LUMINOSITY AND CREATING GLOWING COLOR.

TRANSPARENCY OCCURS BETWEEN PAINT PARTICLES.

Many people say that the way to create a “glow” in watercolor is to paint pale glazes of “luminous,” transparent hues so that the white of the paper underneath passes through the paint particles “like light through a stained glass window.” Apparently, however, light passing THROUGH a layer of watercolors is not the way luminosity actually works! That description is just a myth! 

According to several color scientists, chemists, and Bruce MacEvoy (handprint.com), little light actually passes THROUGH the particles. Instead, transparency happens when light reflects off the paper BETWEEN the particles of watercolor paint.

We know that watercolors don’t form a solid paint layer the way acrylic and oil paints do, as discussed in this post: ‘Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…,’ (9/7/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/09/07/some-watercolor-pigments-lighten-more-than-others-when-they-dry/ . Oil and acrylic paints stay on top of the painting surface and dry in a solid paint layer. 

In contrast, watercolors (made up of various sizes of suspended paint particles ) end up “on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers” (Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com). More of the white paper is therefore revealed as the water evaporates. The most transparent of watercolor paints produce a thinner coating of smaller pigment particles on the paper. These pigments in a smaller particle size seem to hide less of the paper (or other pigment particles) underneath, making the color appear more transparent. Thus, transparency happens BETWEEN these pigment particles and NOT THROUGH them ( see http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html) .

ACHIEVING THE GLOW OF LIGHT.

Although transparency and glow may not work the way we once thought, achieving a glow remains a goal for many artists. We want to paint the light! We wish to highlight brightness, glow, radiance, luminosity. But to create a luminous glow, don’t rely on using lots of ‘bright’ colors that may not work together. Bright colors can be intense but also may be dull and opaque, and they may not set each other off to advantage. For example, yellow is a bright color, but if applied too thickly, even a transparent yellow becomes LESS luminous and will no longer be a light value. 

‘Golden River Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

Instead, although transparency is essential, luminosity comes from choosing colors by their effect on each other; that is, you should choose colors that create a reaction with nearby colors. Remember that paint colors change their apparent brightness, transparency, and hue depending on the context in which they appear. 

To bring about a glow, you will want to create CONTRAST in both VALUE and TEMPERATURE by surrounding a transparent light color with a COMPLEMENTARY dark ( a dark leaning toward the complement of the light color, NOT an unexciting, flat tube black such as Ivory Black, or purchased mixes such as Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint). Colorful darks can therefore enhance the effect of light in a painting. The function of a dark color is NOT JUST to create value contrast, but to help the light-valued color (whether warm or cool, muted or intense) to glow. (For more information on complementary colors, review ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing In Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/ .)

HOW? VALUE CONTRASTS AND COLOR COMPLEMENTS.

What painting methods actually work to create glowing color? First, choose a pure, transparent color, well diluted to a light value. Second, mix your dark surrounding values to be complementary dark colors. If your light value is a pale yellow, you might try to use a version of deep purple or dark purple-gray. 

‘River Flowing Forward’ Watercolor Painting.

ADD COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

To further exaggerate the glow that is forming, you can adjust your dark by taking into account color temperature. That is, establish a warm-cool relationship between your light and dark by remixing your complementary dark, altering proportions of pigments to move the color to be cooler or warmer. If your light valued yellow is WARM, the best complementary dark to set it off would be a COOL bluish-purple dark. Or for a COOL light valued yellow, contrast it with a WARM, reddish-purple dark. Always judge a color in relation to the colors next to it. A blue, for instance, will feel even cooler next to a warm color.

‘Rocky Maine Shoreline Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

TRY MID-VALUE CONTRASTS ALONG WITH COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

At times, a strong dark can overpower your composition. In such a situation, a mid-valued color contrast can also enhance and complement the glow of light values in the painting. Mix the complement of your light color, shifting it into a warm or cool variation, as needed, to create a temperature contrast. But instead of a rich dark, strive for a mid-value mix. If you mute this mid-value mix somewhat by adding a bit of its complement, you will gray the mixture, thus setting off the light-valued color. A cool purple (which you gray slightly with a touch of warm yellow) will cause your warm yellow light to glow even brighter. In the same way, you can gray a warm red-purple with a bit of its cool yellow complement to make a cool yellow light look still brighter.

