I have been waging a bit of a mental war with myself, and the monkey mind is everywhere and nowhere. Now, though, after devoting myself to several days of following exercises on painting rocks and rugged coastlines with a Shari Blaukopf class, I have at last decided to make watercolor my main medium. Acrylics just do nothing for me, but there is a small love affair beginning with oils. I take an oil painting / acrylic painting class on Tuesday afternoons, and that is where I will continue oils while pursuing watercolors with more focus and less of a scattered approach.
Watercolors have always held sway as a “first love” – partly because they are easy to clean up, partly because they are devilish hard to master. So, with the decision I made this morning, I have decided to try to do a watercolor every day, even if just a small sketch before I begin my day. Today, pumpkins.
I just put some water in a cup, took out a small travel palette with a few colors, grabbed a brush, and started to paint on some student grade paper. Nothing serious! But, at the same time, some thoughts in mind: contrast, hard edges, lost edges, verticals and horizontals, light and shadow, focal point.
Not a great beginning, but fun. Maybe I will paint it again tomorrow . . .
I am kind of a cheapskate at times, especially when it comes to paying for educational experiences. Too many times I have been disappointed by the experience, especially when it comes to art classes. Cost vs. course value and content are a big issue for me, and more often than not I am very disappointed.
One person, though, from whom I have taken online courses, and who has never disappointed me, is Shari Blaukopf. She is a Canadian watercolorist with quite a following – her workshops are always sold out – who provides economical and informative online classes in various subjects. Subjects have included snowy urban scenes, wintery scenes, flowers. Her courses last from an hour or so to more, depending on how you do them, for very good prices of about $30 US. I ain’t complaining!
Let’s begin with her most recent course on trees throughout the seasons. I think this is one of my favorites. What did I learn? As a dabber – tiny brush strokes – this class was perfect for me. I got a better grip on painting foliage, not a leaf at a time, but as color masses. Most instructors will tell you “paint foliage as a mass of color.” Okay, clear enough, except it doesn’t really sink in well for me. Shari’s method of drawing an outline of the areas in question is brilliant, and a lightbulb-going-off-in-the-head experience for me. My samples from this enlightening experience gave me quite a bit of pleasure.
While she is painting her tree she says that midway through, when the tree is just a bunch of colors, she begins to wonder if it is going to get any better – and it does. My own thoughts were the same, but continuing on, the results were pleasing.
These southern live oaks (above) were also done with masses of color, but a bit more detail. The maple tree was a great segue into the oak trees.
The standard or classical “way” to do watercolor is light to dark. I have followed this “rule” with mixed success, and as a little automaton, I do what is “expected” far too often. However, Shari often does the sky, then darker areas, or outlining certain areas with color.
Above was the very first tree study – a vast area of pine forest against a mountain and sky. Sky and mountain were both worked around a lot of the treetops. From there, the very dark pines were painted with the lower edge of lighter vegetation done last.
What?! That is the “wrong” sequence!
Working around the trees leaves areas of white paper, and this this gives a sparkle to the end painting as well as keeping colors more pure and fresh. Painting around the bright green tree was also a challenge – and to remember it was there. Shari had to remind herself, and did so as we moved along. I didn’t quite succeed, but caught myself in time.
This snow-laden maple – the brightly colored one from earlier, now in winter – was the last study. No frisket was involved to leave the snow fresh on the tree. Instead, hints on how to leave snow areas apparent in the drawing – put a dot on the snowy areas to remind you – worked very well. I’ve done such things myself, but it is a good reminder of little tricks.
In many ways, this winter tree was perhaps the most challenging of the studies because so much advanced thinking was involved in the journey to the final result. Snow on so many tree branches was sort of a logistical nightmare, but oddly enough easier for me than masses of colored leaves. Titanium white covers up a few mistakes, too, where the snow was painted over. Blue, too, was added very lightly to make shadows on the snowy branches, giving more dimensionality than without that subtle touch.
Shari even returns to her trees to add a bit more here and there to improve them. I like these little forays into imperfection or dissatisfaction – so many workshops don’t show these little bits of humanity.
If you like watercolor, need some good instruction, and are on a budget, Shari’s classes might be the answer. She doesn’t teach you the basics but assumes you know how to do washes and use colors and what a paint brush is. Her classes range from pretty straightforward to more sophisticated and complex subjects. No matter what, she leads you through the process quite nicely. For example – buildings terrify me. Perspective is not my forte and suburbia throws it at you from all directions. But, I did this, and learned that even I, who has no depth perception to speak of, can actually produce a painting with buildings!
I managed to produce the above – albeit with some glitches – by following her along with her “Urban Winter” class – which you can find here. Check out her work and courses – I don’t think you can find better value and better education almost anywhere. And as a final plug, here is my painting from her course “Winter Woods and Stream”.
