First Attempts with Gouache

Goo – osh!  Isn’t that a great word?

Anyway, when we were in San Diego awhile back, we found a genuine art store in the neighborhood.  Of course, I had to wander in there, and I finally was able to find water-based gouache paints.  All the ones I ever seem to find are acrylic, which is not what I want.  Today I got them out for the first time and put them onto a palette, leaving space for other colors, which I am sure I will want to add.

I think I need to add a red along the lines of alizarin and a couple of greens, such as Hookers and sap.  I use them a lot in watercolors.

My first picture was quite tentative, but eventually I got a bit more brave.  Sadly, the scanner did not differentiate very well between the yellows in the flowers.  Rather than just one color, I used both to suggest petals.  The greens are straight out of the tube as well as mixed with blue and black.

This next painting is what made me realize I needed an alizarin or something close to it.  The actual flowers are more pink; cad red does not turn pink with the addition of white, nor is very pretty with purple mixed in.  So, I settled on the violet with the addition of white.  The leaves were painted light to dark, and I tried to let the paint dry thoroughly so I could paint around things, such as the flowers, or on top of other colors.  This is how watercolor is done – light to dark.  The pot was done while the paint was still wet and I mixed other colors in as I went along.  That was really a lot of fun just to see the result.  Finally, the shadow was painting on fairly transparently and loosely, only to be covered with more opaque paint.  I rather like the result.

Finally, I remembered that gouache suggests painting dark to light.  Here I placed a black/blue mixture and let it dry.  From there, I applied moss green, but I should have mixed it and the yellows and reds with white so they would dry brighter.  Still, that is a good lesson for the future:.  Darks in gouache dry lighter, and lights dry darker.  Here I applied paint directly and let it dry, as well as mixing it on the paper.

Because paper is so important in painting, I used some 6×8″ 100% cotton paper.  I’m glad I did as there were times when the paper was wet, as when laying down the black background on the painting above.  I really love the fact that I can put lighter colors on dark.  As a kid in elementary school, poster paints were some of my favorite ones for this same reason.

Old dog, new tricks!  Hooked on gouache, indeed!

On the Forest Floor

Yesterday’s painting is now revisited, this time without lines, as well as with a few stages of the painting shown before the final rendition.

Working with white space is my biggest challenge, so I decided to lay in colors as a first step, as you can see above.  The idea here was to work around the white flowers and do what I could to keep them white.

At this point, colors and values are generally in place, but the white flowers have yet to be touched.  This is where the painting caused some questions.  Should this be more “painterly” – that is, splashy colors – or should it become more “formal” – meaning a more graphic rendition.  Because I am more inclined toward the “painterly” I went ahead and worked wet in wet, and in my mind’s eye, more messily.  Splash!  Splash!

Here is the final version.  I used pale colors to give the white flowers some dimension, but am not sure how successful they are.  I have a few ideas of maybe a third rendition, but that is for tomorrow if I do it.  At this point, I tried to introduce better contrast and detail in various areas, as well as working in some oranges, reds, yellows, and light greens throughout the painting to unite parts of it throughout.

In general, I am fairly pleased with this painting.  As with (I swear) every watercolor, it has its own ideas, so of course what I wanted to produce and what I did produce are rather different!  I didn’t create mud, and though I wanted to reach for the pen to make outlines and sharpen areas, I didn’t.  I did consider watercolor pencil, but in the end decided to leave it as it was.

The biggest problem is that the white flowers themselves need more contrast, but today, I am not too sure how to get them to look more 3-dimensional.

Below, you can view a slide show of yesterday’s ink and watercolor version, as well as the evolution of today’s exercise.

Shorelines

This morning I saw a photo of a shoreline at dawn.  A lake.  A sunrise.  Twigs.  Grasses.  Mountains.

I have spent the last two weeks making Christmas presents, sewing mostly, but also baking fruit cakes (brandied and bourboned), and shopping for this or that.  Today I have more sewing scheduled, and a few “must do” things.

The fact is, while I love sewing, I love other things as well.  I have done little if any drawing or painting.

Why do we get caught up in the “must do” so easily, so easily that the simple pleasure of an hour spent with paper, pen, and ink becomes something of a crime, one so self-indulgent that our Puritan ancestors shake their fingers at us?  Pleasure?  Nay!

But, I gave in!  I’m happier for it!

Study: Fall Lake by Rick Surowicz

Rick Surowicz has taken YouTube by storm, gaining a strong following of over 25K subscribers.  Pretty sweet deal considering he put his first video out in late May 2017.  This shows you Rick’s appeal.  His first videos were really good, but his later ones have continued to improve.  Frequently he does two videos – one is a very teacherly, with clear explanations of why he does this or that, what his thought process is, and the colors and brushes he chooses.  A second one is speeded up 2 or 3 times.  This allows the viewer to preview his longer version, seeing what is up ahead before diving into the longer, detailed video.