‘White Primroses’ Watercolor Painting.

OR CREATE AN ILLUSION WITH UNTOUCHED PAPER.

Perhaps you want to leave the untouched white paper as your light value. It’s possible to make this white begin to glow depending on what you choose for a nearby accent. Whatever mid-tone you pick creates a subtle, optical or color illusion as it nudges the white paper into appearing as a complement. There is actually no need to alter the white paper, even though that might be your first tendency. Cool nearby colors will make the unpainted paper seem warm. For example, cool blues create a subtle orange glow, while cool purples move the nearby whites toward a yellowish glow. In this way, you can establish a glowing contrast, instead of merely a simple dark-light contrast.

(Much of the above information on how to create glow through complementary darks and dulled mid-valued colors is presented in  Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons on Color And Design.) 

‘Clouds Over Dales’ Watercolor Painting.

IN SUMMARY.

The mechanism producing “glow” may be different from what people say, but you as a painter don’t need to DO anything differently as a consequence of your new understanding of how that mechanism works. You can create the illusion of glow in a watercolor painting in several ways. 

Remember that paint colors change apparent brightness, transparency, or hue depending on the colors that are nearby. Therefore, you can establish luminosity by building color relationships (through value and temperature) between lights and darks (or mid-values). 

Try to use transparent, single-pigment paints to maintain the impression of light. Opaque paints are thicker and duller, and can become lifeless in mixtures, causing you to lose ‘the light.” Also avoid using lots of bright colors hoping that ‘brightness’ (without contrast) will create luminosity.

Learn to use complementary colors to create color and temperature interactions that produce glow. Your goal when mixing luminous color is to combine unequal proportions of the two paints in a mix, so that the final color is either warm or cool and can be used to complement another in value, as well as color and temperature.   

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Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…

Don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting. I see too many watercolor painters whose paintings could be improved by using stronger mixes of paint in their art. A watercolor painting needs contrast, strong lights and darks, to create impact (unless, of course, you’re painting fog, mist, or similar types of weather).

Make your colors vibrant! (EerieLight Watercolor Painting).

Watercolor paints change their color appearance as they dry. Colors that look to be the right value and color when painted and wet, may shift as they dry, creating a ‘DRYING SHIFT.’ Expect almost all watercolor paints to appear paler, duller, and less bright when they dry. 

DRYING SHIFTS VARY BY PIGMENT.

However, when drying, some pigments change appearance very little whereas others change a great deal. Not only does a watercolor pigment end up looking different from what you expected when you mixed the paint, but EACH PIGMENT changes to a varying degree compared to other pigments. 

Test Your Colors To Overcome Drying shift (Beach Shadows Watercolor Painting).

WHY DO WATERCOLORS LIGHTEN AS THEY DRY?

Oil and acrylic paints look much the same whether wet or dry, and stay on top of the painting surface as they dry, bonding with the paint binder and forming a paint layer. In watercolor painting, however, the combination of paint, water, and binder (whether gum arabic, glycerin, honey or a glucose humectant) behave differently (from oil or acrylic paint) as the water dries. 

According to Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com, when watercolors dry, all of the water evaporates, and the paint vehicle (BINDER) “along with the dissolved surface SIZING of the paper,” are drawn by “capillary action” into the tiny spaces between the paper fibers, where they harden and dry. Paint particles may be a VARIETY OF SIZES and DO NOT uniformly stay on the surface of the paper. Instead, MacEvoy says, “in many watercolor paints, smaller pigment particles tend to be less saturated and lighter valued than the larger particles. These duller, paler and smaller particles also remain in liquid suspension longer than the more intense, darker and heavier particles, which sink first to the paper surface and into the paper crevices” where they are more hidden from light. No solid paint layer seems to be formed. Pigment particles are “strewn on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers,” revealing more of the white paper. Thus, watercolor paints will appear to whiten or fade as they dry. (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html , and http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html .)

