After Watercolor Basics… What Next?

STAGE I. THE BASICS.

Anyone with desire and focus, can learn to paint with watercolors. The process, however, can take a very long time, even years, and true artists never stop learning (nor do they want to). But let’s assume that you have learned what materials you need and the fundamental techniques you need to use those materials. What comes next?  When I began to paint in 2008, I didn’t know. I don’t think I even knew that I was considering such a question. What was important to me at the time was improving! I wanted to get more proficient. In this post, I intend to share some of the steps I’ve taken in my process of learning watercolor, a few questions I’ve asked myself, and several concerns I’ve had along the way.      

Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting.

STAGE II. COPYING & CLOSE OBSERVATION.

Beyond the elementary techniques, I found that what I wanted was to portray my reference images as accurately as possible. I quickly learned that close observation was required. But as an artist, I found ‘seeing’ isn’t simple.

Most of the time, we look at things with only part of our attention.  We see only what we expect to see, often assigning a label to every image.  For instance, if what we are looking at is a ‘tree,’ we may not explore carefully what is really there.  This habit of not paying close attention keeps us from actually LOOKING at things.  In the everyday world, we quickly categorize and move on, perhaps in part because there seems to be so much information.

When I started painting, I would choose an image to paint, and the first thing I’d notice was a lot of detail. I was distracted by details, as perhaps you are, too. What do you do with all that detail? How do you know which details are important? Those questions overwhelmed me. I had been told to ‘look carefully’ at a reference, but the more I looked, the more confusing detail I saw. Over time, however, I began to believe that the trick had to be focusing on something else, not trying to capture every tiny detail.  Focusing on small details, like individual leaves, or trying to include every tree trunk or grass blade in a painting, didn’t work well.

Thus, to paint more successfully, I forced myself to slow down. I tried NOT to look at small details first, but instead to examine and study the shapes, values, and colors that made up the larger framework of each scene. ‘Seeingdoes mean focusing attention, looking closely, but especially at the arrangement of shapes. For example, where is the light hitting the tree branches?  Can you see through the branches?  What is the overall shape of the tree?  Are branches straight, upturned, crooked, rough?  Is the tree lopsided or symmetrical?  Are the highlights a different color from the shadows?  What is the weather, and how does it affect the appearance of the ‘tree’?  By asking such questions and looking carefully, I began to more accurately paint what I SAW, NOT what I THOUGHT I saw.

As I became more familiar with and practiced at painting, I began to see more subtle color, more nuanced detail, more understated tones. It seems that ‘seeing’ cannot be forced and may only develop gradually over time, with experience, and when one is ready. With practice, however, we can expect to notice more and sooner, perhaps even noting details that others miss or take for granted.

Forsythia In Vases Watercolor Painting.

DRAWING HELPS YOU OBSERVE CAREFULLY.

Drawing trains the mind, hand, and eye to work together.  Many beginning artists may avoid drawing altogether if they can, feeling that their drawing skills are not good.  However, you should not feel obliged to render precise drawings of what you wish to paint.  Do not let your concerns about drawing ability or drawing technique deter you. I found that even sketching a quick, rough thumbnail required me to consider what was important in a scene. One of the main purposes of drawing is to TRAIN yourself to see shapes and spaces more accurately – to ‘see’ like an artist and keep the big picture in mind.  By keeping details to a minimum, just getting some information down without stressing, you can help yourself to see.  

More specifically, you should look for basic SHAPES and notice how they are connected.  Find larger shapes first; then fit smaller shapes into them.  See the image as a whole; and only then concentrate on individual components.  Distracting details are only decoration on the surface of these shapes. Squinting your eyes often helps you to see beyond any unnecessary detail. Concentrate; work slowly and intently.  Give yourself the time to observe and take in information before rushing to produce an image.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to perceive what you see as totally abstract forms, values, lines, and color, as in a jigsaw puzzle. You must shift your perspective. Remember that shadows are shapes, as are reflections.  Backgrounds have shape and should act as frames for the subject of a painting.  Only when you can ‘see’ in this way will you begin to be able to suggest three-dimensional reality on your flat, two-dimensional paper.

Frederick Franck, artist and philosopher, says in The Zen of Seeing/Drawing:  “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle . . . .”  So do not hesitate to sketch and draw what you intend to paint.  As you draw, you will notice which details are important and sharpen the mind/hand/eye coordination necessary to improve your painting skills.  Drawing is a skill that requires practice and time, just like any other ability (including learning the techniques of painting).  The skills and mental processes necessary for drawing are the same as those you use when painting with a brush.