This is my 4th or 5th follow-along with Rick.  Given my more recent issues with representation of detail, not each busy detail, I thought I would do one of his studies today.  (I also am tired of sewing!)  Rick’s video is about 45 minutes long; this took me about 2.5 hours with stopping and starting the show.  It’s a great way to practice different techniques.

There are a lot of really great instructional videos on YouTube – you can – and I have – learn so much.  Right now, though, I have what I consider to be a serious problem:  what is my style?  Copying a masterful painter gives one skills, but the interpretation has to be personal.  I figure I am on the way there – it will sort of happen – but one thing I do know, I do not want to create chaotic paintings without good contrast, clean color, and strong composition.  Rick’s paintings have all three and make for good lessons.  They are very different than the detailed fruits and flowers of Anna Mason, but those very detailed paintings also teach things such as texture, detail, light and dark.  I have learned from those as well.

 

Simplified Details

Anyone who does watercolor or painting or drawing is well aware of the need to simplify details, especially in masses of color.  Every leaf does not need to be painted.  When we look, we see these details, and the effort to simplify them into areas of light and dark and midtones can be – and often is – very challenging.  Good artists make it look so easy!

The other day I was napping on the patio (I live in a warm part of the world).  When I woke up, I looked at the podocarpus trees along the back wall, and suddenly got the idea.  I saw the details of the leaves – each leaf – but I also saw the light and the dark areas.  That is when I realized I could do it – but it had never been in the front of my mind before.

I went to work.  No outlines by pencil, just some reference photos labeled “foliage” in a search.  Varied pictures showed up, and here are my studies of simplified details.

These first three are thumbnails, about 3×4 inches in the order I painted them.

I did the above paintings yesterday.  This morning, applying the same tactic of no lines drawn, I used a 9×12 inch sheet of paper and painted out to the edges.  Again, the focus is on simplification of details into masses of color.

Success?  I don’t think any of the paintings are particularly good, but I do think I am getting that element of simplification I find so elusive in my own painting.

Redbud in the Morning, and I’ve Been Thinking

Today, Marc Taro Homes announced a 30-day direct painting challenge, and started a Facebook group dedicated to it.  I’ve also been reviewing the work of an artist I admire, and who paints everything, from weird objects to seascapes to people.  It made me think about watercolor painting in general.  It becomes something of a sacred cow – so sacred you never experience it!  So, just do it and do it and do it.  Morning sketches are helpful, and so will the days of direct painting.

Outside my studio window is a small redbud tree.  The leaves are heart-shaped and vary in color from pale green-yellow to a rusty red, depending on the way the light hits.  This is my homage to starting direct watercoloring.  I didn’t catch the transparency of the leaves this morning, but I did paint.  Maybe I will paint it again tomorrow morning.

Direct Watercolor

The other day, I came into possession of a copy of Marc Taro Holmes’ newest book, Direct Watercolor.  In spirit, I am much of the same philosophy – little prep, direct painting, thinking ahead, seizing the moment, using colors directly, relying on imagination and happenstance and experience to create a painting.  All this requires is just doing it!  The “doing it” is the training – you do it, you think, you do again.  Like anything, practicing it enhances your skills and brings the mind-muscle memory together in ways that, if you were to consciously thing about, you could never achieve.

Marc mentioned some things I found particularly useful.  One is to create a silhouette of what you are working on – create the outer edges and then move inward.  Decide if edges are going to meet so that colors can bleed into one another.  Keep your edges dry if you don’t want things to bleed from one thing into another.  Let the painting dry, but don’t go over it extensively.  Other points he made is to work light to dark, large to small, but if you are working on something, do it directly – don’t dance all over the paper.

The silhouette appealed to me immensely, as well as the brushwork.  Here are some examples of brushwork and silhouette working together.  Once the edges of whatever I was painting were done, I then came in with varied colors to shade or define.  The colors really please me in many of these little sketches – the blending, the bleeding, the hard edge against the paper’s white.

Flowers make sense for the silhouette and then move in to blend colors.  Above, wet-on-dry.  Also, working directly while everything is still wet – as in the tulip on the far right.

Below, some examples of trees to create the illusion of a building (left) and another silhouette then molded to create a shape with shadow (top right).  Marc also mentions brushwork to show direction – and the importance to suggest.  The grassy strokes on the top left.  Finally, a bigger silhouette – here, Morro Rock –  created and worked on first (bottom right) before moving into other areas, specifically the dunes and plants in the foreground.

Quick sketches with valuable lessons.  While Marc’s book is not a “how to” book, it is a valuable resource for specific techniques.  The fact he is such a talented painter makes it look easy, but the truth is, he went from precise lines, to lines and colors, to direct watercolor with a great deal of effort and an entire change of mindset.