My workshops on how to generate design ideas came about because a student said they were not ever able to get a “good” photograph of the scene.
I worked very hard on the design of “pauatahanui” and the ensuing series because it’s a popular scene to paint.
So how could I make mine different?
I got all excited and had to see these boat sheds for myself (aka ROAD TRIP!!).
It took 6 months to create a design concept I was happy with.
So the subject of this workshop became how to design a painting and not be reliant on good photos because good photos are rare and don't miraculously turn up when required! Somewhat akin to how to paint from a bad photo.
Another thought, it doesn't take courage to paint what you see - it does take courage to paint what you think and feel.
I often turn away from my reference, it was pointed out to me some years ago that I rarely “look” at my subject. Through my study and observation I begin a path of understanding. I take reference photos, I create thumbnail studies which lead me to my design idea - I want my work to be unique, I want the essence of the subject, I want it to be from me.
So, how to be less reliant on photos?
it's all about getting an idea.
one thing I must say to you is that, generating ideas is not easy, like everything it takes consistent and frequent effort.
My typical practice revolves around drawing/designing (en plein air or in my studio) a thumbnail and doodling some of the shapes I think I will want. What do I like or not like? Leave out, add in, bring something relevant in from another scene. This is where I get to know my subject and the relationships of the other elements to each other. I have sketched/painted many boat yard scenes so I feel confident about bringing ideas in from previous study.
And that's what this is about - study and observation. Even though I have no intention of creating a photographic realism painting, I need to understand shapes, light and dark, perspective, values etc to create a work based on simplified shapes.
what could i do that was different/better? Firstly, I have the power of watercolour's fluidity; secondly, a unique composition. So the idea became the jumble and chaos of boatsheds and the ensuing detritus.
I'm still in my self-imposed "lockdown" with my continuing knee problem, It's a lot better but not better enough .. thwarted by my feeble attempts to "keep calm and carry on".
Something that’s really bugging me is my studio clear-out/tidy up/re-shuffle/reorganise started before Christmas. It was a good idea at the time but now I have 2 piles on the floor that are attempting to morph into 3 and I can’t get down there to do much about it. It’s making me crazy! PLUS while I’m nursing my poor wee ginocchio Dennis has now gone back to work, Amy’s back to work and there’s no-one here to entertain me!! YIKES!!
So now I find myself in this temporary situation of cabin fever - I'm desperate to get out and paint/sketch, so I've made myself a new plan for my coming escapades. in a feeble attempt to get back to normal, i went for a walk with Amy and the dog. I trailed far behind them, it was so nice to be out and hearing the birds and children playing, families and their picnics but, I have to say, I paid for it the next day ... mamma mia!!
It reminded me how dependent I am on my walking, it's my chief thinking time, my meditation and quiet time that allows my thoughts and ideas to run and play out. Another purpose for me is exploration, this is when I see things that inspire me, a fleeting light, shapes interlocking and overlapping, colours or some other interesting and diverting sights.
To get out of the house, I've been for a few outings in the car (bicycle is a no-go atm) to scope out some sketching locations but of course, even here in Auckland it's almost impossible to park close enough. So I've decided to go to cafes again, they have to be in the right place, scenic and comfy.
There are so many ways to enjoy sketching out, for me, its a totally absorbing experience. Although I love my little value thumbnail sketches, I learn a lot about a scene using this process, I feel the need to change things up a little, expand my sketching and bring more of it into my life. So!! I bought a new sketchbook and made a sketch kit that's always with me.
My new sketchbook has a soft cover, so a little lighter than a hard cover but I found an old light but rigid clipboard. My backpack is pretty old, so old it doesn't have a smart phone size pocket - urk! It has a great "book" pocket but without an easy small pocket, pretty much everything falls to the bottom. In my bag I also have a wee first-aid kit, a small professional pan-set, tramper's collapsible water cup, pencil case and a few other weird sketch tools to fun things up a bit!
In my pencil case, I have my standard soft pencils, a sharpener and eraser, tombow value brushpens, general’s sketching pencil, small view finder, calligraphy sketch pen, pastel and watercolour pencil, travel brush, small flat brush, water spritzer.
To protect pencil tips and brush points, I always place them in the case in the same direction and then “up” in my bag.
In Sketch class last week, Mary said “I can’t see enough detail, I’m too far away”. I agree, I need to see exactly what goes on, this helps me to build my story. Go for a walk to understand the lay of the land, what makes this place tick? How do those elements look close up? Always have your camera charged and set to hi-resolution and use a view finder to isolate your scene and cut out the overwhelming and extraneous, then you can just focus on what you want today.
Have you ever struggled to get into just the right spot when you're painting in a group?
Everyone's elbowing each other trying to get the best possie!!
You can either get into the jostle (yuck!) or get there early. Both, to me, are pointless because you never know what the model is going to do and I hate being stuck in a crowd.