White Primroses Watercolor Painting.

STAGE III. BEGIN TO DESIGN, PLAN, & SIMPLIFY.

When I began to feel more confident reproducing an image before me, I sometimes found myself wishing I could improve a composition; the reference pictures I found weren’t quite satisfying. Occasionally I wanted to combine two photos instead of having to copy one. In other instances, I wondered if some of the components in a picture might be better relocated to another section of the picture, even left out. A tree or a building might have been blocking what I thought was the most interesting section of the picture.

At this point, I also began to take some of my own reference photos, to create a view I desired. I essentially inched my way toward DESIGNING my paintings, seeing what was in front of me but arranging and modifying the information to actually improve the picture, making it something I liked better and felt was more effective. 

Eventually it dawned on me that this desire to improve a reference might be the start to a new stage in painting for me. To improve a painting, I could forget about ‘reproducing’ nature. I could start to REARRANGE it! I could take what I liked and ignore what I didn’t want to include. Definite rules about design and composition existed and could greatly improve a painting. I wanted to learn them. 

Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts is a comprehensive guide and excellent resource that can help you learn more about composition. 

These blog posts might also be of interest if you want to know more: “Composition!?!”, (5/7/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/05/07/, and “Designing A Strong Painting With Good Composition!”, (10/16/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/16/designing-a-strong-painting/.

Red Geranium Watercolor Painting.

I found that this designing and PLANNING need to be done BEFORE any paint is put on the paper. Again, you will need to study your subject for a while. Think about what it is that attracted you – that should be the primary statement or BIG IDEA in your painting. Consider what you will emphasize in the picture. Eliminate anything that might compete with or distract from the ONE focal point and main idea. You shouldn’t try to include every daunting detail in a scene. Instead, it pays to NARROW your vision (even to crop an image) and SIMPLIFY your subject. 

Ask yourself what your focal point is. What will your painting be about? Is there a lead-in to invite the viewer into the picture? Think about what you want to say before you start. WHAT do you hope to achieve, and HOW are you going to achieve it? Establish some clear objectives. 

While drawing or sketching develops necessary observational skills as mentioned previously, drawing also helps you to plan and condense information into a simplified format. This clarification will strengthen the message of your final painting.  With a drawing you are more likely to end up with your focal point being prominent, because you concentrate mainly on that particular feature.  Your drawing will be streamlined, easier on the eye of the viewer, because you collect only the information that counts and leave out extraneous material. Thus, drawing trains the brain to think about and analyze what is essential to the picture.

High Jinks Watercolor Painting.

IV. EXPRESS FEELINGS & EMOTIONS.

A later stage in improving my painting skills grew out of the wish to have my feelings and emotions come across in each painting. When establishing the IDEA for a painting now, I try to think about how I feel. We all interpret a scene in our own way – WHAT you want to emphasize and WHY will probably differ from what interests me or another person. That is to be expected – we all have different experiences, reactions, thoughts, and feelings that affect our impression of our world. These factors will affect our chosen focal point, our ‘big idea’ for a painting, even the style in which we paint it. (Our own particular concerns and perception directly determine the painting style we choose.)

In other words, I try to consider MOOD when planning my painting approach to a picture, and then work to express it. It seems easier for me to achieve some success at this in some paintings than in others. I contemplate how the scene makes me feel. Happy, sad, excited, nostalgic? I strive to determine what it is I want to show and what the meaning of each topic is to me. Why did I choose to paint this picture? Why was I drawn to this image? Does the scene remind me of a favorite place?  Does the picture make me feel calm? Do I feel like laughing when I look at or think about this subject? 

I believe great artists are able to paint their feelings about a scene, as well as an impression of its actual appearance. (Think about Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, for instance, or Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring.) They make sure they don’t copy the details so faithfully and precisely that there is no room left for life, mystery, or emotion in a painting. Instead, such artists paint their interpretation and memories, share what they feel are the significant factors behind what may be a commonplace scene, attempt to translate emotions aroused in their hearts. They often reveal their skill at rearrangement and invention in the scene.

