1. California Oak Trees

Today, my little Meetup group went to a local place, the trail by the Chumash Museum nearby my house.  (The Chumash are a California tribe.)  We were there for about an hour.  I began with a pencil sketch, and then, color.  We were settled in a small oak grove, with dark and light contrast about as contrasty as you can get.  At the end of the hour, this is what I had painted, knowing full well I would look at it and work it a bit once home.

Once home, I looked at the painting.  Still a need for contrast, and a bit more detail.  More pen, more ink brush, more colors, and some warmth.

Overall, the one above came out okay, but if you look on the mid-right, to the left of the furthest trunk, there is a bit of an odd space, so I went in and worked it a bit with ink to try to mitigate it.  I found it very distracting.  Here is the final image below.

The area has a few more lines in it, a bit busier, but somehow more in keeping with similar areas of the painting.

I used Koi watercolor brushes and the following paints:  Quinacridone Gold, Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Medium, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Teal, Ultramarine Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Phthalo Green, and Burnt Sienna.  I used a Stillman & Birn Beta Series 8×10 inch softcover notebook, and scanned the images using my trusty, not rusty, Epson V600.  Ink is Carbon Ink, and an ink brush.

Book and Video Lessons for the Student: A Retrospective

I have picked up watercolor on a serious level, along with drawing and sketching.  I have neglected that side of myself for a long time, but have attempted to reconnect with that part of myself off and on.  Truthfully, it has been more off than on, but when I do delve into painting, it is such a pleasure.  Over the years, I have purchased video classes or viewed videos from a variety of people.  Today, I sat down and went through some of my notebooks and watercolor pads, and decided to scan what I have done to see if there is anything of value.

One person I have admired and enjoyed for a long time is Charles Reid.  I love his loose, wet, messiness in watercolor.  It works.  I have watched his videos and read his books, attempting to catch what he does – learning from the teacher by doing.  I have had some success, but I still tend to overwork and create muddy colors.

Another artist I have learned from is Birgit O’Connor.  Her approach is very different than Reid’s – not splashy, but controlled, thought out, and very disciplined.  The results are completely different, but valuable in that self-discipline and forethought are necessary to achieve results.  Reid’s discipline is from years of knowledge, such as how to paint negative spaces and create contrast.  O’Connor uses masking in varying forms, such as with contact paper and frisket to help preserve white space and create texture.

From both Reid and O’Connor, I have learned a lot . . . but without daily practice, it all is forgotten.  Besides needing to remember how to paint, how to manage color, I have also forgotten how to sketch.  Craftsy classes have proven to be helpful, with ones from Shari Blaukopf, Mark Taro Holmes, David Brody, and Kateri Ewing.  These classes range from urban sketching to an extensive, classical drawing class.  Each of these has proved, and is proving, to be very valuable.  Videos are some of the best learning tools when it comes to finding time to do and to learn.  Books with encyclopedic samples on how to do things are also great, such as Claudia Nice’s books on ink, pen, and watercolor, as seen below.

On YouTube, I have subscribed to multiple channels.  These range from using dip pens to lessons from extremely talented watercolorists and sketchers.  Of late, I have been working on negative painting – painting around things, rather than directly painting things.  This is in the hopes of learning to manage white space better.

It’s easy to use lines to compensate for a lack of contrast to define light areas in negative space.  The flowers are rather disastrous, but a lesson on YouTube (sorry, I don’t recall the video the trees are from, but it was fantastic!) was very helpful.  The key to that video was to paint from the foreground back, unlike in traditional watercolor, you paint from the sky down for the most part.

In addition to videos, books are an excellent resource.  I have a lot of books.  The ugly truth is that art books are damned attractive, but how many of them have I actually sat down with and gone through, step by step?  Not many.  In fact, none at all . . . until I came across a book by Jenna Rainey:  Everyday Watercolor:  Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.  Rainey’s painting style is not what I see myself doing, but what I do like is the “daily” approach and the short, structured lessons.  Thus far, I am up to Day 11, and have been really enjoying myself.  I’ve let go that nasty inner critic that expects perfection out of the gate, and have been loosening up, and doing some things that I like.