CHANGES IN PAPER.

The PAPER SURFACE also changes during this process. (Different brands of paper, weight, fiber content — e.g., cellulose vs. cotton fibers — and paper finish — e.g., hot press, cold press, rough — will each be affected somewhat differently.) But, in all cases, the wet paper fibers soften and expand, becoming thicker and fuzzier, especially with repeated brushing of the paper or ‘fussing’ and fiddling with the applied paint. In general, the less agitation of paint on the paper, the better. Lots of brushing forces a larger number of pigment particles into the scuffed paper crevices which will DULL the color. If you want to achieve bright, clean color in your painting, try to apply your paint in one brushstroke (or in as few as possible) and let it dry. Limit your brush strokes!

Avoid Over-brushing (Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting).

COMPENSATE FOR DRYING SHIFT.

Drying shift is one reason color mixing can be very challenging in watercolor painting. As a watercolor artist, you should be aware of drying shift and know that you must compensate for it by adjusting your paint/water ratio. More specifically, get to know which paints on your palette tend to have a great drying shift and dry lighter or duller. (See http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cds.html for Bruce MacEvoy’s chart of Watercolor Paint Drying Shifts where he lists the pigments he has found to have the greatest shifts. For example, Prussian Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Lamp and Ivory Blacks show some of the largest drying shifts, whereas Cerulean, Hansa Yellow Light, Cadmium Lemon, and Benzamida Yellow have low drying shifts. Keep in mind that drying shifts may vary by brand as well as pigment, since different manufacturing and milling methods will affect the size of paint particles.) 

With some notion of which of your watercolor paints produce greater drying shifts than others, you can compensate for this tendency by mixing those pigments with LESS WATER (decreasing dilution) to create a more vibrant color mix. It is always a good idea initially to test your mixed color on a watercolor paper test sheet prior to painting, let it dry, and check its appearance when dry. With experience, you will become able to judge what the pigment will look like in a painting when dry.

Intense color (Iris Watercolor Painting).

IN SUMMARY.

Color drying shifts in watercolor pigments are highly variable. These shifts depend on several factors:

  • the pigment itself (different pigments behave differently), 
  • brand/manufacturer of paint (various milling methods),  
  • paint vehicle (type of binder), 
  • paint dilution (some paints can be made more vibrant by mixing with less water), 
  • type of paper (brand, paper weight, fiber content, and finish), 
  • and application method (try to limit repeated brushing). 

Compensate for large drying shifts by adjusting water/paint ratios when mixing your paint. Use more pigment (or less water) in your color mixing to intensify a color likely to produce a large drying shift. Feel free to check your mix on a watercolor test sheet to ensure your dried color will be the correct value or the value that you intend. 

So, once again, don’t settle for less vibrant color in your watercolor painting!

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What Makes “Good” Art?

What do you believe art is? What is art’s purpose? In many ways your beliefs will determine whether you think a certain piece of art is good or not. Since artists and experts don’t always completely agree on what good art is, answering these questions may be difficult, and any answer may seem subjective.

FOUR VIEWPOINTS.

1.) If you think that art should be an imitation of reality, then your definition of good art would require realistic light and shadows, accurate perspective, and proper proportions. 

Rosa Bonheur’s Painting – “The Horse Fair” (1852-55).

2.) A more formal interpretation of art would require good art to employ a traditional use of line quality, color, composition, and the other academic elements and principles of art. 

3.) Others might believe that good art must communicate a message. Good art has something to say to an audience and may try to convince or share commentary. Such art is often thought-provoking, having a moral or political theme.

4.) Finally, some people are of the opinion that good art must express the artist’s emotions and evoke an emotional response in the viewer. Creating an emotional connection is a goal.