T’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

Emotion can be conveyed in a painting in a number of ways. The mood of a painting can be created or altered by hard, soft, or lost edges; light and dark values (contrast, high key, or low key); line and arrangement of masses (lyrical, angular, curved, open, closed-in, a preponderance of verticals or horizontals); light (overcast, ominous or threatening, nighttime, bright and sunny, glaring, or late afternoon); and color choice and color proportion (warm, neutral, cold, cheery, drab, soothing, jarring, or balanced). For more in depth information on emotion and mood in painting, see “Get In The Mood!”, (9/4/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/09/04/get-in-the-mood/

Choosing and combining so many variables appropriately and successfully to express your emotion takes experimentation and practice, yet is the ultimate goal in art.

Take note of and respond to your own emotions – these feelings are what you will try to get down on paper and share with viewers of your art. Think with your heart. People will connect to YOUR art with THEIR emotions! 

V. BECOME YOUR OWN TEACHER.

After painting for ten years, I lost my beloved mentor and watercolor teacher, who died in 2018. Before he died, he asked me to take over the teaching of his watercolor classes. While I didn’t feel at all ready for that, I really didn’t want to let him down. For that reason, I started teaching others what he had taught me. However, I couldn’t help feeling that there was still more for me to learn. If I had questions, though, who could I ask? My solution was to study art books, seek information online, and continue taking occasional workshops in person and courses online. 

I also began writing blog posts (in 2018) to share with others the information I was learning about watercolor. I studied and wrote about things I was struggling with, or topics I found especially interesting. In order to write about a subject, I had to consolidate, understand, and make sense of it for myself. Writing has helped me know my own thoughts.

I think we can all work towards becoming our own best teacher. Always keep learning on your own and for yourself. I’m not suggesting you avoid taking classes or working with watercolor instructors you enjoy and are learning from. Instead, I’m asking you to treat yourself as a good teacher would, by being supportive of yourself, allowing yourself to investigate and learn more about the art topics that you might be struggling with, and searching out information about your art interests. (One of my recent investigative searches has been about how to paint light, create the glow of light in watercolor.) I hope that you take an active part in your own art education.

If interested, the following blog post will explain more about creating the best possible attitude toward your painting: “How Can I Become My Own Best Teacher”, (7/21/2021), https://leemuirhaman.com/2021/07/21/how-can-i-become-my-own-watercolor-teacher/.

Crossroads Watercolor Painting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For me, I want to continue to write and to paint with watercolor. I hope to freshen up my website, perhaps even adding an option to purchase directly from the site. I would like to improve my skills at designing my own pictures more creatively, and to spend more time painting my own compositions. I will also, of course, persist in studying, learning, and researching what intrigues me about watercolor.

What’s next for you?

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

What do you think about this quote by Martha Beck who has said, “An artist’s real contribution isn’t what he paints, but the way he sees.”? Let me know in a comment below.

Jumpstart Your Watercolor Painting!

Several articles I’ve read lately have made me aware of the great benefits of ‘daily painting.’ Painting every day develops creative habits and greatly improves your art. You become more skillful, productive, and successful as an artist, according to the many painters who have tried it. Wait! Don’t, like me, immediately dismiss the idea of painting daily as impossible for you.  Try to keep an open mind as you read the following comments, and you may find that you are excited and inspired to begin to paint more consistently yourself.

Artist Mary Gilkerson explains: “Before you tell me you just don’t have time, let me point out a couple of things. Consistency over quantity. Consistency matters. Doing a small painting daily is better for your growth than 5 big paintings a month. 20-30 minutes a day can make a huge difference.

“The rewards: 

   1.  Your work improves.

   2.  You stay motivated because ideas flow easily.

   3.   Small daily steps move you closer to your goals.

   4.   Muscle memory takes over and the difficult things become easier.

   5.   You paint faster with more ease.

   6.   You paint more intuitively and responsively rather than consciously.

   7.   Your own personal style will develop without you even having to think about it.”

Chris Krupinski agrees and has said she knew she wouldn’t be a really good painter by painting only on weekends, so she committed to painting two hours every day no matter what. 

Duane Keiser, who is often credited with initiating ‘daily painting’ (as in completing a small painting a day) in 2004 and posts his work for sale on a daily blog, states that his daily small paintings “are about the pleasure of seeing.”

Simple Red and Green Watercolor.

Simone Nijboer, a Dutch artist, talks about her art journey, sharing this: “For many years, I wanted to paint but did not dare to start. When I had gathered enough courage, I started painting, but dropped it again quite soon, since I had lots of insecurities, doubts, and unhelpful thoughts around painting. 

“This all changed when I started painting on a more or less daily basis. I loved it so much! It might sound exaggerated, but I personally feel that daily painting changed my life. 