And, for my own frugal heart, Shari offers course bundles that discount her already fabulous prices a bit more. Check her courses out and sign up if you are interested. Some courses allow you to upload your work – the later ones in particular. She always leaves feedback, too, even a bit late as she travels a lot. The personal touch is so nice, and being able to see what other students produce is good, too.
Pixabay is home to a lot of great pictures! I used one of them – as you can see below – to create this watercolor. Unfortunately, the scan doesn’t show the real warmth of the rocks as painted very accurately as it could, but c’est la vie.
I chose this subject because the warm rocks on the left and right of the photo move into cooler ones as atmospheric conditions work their magic. The foreground of the photo is very dark and trying to catch the details and put them all in shadows was also a challenge. I also tried to create a focal point for the watercolor, namely the point at which the Virgin River, in the lower middle center of the painting and photo, turns. At this apex I also tried to create some visible interest to lead the eye into the canyon beyond. Of course, the big rock structures also add to this sense of depth.
Painted in watercolor on Kilimanjaro 140# CP paper.
My last pond was apparently lacking in a certain level of correct flatness – people said they felt like they were falling into it. Brrr! Not something I would want to happen! Given that, I did try to make this pond look flat as well as give a sense of a cold, wintry afternoon at sunset.
I was never any good at skating, but I did try it out a lot when I was a kid. We moved from a really cold place in the midwest to a warmer climate on the east coast, leaving rural farmland with ponds and lakes for a bit of suburbia in New Jersey. Every year the neighbors would get together and scrape the snow off the nearby lake, test the ice, and create a skating pond. We were never allowed to go by ourselves because of the chance of falling through the ice, but it seems there was always a dad or mom to supervise a dozen kids in snow suits, wipe away our tears, keep us generally under control.
I got a few painterly goodies for Christmas, and one was a new tablet of watercolor paper, one which I have never heard of before. Of course, it needs checking out. How does it handle wet paper and washes? Dry brush? Bleeding? Etc. It is not an expensive paper – $20 for 32 pages of 9×12 pure cotton paper – but it is actually a decent one. I can lift colors from it pretty easily, too! It is a rather nice bit of paper overall, and while not Arches or Fabriano, I think it will do quite well for studies, and probably gouache as well.
Besides playing with new paper, I have also attempted to lead the eye in the composition to a small area of white. Rocks, waves, clouds, land masses, sand, whatever are all designed to catch your eye. I think it worked out pretty good. I also am rather pleased with the movement of the sand in the lower right hand corner.
I do love the bleak look of winter. With watercolor, a limited palette of 3 or 4 colors can express so much. Admittedly I used more, but I usually like alizarin, ultramarine, burnt sienna, and Hooker’s green for the colder time of the year.
Following through on points for some of the classes I have been taking, I am working to simplify subject matter, colors, and lead the eye. I think I managed to do this here, leading through the fields to the houses on the hilly horizon. I tried to contrast warm and cool colors, with a bit of warm on the buildings with the hope it will draw the viewer in. I also used wet in wet and dry brush, working from general shapes to more specifics; light to dark in general.
In addition to the painting, I am trying to make myself do a preliminary drawing before I touch brush to paint to paper. I did this one today. Lesson – it is actually worth the time, and I have been a silly bunt not to take on this fine habit sooner!
Watercolor, 9×12 CP Extra White Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton paper.
It is really important that if you study art that you make studies! I’ve been following along in my haphazard manner a number of teachers I like, online, and am trying to implement what I am learning. Or what is being taught – and then working conscientiously to absorb some of it. Being a magpie doesn’t help as I am so easily distracted by this and that. Focusing on one thing really helps bring mastery, but I get bored with doing only one thing. I know a lot of single-minded people, and I rather envy them. However, we all have to follow our own drummer.
The focus here is to lead the eye to the orangish, autumny trees in the distance. The water does it primarily, but I hope the curves of the field do, too, as well as the lines along the horizon. I am not too thrilled with the trees on the right, but c’est la vie.
So many artists say a value sketch is important. I like to think I can create the values in my head as I become more sophisticated in my abilities. I have decided to create some kind of preliminary sketch before painting as a habit and that is not an easy task for me – even if it only takes a few minutes. Well, the one below is not really a value study, but it did help me work on some compositional elements. Hmmm.
Yesterday was a meeting of the Pencil Portraits in the Park group, but drawing people held little appeal for me. So, I decided to try something I had briefly seen somewhere and thought interesting: during their travels in the 19th century, many people sketched in pencil (graphite) and then colored the drawings with watercolor. These days most people sketch with waterproof ink and then color things in, but I rather liked this idea. A sycamore tree in our park, dressed out in autumn finery made a nice portrait, methinks.
9×12, hot press 140# Arches. Graphite and watercolor.