Cloud Studies

July 21, 2020

Sometimes there’s a need to trample on whole bunches of internal dos and don’ts, accumulated over years of anal retentive watercolour practices.

‘Don’t premix washes–glaze one pigment over another right on the paper’; ‘Don’t soak the paper in the bathtub and then stretch it on a stretcher–it removes the lovely sizing’; ‘Don’t get obsessed with detail–be expressive’; ‘Don’t use opaque white’; ‘Don’t use so much masking fluid’; ‘Don’t be so timid’; ‘Don’t paint today–you aren’t centred’.

Lordy. I went to the sink, grabbed a kitchen sponge and some dollar store poster board.

“Approaching Storm”, 8″ x 10″, watercolour, by Lance Weisser, white poster board

For all who might be equally plagued by a mental build-up of watercolour dos and don’ts, have a look at this example of watercolour exploration and artistic daring:

Just as choosing to place one’s subject matter in front of bright sky produces remarkable effects as in the work of Joseph Zbukvic, so also can equally-remarkable effects be achieved when making the sky itself the subject.

An almost unparalleled master is a lesser known watercolourist than the celebrated J. Zbukvic, but a truly exquisite painter of both sea and sky, the Russian Sergey Temerev:

‘The Salty Wind, the Flowing Light’, Sergey Temerev
Sea and Sky watercolour by Sergey Temerev
‘Under the Vault of Shining Heavens’ by Sergey Temerev

Here is a video of him at work:

A Sergey Temerev workshop

Now, those are clouds.

If one were to try and name the No. 1 watercolourist on the planet–or at least the most popular and followed–it would be safe to claim it is the Australian, Joseph Zbukvic:

A Joseph Zbukvic watercolour demo in progress…..

The word ‘master’ understates the enormous talent and skill Joseph Zbukvic exudes from his artistic fingertips as he transforms a sheet of white paper into whatever his mind fancies.

Taking a moment to view these examples of his prodigious output, one thing might stand out to us when it comes to focusing in on, and studying Mr. Zbukvic’s skies:

Joseph Zbukvic’s signature artistic decision is at odds with a great many of his colleagues, because he takes the daring approach of nearly always rendering his subject matter facing directly into the sun.

This has the effect of placing everything of interest–whether it be buildings, people, horses, boats, vehicles–more or less in silhouette, backlit and often somewhat mysterious. Making this choice provides any artist with a great deal of painterly latitude simply because, whatever we might be trying to view while looking directly into the sun, is going to be greatly lacking in detail. Looking into the sun, we see general shapes, outlines of things, and blurred, obscured objects and people.

Placing everything in front of direct sunlight means one doesn’t have to attend to minute detail. It means there will automatically be contrast, exaggerated shadow, enormous differences between light and dark, and all the drama a watercolourist needs to make a painting ‘pop’.

If one does a search of YouTube watercolour instruction these days, you will find a great many Zbukvic devotees, with their subject matter silhouetted against a bright sky. It has now become almost the de rigueur approach for aspiring watercolourists.

What is sacrificed by placing all subject matter in front of direct sunlight?

Skies.

All the luscious drama of cloud formations and subtlety of light which plays in, around and between the loveliness of clouds is the price one pays. Viewing Zbukvic’s work makes that seem worth it, at least for him.

However, as influential as some artists are, and deserve to be–for those bettering their skills, it is always important to remember that variety still remains the spice of life. All painters have their own unique painterly story to tell, in their own unique manner–and not all paintings need to be looking directly into the sun. I suspect Mr. Zbukvic would be the first to agree.

Results of ‘composition exercise 1’: dividing a landscape into thirds, placing visual interest at each intersectional  point….

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Results of ‘composition exercise 2’:

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and 3:

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bringing us to 4:

It has taken a long spell of waffling over what to do about being less than pleased with the finished piece.  The snowy fields seemed to extend themselves too far down, without enough visual interest to hold a viewer’s attention.  And then I gave into the temptation/artistic trap I almost always seem to fall into, which is going one step too far by defining open field with regimented rows of corn which wind up being so monotonous, the fence posts going the opposite direction only add yet more visual predictability  and kill whatever freshness the piece had going for it.