“Creativity became an indispensable and joyful ingredient of my day, and this joy spread over to the rest of my life.”

Carol Marine, artist and author of Daily Painting, rediscovered the joy of painting when she began completing small (mostly 6”X6”) works daily during her son’s naptime. “Painting small and often gave me the freedom to experiment – every day I got to start on an entirely new project. No longer did I feel overwhelmed by the large number of things I wanted to paint – I could do them all. And I could do each one fifty different ways (or more)! If one subject or one style didn’t quite work out, well, I didn’t sweat it. I had only invested part of a day’s worth of work on it, after all.”

Two Fruits Watercolor.

Stephen Berry, a watercolor artist who writes the blog Seamless Expression, has written (3/11/2022) a most compelling description of how the daily painting process has affected him. “I’ve been doing a daily painting for each of the last 32 days, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.  I can’t recommend it enough!  I’ve gotten to stretch myself in a lot of ways, and although it’s been daunting at times (and logistically complex!), it’s also been a great deal of fun.  So much fun, in fact, that I intend to keep going….

“At first, the painting experience was just like normal for me, but slowly, as I began to paint each day, it dawned on me that I was going to paint again, and soon.  That can be very liberating!  Paintings become less precious, failure less demoralizing (although still totally irksome), more chances get taken.  And that means growth….

“Painting daily has provided me a space to try out new approaches— high key paintings, or new color relationships, new pigments, new compositions, etc…. I need to pick subjects I can easily simplify— and that means strong shapes and bold contrasts.  And that is often very good for creating compelling composition.”  Berry says he works hard to recognize what is really essential in an image and to decide just what it is he wants to paint. What is not essential, he discards. “There’s a bold, graphic quality to the final product, which I like….The changes in my compositions have been so compelling to me.” (See  http://www.seamlessexpression.com/blog/2022/3/10/daily-painting-for-a-month-and-longer to read more of Berry’s blog post.)

Lily Pads Watercolor.

I’m inspired! Are you? Will you choose to complete a small daily painting, or decide to commit yourself to regular painting every single day (not necessarily finishing one work daily)? Perhaps you’d like to really commit yourself to getting good at your art by painting consistently, not just on the weekend! Promise yourself to paint for 30 minutes to an hour every day, whether you finish a painting during that time or not. Return the next day to paint for the same amount of time, and the next day. By the third day maybe you’ll have a finished painting. The main thing is to figure out what works for you to get you painting more regularly, painting more than you used to.

Let me know how you get yourself to paint consistently. Do you have tips that you would like to share with others who struggle to find the time to paint? Let me know in the comments.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

A Few Of My 2021 Painting Successes And Struggles. 

Even after painting for many years, every artist has good days and bad days. Don’t ever think that every painting proceeds smoothly. In this post, I will share a few of the successes and some struggles that I experienced in my painting this past year while teaching my weekly watercolor zoom class.

In my zoom classes, I choose the image that students and teacher (that’s me) paint together. Each picture is chosen to teach several specific art lessons. Students learn to evaluate various reference photos, create a plan of attack for each painting, and proceed step-by-step toward completion of a painting. We share our work throughout, giving each other feedback and support. 

Watercolor ‘Flowing Forward’.  (Photo: Tristan T. Haman)

My painting of ‘Flowing Forward’ is one of the year’s more successful pictures. It combines sun and shade, flowing water and ice, some reflection on the open water, warm and cool colors, verticals and horizontals, hard edges and soft to create an effective image. A complicated scene was simplified to avoid too much detail.

Watercolor ‘Where Are We?’.  (Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, MA.)

‘Where Are We?’ caused some problems. It was a struggle to keep the center of interest (the  stone bridge) a lighter value than its surroundings so it would stand out. Further, the ripples and highlights on the water disappointed me. Warm and cool colors were, however, used to good effect. And I was pleased with the distant trees.

                    Watercolor ‘Beach Shadows’. (Photo: Dan Scott)

‘Beach Shadows’ was a difficult picture which eventually turned out well. The contrast in values (lights and darks) was striking. The picture is a good study of how colors (both warm and cool) change when in shadow. Both soft and hard edges were painted after close observation.

Watercolor ‘Bottles And Oil Lamps’.  (Photo: pixabay.com)  

‘Bottles And Oil Lamps’ was a challenge. Careful observation of the reflections and refractions in the backlit glass was important. While there is a good range of values in the painting and a bit of ‘glow,’ the picture doesn’t seem very dynamic or suggestive of feeling.

