The summer months bring rain to the American Southwest. Skies become dark, light bright and fleeting; a sudden downpour, and then it vanishes. The clouds clear and once more the intense light returns. Everything becomes more vivid and alive during these brief showers and scudding clouds with lightning often adding to the drama. To me, this is the desert at its best – a harsh beauty in a harsh land.
I just recently realized that I can use Photoshop to help me create shades of grey in a photograph. This is particularly useful when trying to render a portrait into a painting. Portraits are very difficult to produce with any reliability as a painting because the face is subtle in construction, and thence, subtle in gradation. My skills are lacking in this arena.
To begin, I found a portrait on Pixabay. From there, I imported it in PS and applied an “artistic” filter, using the “cutout”, keeping defaults. I then printed out the photo, sized to 5×7, and gridded it out to a correspondingly sized piece of paper.
Once done, I chose gouache as the medium to use – already out on the desk, and easy enough to use without making myself crazy. First done was all the darkest values on my drawing.
I just lay down the black in most of the areas that looked darkest to me. I missed a few areas, but since gouache is able to be applied over previous layers, I was not too worried. Also, as this is the first time I have ever done this, I was not too concerned about perfection – the experience was more important.
From there, some white was mixed in with the black to produce the second darkest shade. Truthfully, I did not mix in enough white as it was nearly the same shade as the black when it dried. That is the nature of gouache – it dries darker than it goes on. I had to lay on a second and third layer.
Next, the third shade of grey. This I tried to push into being lighter than I thought I needed. From there, the highlights as light as I thought I needed. Again. the white was really a light grey that dried rather darker than expected.
Finally, I increased the white, using titanium white instead of zinc white (the former being more opaque than the latter) and did some touching up and adding of detail.
This is the final image. The paint is cracking a bit as it is really thick in some areas. Given this is 5×7 or less, the detail is not too bad, but I wouldn’t like to have this a portrait of myself! The goal of doing values is what is key here – light to dark, catching the face. Much room for improvement, but what I set out to do – a value study – worked out.
I plan to use this method with PS to do more portrait studies. Tools like this aren’t cheating – they help you see what is in front of you more clearly. Gridding the photo onto paper helps keep proportions relatively correct. I would like to do this on a bigger surface with acrylic, perhaps limning in only the white and black values, and from there adding the different shades of grey before moving into a final white.
For the past several weeks I have been immersed in painting classes – 2 or 3 a week, and too many hours to count. I finally decided I was doing more than was good for the rest of my life, and decided to cap it to a few hours a day. That balanced things out as I was getting rather nutso.
This is based off a Pixabay photo of trees and snow, at sunset or dawn. I am not sure if this one is “finished” yet, but think it is done enough to scan and put online. It is acrylic paint on a piece of 11×15 watercolor paper. I decided to use it as the paper is 100% cotton but the sizing is not good. As I bought the paper a long time ago, I cannot return it.
One thing about painting in acrylic, you can paint on a lot of different surfaces. I like the feel of paper beneath my brush more than a canvas panel that I have gessoed. Maybe it is because I am used to its surface texture, but there is more of a connection there with its surface – smoother than a cotton canvas panel, but with some tooth. I do plan to learn more about oils later this summer but need to play with it a lot more and figure out where to paint as oil solvents, while now often odorless, are still volatile and not exactly something to be breathing in a closed space.
As I work on learning how to paint I also explore different artists. Right now I have been looking at a lot of the Russian artists of the Impressionist variety along with ones from the 1930s, such as Nikolai Timkov and his fellow painters. Impressionists and more modern painters appeal to me because their sense of color and brushwork, as well as subject matter, are more to my liking than any other era. I like abstraction, too, so a bit of all of these appeal to me. Strong graphics, elegant composition, good colors get my eye. Art is really a personal thing anyway. What I want to hang on my walls may be nothing you would even consider . . .
All this painting is also making me think about brushwork. It expresses so much. Smoothly blended or broken? I think the next exploration will be broken brush strokes and trying to choose a color and put it down – paint it and leave it, as Ian Roberts is telling us!
Today I refilled my gouache palette with colors, and then some more colors. I threw in some retardant, too. And I tried to paint. Gosh, it is amazing how you have to reacquaint yourself with something!
I needed a change of pace – a way to relax – after yesterday’s very intense painting of buildings and people. It’s nice to visit familiar territory. But, I was not without goals. Here I worked on subtle gradations and color change in the sky; misty / soft trees in the horizon using moist paper to blur and indicate distance; a couple of buildings with subtle rooftops; snow. On Arches CP 140#, 9×12.
I never paint people in any form. Draw them, yes. Now it is time to add them to paintings so that I can pretend to have a social life!
Watercolor is the first area to which I am adding them. The reason is that watercolor in many ways is very forgiving. As well, there are a lot of photos with people in them in Andy Evansen’s class, so I figured I better stop being intimidated.
And you know what? After watching a lot of videos, and hearing that the general shape of people in a crowd is that of an elongated carrot (supposedly said by Frank Clarke), I had a laugh, and then it began to be fun, not a horror story I had to live.