My solution is, no matter what's in front of you, the artist has to learn how to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear: use your creative brain to come up with a fine composition/design/idea and make it work (This is why I'm really good at painting feet)!! Test yourself, push your skills and make yourself come up with the goods. If permitted, dive in close at some point and get some photos so you have reference material for when you get back to your studio.
My best strategy for painting en plein air is to grab a cushion, find some shade, get comfy and then look around to find my subject. A viewfinder is a handy gadget to avoid overwhelm and pin down a great composition. When I'm done with that view, i turn 5°, make sure I'm still in the shade, get comfy and paint - step and repeat!! Very sensible when you think of how much painting time can be wasted wandering around looking for the perfect subject - it's right there in front of you!
edited from my original post 081214
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Edited from original post 140119
I've been listening to lots of podcasts from artists who love painting en plein air like I do - the interesting thing is, I come from the school of painting what should be there but most of the artists I've been listening to seem very focussed on determining the exact shade of colour (temp and hue) and the exact value of each shape and finding the right scene/subject. I find that to be totally tiresome and tedious, at best, a form of procrastination.
When I discover a scene/subject to paint, I can guarantee you I will feel the need, rightly or wrongly, to shift some things around (lamp posts are never in the right place), and change colours and values to suit my idea. I have 2 thoughts about this, firstly, I am NEVER going to find the perfect scene so I might as well get down and dirty right now. Secondly, I am an artist, it's my job to make whatever it is beautiful and meaningful and tell my story through paint.
Imagine how many hours I would lose just by simply wandering around looking for the right scene/subject? Most often I have 2-3 hours to paint on location, I better make it snappy. Don't get me wrong I deliberately go to places that I know will please me (crusty, rusty and horrible are the key words here) and I do like it when someone chooses for me and gives me a challenge - its all too easy to fall into the trap of painting the same things over and over.
Back to WHAT SHOULD BE THERE. So what should be there? well that's up to you to develop your skills of observation and your sense of good taste and design and what you love. While in Raglan NZ recently, I went to paint the orange dinghy - how disappointing ... i could barely tell it was orange ... back in the day, it positively glowed and reflected into the bay, not only that, the fab building behind it doesn't exist!! My biggest problem is I believe my own press ... I really remember the house being an architectural wonder but I think i painted it that way many years ago and the painting is stuck in my memory!! So I decided to paint the old Dairy Factory behind the nasty building, it's obscured from every vantage point so I'm going to have to make it up, there will be ladders and brooms and mops and buckets, maybe a bloke walking by with a fishing rod. What i really need to consider is how important is the Dairy Factory and if i decide it's very important then i will have to decide what elements I will need to help me communicate "Dairy Factory" without getting naff or kitsch!!
The secret message today is, use the scene/subject/photo as your inspiration, not something to be copied faithfully, just because it's there doesn't make it right for a work of art, if they brought back bell bottoms would you wear them? Give your artistic license a whirl!!
ciao i miei belli amici!!
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FROM ORIGINAL POST 4/9/2017
The cool thing about Watercolour is that it is mostly not too difficult to fix.
I know, I know, everyone says how it is the most difficult medium but truthfully, everything new is difficult and the myth sayers I've met are the ones who can't paint (watercolour) and have given up.
The main issue most beginners in watercolour painting have is determining what the problem actually is!!
Sometimes there actually isn't a problem but we've got to that dreadful middle stage and don't know what to do next. If you definitely have an issue to solve, read on McDuff!!
If you decide the composition or design is a problem, redraw a value study of the corrected composition on spare paper and re-work the improved version into the painting. Yes - that's right paint over it, you might need more paint!
Could you draw/paint it better? Practice drawing the shape you require on spare paper, then practice painting the shape/colours etc on some spare watercolour paper. Wet the offending area, sponge out problem shape/area carefully and re-draw and paint.
A shape is not quite right - I've solved this problem in my paintings in 6 or 7 different ways. Here's a couple you can try (1) wedge a dark tone next to the problem area correcting the shape, (2) stencil lift to correct the shape or (3) soften an offending edge with a damp sponge.
What watercolour problems cannot be fixed? The most difficult actual watercolour problem I have found is too much opaque pigment mixed too much on the palette and then stirred up too much on the paper - too dead!
Sometimes a stencil-lifted highlight will work or you could try adding more detail to another part of the painting to draw attention away from the offending area or carefully glaze a transparent complementary colour over the problem area to knock it back.
Always try to push yourself to finish every painting whether you've decided it will be a 'good' painting or not. The truth is, you might not be able to fix a work you've deemed irretrievable but the effort of trying will teach you more about watercolour/painting/process than starting yet another painting that you'll struggle to complete. Further, if you've already deemed the painting a failure, you really can't make it any worse - keep at it!!
check out my Paintbox Tips for more watercolour help!!
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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!!