Watercolor ‘Red Geranium’.  (Photo: Unknown artist)

‘Red Geranium,’ on the other hand, feels soothing and inviting to me. I can sense the luminous glow of the winter sunlight as it shines through the homey lace curtains and onto the window sill. Warm and cool colors, hard and soft edges, and contrasts of values succeed in highlighting the center of interest.

Watercolor ‘Water Under The Bridge’.  (Photo: Courtesy of Karen Morris)

‘Water Under The Bridge’ also employs warm and cool colors, hard and soft edges, and contrasts of values; however, a few problems distract from the painting. Sunlit ‘glow’ on the side of the bridge has been lost, perhaps because of the choice of paint color. And the yellow-green water reflection is strong and distracting. The foreground rock also needs work.

Watercolor ‘Autumn Dirt Road’. (Photo: Tristan T. Haman).

‘Autumn Dirt Road’ is a painting of opposites and contrasts, bright sunlight and shadows, and warm and cool rich color. Autumn foliage is hard to capture in a painting. Details in the foliage and on the road are simplified here and merely suggested. The viewer is drawn down the dirt road toward the orange tree and into the afternoon sunlight. I really want to walk down that road!

I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my 2021 painting experiences. While painting can sometimes be frustrating and complex, it is extremely rewarding when it goes well. I feel very strongly that artists only fail when they give up. So, keep painting and enjoy yourself.

Is there a part of the painting process you struggle with? Do you tend to get stuck in the middle, like me? Do you have trouble critiquing your own work? Do you have difficulty knowing what to simplify? Are you not sure where to start a painting? Do you want to paint details everywhere in your paintings? Let me know in the comments.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you in my newsletter. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

What Does It Mean To Simplify A Painting?

Most artists have heard that they need to ’simplify’ when painting. We’re told that simplifying is  good! But why, what is it, and how do you go about ‘simplification’? A beginning artist, unsure exactly what simplification means, may often just go ahead and struggle to copy what they see, details and all, exactly as it is.

Why simplify?

With more experience, however, we come to understand that it’s possible and sensible to IMPROVE a painting by changing some of the components of an image. We want to share a story in our own way about what we see. Perhaps we want to emphasize parts of our picture and encourage the viewer to understand what is important to us. We don’t want to include confusing or extraneous information in our image. Sometimes a painting becomes more effective and stronger if some parts are left out completely. We want to make less be more! That is why we simplify.

What is Simplification?

The essence of simplifying is making something less complex and complicated. In painting, simplifying can mean making your painting and your message clearer, easier to understand.  Complex forms with lots of detail are REDUCED or EDITED to become fundamental shapes and including only the most important details. Copying is not simplifying, whereas painting an impression or suggestion of a scene is. 

Crocus simplified.

How to simplify? First, Establish Major Shapes.

Begin by thinking about shapes – the MAJOR SHAPES of the scene you hope to paint. (Don’t begin by focusing on details.) Look for the largest shapes, the big overall pattern. Imagine the least number of shapes necessary to make your design. In a landscape painting, the fewest number of shapes could be two – sky and land, or sky and ocean. But your image could have as many as 5-7 large shapes. A row of trees with their shadows (their shapes combined to form one) could be a shape. Or a mountain range can be a major shape. Keep in mind that ‘shapes’ are not necessarily single objects or subjects. A single barn could include several shapes – one side of the barn sunlit, the other shaded (see below).

Some of the major shapes include sunlit front of barn, shaded end of barn.

Only after noting major shapes (which form the backbone of your painting), should you consider smaller shapes, then details.

Second, Reduce The Range of Values.

Shapes in a painting can often be related to VALUE (lights and darks). Strive for simplified value contrasts and limit yourself to light, middle, and dark values as you plan your picture. Rather than trying to capture a lot of little shapes and an infinite range of values, design your painting with strong and simple shapes and a limited range of values. You will avoid confusing clutter that distracts viewers from your intended message.

Third, Use Fewer Colors.

Another way to simplify your image and create a stronger painting is to use a LIMITED PALETTE of colors. Too many colors can complicate a picture, making it appear garish, as well as make mixing of color burdensome. Fewer colors, on the other hand, can increase color harmony and balance.

Limited palette of colors used.

Fourth, Limit details.

