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.

 

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…. 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.

 

….composition exercise 2

January 17, 2016

Continuing on with an attempt to test out the compositional dictum known as ‘the rule of thirds’, which was conceived and named by John Thomas Smith in 1797 :

“. . .  Analogous to this “Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. . . “

To illustrate its basics…..

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Once again, this is the drawing I did initially, to put this into practice….

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And this is the first go at painting the scene….

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And now today, here is the progress so far, attempting to locate some visual interest at each of the four intersections within the piece, the barn being the first and the pine being the second and the creekbed being the third…..

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The darkest darks and greatest contrast will remain with the barn, for that is the intended focus for the picture, when completed.

The ‘rule of thirds’, as stated above, holds that generally two-thirds of a landscape be devoted to the sky, with one-third given to the land below (the sky being such a vast and dominant feature).  In this case two-thirds is dedicated to the land and a very high horizon means that the one third is devoted to the sky area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….the silt bluffs

November 22, 2015

An area east of Kamloops, B. C., follows the South Thompson River which flows between dramatic limestone cliffs originally formed (it is estimated) 270 million years ago.

Among those cliffs is a gully–a waterworn ravine known as ‘the silt bluffs’, featuring very distinctive rock formations which have the look and feel of something out of a Western movie.

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Massive geological formations such as these require some form of treatment by a painter in order to adequately convey their uniqueness and grandeur.  This watercolour attempts to do that by purposely choosing to paint directly into the sun.

This part of our landscape gets quite literally baked by heat at midday, so when painting outdoors it is important to get it done quickly.

 

 

….depicting snowy pines

October 22, 2015

Snow-laden firs and pines aren’t the easiest of subjects for depicting in watercolour–(at least not for this painter).  The challenge comes in first understanding the effect snow has on branches, for, obviously, there is snow and then there is snow–each snowfall having its own unique effect.  That crystalline, hardened seizing of tender branches by icy snow pulls them heavily towards the ground, while sub-zero powdered flurries creates a mere dusting of needles–each presenting technical challenges.

Of course, the problem is one of always having to paint around the white of the paper allowing it to ‘be’ the snow in watercolour.  Given that opaque white can’t be used, a light dusting on pine needles becomes really quite a bit more difficult than painting the after-effects of a full-blown blizzard.  Leaving minute dots of paper surrounding green needles is a recipe for madness in my book.  Give me a snow-stormed pine any day of the week in its place.

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Figuring out just where branches are on a given variety of pine, fir, balsam, cedar or spruce is key to understanding where snow will sit when on them.  So it seems crucial that any study be limited to particular species, (in the above case, cedar) — otherwise, a painter of representational art will be in danger of ending up with a kind of ‘marshmellowed’, generic evergreen most often seen on Hallmark Christmas cards.

Truly, each variety of coniferous tree accepts snow in its own unique way.  A blue spruce, for example, with its stiff, jutting branches, is much more able to bear the weight of snow than the red cedar in the above study, whose branches are prone to drooping and bending.

This study was done on leftover piece of plain white matt board, using a chopped-up small fan brush to go after the greens, then a more pointed, conventional brush to soften the hard edges and provide shadowed depth to the snow.  The branches aren’t quite correct.  Once snow is included, it changes perception to such a degree, I have trouble understanding where it goes and branches fall.

The beauty of our being blessed with so many evergreens to choose from comes in knowing that each one offers the student of watercolour great and intriguing challenges, especially when brimming with that wonderful adornment–snow.

venice challenge

September 6, 2015

We’ve reached the finish line, limping all the way.  This was somewhat beyond my abilities as a painter. Whether a success or not, every endeavour provides a great learning experience.  All the watercolourists looked up to for advice offer the same counsel:  when it comes to watercolour as a medium, suggesting detail far surpasses actually getting bogged-down in it.  The pitfalls begin when the painter keeps trying to improve on what’s there.

Despite the overworked areas, enough aspects work to allow this to maybe escape the scrap heap — but probably not.  It would, however, be useful to begin it again and learn from the errors.

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it’s not easy being….

August 18, 2015

The beauty of people is that though 99.9% the same, we all know it only takes going to, say, The Iowa State Fair, to discover we’re probably not.  All you have to do is stand aside (wondering what on earth you bought that hot dog and sauerkraut for) and watch everyone passing by.

This is just a convoluted way of confessing that not everyone is a great fan of Summer.  Painters (some painters who write certain blogs about watercolour) in particular who like landscapes can (on occasion) find Summer just too, um, well, green.

There are ways of uncomplicating all the greens.  When I lived in The Adirondacks of New York, not far from our town, in another small town, the famous Grandma Moses, who began painting at the age of 78 had only recently died at the age of 101 .

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She was once found in her studio with masonite panels at her feet and a roller with blue paint.  Looking up from coating a panel and filling the roller with more blue from the tray, she informed her visitor, “On Thursdays I do skies.”

