228. Under the Oaks

This past spring in California has been one of the most stunning I can recall.  A long period of rain, extending deep into May, produced a situation in which flowers bloomed, and bloomed, and bloomed.  There are still traces of colors – golds and yellows mostly – on the hills when normally the color is beige and dead.  The richness of the wildflowers made the landscape, whether on the hills or under the trees, in the meadows or alongside the freeway, a wonderland of color.  I am still sorting out photos and memories as sources for paintings.

This is an underpainting for the gouache painting I did today.  Wildflowers under the oak trees along a local trial – lupines, wild cucumber, white and yellow flowers of known and unknown species.  Here, a la James Gurney, I decided to do an underpainting using casein paints.  He suggests casein as the underpainting as it cannot be picked up, as can an underpainting of gouache, once it dries.  It primes the paper, too.  While the smell is rather gross, the substrate it creates is stable and I rather liked using it, not just for what it did for the paper, but to lay in some values as well.

From there, I moved into remembering – thin layers to thick in gouache, building to lighter colors and thicker layers as you move along.  I’ve watched a number of videos on YouTube to get a sense of the process.  In particular, I have enjoyed the videos on gouache by Sarah Burns.  It’s rather strange to me, but it worked out.  Below is a painting of blue-eyed grass and white flowers under the oak trees in this stunning California spring.

162.1. 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.

162. On the Forest Floor

A few goals for this mornings painting.  First, keeping the white flowers white.  Outlines helped here!  Second, wet-in-wet painting.  That worked well, too.  As an afterthought, I worked on the shape of the vignette within the frame.  Top, bottom, sides.  The far right could run off the page a bit more – I could crop it, if I wanted, but I rather like the reminder of the flaws I see, too.