Better artists are able to look at the vast amount of information around us and screen out extraneous details. To do that yourself, stop and ask yourself what it is about your subject that you liked. Once you have identified what interests you about the scene, think about what details are important to your message (that you might want to emphasize) and which details do not contribute (which you might be able to make less important or completely filter out of the picture). It’s sometimes a good idea to even crop out/eliminate an area that does not add value. 

You may want more detail around your center of interest to encourage a viewer to focus on this area of your painting. Soften and eliminate some details elsewhere in the picture (perhaps blurring details in the distance and shadows). 

In this barn painting, I cropped away some of the edges, simplified a bit of the fencing and barn board, and got rid of the trough in the foreground completely.

Details limited in painting.

Original Reference Photo.

Thumbnails To Help You Simplify.

Use several THUMBNAIL sketches to structure the best possible composition for a painting. Thumbnails are not finished drawings, but quick, small, simplified sketches, 2X3 inches (or perhaps 4X5 inches) that help you explore where your painting might go.  Try to keep your thumbnail sketch proportions similar to what you plan for the finished work.  Experiment with the arrangement of shapes and values. Your first thumbnail is often not the best arrangement you can come up with, so draw several thumbnails, with pencil, before choosing a final composition.

Fourth and Final Quick Thumbnail for Field Painting.
Watercolor Painting of Field

Sketching out a few thumbnails is like brainstorming, investigating options or variations on possible picture arrangements. It need only take 3 to 5 minutes. By working small, there is no room to fuss with detail. It is one of the best ways to organize and simplify a composition, and to focus on important information, while eliminating the unnecessary.

In Summary.

As an artist, strive to simplify, interpret a scene, and make it your own. Be bold. Simplifying your composition improves its focus, clarity, and power. To simplify may seem difficult at first, but less can really be more!

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you in my newsletter. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf., that you can download and print.

My Approach To Watercolor… Step By Step.

All artists develop unique ways to create their art – there are many variations in approach to painting, not one correct way.

I prefer an interpretive realistic style much of the time. I don’t strive for a hyper-realistic or photographic reproduction of a scene, but for an image adapted from what I see – one that expresses emotion and shows strong value contrasts. To create good realistic art, you need to make it personal. Your art should reveal what you want to say and what the image means to you. See Realism: Better Than An Exact Copy, a blog post written January 22, 2019, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/01/22/realism-better-than-an-exact-copy/.

STUDY IMAGE. FINALIZE COMPOSITION.

Tris-Flowing Forward In all Directions- Acton Winter Pond

 

Template – Flowing Forward.

Initially, I just sit with the image I have chosen to paint. I look carefully, study, and analyze before beginning. (Painting Begins With Looking And Seeing” (12/18/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/12/18/painting-begins-with-looking-and-seeing/.) I’m trying to anticipate possible problems I might encounter as I paint.

I think about what attracted me emotionally and what details, therefore, will be important to include in the painting. In this way, I design a CENTER OF INTEREST to emphasize. Here, I choose the sunlit orange bushes along the far edge of the river to be my center of interest. I see this focus framed by verticals (tree trunks) and horizontals (shore line and flow of the river). I note that there is open water (where there are reflections) in addition to the hard ice toward each shore. (These differences in ice/open water are barely noticeable, yet important.) I also consider whether there are unnecessary details that detract from the effectiveness of the picture. For instance, I will simplify this image by reducing too numerous tree trunks in a busy background, and by removing distracting branches hanging near the center of interest. However, I decide to keep the broken stump in the foreground because it points like an arrow toward my center of interest.

I might explore lights and darks with VALUE STUDIES, including light, mid, and dark tones. (I want to insure that the greatest contrast of values occurs around my center of interest to draw the attention of viewers.) I like that the orange bushes are surrounded by the dark woods and white ice. I must also keep in mind, as I paint, from what direction the light is coming. I make a note of the sunlit middle ground and shaded distance and foreground. I also occasionally experiment by changing the COMPOSITION (arrangement of shapes) with small thumbnail sketches, especially if I’m combining two photographs or have added/removed some shapes. ( I Have An Image I’d Like To Paint. Now Where Do I Start? 8/21/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/08/21/i-have-an-image-id-like-to-paint-now-where-do-i-start/.) In this image, however, I like the composition as it is.

PLAN. CONSIDER TECHNIQUES AND COLORS.

