This year I am going to try to do a painting every day in July for World Watercolor Month. In the past few weeks I’ve fallen off as I have veered into ink making and indigo dyeing. Now, time to return to a good daily habit. I think daily artwork is like brushing your teeth every day – it makes for a more pleasant start to the day!
I did Inktober for most of the month of October 2018, and it was a wonderful process, and in doing it I learned so much. Pen and ink is black and white and World Watercolor is with colors, in the form of gouache or watercolor – or probably any other water-based medium. I expect I will learn a lot by being focused on this as well. Because I am attempting to learn gouache and improve my poor watercolor skills, maybe I will alternate medium daily – like odds for gouache and evens for watercolor. What do you think?
Use the hashtag #WorldWatercolorMonth to draw people to your work if you participate.
This afternoon was fun! A meetup up group met at a local brewhouse, art supplies and toys in hand, to do some art journaling. I’ve never done any. When I think of art journaling, Frieda Kahlo comes to mind – her journals are filled with words and pictures that swirl around and create a lively chaos of their own. Not reading Spanish, I have no idea what they say – but words are not always necessary.
What does one use in art journaling? It seems anything you want. It’s a self-expressive medium. So, I took a piece of tape and put it across the bottom of the page – you can see where it is. Houses, baloons, a Ferris wheel. From there, I added my own. Is there any meaning? Mayhap – no idea! I can tell you that the tiny buildings made me want to create some disproportionately large things . . . and for some reason, the serpent showed up with his apple, alongside a few hands, a dead chicken, a mouse, and who knows what else.
This morning I did a quick sketch of a kingfisher using iron gall ink using a dip pen. As you can see, there is a bit better variability in lines than when drawing is done with a quill pen (see yesterday’s post). Both have qualities I really like – expressiveness, boldness, delicacy. As I am used to using fountain pens, a dip pen is no problem once I learned how to control the amount of ink on nib. What must be remembered is how to load the nib, and as nibs are all different, a bit of testing on scratch paper helps.
At present, I am deciding if I want to colorize this drawing – which is why for now, it is not! If I do, I want to use very dilute but vibrant colors. It is my hope that the ink will shine through the paint without my having to re-ink parts of it.
Long before we had metal dip pens, artists drew with reed pens and with quills cut from the pinion feathers of a swan, turkey, or goose. If you look at the ink sketches of artists such as Rembrandt or DaVinci, you will see some very common characteristics. The ink lines vary in width – narrow, wide. Often the ink is brown, and so those not in the know think that brown ink was a thing way back when. In reality, it is the degradation of iron gall ink (aka oak gall ink) through time. When initially laid down, it was black. With time, it turns brown, and with a lot of time and depending on its degree of acidity, the iron gall ink can destroy the paper and drawing.
Over the past week, I have been playing with iron gall ink and a quill pen I cut from a turkey feather. I have some homemade iron gall ink nearly done – come Thursday, it will be ostensibly ready to use. Today, because I am finally at a point where I have time to play, I drew with iron gall ink and my quill, and then applied watercolors. The ink took its sweet time drying, and I didn’t blow dry it, but let it air dry or blotted it to see what would happen. As it is a damp day, it took awhile. Anyway, the following three pictures were first done with the ink, dried, and then painted in with watercolor. If you look at the pen strokes, you will see variations. I’ve never drawn with a quill before, so it was a new experience, one quite different than with a dip pen or fountain pen.
The kumquats were the very first drawings I did with the quill and ink. I had to really think about textures. You see, when you use iron gall ink, it begins as a light grey, but as it is exposed to the air, it becomes darker and darker until it is black. This made values a challenge!
Here, the ink in the picture was not quite dry, and some bled into the watercolors as I lay them down.
For the melons, the ink was taking forever to dry! I decided to see what would happen if I blotted the ink. The result was smudges, which you can see throughout the picture.
This final set was done with a sketchy watercolor. No thought was really given to composition or to color as I wanted to use the ink to express outlines, shapes, and shadows.
Altogether, this was a lot of fun, and for me there is a potential I hadn’t really thought about in getting a sense of history by using historical tools – quills, iron gall ink – that were once the best technology had to offer. I wonder what Rembrandt and DaVinci would think about paints in a tube, rather than the task of purchasing, grinding, and creating their own paints . . . perhaps they made their own quills and inks, too.
This past week or so has found me wandering into another element of water-based media: Ink.
Ink is used in drawing, but it is also used in writing, whether using the Roman alphabet, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, or any other form of an alphabet for any one of the myriad of languages found throughout the world.