More than anything, I am happy to see I am not lacking ability – only self-discipline to work on painting and drawing when I have time.  Looking at what I have done is inspiring me to continue, despite frustrations and time.  Nothing like a retrospective to see what and where I have been, what I am doing now, and looking forward to what I might yet do.

 

Pencil, Ink, and Watercolor

Ahhh.  Frustration.  Nothing like it to make you feel like crap!  Or to push you past your comfort zone.

Comfort zone:  Ink, watercolor washes.

Sort of comfort zone:  pencil drawing.

Disaster!  Warning!  Alarm zone:  Watercolors!  We won’t even consider these at present.

Comfort Zone

There are times when a good book helps you out a lot.  These are studies copied from a book by Claudia Nice.  What is good about these kinds of studies is that there is detail, but not a desire to be so realistic you are going to scream, if super realism is not your thing.  (It’s not mine.)  Here, you will fine stippling and hatching, and cross-hatching.  Each of these brings dimension and texture.  Add some watercolor washes, and it can really make things pop out.

Sort of Comfort Zone

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I have never really done any formal consideration of pencil drawing.  To me it seems counter-intuitive to think about pencil drawings beyond pencil drawings of a casual quality, like the scribbles and doodles students turn in with their work.  Rather, I looked at a drawing book from the library and had a deeper appreciation for the textures pencils can make.  As with pen and ink, stippling and hatching are at work – but so are circles and lines in varying directions, along with lines which depict texture, such as the little hook-shaped lines at the very bottom.

Alarm Zone!

Today, I filled up a palette with watercolor pigments.  Now, I am slowly studying washes and wet-into-wet.  I am also using a whole slough of pigments I have never used and dropping some of my old standbys.  I am feeling like crap.  But, perseverance.  Onward.

Whatever.

 

Sketches with Pencil, Ink, and Watercolor

Deciding to take the bull by the proverbial horns, I enrolled in a few of the online classes on Craftsy.  I have used them for a number of other courses, such as sewing or photography, and really enjoy their format.  Demonstrations which are practical, well presented, and make sense are worthwhile.  Online streaming format, without limitation (once bought), is another advantage – you can watch, play, replay, go away, and revisit.  I really like Craftsy for this one reason.  So, I enrolled in a drawing class called See Better, Draw Better: Exercises for Beginners by Kateri Ewing, and a couple by Shari Blaukopf on Sketching with Pen and Ink – one for landscapes, and one for cityscapes.

I am alternating between the drawing class and the sketching landscape classes.  I have my chrome book, pens, paper, ink, water, coffee, and watercolors, and who knows what else.  I am using one notebook – it’s a standard sketchbook, so the paper is thin – and taking notes and playing with the exercises as we move along.  I have also been doing some sketching while listening to an audiobook.  The watercolor studies are essentially play – not serious – because I do things as Blaukopf moves along in her class.  I want to see her class almost completely before I really do anything on watercolor paper, whereas the drawing class is easier to play and do some “serious” stuff as it moves along.

I’ve doodled with drawing throughout the years, but never really focused on drawing in the way Ewing presents it.  She uses 3 pencils – 6H, 4B, and HB.  She also explains the differences between willow and vine charcoal, which I never thought of.  As well, she discusses hatching, cross-hatching, broken lines, stippling, and other techniques for texture.  I never thought of drawing in the direction of the shape of an object.  She has you begin with gestural drawings and them move onto the shading techniques and so on.  I’m surprised at what I have been able to do – as you can see below!

From the gestural drawings, she moves into shape and shadow to give volume – light and dark.

And then, I’ve been sketching in between.

As I said, I am moving through the watercolor / pen / ink classes differently.  I want to focus more on listening, and observing, and hoping that the drawing class will help with my ongoing issue of contrast and value and tone.  The pencil pictures are helping a lot already, but the real key will be painting.  Below are some sketches made from the landscape class and done on non-watercolor paper, just to show some of the stuff I’ve been playing with.

My problem is a lack of time.  Work and life get in the way.  Still, it’s wonderful to feel the focus of drawing and painting and thinking I just might, just might, be able to do something worthwhile!

Frustrations with Contrast

Sunday, 3 September 2017

It’s sort of a quandary.   Should I blame myself, the weather, the paper?