More specifically, I consider my plan of attack. Where will I begin painting? Perhaps I’ll start with the background or the sky? I need to have  some idea what I want to do, but also want to be open to adapting plans as the painting proceeds. I think about what TECHNIQUES and specific steps I might try. I decide that when I complete my pencil sketch (which doesn’t include every detail shown in the template) on watercolor paper, I will mask the top edge of the orange bushes and a few tree trunks in the distant trees to protect some sunlit areas. I feel that too many details in the distance would detract from the orange bushes, so I’ll try to avoid overdoing the far trees. I won’t mask any of the ice – since open water in the middle of the river will be painted wet-in-wet, while darker hard ice in the foreground will be painted around the lighter ice areas.

As I think about beginning to paint, I think about LAYERS. Some parts of the picture are ‘in front of’ others. This suggests that one would begin painting the ‘behind’ layers or ‘underneath’ layers first. In a watercolor landscape, therefore, painting often starts in the sky or background. In this image, I will begin with the far tree line, above the shore and bushes. Further, I see several colors in the trees, which suggests that several layers will need to be applied to the trees.

But I mustn’t get ahead of myself! Before painting, I consider what pigments might be best to use. I like to create a TEST SHEET with a number of pigment possibilities before I make decisions about what colors to try in an actual painting. (If you intend to paint this image, substitute the pigments you have on hand already. You can see by looking at my test sheets that there are many suitable color combinations.) Since I want the effect of sunlight in the middle distance, I consider yellows that I could use for an underlayer. Originally, I begin with Raw Sienna, but feel it doesn’t ‘glow’, so I then investigate Gamboge and Winsor Yellow. I know I want transparent, non-staining colors for the second layers of both the distant trees and the orange bushes (because the technique I will try in both locations is to scrape the second layer of paint to reveal tree trunks and branches underneath). See the attached photos of my color experimentation for this painting.

Color test sheets – Flowing Forward.

SKETCH IMAGE, MASK, AND BEGIN PAINTING.

I transfer my image to watercolor paper ( Saunders Waterford 300 lb. rough), mask tops of orange bushes, a few distant tree trunks, a few horizontal snow strips in and among the orange bushes, and the small sunlit patch on the right-hand front tree trunk.

Flowing Forward masking

Initial sketch with masking – Flowing Forward.

When masking is dry, I scumble in tree shapes (with pale Gamboge) over the far tree line, leaving plenty of ‘sky holes’ among the trees. While this is drying, I mix Raw Umber and Ultramarine Blue to make a dark brown-gray for the next tree layer. I have my palette knife at the ready. When the yellow paint is dry, I scumble varied tree shapes (again leaving ‘sky holes’) over a small section of the yellow far trees. As the shine (of wet paint) starts to dissipate, I use the point and edge of the palette knife to scrape back some tree trunks to reveal the sunlit yellow ‘underneath’. I paint the brown-gray, in small sections, varied but darker at the bottom and lighter higher up, to insure enough time to scrape before the paint dries. (Scraping back color is effective only when the paint is damp/wet.) I finish scraping one section before painting and scraping the next section of tree line.

When the scraped tree line has dried, I dot in some sky color (very pale and juicy Cerulean mixed with Cobalt Blue) in the saved ‘sky holes’.

 

MIDDLE DISTANCE.

When the distant trees and sky paint have dried, I remove masking fluid from the bushes and far trees. With the same yellow (Gamboge) used for the tree underlayers, I paint an underlayer (with pointy tops) to cover all the middle distance bushes. I let dry. Then I mix the orange for the second layer of the middle distance bushes. I decide to try a mixture of Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Transparent Red Oxide. I’m hoping to apply orange more thinly in some sunlit layers, more richly in more shaded areas. I paint a small section at a time, as with the far tree line, and scrape with the point of my palette knife to lift numerous thin branches out of the orange to reveal the yellow below. When dry, I will be able to shadow below and in the more shaded sections of the orange bushes.

Flowing Forward background

Background painting – Flowing Forward.

WATER/ICE.

I plan to paint the wet, open water in the center of the river with a wet-in-wet technique. This area shows reflections of the sky, some distant tree trunks, and orange bushes. I create three puddles of color to be ready to paint this area. These puddles can be mixed somewhat darker than you might expect, since the color will be diluted to some degree by painting wet-in-wet. First, I combine Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Blue (sky reflection). Second, I form a puddle of Transparent Pyrrol Orange (bush reflections). Third, I mix Cobalt Blue and Transparent Red Oxide to create a blue-gray. At this point I pre-wet the paper, but only in the area where I see reflections and know there is open water (in the center of the river).