….so the only satisfactory outcome was to crop the painting and salvage what could be salvaged.

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It is a very small painting, about 6″ x 12″, and has at least enough mood still going on to make it only just worth framing.

As an exercise, however, it was more than useful, and confirmed satisfactorily that placing interest at intersectional points within a composition divided into thirds works (sans rows of corn, that is), does hold one’s attention, and lends a feeling of balance.

 

…. Tranquille Creek Gorge

January 21, 2016

The watercolour video demonstrations of David Dunlop are challenging and yet simple.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgtg-Adql1Y&index=6&list=PLtEJwQmsB7SvVg8C4J2c4LDijerH7SSKF (I tried to embed the video itself in this post, but WordPress thought otherwise).  But here is the blurb describing it….”Emmy Award winning David Dunlop takes you to his Connecticut studio to demonstrate a two minute watercolor, used as preparation for an oil sketch or to explore ideas“.

Mr. Dunlop is an artist/teacher from Connecticut, whose manner when teaching is inspiring and animated.  He is a great follower of descriptive, energetic Masters like J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer, and seeks to employ their methods, while demonstrating their techniques.

The video cited above challenges painters to do two to three minute painting sketches, which convey the movement and mood and spirit of the subject, without stopping to think and rework.  In an effort to ‘do’ and not think, the subject chosen here is a favourite–a place about 20 minutes from our house–called Tranquille Creek Gorge.

 

 

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Mr. Dunlop’s videos are quite dynamic and aimed more at oil painters a bit more than watercolourists, but full of very encouraging lessons because of the force of his optimistic personality and sense of fun.  They are well worth watching, for those who enjoy painting as a means of expression.

 

STAN07  In his own words…

“I remember, when I must have been quite young, watching my older brother Greg draw. He was good. In the third grade our teacher taught us perspective, how to make a road go back and disappear into the mountains. I never forgot how to do that. When I was seven or eight years old, our family took a trip to Wisconsin to visit a friend of my Dads. He was a professional watercolorist. I remember the drive through the woods, walking up to his front door, through the entry, looking up at the walls as soon as I entered the house. I wanted to see his paintings. Randy Penner. I’ll never forget that name or that trip and the influence it had on me.

“In Junior High I took some art, mechanical drawing and enjoyed it. I wrote a career paper on becoming an artist but never really thought that it was possible. In college I decided to major in physical education since I considered an art major unrealistic. The second year I switched to a commercial art major since the community college had a good graphics program. It was during the three years of training to become a commercial artist that I took watercolor. My first watercolor class I got a “C”. The worst grade I had ever received in any art class. I was required to take it again the following year and it went much better. Not only did I get an “A”, but I fell in love with it. I started selling my paintings before I graduated for as little as $2. In the fall of 1973 I had made a decision to try to make a living as a full time, professional watercolorist and have managed to do that now for more than thirty years.”

Stan Miller

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“Venice Calm”, watercolour, Stan Miller, AWS (sold)

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“Sunday Morning Snow” , Stan Miller
watercolour 18″ x 24″  (sold)

I have learned some important fundamentals by watching Stan Miller’s presentations on YouTube.  There are a cartload of painters offering ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’ on how to ‘do’ watercolours on YouTube, and while I do not always wish to pursue instruction beyond what the medium itself teaches me through trial and error, there are areas where I absolutely require help.

Searching for help regarding composition can be frustrating and fruitless.  That is because not every painter’s views on the subject resonate.  Gut feeling is something I have come to trust when it comes to watercolour, and many instructional videos on YouTube don’t ring true to my own personal approach.  That is not to say these videos won’t ring true to someone else’s taste and fulfil their ‘gut feeling’.

Stan Miller is plain spoken, down to earth and sensible about how he goes about painting.  There’s very little ‘artiness’ about the man.  Yet, what he accomplishes on paper is, to my eyes, lovely and true and a delight to the senses.

Here is his helpful short video on how to logically and sensibly approach the difficult area of composition–something I forever struggle with–which you might find helpful also.

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