It’s great to be back in Lucca where there’s a painting on every corner and more! Hence I’ve been choosing colazione caffe’s for sketching out opportunities.
Yesterday’s sketch afforded me 2 discoveries for this subject, both based on chiaroscuro, a chequerboard if you like. Aka alternation = light/dark, light/dark, light/dark. Given that some of the dark might be not so dark and some of the light might not be so light – in other words, a full range of values is required – every shape should have a different value to it’s neighbour – this difference might only be a 1% variation.
So what were the 2 gems I discovered?
Even though the sketch and the painting will be contrejour, I will be able to use similar values to tell my story. Values make the impact, colour is just cosmetics.
Something more to think about, these shapes did not conveniently place themselves correctly for me, I made them happen, as I was sketching these wee ideas presented themselves to me so I pushed them into my painting concept – I’m the artist!!
non ferma cari amici!!
Learning a new set of skills can be daunting, scary and hard. A big problem for adults coming back to art after many years is high expectations – too high expectations. If you haven’t done any drawing since you were 7, you are likely to be picking up where you left off.
Unless you’ve been able to continue your drawing, development is unlikely – you know what it’s like if you haven’t played piano for years (I can’t play my flute anymore, it’s very old and needs maintenance [as do I!] but obviously I haven’t practiced for a long time and my embouchure not up to scratch). Maybe you haven’t played golf for a few years only to return and find your swing is off.
Your drawing, painting and creative muscles needs constant attention – regular and frequent SMALL STEPS and exercise. Remember the steps it took for you to learn how to write your name – the dotted letter diagrams we followed? Learning to draw and paint is a similar process, incremental baby steps are required.
Many people tell me they can’t draw, I am a firm believer that we are all born creative, however, some of us get the chance (or make the chance) to pursue creative endeavours or maybe your creativity is pursued in a different way. I’m referring to my super creative engineering husband, among many, one of his skills is creating solutions for his clients.
More than talent, desire and perseverance are keys to learning and developing a skill in drawing. Few people do not have the ability to learn to draw, if you can sew or knit, play golf, write a letter, you can learn to draw.
More important skills are patience and observation along with key tools - time and focus.
Time to relax and enjoy the process of creating without the pressure of having to make something. As soon as the artist decides to create a masterpiece – today is the day – it’s all over. Too much pressure makes us focus on all the wrong emotions and decisions, performance anxiety (I’ve only got today to do this), we’re too focussed on the result instead of enjoying the moment and focussing on what the paint is doing on the paper.
Whether you want to be a professional artist or you just enjoy the process of creating, it’s important to exercise your creative muscle regularly and frequently – just like a body builder or marathon runner the more you practice the more you can flex your muscles.
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now.
ciao bei pittori!!
Do you always plan out everything ie... colours for everything and where bikes, cones etc might go?
Yes I do plan everything out BUT as I'm a little haphazard (read Arty-Farty - aka rip sh*t and bust!) I'm also happy to let go and see where the "unplan" takes me. So sometimes my painting is not like my sketch (sometimes my sketches are not like the scene!!).
You know that I pretty much always map out my design in a thumbnail sketch first. This sketch is about studying the pattern of the light and the dark and working out a composition. It's not about detail. I'm working out how I can use them to move the viewers eye around the painting. this sketch also helps me to learn about the scene/subject, it helps me to discover areas that could become a problem, or elements that I can take advantage of eg interlocking and overlapping shapes.
I make a "shopping list" of elements in the scene that I may or may not want to add into my painting and choose the ones that I like or help me to tell my story.
Once I've drawn my map onto my watercolour paper, I sometimes find there are areas that could be utilised or need a little filling up, these ideas come from my shopping list.
with regard to palette selection, I'm often smitten with a particular palette for a year or two and then replace a pigment or two. I usually use the same foundation palette for my realism work, based on transparent primary pigments, just the three plus burnt sienna, the same three I recommend to beginners. These colours will mix into every colour you could possibly need - just as well if you're in lockdown and no art supply store!!
To be truthful, for me, grey is the most frightening colour – I don’t wear grey, I don’t like looking at it, I don’t have it in my house and I HATE grey cloudy days! So when I was told recently that my “greys” were greatly admired I was quite floored, this started a renewed process of investigation, what greys do I create and how do I use them?
Firstly, good quality watercolours are made from natural minerals (pigments) and due to these natural qualities, react and bounce off each other, quite fun to watch and experiment with. Manufactured blacks and greys are mostly made from a kiln firing process therefore they contain soot - for large washes they can be lifeless and dull and often dry substantially lighter than expected.
