Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alternation of Values

Alternation creates a kind of checkerboard effect, only with a few more values.  The idea is to have each value shape border on two other values.  For example, look at the area on the porch.  Then look at the midtone and you will see that it will be bordered by a light and a dark.  Light, midtone, dark,
midtone, light.  You can also see alternation clearly in the rowboat.

I was first made aware of this approach by looking at the work of California style watercolorists, especially Rex Brandt and Robert E. Wood.  Study their paintings and you will see that what first appears simple is quite complex. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Monochromatic Color

                                    Hesper and the Luther Little

A silhouette can be more powerful than a detailed depiction of a subject's parts.  And when the silhouette carries the day, a monochromatic color choice makes sense.  Besides, you wouldn't want to describe the rotting hulls of two shipwrecked schooners with colors from the Mardi Gras!

Using a monochromatic color scheme will force attention to values  and accurate shapes.  Sometimes going back to the basics is good practice.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cool Colors

Lately I have been tending towards a warm color palette.  But yesterday I decided to play with cool colors.  I put down the first wash and then walked away.  This morning I got up and started picking around and came up with this painting.

Notice, though, that the variety of cool blues and greens that dominate are balanced with a touch of warmer colors.  I've never been able to completely manage a totally analogous painting.  I always need a hint of a complementary color, either as a pure area or a neutralized gray.  So you'll see a hint of warmth in the clouds and a hint of yellow ochre and reddish purple on the ground.

Try a painting of mostly analogous colors, adding only a hint of the complementary.  And step out of your color habits.  Safety often makes for boredom.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Important Element of Direction

Look at these two paintings and you will discover the importance of direction in creating mood, energy and movement.

Horizontal lines create a feeling of peace, restfulness, and calm.  The farm scene has a predominance of horizontal lines, especially in the area leading to the focal point. 

Vertical lines suggest dignity, solidity, and stability.

If you are trying to suggest movement, excitement and  energy, the use of oblique (aka diagonal) lines is essential.  Oblique lines create tension.  I once heard an instructor state,  "Which would you rather look at if you wanted to feel a sense of excitement?  A British soldier standing guard at Buckingham Palace, or a drunk staggering down the street?"  Obliques make us feel tension.

Other elements work to create peace or tension:  long, quiet, uninterrupted areas with a marked absence of texture vs. lots of texture and smaller, disrupted shapes.  But line direction is critical in determining mood.

Knowing what you want the viewer to feel is a critical decision to be made before the first brush stroke is made.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Carving With Color

I hope when you like my paintings, it's for something more than just the subject matter.  In this painting, my love of strong color is just as much the subject matter as is the dock scene.  I began by carving out the whites using the cooler color notes of blue and violet as a relief from the dominant warmer oranges and reds.  I was careful to preserve the white areas while "finding" various dock objects. 

It took me a very long time to be able to use strong colors as dark values.  When I was still finding my way as a watercolorist, I mostly resorted to blues and browns to create the darkest values.  Now I mind the dominant color temperature and reach for a color on that side of the palette to report the darks.  By staying on the same side of the palette when putting down one color over another, you also avoid the problem of creating a muddy area. 

It's also helpful to avoid putting any darks in the corners of the paper away from the subject matter.  Strong color and strong values draw the eye.  Reserve those eyecatchers for the area surrounding the focal point of the painting.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Being on the road is not conducive to painting, especially in the winter.  I finally made it home, but am busy catching up on things and have not resumed painting yet.  So here is a sketch from Naples of another in the restaurant series.

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Friday, March 1, 2013


This painting, done behind the guest house, was painted as the demo for a lesson given to two students.
One of them wanted a lesson on foliage.  I looked at the path and the first tree I saw was the one leaning into the painting.  Trouble was, it was on the left side of the path and was pointing out of the composition.  So I simply moved it to the right side of the picture where it would be leaning into the focal area. 

I see this as one of the best advantages of painting on location.  You can look around and find elements of interest and then move them to where they are needed.  The rights of the picture come first.  In the planning stage, always be aware of elements that can contribute to the compositional aspects of the painting.