75. 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.

 

What to Do?

Today I return to work after 10 days off.  Those days were filled with all the whirlwind activities of Thanksgiving, but also filled with time to focus on drawing and painting.  I tried to do something everyday, which worked, except for yesterday as I had to prepare to return to the classroom.  I also went out for a long walk in the local botanical garden with one of the dogs, and that was something I needed – get outside, hike, get into the world of plants.

Now, work looms ahead this morning.  Some of my work days are nearly 11 hours long, and it does not leave much room for anything personal.  About the only time I have is in the mornings, while I drink my coffee.  Instead of looking at the grim and gory news, I plan to try to do a sketch or a watercolor in the morning.  For example, find one of my photos (of which I have taken thousands) and use it for the basis of a sketch or painting or both.  I just need to continue doing it!  The sense of satisfaction with my life, which I have not felt for the past 4 years (since my schedule was changed), is returning.  Now I have to keep up the momentum.  If I can, I will try to post something every 2 or 3 days, as that is easy enough to do.

Now, let’s do it!

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!