Most people believe art ought to emphasize one or several of the above ideas. In What Makes Great Art  Andy Pankhurst and Lucinda Hawksley also discuss several other categories of good art ( for instance, art that focuses on beauty, movement, distortion, or symbolism). 

Joaquin Sorolla’s – “Walk On A Beach” (1909).

EXPERT OPINIONS.

Artists and art experts have offered their own individual definitions. One expert explained, “I have trouble describing exactly what good art is, but like pornography, I know it when I see it.” 

According to actor/director Michael Chekhov, great art has “a feeling of Ease, a feeling of Form, a feeling of Beauty, a feeling of the Whole.” (Note the repeated mention of the word “feeling.”) 

On medium.com, the author notes that good art is at least in part determined by “the clarity with which the artwork’s central idea or concept shines through.” 

Don Stone’s Painting – “Midwinter”.

The writer of artgoda.com says “good art has 1.) a strong emotional impact on the viewer, and 2.) leaves a long lasting, unforgettable impression.” Thus, great art evokes strong feelings and is not boring, but memorable. 

The art consultant Alan Bamberger feels “good art is an effective combination of concept, vision, and mastery of medium (the ability to get the point across). Good art is also uncompromisingly honest, unselfconscious, bold, ambitious, enlightening, original, challenging, and a feast for the senses. It doesn’t necessarily have to have all these qualities, but at the very least it has to keep you coming back for more… and never ever bore.” 

Artist Lauren Brevner has said “ I tend to have a visceral reaction to the piece… that’s how I know it’s good… It could be a quickening of my pulse, or butterflies in my stomach,… such a rush of emotion that I can’t help but feel drawn to it.”

For visual art specifically, another expert claims that the best artwork “shows a mastery of drawing, composition, color, and technique,” and that larger works, as opposed to tiny works, naturally have more impact. 

Andrew Wyeth’s Painting – “The Cummer’s Light Wash”.

 COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD ART.

There is some general consensus, however, about what matters in creating good art, no matter what the style. Good art tends to have:

1.) Good composition and design.

2.) A feeling of the emotions of the artist (shown perhaps with liveliness, vitality, boldness, fearlessness, verve).

3.) An expression of originality (a new way of seeing or an unusual viewpoint). The artist is able to create an impression or interpretation that is their own. 

4.) Beauty. (The image is pleasing to the eye.)

5.) Unfussy, economical, fresh brushwork (not overworked or overwrought). Every part of the image is essential, necessary.

6.) Clear central idea or concept.

7.) Magic (a memorable, emotional impact).

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Painting – “Lake George” (1922).

FOLLOW GUIDELINES WHILE CHOOSING YOUR OWN STYLE.

Each of us identifies with or gravitates to certain types of art. We have our preferences, no matter what the experts say. Your inclinations will dictate the elements you will strive to include in your own paintings and that you prefer to see in any art you might buy. What are your preferences? Don’t merely follow trends; decide for yourself what you like.

At the same time, your style choices should not ignore the characteristics of good art. “Good” art is, in fact, NOT completely subjective. If you want to create your own “good” art, you cannot just do your own thing with no regard for generally accepted guidelines like those outlined above in the previous section. Aim to incorporate into your painting the important components of good art as you paint, whatever your chosen style. 

In summary, get a good grasp of the basic techniques in your chosen medium, incorporate some of the guidelines for good art into your artwork, then concentrate on making art that expresses your own personality and feelings.

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When Should I Use Masking Fluid?

Preserving lighter shapes in your watercolor painting is tricky. Sometimes you can simply paint, with care, around them. As an alternative, however, you can preserve the light areas or develop special effects by taking advantage of one of several masking or resist materials available. These include candle wax or wax crayons, dripped wax, rubber cement, packing or masking tape or Scotch Magic tape #810, masking Frisket film, and liquid latex fluids. The two types of masking materials that watercolorists use most often are liquid latex masking fluid and tape. Apply the masking, paint around it, then when the paint is dry, remove the masking (wax resists cannot be totally removed) to reveal the lighter shapes. Rubber cement pickup erasers are easy to find and use to remove masking, or you can rub with your finger if the mask-covered area is not overly large.

