49.2 Watercolor Workshop, Day 3

Today was the last day of the workshop with Brenda Swenson.  She is a fabulous teacher who takes time with her students, with a personal quality that is positive and constructive.  I learned a lot from three days immersed in watercolor, and I think I turned a corner in how I handle color.  Besides being a good teacher – meaning her critiques and advice are sound – she also opened my eyes to a number of different things.

One lesson:  paint the same item 6 different ways.

Another lesson:  Use Canson pastel paper for painting!  The colors are good, the paper is 70% cottong, and those two things work well together.  Brenda brought in donuts for our first project.  Mine is below.

For the remainder of the day, we worked on vignettes.  I knew that vignettes were little images with white surrounding them.  So?  Well, it turns out that there is a real art to vignettes.  Making the image cruciform – in the shape of a cross – with portions of the painting touching the top, bottom, and sides (1 or all 4), but not flowing into the corners, makes for a vignette.  Key to an interesting picture is that each shape is in each corner is different than the others; additionally, work some of the white of the corners into the painting itself.  I was surprised to find myself rather calm today, rather than flighty and unfocused like yesterday.

Mine worked out fairly well.  A valid criticism was to make the lower windows somewhat greenish and warm, rather than a cold blue, to reflect the light of the unseen grass in the yard.  A glaze was suggested.

My second painting was supposed to be a vignette, but failed on the middle side portions.  I may go back in to fix it later.

Brenda provided all of us with incredible photos from her travels to use in the workshop, which in addition to unique items like plastic frogs and pecks of fake fruit, made for a really good experience.  My weekend was only too short!

An Afternoon’s Painting Practice

I am an unabashed Charles Reid fan when it comes to instruction books and videos and style in watercolor.  I love his loose style and the way his colors flow in and out of each other without getting muddy.  Honestly, I am really a novice when it comes to watercolor painting – and mud is my usual result.  Somewhere in the past 6 months a part of me just quit worrying about what I produce, and this gave me the freedom from self-criticism (and condemnation) about what results I get.  I don’t care anymore, and this freedom is opening up doors which have been slammed shut by my unrealistic and unrelenting worrying.  It’s a great feeling!

Having a bunch of watercolors and supplies on hand, I dug out some water brushes and my traveling palette.  Out on the patio, with earphones on to listen to a spy novel, a bunch of paper towels and some water, I pulled out Reid’s book.  My watercolor pads came along with me, as did my coffee, water bottle, drawing pencils and who knows what else.  The verbal distractions of the audiobook keep me from getting too emotional about my practice pages.  I propped up Flower Painting in Watercolor and got to work, reading captions and color suggestions, drew some rough sketches from Reid’s exercises, and got to work.

I think one of the hardest things to do is to leave white paper.  I just want to paint it all up.  And I also want to just keep going on – and this creates mud – without pause for paper to dry and paint to settle.  Rush, rush!

Well, I did succeed somewhat.  The crocuses above are one of Reid’s studies, and I was pretty pleased with it.  In reality, it doesn’t look half as good as the photo, but then it is on a piece of messy paper with scribbles on it and test swatches of color.

This was a quick study, more white space being left open.  I went back after I finished this study to use my pencil to add some shape to the white flowers.  I like lines – and it is a problem I find with my own sense of a “successful” painting – I need lines to define things.  Sometimes lines work – sometimes they don’t – but I do love the Renaissance ink studies I’ve seen, and lines have always held my eye.  Lines are expressive – but so are shapes of color.

Here, simply color shapes to imply a flower or a leaf.  My experience in sumi-e brush painting makes my understanding of controlling a brush – even an inexpensive water brush with nylon bristles – much easier.

One thing Reid pulls out is shapes without definition – just implication of form.  This is great practice for my line addiction!

Another issue I find is contrast and value.  It’s hard for me to really get these right in a painting.  Reid mentions he makes his dark not super dark – not black – but installs a medium dark early on to establish value.  I struggle with this but with more practice I think I will get better at this.

And here is the last one . . . not the best, but one which does have some good areas of contrast, and black lines from an India-ink pigmented pen.  Sketchy, painterly, and totally fun to do!

Quality paper is a must-have.  I have some tablets that I bought which I absolutely hate because of the texture and sizing in the paper.  However, I used them up and ordered more of the Canson’s Montval paper, in a spiral booklet form, 9×12 with 20 pages.  It’s a good working size – and it’s good paper, with a nice texture and sizing which doesn’t blotch up and look horrible.  It’s also very reasonably priced.  The Schmincke paint box may have Schmincke paints in them – or not.  My paint supplies include Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and M. Graham professional-grade watercolors.

I’m glad I sat down to paint – it’s such a wonderful feeling and one which gives me satisfaction.  Did I produce anything worthy of framing?  Not at all.  But working with my hands, seeing some success, is something which cannot be described – only experienced.  You know what I mean!  It’s like love!