these exercises made me think of learning printing and cursive back when I was a sweet young thing.  Lines, repetition, thinking about how to do things, and doing them over and over.

Skill is bought with repetition – but repetition of itself is rather dull.  Rewards sure help!  Thus, a few drawings – one of a hat from Dunn’s book, and one of a Christmas cactus on my patio.  In each, I used straight lines, or slightly curved ones.  I thought about light and dark, repetition and straight or curved lines, or placing more lines over ones already laid down.  

To aid with the line studies, I ruled pencil lines onto my sketch paper.  It helped.  Sometimes I also drew vertical lines, or extra horizontal lines, either in pencil or pen.

Nothing like a pen in hand to make me happy!  Altogether a pleasant way to while away an afternoon.  I shall continue!

166. Misty River

More wet-in-wet work.  This time, I paid a bit more attention to the details along with the wet paper and paint.  I laid down washes, waited for them to dry, and then laid down wash upon wash.  At times I lifted color out while still wet, too.  It’s hard to describe what I did, but overall I was more deliberate in my approach to this painting, taking time rather than letting my impatient personality dominate.  The result is a more successful painting.

Colors include burnt sienna, Hooker’s green, ultramarine blue, quinacridone gold, and perhaps a touch of sap green and cobalt blue.  Limited palettes really help pull a painting together, as well as help you learn what colors, when mixed, produce what new color.

Brushes included a huge round for the main washes, and then a medium / small round, and a rigger brush for the grasses.  I got the rigger as a Christmas present, and this is the first time I used it.  I practiced on scrap paper, and can see why a lot of people like them!  This one is a bit stiff and has a lot of snap to it.

165. The Palm Tree, Nassau – Study from a Painting by Winslow Homer

A couple of things here.  First, I think that Winslow Homer is an amazing painter, especially in watercolor.  Second, I think that copying the work of a master forces one to study what is in front of you – how was this done?  what technique?

As Homer is a master of skies and atmosphere, I spent some time the other morning looking at different paintings he did.  Especially delightful are his paintings done while in the Caribbean, spending time in the Bahamas and other islands.  Homer’s skies are vast and expressive, subtle and strong.  I decided that his painting, The Palm Tree, Nassau, would be a perfect study.  What was most interesting was seeing how differently the same picture looks on different sites – some make it very murky, others make it very colorful.  Below is Homer’s painting:

The Palm Tree, Nassau (by Winslow Homer)

I printed out a copy of this painting on my not-too-high-end color printer.  In the end, I referred to it more for composition rather than colors or detail.  This image shows the sky with blues in it, but other images on the web gave the sky reddish and yellowish undertones.  In the end, I just did what I wanted.

The water could have been more turquoise, as is the water in the Caribbean; the foreground in Homer’s painting is some weird vegetation that I couldn’t figure out, but think it is typical for the scrub of the islands.  If you look at Homer’s painting, there is a reddish blob by the lighthouse – what is it?  Looking closely, you can see it is a flag.  For me, it was a big distraction, so I left it out.  Also, Homer’s rendition of the lighthouse is very simple – I decided to give it a bit more detail.

Copying this painting was a lot of fun.  The sea was rather meh, but Homer’s is not especially spectacular.  His palm trees, though, are divine.  Since I live where there are palms, I really liked the idea of actually attempting to paint a tree – or trees – that are rather intimidating.  Homer’s painting catches them snapping in the trade winds – you can just hear them clacking their fronds against each other.  I hope that my fronds convey the same sense of sound and movement.

Techniques used in this painting were wet-in-wet for the sky, light washes moving into darker ones for the foreground, and layers of colors for the palm fronds and coconuts.  I took some long looks at what was in the painting before me and felt confident enough to figure out what I think Homer did.  For the white of the waves and lighthouse, I cheated and used frisket.  Then, after it was dried, I laid in the sky, and then moved to other areas, working lighter to dark, some detail to final details, depending on what was going on.  Altogether, I spent about 3 hours doing this study.

164. Sky and Water

More practice using wet-in-wet in varying degrees of paper dampness.  Again, this is Canson XL watercolor paper.  In my opinion, as a student paper, it is one of the better ones, having a pleasant texture as well as a responsiveness to water and color that other student papers lack.  Here, the final picture is not the point, but the laying in of washes, lifting colors, and other techniques – the practice, not the product.

As I said yesterday, I have not really taken time to learn about the paper.  This is important when you paint in watercolor – each paper has its own personality.  Once you are familiar with it, it becomes intuitive.  In my crazy life, I finally have the time to get acquainted with my paper.

Yay!

163. Snowy Sunrise

More working with wet-in-wet, as well as white and shades of white.  Not sure if the idea that the part of the lower trees facing the viewer convey a sense of shadow – being darker – before moving into the shadows in the foreground.

With wet-in-wet, it is really important to understand how a paper responds to water.  This is Canson XL, a student grade paper, but one that I like to use when experimenting.  I’ve never really worked at using it really wet, but the results of focusing on it – having it sopping, having it damp – is beginning to yield some decent results, such as few blooms and hard edges.

162.1. On the Forest Floor

Yesterday’s painting is now revisited, this time without lines, as well as with a few stages of the painting shown before the final rendition.

Working with white space is my biggest challenge, so I decided to lay in colors as a first step, as you can see above.  The idea here was to work around the white flowers and do what I could to keep them white.

At this point, colors and values are generally in place, but the white flowers have yet to be touched.  This is where the painting caused some questions.  Should this be more “painterly” – that is, splashy colors – or should it become more “formal” – meaning a more graphic rendition.  Because I am more inclined toward the “painterly” I went ahead and worked wet in wet, and in my mind’s eye, more messily.  Splash!  Splash!

Here is the final version.  I used pale colors to give the white flowers some dimension, but am not sure how successful they are.  I have a few ideas of maybe a third rendition, but that is for tomorrow if I do it.  At this point, I tried to introduce better contrast and detail in various areas, as well as working in some oranges, reds, yellows, and light greens throughout the painting to unite parts of it throughout.

In general, I am fairly pleased with this painting.  As with (I swear) every watercolor, it has its own ideas, so of course what I wanted to produce and what I did produce are rather different!  I didn’t create mud, and though I wanted to reach for the pen to make outlines and sharpen areas, I didn’t.  I did consider watercolor pencil, but in the end decided to leave it as it was.

The biggest problem is that the white flowers themselves need more contrast, but today, I am not too sure how to get them to look more 3-dimensional.

Below, you can view a slide show of yesterday’s ink and watercolor version, as well as the evolution of today’s exercise.