Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Study in Blues

                       The Cliffs of Monhegan                     
22 x 30"
In this painting of the cliffs of  Monhegan Island, Maine, part of my goal was to use a variety of blues to depict the chilly coastline.  Planning the range of blues was deliberate, and considered the placement of warm and cool blues.

I began with the sky.  Since it is the most distant space in the painting, I used cerulean and thalo blues, both cool blues.  Near the horizon I added some new gamboge to make a light green which would later be echoed in the cliffs.

The sea consists of cool thalos: blue and green.

The cliffs are rendered in warmer blues to contrast with the surrounding colors.  The first layer was the purist blue: cobalt.   Since it is more opaque than the other blues, it also makes sense to place it on the bottom. 

Next came a very transparent blue:  ultramarine, a warm blue leaning to the red side.  I dashed in a little alizarin to further enhance the violet, mixing all colors on the page, not the palette.  As I got to the foreground, I warmed up the blue with a bit of burnt sienna and raw sienna.

All these blues needed some contrast, hence the grassy green areas on the the mid-ground cliffs.  That was also a mixed green of new gamboge and a dash of cobalt blue.  The use of another blue that was used elsewhere in the painting gives some unity.

Experiment with a variety of blues to create contrast and interest.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Starting and Finishing

                                     "Acadian Reflections"
                                                                            22 x 30"

Here is the finished painting from yesterday's post. 

Q.  Should I start by wetting the whole page?  A.  In this painting, I wanted all hard edges, so I painted section by section.  I let each layer dry completely before beginning the second layer. But I still painted the first layer everywhere before continuing.  The sky down to the mountain, the beach, the lake.

Q.  What do I want as my focal point?    A.  The treeline and reflections on the righthand side of the page.

Q.  What layers came next?  A.  I looked at my black and white sketch for the answer. Midtones come next.  The distant mountain forms (not the modelling), the closest mountain and the land that was to be reflected, and the foreground gray rock in the left corner.

Q.  When did you make the decision that some of the trees would be light and warm while others would be dark and cool?    A.  When I made the decision about the focal point.  This was important for two reasons:  first the mountain could not be painted through the warm trees.  I stopped just short of the treeline.  Yellow cannot go on top of a blue without being influenced and muddied by it.  Second, since much of the painting is cool, the contrast of warm greens in the trees, the rocks and the reflections would emphasize the focal area.

Q.  How did you know when the painting was finished?  A.  When I painted the foreground rocks,  I stepped back to see how it was going.  I decided if I made them any darker, they would compete with the darks in the trees.  So I left them a light midtone with just enough definition of their form to give the foreground interest but not attract too much attention.

Also, study the linear directions in this composition and you'll discover that they all lead to the focal area.    I'm very pleased with the outcome of this full sheet watercolor "Acadian Reflections".

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on Starting

The most frequent question I get from students is "How do I start?"  Should I wet the entire page?
Should I paint on dry paper?  Should I paint all over the page or just in one section at a time?  How do I know what to paint first?

1.  Think about composition.  What am I trying to  emphasize  about this scene/still life/ portrait?
 where should it be placed?  What should surround and point to it?

2.  Most important is to plan your values.  Since most watercolor proceed from light to midtone to
     darks, it is important to know in advance where those are going to be.  Oil painters can easily change their minds.  Watercolorists need to know so they can proceed from light values to darks.
     A value sketch will tell you this.

3.  Make some decisions about color choices.  It's probably wise not to be reaching for just any old color because it "feels right."  Limiting the number of colors you use will provide unity.
Here is a value sketch and compositional placement for a painting.  Next time, the painting stages and final result!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Workshop Opportunity

Acadia National Park

September 16th - 19th, I will be a guest instructor at the Art Workshop Center on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, location of Acadia National Park.  Dramatic cliffs, quiet harbors, carriage roads through thick pine forests....all these make this a location you won't want to miss and a painting experience worth the effort!  Fall foliage will also begin around that week, so sign up now for a great week of painting in a spectacular setting.

Contact:     for sign up, supply lists, lodging information and lots of 
                enticing photos of the area.

Hope to see you there this fall!   

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Photos and Imagination


Here is a photo I took in Acadia National Park in Maine.  Although the cliffs were dramatic in person, the photo does little to communicate that.  The light is especially dull, and it flattens the scene.

While looking out my window here in St. Louis the other day, I saw the effects of early evening sun hitting my neighbor's roof with shadows cast by another building highlighting the orange glow of the shingles.  That gave me the idea to apply that effect to this scene in Acadia.  The light is early morning, and another cliff unseen to the left is casting its long shadow on the cliff in the painting.
I also decided to make the rocky, pebble strewn beach into a sandy shore so that the textures would not draw attention to the beach, but let the color-and-light show on the face of the cliff be the "star" of the painting.

Asking "What if.....?"  will sometimes help spur your imagination to think of other lighting situations that will go a long way to dramatizing a scene. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Award

I am pleased to announce that both of the paintings I submitted to the annual St. Louis Watercolor Society's show were accepted, and "Falling Down, Falling Down" won an award.  The juror/judge was nationally known artist/teacher/editor Christopher Schink.  I was also awarded Signature Member status in the St. Louis Watercolor Society. 

Entering shows and competition is a risk.  Our fragile artist egos can sometimes be bruised by rejection.  I can tell you that I've had plenty of "Not Accepted" notices.  So the trick is to remember that judging is a subjective activity, and that the decision of the judge might even be different on another day.  Keep submitting, but more important, keep painting and paying attention to your growth as a painter.  The work and the process is what is most important, not a momentary recognition of the results.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Translating Value to Color

Being able to see values while painting in color is extremely important.  Knowing how to go darker in any color should be automatic after lots of exercises.  So don't skip the exercises and the practice.  That's how you get more confident in going from lights to midtones to darks.

Here is a painting which I've converted to black and white to show you the values of colors.  I've again used the alternation approach that I mentioned in the last entry.