Negative Painting

Negative painting is painting around a shape. Positive painting is painting an actual shape. The first is hard to do. The second less so, but the skill of negative painting is necessary and can produce some pretty dramatic results. It is also a skill if you don’t want to use liquid frisket to block off areas to keep white. Positive painting sounds easy, but it ain’t. (My flower paintings are evidence of this!)

A common exercise to show the learner how to do negative space is to paint a tree, paint around it in a light wash, draw another tree on the colored wash, and then paint around this, until you have a lot of trees ranging from white to the varying values of the wash. Sterling Edwards has a lengthy but very good video about this method:

While I know about negative painting, and have stated it as one of my goals, along with flowers (which benefit from the skill of negative painting), I thought this was a good one of the many I watched. What I liked was how he blends his paint inward.

Anyway, I did trees. Rick Surowicz is also a master at negative painting, and if you look at Edwards’ paintings, and those of Surowwicz, you will see both apply the same techniques. In my painting, I used Arches 140# CP, 9×12. I outlined the tree, and then painted around it. At some point I was frustrated and decided to do some painting with white gouache, on both the primary tree and then adding others.

Overall, I rather like the effect, particularly after adding the gouache. I think it enhanced the painting rather than making it just another annoying experience! I used to be quite rigid about not using gouache, much less gel pens or diluted acrylics in my watercolors, but rules exist to be broken, and I expect purists would call this “mixed media” – but that no longer bothers me as much as it used to. Watercolors they are (water soluble), so watercolors these remain.

A Bowl of Roses

The above study was fun to do, but I had a lot of help in the form of (what else?) a YouTube video. Videos are such good ways to see what a person does, and how they paint. To me, watching the methods an artist goes about accomplishing something is one of the biggest ways to learn.

The video I used was one by a YouTuber called “Draw with Shiba.” There are a lot of good videos on his channel, and none of them are so difficult you cannot learn something. As my goal is flowers I found this video of his quite helpful.

Our images sort of match, sort of don’t. His paper seems to hold on to water more than mine does (Arches) so he can lift color from the sides of the roses. He also begins with a lot of wet-in-wet. In this video, he wets the paper entirely with a brush before he paints, and then drops in color so it blurs into all the major areas of the paintings. In other videos he simply drops water droplets onto his paper, thus controlling areas as he disperses the water with his brush. He paints, flat, too, from what I can see.

Overall, I enjoyed this video. The flowers are roses (thumbs up there!), the vase is simple, and the entire painting covers a lot of techniques. I liked the way in which he lifted the paint and painted the roses. I learned a bit and produced a painting that doesn’t make me cringe. I tried to apply a lot of the techniques here to my flower flop of yesterday, and some worked, some did not, but that is life. Live to paint another day!

Flower Flop

For the next several weeks I have decided to focus on watercolors, except for the remaining few sessions of my oil / acrylic class. The reason for this is we will be out and about, traveling across country by car, and watercolor is the most transportable art medium I can bring with me.

Two areas in watercolor are foremost in my mind at present. One is negative painting. The other is flowers.

Like anything, you need to practice. Here, an attempt at negative painting, and painting flowers. While not creating mud, I definitely need to simplify what I am doing and figure out how to do it. Supposedly these are alstroemeria, but not sure it anyone would think that is what they are!

I’ll just make the statement a few areas of negative painting worked and leave it at that!

Coastal Fog, Morning

I am trying to lighten up my handling of watercolor. Very often my colors are far more intense than I really want. I think part of this is the result of impatience and perhaps pre-cataract surgery days. Watercolor itself lends itself to a delicacy other media lack, I think, and to not play into the wetness and what it can do perhaps defeats watercolor’s beauty.

There is something about fog and early morning that always fascinates me. The idea that a cloud is on the ground (my father’s description of fog when I was about 5) still intrigues me. After all, clouds are UP!

So, a morning along the coast. Wet, soft, blurry, and giving way to a sunny, summer day.

Arches CP 140#, 9×12, watercolor.

Monsoon Season is Here

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.

Values

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.

Winter’s Trees

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!

Winter in Hill Country

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.