Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

One of the reasons I paint is so that I can say to my viewers, Look what I saw today!  Knowing what you like to look at is a good indicator of what you should be painting. 

I love to look at bridges.   I know it's nostalgic to paint covered bridges, but I like all kinds of bridges, and I like to look at them from different angles.  I especially like the lacy quality of some bridges against the sky.

Here's the bridge over the Kennebec River in Bath, Maine.  I painted this from a riverside park just before I went to the State Farm office in Brunswick to collect the insurance check on my poor totaled car.  It certainly cheered me to be back painting after a troubled week and a half of dealing with the accident.

Know what you like to look at!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Demo on Layering

To give unity, I started with an overall wash upon which I could build succeeding layers.  Next, I chose a color nearby on the color wheel to create a midtone.  Finally, I added darks closest to where I wanted the viewer's eyes to land.  The resulting painting has an overall cool color dominance with some warmth added for contrast.  Some areas were left white for extra "pop".  The buoys in the foreground were included to break up the rather rectangular area of water, and also to guide the eye to the lobster boat where it could begin to circulate among the elements of the wharf.

I chose to paint on dry paper for this painting which creates all hard edges.  This is a good subject to experiment with painting on a pre-wetted page to have some underlying soft edges.  I can also switch to a warm dominance.  So many possibilities!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


It might be a bit before I get back to my regular blogging, but I wanted to let you know why. 

Monday my car was hit as I started across an intersection here in Boothbay Harbor.  My car was demolished, and so now I have to deal with rental cars, insurance details and getting a new car so I can drive home to Missouri.  I may not have much time to paint in the coming weeks, but I may dig back and find some older work to discuss.  Don't give up on my blog; I love teaching and sharing my work.  Thanks for your patience.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Underpainting To Create Unity

I first learned about the power of underpainting by studying the work of Robert E. Wood.  Painting an abstract first wash can unify the painting by providing a table upon which to place your subject matter.

The underpainting can either be hard-edged, achieved by painting on dry paper, or soft edged by painting on a pre-wetted page.  The underlying shapes can be predominantly vertical, horizontal or oblique.  A color dominance can also be established.  If a warm underpainting is chosen, putting a secondary wash of cools over it, especially near the focal point, will draw the eye by contrast. 

In this painting of a wharf, I chose a first wet-in-wet wash consisting primarily of turquoise and violet.  After this was dry, I repeated those colors in the second wash, but added some warms in the upper part of the main building, on the hull of the lobster boat and in the barrel on the dock.  I tried to keep the shapes large until the very last details were added at the end.

This technique is not as easy as it first sounds.  But limit the number of colors while you create the abstract pattern in the underpainting, and you will have a better chance of success.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mixing Colors on the Paper

Over-mixing two or more colors can occur on the palette or the paper.  The more you squish the colors together, the more uniform and dull the resulting color.  To avoid this problem, you can use two methods.

First, tilt the paper to at least a 45 degree angle.  Now you can rely on gravity to do some of the mixing for you. 

Next, brush on a wet, juicy swatch of pure color, say alizarin crimson.  While this first wash is still very wet, apply another color, maybe a blue. Run this color across the area.  Do NOT keep going back and forth over the same spot!  Start with another brush load of paint right where you left off the last one.  If you want to gradate the value, add a little more water to your palette color.  Let gravity do its thing, and the two colors will mix.

The second way to mix colors on the page takes a little more patience.  Put the first wash down and let it dry COMPLETELY!  Then load up your brush with the second color and a fair amount of water.  Make sure the water goes all the way up to the feral. Then stroke the second wash on top of the first, being careful not to push down into the paper.  If there is enough water and paint, you can just use the tip of the brush.  Gravity will release the water from the end of the brush, and you won't have to press down or go back and forth over the page.  That's where the "mud" comes from.

Here are some exercises I did for my student yesterday.  In the first one, I just went around the color wheel.  That takes the pressure off in deciding which color to use next.  In the second exercise, I used the same colors, but not in the same order. 

Practice  will give you confidence.  If you are hesitant and slow, the water will go damp instead of wet, and that will also result in an unsatisfying mixture.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Laurel's Lesson

I'm teaching a private student for two days.  Today's lesson was on mixing colors on the paper rather than mixing them on the palette. 

I started by mixing the primary colors to create the secondary colors:  blue and yellow make green, blue and red make violet, and yellow and red make orange.  (bottom row).

Then we mixed complementary colors on the page to create a range of grays. (Top row)  Blue and orange (actually burnt sienna which is a dirty orange),  green and red for a cool gray, and yellow and violet for a warmer gray.

Next I painted the quarter sheet sized painting of the lighthouse and beach.  My point was that literally translating green pine trees a uniform color and tone doesn't produce much excitement or credit for being accurate.  Exciting color comes from mixing the colors on the paper, juxtaposed just enough that the colors bleed into each other.  Going back and forth over the same area with too many brushstrokes over-mixes the colors and will make them appear muddy.  Put down any warm color, then immediately paint a cool color next to it so the two bleed together.  Continue to apply color as you did in the practice squares.

Finally, I showed Laurel how to remove some paint by applying wet strokes to the dry wash mixtures, counting to ten slowly, and then wiping the area where the clear water is with Kleenex.  That created the trees, the sun and its reflection, the petals and the lighthouse.  Then you can glaze over the initial wash with some darker values. 

These practice exercises are the equivalent to practicing scales in music.  Don't stop practicing.  Practice until it becomes second nature, and then you can speed up your painting decisions and keep your washes fresh and lively.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Peopling Your Landscapes

As much as I love rocks and islands, paintings of them can be rather mundane.  There are several ways to liven up such a barren scene.

First, color.  Accurately painting gray and brown rocks can sometimes kill any enthusiasm for the literal results.  Splashing in a hint of pink or turquoise or a pathway of moss covered rocks can give interest to an ordinary scene.

Second, light.  Connecting the light shapes will not only help guide the viewer's eyes, but provide a mood.

Third, consider putting some figures in your landscape.  That will immediately draw the eye and give actual life to the scene.  The tiny man-made object in the distance, the schooner, also suggests human presence, without taking over the main theme of granite and limestone rocks.

(And don't make the heads too large or round!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Non-artists, as well as non-watercolorists, often ask me how I start a watercolor.  In this watercolor I decided to paint everything that wasn't going to remain white first.  I started with the wet in wet sky area, but painted right over the roof and the shadow parts of the dock building and then into the water. I seldom stop the first wash when it gets to an area, like the roof, that is going to eventually be darker.  I changed colors subtly along the way, but when I got finished with the first wash, most of the entire page was covered.  That was allowed to dry.

When I came back in, I glazed the second wash as a warm pinkish hue right on top of the cooler blues.  I splashed in a few yellow ochres here and there to warm up the second layer.  I then completely dried this second wash. 

I used the third wash to loosely define some areas on the building by cutting around barrels and crates to emphasize them with a darker toned background. 
The last wash involved the reflections in the water.  I painted them in one pass, gradating the value and color as I went.

Last, and most scary, I had to throw in some accents (not shapes) of wooden beams and hoists which overlapped everything that came before.  I was also careful not to make the flagpole as dark as the foreground verticals, since it would draw attention away from the focal area.  Other accents at this finishing stage included the distant boats out on the horizon.

In short, I didn't paint any objects in the first wash.  I try to think of the first wash as the unifying layer.  No boats, roofs, poles, buildings;  just a large mass of unifying color. Glazing warm over cool, or cool over a warm first wash, will build up richer, un-muddied color.