Not every light area should be masked, as masking can inhibit spontaneity or alter your painting process. Consider your purpose in masking. Masking can allow you to save delicate white areas in a picture and protect intricate lighter areas temporarily from nearby dark paint. I have also used masking fluid to make sense of very complex areas in a painting. For example, in this White Primroses painting, I masked many but not all the flower petals in order to distinguish and simplify the painting of leaves and negative spaces.

White Primroses Watercolor – Masked some of flower petals.

Masking can also create interesting special effects. Splattering masking fluid before painting can create the impression of snow falling. Use an old toothbrush dipped in mask by gently dragging your thumb over the bristles to get spots of mask. Splatter from a variety of directions to suggest snow swirling. Or try dropping masking fluid into wet paint and allowing it to dry before removing mask. This technique is said to create the effects of moss or lichen on a wall. You can also create textures to suggest tree bark or rocks. Apply masking fluid, let it dry, then gently rub the mask with your finger to partially remove some of the mask, leaving uneven blotches. Paint the area, and when it is dry, remove the rest of the mask. 

It’s possible also to paint color first, let the paint dry, then mask to protect the first color, and later add more paint. Or you could mask multiple times, between several applications of color. Multiple masking, however, requires good quality paper! Transparent or semi-transparent colors, which layer well, work best for multiple masking layers. 

MASKING WITH LIQUID MASKING FLUID.

Masking fluid is an emulsion of natural latex, water, and ammonia (used as preservative). Many brands of masking fluid are available, although quality varies. I find Pebeo, Grumbacher, and Winsor Newton to be the highest quality, but you can also search for other brands that suit your needs. My favorite is Pebeo Drawing Gum, which covers smoothly and is easy to see because of its gray-blue color. I find Grumbacher’s bright orange to be very distracting, and Winsor Newton’s clear and lightly tinted options difficult to see on white watercolor paper.

Ducklings Watercolor – Masked edges of ducklings and their bedding material.

TIPS:

  1. Make sure to test your choice of masking fluid on your watercolor paper before using it on your painting. Some masking fluids can damage softer, poorer quality, or student-grade types of watercolor paper when they are removed. 
  2. DON’T shake masking fluid; it’s better to stir it gently. Shaking adds air bubbles, and too much agitation can cause the fluid to clump or start to solidify.
  3. Let masking fluid on the paper air dry naturally. Adding any heat, from the sun, a heater, or a hair dryer, makes it extremely difficult to remove without damaging the watercolor paper. Similarly, I don’t apply masking fluid to wet or damp paper because it seems to be absorbed into the paper and become permanently attached. I have read that you can wet the paper and float in the masking fluid to create a soft-edged shape; however, that technique doesn’t work well for me.
  4. Don’t leave masking fluid on the paper too long. It becomes more difficult to remove as time goes by. The time limit for removing the masking fluid may vary by brand, yet I would try never to leave mask on the paper longer than a week or two. I have seen masking fluid carelessly left so long that it becomes permanently bonded to the paper.
  5. Let the masking fluid completely dry before painting over it. Keep the cap closed tightly when the container is not in use, as masking fluid dries when in contact with air, and the contents of the masking fluid bottle can deteriorate quickly.
  6. Remove your masking fluid only when you have finished painting around it AND the paint is completely dry. 
  7. While hard edges result when masking fluid is removed, the edges can easily be softened by wetting and tickling the edge with a somewhat stiff brush after removing masking fluid.
  8. Apply masking fluid with careful attention to detail. If you are sloppy or careless, your preserved light areas will also appear messy and unattractive when the masking fluid is removed. Practice your application technique on scrap paper until you are able to apply masking fluid carefully and neatly.
Red Bumpers Watercolor – Masked ropes, bumpers, light edges of boat and oar against water, highlights on darkest boat.
Pumpkins Up Close Watercolor – Masked only outline on stem.