Secondly, in watercolour, our staples are our complementaries (red vs green, purple vs yellow etc). For example, to neutralise red, I add a little green, a secondary colour containing blue and yellow. When I add green to red I have 3 primaries which means the greying process is started.
I paint with tube paints and carefully select transparent watercolours, mostly I use Winsor & Newton pigments and then I add opaque or earth pigments for accents.
My favourite palette includes winsor blue (red shade), permanent alizarin crimson and burnt sienna. Sometimes I swap the blue for winsor blue (green) or French ultramarine and alizarin for permanent rose or another transparent “pink” like permanent magenta. I choose this palette because each of these colours have good tinting strength, therefore this palette, with just enough water to mix, will make an exciting and fresh dark and, with diluting, will create fantastic luminous greys. I start by making a violet, for shadow areas a cool violet (ie more blue, less red) and depending on the palette of the day, I may add burnt sienna.
For silvery greys try cobalt blue and permanent alizarin for a gorgeous violet then add just a wee touch of raw sienna or try winsor green and permanent alizarin or rose. Cerulean blue or cobalt blue plus burnt sienna, for darker greys try french ultramarine or indigo with burnt sienna. As you can see the sky’s the limit but of course this all depends on the pigments in your palette and what you can do with them – a matter of experimentation.
To start with, I mix light value greys in my palette but I make sure I can still see little pockets of the ingredient colours; in other words, sloppy, inefficient colour mixing is best, partly because it ensures there is no accidental overmixing and further, it allows the poetry of watercolour to show. After washing in a light value Grey around whites, I mix a stronger grey with the same pigments but in different ratios so that, for example, I wash a warm grey over a cool grey. I then select one of my accent colours and charge it in and then spatter some of the other colours while it’s still damp.
For me watercolour is about poetry, creating beauty and light and life. As Delacroix said 'Colour is the fruit of life' and developing a repertoire of greys will only enhance your colour work.
why do we need to learn to mix greys?
Mixed greys are often fresher, they’re more exciting and luminous, especially if you choose transparent pigments with which to mix your colour.
Bought greys (blacks) tend to be warm shades and can be quite dull, further warm greys advance and may confuse your message.
Greys, in realism, are needed to highlight and let saturate colours attract attention. If a painting consists of all saturate colours, it may be difficult for the viewer to understand your message, further, it could be too much for viewers. Most paintings require some sort of quiet, neutral space, to rest the viewers eye.
Often your palette’s left over paint (aka palette gunge) will have created a beautiful grey all by itself, a little water and a bold, damp brush swish through your palette will give you a great “dirty tea” that will knock back any excess whites or elements that need a little pushing into the background.
A light value greenish grey will complement a bright red or pink beautifully, as will a light value orange-grey bring some magic next to a deep blue.
do I use blacks?
I enjoy painting monotone paintings in black and then I add a pop of opaque colour like cad red or yellow.
A simple, monotone black sketch is a great design tool in preparation for a larger work.
Sometimes I add a tiny bit of black (neutral tint) to push a dark even darker.
One of the reasons I love watercolour painting is the speed at which I can achieve a painting. If and when I'm clever, I can have a painting today! It took me a long time to get to this point - I've been painting watercolour close to 30 years - it's not an overnight process!!
A huge obstacle for watercolour newbies is allowing the watercolour to have it's way. There's a saying "before I paint, I'm in control, once I put that brush down the watercolour takes over". The secret is, until you get a really good feel for water balance in your brushes, paint and paper, you need to let go and stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Watercolour, as it should be painted, will be difficult for you.
Embrace "mistakes" and "accidents", runs and bleeds and allow the painting to speak to you and tell you what it wants.
Have another read of my webpage "About Me" and note the last sentence - "I love watching paint dry!"
Stop fiddling and controlling and start watching what the paint does and note that where the water goes the paint will follow. You'll start to notice the really cool effects and passages - watercolours will paint themselves if we let them and they'll certainly do it much better than we can!
When we're painting watercolour it's time to stop and smell the roses!
The scary secret is, you might not get the results you wanted or expected and you certainly might not know what to do next - that's the shock of it!! Use your artist's sense of composition, value structure and design to decide next steps - does it need more darks or lights? are the shapes correct? is it balanced and unified, etc etc.
Make a cuppa and watch the paint dry!!
ciao i miei belli amici!!
PaintBox Tips, secrets, random thoughts,
There is no ONE WAY to paint a watercolour - Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!