When the wet shine just leaves the paper, I pick up some sky blue paint and swoop it onto a small section with horizontal strokes. I immediately pick up some blue-gray and place it across the damp paper, leaving white space for placement of the orange paint, which I paint next. I do NOT mix these colors, but charge them (drop them) next to each other. All edges will remain soft and the colors will remain separate if not mixed on the paper. As the wet shine begins to dissipate, I use a damp thirsty flat brush to lift out a few tree trunk and small branch reflections. I let dry.

I prepare to paint the gray solid ice next. I will leave the lighter sections of foreground ice as the white of the watercolor paper for now, so I mix a medium value gray  from Cobalt Blue with just a touch of Transparent Red Oxide.

When applying paint here, I try to keep in mind there are hard edges (wet paint applied to dry paper) where I see the gray meet white ice in the foreground. As the gray ice extends into the center of the river, however, it meets the open water with a soft edge. (I apply the gray paint, adding water to thin the paint and soften the edge where it meets the already painted open water.) I don’t try to darken at the base of the tree trunks yet, although I try to vary the value of the gray as I apply it in some areas, and I also paint a bit of dry brush texture.

Flowing Forward water:ice

Water and ice underlayers painted – Flowing Forward.

GLAZING.

While planning, I have already determined that the foreground is shaded. (See above STUDY IMAGE section.) I use a GRAY SCALE to check the value (lightness/darkness) of the ‘white’ ice in the foreground – I know from past experience that eyes can play tricks. I’m also aware that the value of a shaded object is usually 40% darker than the same object in sunlight, as written by Jan Kunz (Painting Watercolor Florals That Glow (1993), p. 68), and others. When I check the value (on my template) of the sunlit ice and compare to the value of the ice in the foreground shade, in fact, the shaded ice is 40% darker in value! I realize I need to darken its value in my painting, probably by applying a GLAZE. This glazing will help highlight the sunlit center of interest, by contrast.  Read Why Should I Bother To Use A Gray Scale? (5/21/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/05/21/why-should-i-bother-to-use-a-gray-scale/, to learn more about the usefulness of a gray scale.

A glaze is a transparent wash of color using a thin application of transparent pigment. Transparent pigments are desired so that the colors below the glaze, or the white of the paper, in this case, continue to be visible through the finished glaze. Here, I combine Cobalt Blue with just a touch of Transparent Pyrrol Orange (blue-gray) in a thin, juicy mix. After testing the value, I apply a glaze over the shaded foreground with a fairly large, soft brush. I reevaluate the value of the foreground ice and compare it to the value of the sunlit ice in my painting (with the Gray Scale), when the first glaze has dried. If necessary, I will glaze again, on dry paper, until the lighter-shaded, foreground ice is about 40% darker than the sunlit ice in the middle distance. Correct relative values are one of the most important factors in creating an effective image.

FOREGROUND TREE TRUNKS, BRANCHES, FINAL DETAILS.

I combine Raw Umber and Ultramarine Blue to mix a strong blue-black. Dark foreground tree trunks are then painted darker at the bottom and lighter toward the top. Since some higher spots and the left side of the trunks are sunlit in places – I blot the color to remove some paint and provide texture there. I will add some sunlit yellow (Gamboge) only to the sunlit left sides of the trunks (when the blue-black paint is dry).

With the same paint mixture, I add smaller branches up high in the foreground trees and a few thin twigs on the foreground ice. I try to simplify to avoid busyness that would distract from my center of interest.

Then I add some final textures and shadows (with the same blue-black mixture) to the foreground ice (dry brush, dots, a few streaks, with occasional softening of edges). I now make sure to darken the area in the ice circling each foreground tree trunk to suggest depressions.

Flowing Forward Finished Painting

Finished painting – Flowing Forward.

Finally, I step back and evaluate. I ask myself if my values highlight the center of interest. Do any marks seem out of place or distracting? Are there any adjustments I feel I should make? (It is possible to correct some mistakes and improve watercolor paintings. See I Guess We’ve All Made Painting Mistakes (10/9/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/10/09/i-guess-weve-all-made-painting-mistakes/.) Sometimes, I set the picture aside for a day or two, and look again later with fresh eyes. Occasionally, a mistake needing to be fixed jumps out at me. At other times, I am satisfied that the painting is ‘finished’.

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Photos taken and copyrighted by Tristan T. Haman (https://www.instagram.com/thaman15/).