There are many tools available to use in applying masking fluid. Use one or many, depending on the effects you want to create. Possible tools include inexpensive synthetic cellulose brushes, sponges, sticks and toothpicks, a dip pen, a palette knife, found objects like pencil erasers, leaves, the handle of a paint brush, or bottle caps, a cheap synthetic brush, a toothbrush to create spatter, and my favorite, a ruling pen. (Be extremely careful to protect any brush you use by first applying soap to the brush and wiping any excess soap off prior to dipping the brush in masking fluid. Immediately after applying the mask, rinse and soap your brush again, then rinse, to remove masking fluid before it dries and adheres to the brush. Also, keep masking fluid away from clothing!)

Let’s Pig Out Watercolor – Masked light against dark edges and foreground straw.

MASKING WITH TAPE.

Tape can be used to mask larger or straight areas (e.g. parts of a building or the horizon line) in a picture. Masking film (which is available in sheets) can be used to cover and cut to fit larger areas of a picture, as well. Brown packing tape (lightweight economy grade) or Scotch Magic tape (#810 only) work better than masking tape on ‘Rough’ watercolor paper. Masking tape can be too thick to bend and adhere well to the numerous depressions in rough paper, allowing watercolor paint the chance to sneak under the edge. Experiment with different brands of tape and paper. Again, test the tape on the watercolor paper you intend to use to make sure tape removal does not cause damage. Good quality paper, such as Arches or Saunders Waterford, is preferable to poorer quality or student-grade papers. 

To mask objects with tape, cover the shape with tape (overlapping edges if more than one strip is needed), then use a very sharp  X-acto or craft knife with slight pressure to carefully cut around the saved shape, and remove excess tape. Don’t use too much pressure when cutting the shape with the knife as you can apply so much pressure that you cut into your paper. Experiment first on a test sheet. After cutting the tape, press the tape down firmly. Paint.

Tape can also be precut prior before application to your paper. For example, to mask a window frame or a picket fence, you could attach a strip of packing tape to a self-healing cutting mat, cut narrow strips in the tape with your X-acto knife and a ruler, and then apply the strips to mask out a window or fence on your watercolor paper.

Personally, unless the area to be masked is large or straight, I prefer applying masking fluid with a quality, vintage German ruling pen (purchased on Ebay), as I have better control. I seem to struggle with tape, finding it difficult to apply, cut accurately, and also to remove. You should try it, however, as it has some advantages.

MASKING WITH BOTH FLUID AND TAPE.

If desired, masking fluid and tape can be combined to make it easier to mask larger areas, or a combination of a hard-edged area with nearby uneven areas. Both masking fluid and tape might be helpful if you wish to protect: 1.) blotchy, partially snow-covered ground (masking fluid) and a large, hard-edged snow-covered roof (tape), or 2.) a grove of tree trunks (tape) and a few leaves (masking fluid) that will be painted in contrasting colors or values, or 3.) lots of sky reflections on a lake (tape for straighter reflections and masking fluid for more erratic ripples).                                                   

First, apply overlapping pieces of tape over the chosen masking area. Press down lightly and carefully cut tape with an X-acto knife. Remove unwanted tape pieces, then press the remaining tape down firmly on the paper. Add masking fluid and let dry. Proceed with painting.

AVOID OVER-DEPENDENCE.

Try not to become overly dependent on masking materials. Instead, practice and improve your brush handling skills so you don’t need to use masks as often. Think about whether you can easily paint around an area and whether you need masking at all. Not every painting benefits from the use of masking. Sometimes painting is more spontaneous and quicker without masking. Choose the times when applying masking fluid or another type of mask material makes sense for you.

My Swamp Watercolor -No masking used.

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Loosen Up And Get “Painterly”!

I hear a lot of painting students wanting to loosen up their art. What do they really mean? I believe we all strive for looseness so that our art appears fresh and relaxed, not overworked. Another term for loose might be “painterly.” 

DON’T OVERTHINK IT.