First, we have been housebound, not by hurricanes, but by interminably hot and stinking weather, weather so fiercely hot that heat stroke is easy to come by.  Temperatures have been soaring to 112 F and 30% humidity – for a desert gal, this is not fun.  Dry weather and moderate heat is okay, but living in the darkened house, in a house filled with air conditioned air, and melting outside, is getting old very, very fast.  Tempers are short around here, and hopefully the weather will break tomorrow with 85 F and begin to cool.  I hate being inside and being inactive.  I don’t belong to a gym, but it is too hot to go for a walk or a run, probably even in the middle of the night.  So, it pisses me off!

Next, I am impatient and annoyed – a lot because of forced inactivity because of this disgusting weather.  This doesn’t help when watercolor paper needs to be used up for practice, but the sizing is so crappy it buckles and creates weird areas that show poor quality – and possibly poor quality control.  And the practice itself is hard to do – in part because of my monkey mind and my need for some good aerobics to rid myself of the wiggles so I can focus.

Oh, poor me!

But now that I’ve bitched a bit, maybe I can look back at what I am doing . . . working on my ever-present nemesis:  contrast.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Okay, I got over myself.  I tell you, though, that a week of unrelenting heat and humidity of 110 F and 35-100% humidity is not fun.  Today, humidity has dropped because of rain, the temperature is down to about 85 F.  I am in a much better mood.

Yesterday, I walked away from my abominations, knowing full well that contrast was the real issue I have.  Like I have said many times, I am drawn to color.  Color.  COLOR!  I don’t like doing the “basics” in knitting (i.e. swatching) and I have never given much credence to monochrome studies, even though it has been stated and re-stated multiple times.  Finally, I gave in, and did some grey scales in pencil and watercolor.  In watercolor I did some wet-into-wet, and then layered washes.

And finally I did a watercolor.  The grey-scale study was invaluable – lesson learned!

There are parts of the preliminary drawing and final grey-scale study which are good, and some which are bad.  I followed a video on YouTube by Paul Talbot-Greaves that was very clear.  He has a few others I will look at as well.  Seeing something done always helps me to learn.  A book is good, but watching the steps a painter takes is even better, especially when recorded and you can go back again and again to do the studies.

The steps I took here began with a simple light wash over all parts of the building – very, very light – into a lot of other areas in the picture.  Then I did some medium layered dry washes, just to do them.  These are on the bushes and foliage behind the two trees on right.  the building had wet-into-wet, moving it into the bushes in front of the door.  At this point, I had my white and middle value established, so I thought it would be fruitful to do the very darkest areas next.  I think it was a good idea as it then allowed me to then return to shades between the whitest and darkest shades.  This study was in Payne’s Grey on a student-grade Strathmore paper.

I also found another video, but cannot find the link for it.  There was an excellent suggestion of creating a grey scale, and holding it against colors as you paint.  What shade is your yellow or red?  That will help with the contrast.  Right now, let’s see what I can do with a few colors . . . this is gonna take a lot of discipline!  But, I am doing it, which is more than I was a few weeks ago.  Yay!

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!

Resources & Supplies

art-supplies-1324034_1280

Over the last few weeks I have been going through the supplies I have on hand and deciding what I need to replace or add.  I’ve added a few new tubes of watercolor, some brushes, and a tablet of paper.  I’ve looked through my books and bought a couple that really interested me.  I added a couple of pencils, some black permanent pigment pens, India ink, rubber masking, and a couple of other things.  Cleaning up and re-organizing the studio helped keep me from adding duplicate materials, as well as discard old things which were no longer functional.  I still need to inventory my 22 x 30 inch sheets of watercolor paper.

Another thing I did was to set up this blog, and go through YouTube in search of how-to videos and subscribe to channels, many of which I have added to the links here.  Making a video is a lot of work and takes time, but watching a video is one of the best learning tools.  You can stop it, start it, watch it again and again.  For me, this is one way I find helps me to master something.

Now, I need to get started at really focusing on this side of my life and do something.  I have laid down some washes and practiced on different papers – this is all good.  The truth is, I’m rather scared of doing this.  The fear of failure is there, and in the back of my mind I hear voices of the past, of comparison, and so on.  All people who pursue the arts at any serious level hear these – but the ones that really, really want it continue despite real or perceived challenges.

Onward!