In 2006 one of her pieces sold for $1.6 million.

Greens can be as simply applied to a landscape as opening up a tube of something and rolling it on. In representational forms of art, trying to authenticate the many greens of a summer scene can be a complex challenge, if for no other reason than that there are just so many variations.  Leaves on the very same tree play on different greens, without even mentioning the grasses, shrubs, bushes, ferns below it.

Because it is a colour derived from mixing blues and yellows, greens straight from the tube nearly always have a garishness when, for example, painted against a very blue sky.  That’s because the blue of the sky likely isn’t the same blue used to create that particular green. If the sky is cerulean, mixing a green from cerulean and a yellow used in another part of the painting will harmonize. So finding ways to harmonize greens through using their primary parents elsewhere in the painting is a way forward–a way of conquering ‘the greens’.

A worthwhile exercise from a contributor named ‘CharM’ on the site http://www.wetcanvas.com, posted in 2011, is provided by this chart:

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‘CharM’ takes a similar exercise to completion here:

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http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=925152

While one is actually in the process of painting a landscape with a variety of greens, it is entirely possible to include in the painting all of the above blues, through washes, cloud shadows, sky and/or water, and generally just finding ways to get them all in there.  Likewise, the full range of yellows can also find their way into the painting.  Doing this then puts all the blues in the scene, as well as all the yellows, and sets the stage for being able to harmoniously use every single green (and more) shown on ‘CharM’s very helpful chart(s).

I still prefer doing fog, mist, moonlight, winter and early dawns (before green has a glimmer of a chance of making an appearance).  And that’s fine, because we all know I am .001% different — or lived a past life on a Scotland isle, where being able to see beyond the front step meant it was a lovely day.

Touted often as being the most difficult of mediums, and sometimes even as ‘the medium of mediums’, not everyone holds watercolour in such honour.  Indeed, oils are deemed the zenith of painting mediums.

‘Blowing the horn’ about watercolour as the ‘medium of mediums’ is a bit rich, perhaps.  That is, until one tries to master its elusive qualities and discovers how the more it is controlled, the less it is allowed to be what it is: a medium set free by water.

Perhaps no greater example of the power of watercolour allowed to find its own way through minimum control is by the hand of its greatest advocate, J. M. W. Turner.

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‘Incident At The London Parliament’ 1834

“If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it” is a quote which highlights Turner’s love for the power of contrast, which is what watercolour achieves spectacularly when the snow white of the paper is allowed to breathe while then bordered by the darkest dark.

'Duddon Sands' circa 1825-32 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D25226

‘Duddon Sands’ circa 1825-32 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Joseph Mallord William Turner is sometimes referred to as ‘the father of the abstract’.   It is possibly due to the apparent pleasure he took in allowing the medium to run wild, catching it back at just the right moment to indicate location.

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a Venetian watercolour, ‘Untitled’, JMW Turner

Somewhere there is a story about how Turner was very guarded over letting anyone watch him work.  But at some sort of gathering Turner asked a young boy if he wanted a picture of something he liked.  The boy asked for a Spanish Galleon, and the artist took him into his studio, and not too long afterwards the boy immerged with a small and perfect depiction of a great ship in tossing waves.

Grilled by others about how the master had gone about producing it, the boy dazzled them in claiming Turner was very fast–almost phrenetic–using one unusually long fingernail to rather frantically scrape and tear at the paper for crests and foam of storm-thrown waves.

venice challenge 2

August 12, 2015

The ongoing quest to interpret in watercolour a photo of Venice by Frank Dwyer of our local Kamloops Photo Arts Club has begun to take shape with a decision to take this 11.5cm x 16.5cm image and paint it as bigger–28cm x 25.5cm (11″ x 14″) –simply because a miniature of such a complex scene might prove less successful.

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So here goes….

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Arches Hot Press #140 lb. Paper, stretched and stapled onto gatorboard, then taped.

As much as the photo (entitled ‘The Blue Umbrella’) reveals damp pavement and the umbrella-holding couple, the sky isn’t quite as rainy-looking as perhaps it can be made to be for artistic interpretation purposes.  So ultramarine blue and burnt sienna were applied to the whole of the sky as a wash.

Ultramarine Blue has a nice quality of being one of the ‘granulating’ pigments of watercolour.  Its origins stem from the grinding of lapis lazuli, and received its name from the Latin ‘ultramarinus’ (meaning ‘beyond the sea’) .

So treasured and prized by the early painters, ground lapis (from Afghanistan, principally) was used by the painters of early icons as the garments for The Blessed Virgin.  (When The Holy Mother is depicted, her robes are red.)

In 1826 a synthetic version was created which itself derives from a mineral compound, lazurite, and is today the most complex of all pigments.  Being a ground mineral, ultramarine produces sediment that dries in a granular way when mixed with water.