When we are just learning to paint, we often strive for an exact likeness of what is being painted. This approach may cause us to overthink and overcomplicate what we are doing, trying to get our picture “just right.” We become focused on painting precise details. As a result, we hold our brushes (often too small brushes) tightly and increase our tension. Stiff, controlled, overly detailed work can result.

WHAT EXACTLY IS “PAINTERLY”?

Many painting students soon realize the value of expressing themselves in a more “painterly” fashion – an approach creating the suggestion of form by utilizing colors, strokes, and textures, in contrast with a linear or graphic method involving the drawing of line. The term “painterly” was popularized by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945), who used it to describe the characteristics of paintings. A painterly picture tends to be expressive, to focus on more simplified shapes, and to limit detail by using hard and soft edges.

Some painterly artists include Pierre Bonnard, Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir, and John Singer Sargent. More linear artists are Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Ingres. According to wikipedia, “contour and pattern are more the province of linear artists, while dynamism is the most painterly trait.”

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, Brook Among Rocks, 1910.

TIPS.

We all want our art to appear confident and spontaneous, while suggesting depth and emotion. But how can you transition your art from overly detailed to looser, more relaxed, and expressive? Painting looser may require a shift in both process and thinking. 

  •   One tip to loosen up your art is to use larger brushes, which allows you to make fewer, bolder brush strokes and which prevents overdoing details. 
  •   Paint with quick and lively, confident brush strokes. 
  •   Try to focus on more simplified shapes to avoid getting distracted by unimportant details. 
  •   Paint hard, soft, and lost  edges to help the viewer get interested and involved while looking at your image. 
  •   Directional strokes, such as those used to create a swirling cloud or flowing water, help you describe movement and the essence of a scene without painting every detail. They can help direct the viewer’s eye toward the focal point. (Interestingly enough, directional strokes themselves can actually follow a direction and pattern that simulates what you’re painting. They can swirl like clouds, blow like hair in the wind,  or flow and ripple like water – a visual form of onomatopoeia.)
  •   Further, you may be interested in exaggerating certain elements in your painting, such as pushing colors beyond what you actually see, to emphasize your interpretation of your subject.
“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, La Biancheria, 1910.

I believe another factor causing tight, overly detailed paintings is an artist’s mindset. When we want to create a “perfect” picture and we feel unsure of our painting abilities, tension and insecurity result. The body naturally tenses up, we worry about results, and expressive work becomes difficult, if not impossible. 

Therefore, often before I begin a painting session, I do a “warm up,” like an athlete stretching and warming up before exercise or a race.

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, Villa Di Marlia, Lucca, 1910.

Before I get to serious painting, I try to relax and play a little. I get out a sketchbook or several pieces of watercolor paper (perhaps 7X11” or 8X8”, the size doesn’t really matter), and begin to make some watercolor marks. It doesn’t matter what kind of marks or what color they are. It’s just an exercise, an experiment designed to get you moving.

Never mind what you end up with! Sometimes it may be hard to even begin if you’re worried about what the marks will look like or whether they’ll be any good. It doesn’t matter! Make a mess; fool around.

For me, it doesn’t always begin easily or feel like fun. Usually, I start making tight, hesitant marks, often feeling unsure. After one page is full, I grab another and continue. I’ve used brushes, spray bottles, sticks, sponges, etc. I keep going UNTIL I start to get sloppy, confident, boisterous. As I go along, the marks somehow get looser, freer, and more beautiful; I like them much better than those I made when I began. I start feeling more relaxed, having gotten over the worry that things won’t turn out well. I eventually move beyond the resistance, past any hesitancy to start, away from the  belief that art is a struggle, that the work needs to be perfect. 

My mood gradually changes to loose and easy without my forcing it. As the marks become looser, so does my mindset. I’m ready to carry over and try to maintain this mood in my paintings. And with this more relaxed attitude, I worry less about making mistakes and feel more comfortable listening to my own intuition and expressing my ideas. 

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, In A Medici Village, 1906.

TRY IT.

Once you’ve felt this more relaxed attitude and tried these tips, understand that you can recreate the mindset yourself and begin to paint more loosely whenever you want to. 


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