Making ink is an art, and that means knowing something of chemistry (no matter how simple) and permanency. Ink is black and ink is colored – as are paints. This past week has found me suddenly distracted by the making of iron gall ink, also known as oak gall ink, and cutting quills from feathers. You can read about my adventures here, here and here for starters. You can return to Ink, Yarn, and Beer for more updates, too, if you want.
Consequently, I have not had much time to paint or draw as I have been spending a lot of time reading about ink and quills in particular, as well as watching videos on the same. This morning, I came across one which rather blew me away as it is global in nature, but local in artistry. Huh – what does that mean? Take 30 minutes of time to be quiet and to watch . . .
I’ve been playing with gouache of late, but really have missed watercolor and its transparency. Yesterday I thought I would sit down to do some painting, but it never happened. Today, out on the patio reading a book, I looked around at all the plants, and realized, duh! There is a lot to play with out here!
I’d moved all my orchids outside to water and air out a bit. This is the last of the blooming phalenopsis, so I painted it – no pencil or preliminary value studies – just direct watercolor and let it happen. I can tell by the awkward handling of the paint I am out of practice; as well, the paper is not the best, but that is what sketch books are for.
About 6 weeks ago I took all my old and new flower seeds and planted them helter-skelter. These are zinnias, plants which are notorious for wilting with not enough water – like in a couple of hours they can look like they will just fall over – but come back miraculously with a bit of help. Totally crack me up – such simple flowers to be so demanding. Kind of nervy. Anyway, what I like about them is that they have beautifully shaped leaves, lovely stems, and smallish bright flowers that burst out of all the green surrounding them. Here, a bit better handling, with a use of negative painting to create the leaves and perhaps a bit of dimension.
Finally, my favorite of the bunch. Brush control and forethought. Here I was perched on a rather tall chair, looking down onto the pot of scaveola, a sort of creeper from what I can observe. It has a variety of leaf shapes, and the purple flowers sort of send out petals from behind the leaves in a peek-a-boo fashion. I took a photo of this for Instagram, but you can also see the photo below of plant and sketch, taken with my phone.
This past spring in California has been one of the most stunning I can recall. A long period of rain, extending deep into May, produced a situation in which flowers bloomed, and bloomed, and bloomed. There are still traces of colors – golds and yellows mostly – on the hills when normally the color is beige and dead. The richness of the wildflowers made the landscape, whether on the hills or under the trees, in the meadows or alongside the freeway, a wonderland of color. I am still sorting out photos and memories as sources for paintings.
This is an underpainting for the gouache painting I did today. Wildflowers under the oak trees along a local trial – lupines, wild cucumber, white and yellow flowers of known and unknown species. Here, a la James Gurney, I decided to do an underpainting using casein paints. He suggests casein as the underpainting as it cannot be picked up, as can an underpainting of gouache, once it dries. It primes the paper, too. While the smell is rather gross, the substrate it creates is stable and I rather liked using it, not just for what it did for the paper, but to lay in some values as well.
From there, I moved into remembering – thin layers to thick in gouache, building to lighter colors and thicker layers as you move along. I’ve watched a number of videos on YouTube to get a sense of the process. In particular, I have enjoyed the videos on gouache by Sarah Burns. It’s rather strange to me, but it worked out. Below is a painting of blue-eyed grass and white flowers under the oak trees in this stunning California spring.
Gouache apparently is best used straight out of the tube. I put a bit of each color I have into a covered palette, and the result is the gouache dried out fairly quickly. Today, I managed to make a hybrid painting it seems – rather watercolory and transparent, and rather gouachy and opaquish. To see if I can rehydrate the gouache, I put a couple of drops of glycerin into each well along with a spray of water. I’ll test them out tomorrow. I hate to think of wasting a lot of paint – it’s not cheap, even on sale for 40% off.
There are some “rules” for painting with gouache. One is thin to thick paint, and dark to light paint. Each layer of gouache is opaque(ish) depending on how diluted it is. Thus, you can begin with a watercolor-thin wash and end up with a straight-out-of-the-tube thickness.
To begin with, I laid down thin layers of color for all areas – sky, background, middle ground and foreground. From there it was playing around. Ultimately the sky and the foreground are more like gouache insofar I used heavier paints, but the middle to background remain less so and more along the lines of watercolor.
Besides using paint in different manners here, I tried to convey depth using atmospheric perspective. to some degree it worked. Being able to paint over things was really helpful. I’m not really sure if things “worked” or “didn’t work” here – but I do know a bit more about how gouache can be used, and, as with everything, practice helps out a lot.
As fascinated as I am with the gouache, I also know I need to continue working on my other artistic goals of drawing and watercolor and perspective . . . so easy to go down a path and ignore everything else I want to do!