To get this effect, however, the painter must apply ultramarine as a wash so the sediment can, in fact, separate and settle to create granulization.  That is why, then, the sky dropped into the first stage of the painting appears granulated and gives a kind of antique look.  If ultramarine is applied with only a bit of water, or straight from the tube (yikes), it will not granulate as such.

Some watercolourists are so avid about granulization, they buy a granulating medium from Daniel Smith, which, when mixed with most any watercolour paint, granulates.  However, the natural granulating pigments are raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, and some brands of burnt sienna.  That is because they come from the earth, and earth leaves sediment.

All of this material comes from a variety of sources, including http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/ — (a very thorough and devoted watercolourist from Australia).

inspiration galore!

July 6, 2015

THERE ARE TODAY few watercolourists with the mastery, control, spontaneity and lyrical grace of Joseph Zbukvic, an Australian painter who emigrated from Zagreb in 1970, and took up watercolour in his adopted country.

He is among a handful of true masters of classical watercolour technique, due to an ability to transform veritably any subject into visual poetic language.

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Adroit and seemingly effortless whether out on location or in the studio, Joseph Zbukvic’s handling and style builds on a foundation of an accurate, yet freely-rendered underdrawing, the suggestion of detail, a flawless sense of both composition and values, sparing yet daring choices, brought off with efficiency and dashed-off finishing touches of highlighting contrast.

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This calibre of painting keeps any student of the medium of watercolour inspired and wanting to stretch and keep striving.  It is a wonderful thing to see how high the watercolour bar can be set!

http://www.josephzbukvic.com/

blue moon

July 4, 2015

Because watercolour basically amounts to taking white paper and staining it with various colours by way of a brush and water-activated pigments, the possibility of texture using a buildup of paint, gesso, gel medium and other ‘helps’ available to painters in acrylic and oil just isn’t there.  IOW, in classic watercolour technique the word ‘impasto’ doesn’t exist.

Some painters get around this disadvantage by way of collage, and apply watercolour to glued on tissue and similar textural material…..

forest forager by shari hills,  “Forest Forager”, watercolour and collage by Shari Hills, source: httpwww.drawntothevalley.co.ukartistsdetailshari-hills

Here, the painter, Sheri (Colours by Sheri), used ‘delicate papers’ as a glued foundation to provide textures which then received watercolour paint to complete the effect.  On her site she describes how she also has used organic leaf material at times.

Winters Chill 12 x 9 Watercolours Collage Mixed Media Original -

“Winter’s Chill”, watercolour collage, Colours by Sheri, source: httpwww.coloursbysheri.comcurrent-series.html#sthash.aUBXtd8f.dpuf

If this method is used, painters are required to identify their medium as ‘collage’, or ‘watercolour collage’ if entering the piece in an exhibition or juried show.  Such work falls outside the accepted boundaries of what constitutes a ‘watercolour’.

In order to remain within the rather strict boundaries painters cannot have more than one third be of another medium or it then becomes a ‘mixed media’ work or ‘collage’ or ‘gauche’.   Gauche is watercolour which uses white tempera paint, and thus is opaque, not transparent. Of course, that is perfectly well and good.  Every painter does as (s)he is led to do.

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‘Moonrise’, watercolour on art board, 19cm x 24cm, (7.5″ x 9.5″)

Personally, like writers who enjoy the challenge of staying within the bounds of iambic pentameter and composing 14 line sonnets, being ‘confined’ to the rather strict parameters of traditional watercolour is rewarding.  These protocols include reserving paper to serve as white in a painting (such as the moon in the above example) — and the white of the paper is what brings life to the pigments laid over it.   And it means having to discover ways of creating texture which, in the end, remains just an illusion.

tortured brushes

May 12, 2015

THE BEST BRUSHES–in my wacked estimation–is a dollar store packet in the crafts section,  next to those garish tubes of glitter and such.  The second those poor things get home, they undergo an Edward Scissorhands attack that is not pretty.

brushes, trees for Cornel

SECOND-HAND STORES also usually have some wonderful, pathetic-looking excuses for brushes, pretty much being handed out for free.

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VERY FEW BRUSHES I own get to keep their original shape except ones sized 0, 00, 000, and 0000. For some additional fine work, a nib pen loaded with watercolour does well also.  But for large areas, chopped-up, hippie-freak brushes are like, tubular, man.

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FORGET SABLE–even squirrel is too refined–woodchuck, maybe–and those synthetic sponges on handles used to paint walls with are good, too.

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‘Mountain Mists’, 20cm x 28cm, Arches hot press 140 lb paper

THE TRUE ENJOYMENT OF PAINTING comes when viewing how another painter’s personal and unique need for self-expression realises itself in ways personal and unique.  Interaction with the subject demands an approach which only the painter her/himself knows is right.

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