Before beginning though, I felt it was important to get an idea of where things belong. Yes, I do know the general proportions of the human body – 7.5 to 8 heads tall, depending on your source. But where do elbows go? What level is the wrist? And so on. A bit of research and then the fun began.
Different ways to portray people, too. Blobs of color with some suggestions added, such as darker color to separate figures. Negative painting to show off highlights, back lighting, or light-colored fabric.
And so, people are showing up in my watercolor life. It was a lot easier than I expected it to be. Proportional formulae help and just playing around, letting go, and practicing.
Finally! I am dee-oh-en-ee. I took the painting I thought was sorta done, talked with my teacher, and we decided to add a few more flowers. So, I did, and signed my name on the left. On the right I have my digital signature.
I really enjoyed doing this painting. It is on 12×16 Fredrix canvas pad, primed with gesso, and painted over about a 3-4 week period. It is a pleasant break from monochrome – but that is for another time. Today, let’s enjoy Spring as we go up the hill.
I asked for some criticism on this painting I did a few weeks ago. Below is the original scan.
Some opinions were that it was lacking in depth, and that the right and left sides needed to match better. So, today, finally got around to doing some modifications. Here is the new painting.
Let me know what you think. The newest scan is a bit more vibrant than the other, so keep that in mind. My class is tomorrow afternoon, so I will talk to my teacher, too.
For the past few months I have been taking a number of classes in watercolor and painting. Throw in an occasional Pencil Portraits in the Park classes, and you can see I get a bit busy.
Magpies like bright things, and I am convinced I am a magpie reincarnated. Hawaiian shirts are a particular delight. Color in any form, the brighter is usually the better, even if it borders on poor taste. Oddly, I do enjoy black and white photography – it can be quite beautiful and dramatic – but painting value studies, monochrome, has eluded me as something to enjoy – until now!
I have been taking an online class from Ian Roberts for the past few months. It began with value studies in pencils. Now we are doing value studies in paint. Some people are painting in watercolor, others in acrylic or pastels; I decided to try out oil paints for the first time in years – nay, decades – and am pleased with the results. It is a hell of a lot of fun to moosh around paint and be able to moosh it around the next day, unlike acrylics. (You can also use gouache to pretty much the same effect.) With our weekly Zoom meetings on Saturday mornings, Roberts is providing great feedback and a personal, technical, and esoteric touch to what are foundational elements in art.
Above is my first oil monochrome. I didn’t do a great job of replicating the picture, but I did get reacquainted with how to use a brush with oils. I am using hog bristle filberts if you want to know. While we are working on values, we are also working on leading the eye. Here, not a lot of success as the road or white area in the mid left is too bright – the eye is to be led to the right.
This is from the second week. Focus is on values and edges, the latter being hard or soft or vanishing. I enjoyed this a lot, even though my sphere needs a bit of anchoring! It really helped me to see a bit more sharply.
Roberts did a demo version of the still life, and then left us to find our own way with the landscape. Oils are a bit of a challenge to use because of their long drying time if you want to paint over something. As a result, I cannot scan them, but have to take a photo while they dry. Wet surfaces are a bit shiny, and the texture of the paint and canvas are more challenges to creating a digital image. This study made me see things differently, and one element I had to do was to edit the photo – simplifying it – to work a bit on the painting to make it work. Not great, but values are getting easier to produce.
Here is one of the two studies for the third week. I did this yesterday, outdoors on the patio. I lugged out this and that, found I forgot something, ran back to get it, and it was a Big Production. But a fun one! I still need to work on this one a bit – the 2nd pole on the right needs some sharpening and the road in the distance needs a bit of work. Once more, the photo is lacking, but what can you do?
So, my painting world is suddenly black and white, and I am enjoying it. I’ve decided to do “daily painting” when possible, on other subjects as well. It will be interesting to see where all these monochrome studies take me, and when Roberts lets us to add yellow ochre to our titanium white and ivory black to learn more about warm and cool values, I think the world will change even more . . .
I am taking an online watercolor class, and I am sort of this way, that way about it. There is feedback and some great videos, but I find that I like to have a more personal contact than such. Another online class I am taking has weekly Zoom meetings and even though we aren’t all yacking with the instructor, it is more personal.
Anyway, despite what I would like to see different, there is a lot of value in pursuing online learning. To a degree, you have to motivate yourself. You have to have the discipline to do it. One thing that I do find especially hard in all my classes is the making of value studies – oh, how I hate them! I don’t have them as part of my routine when it comes to painting, and the discipline of doing them is what I hate. I expect that doing them will pay off in the future – but it may be a bit down the road as I force myself to do them without appreciating what I know they are supposed to provide.
Above, a study from a photo in my watercolor class. Below is the first value study showing the midtones
All the white area is supposed to be sky and the lightest areas of the picture. The grey is the middle value. These are used to help shape the painting before refinement with darks and details. Below is my dark-added value study.
I actually really think this idea of doing middle values for the first step of a value study is a good idea. Do these values first, paint your lights and mid values in color, and then move on to the darker ones in the value study and the final painting. Doing this is very nice, really, because the dark values and details get distracting.
Like I said, this is a thing I am not enjoying doing but know it is probably going to reap bigger rewards than I can imagine at present. Values and edges are what I am trying to see in anything I do.