Do I have to finish my painting on site for it to be classed as en plein air? When is a plein air piece 'en plein air' and when does it become a studio piece?
I reckon if a work is substantially created on location, let's say 95%, then it is an en plein air painting. To add a couple of additional marks when you return to your studio does not make your painting/sketch a studio piece, it just means you know how to finish a painting or you had to pack up quick to get away from the approaching storm. At the end of the day it really only matters if you are entering en plein air competitions and then you'll be on site in the thick of it.
It seems there are too many rules and regulations about art and creating, it seems to me that most of these 'rules' are handed to us from either 150 years ago or by some 'expert' who is not a painter! To be a creative is to not be bound by other people's 'rules'.
For example, for me, it does not make sense to go back to the same place for several days running to complete a painting - I certainly would not be able to do that in NZ (4 seasons in one day - and fairly unpredictable unless mid-winter and then you know it's going to be rainy or stormy!). Further, I want to push my skill as a watercolour painter and develop my creativity and thinking, watercolour is fast and immediate, i want to take advantage of that while I can.
For me, en plein air is all about getting to know a scene/subject, understanding it's essence and getting a sketch down and dirty as quick as possible. I give myself 1.5 hours - after this time, light and atmospheric conditions have changed substantially and only provide a new set of facts that are likely irrelevant to my current work. My plein air sketches provide me with detailed notes so I can create a finessed studio painting, sometimes my plein air works are good enough to sell, sometimes not - so be it - do it again!
My methodology is to scope out the scene, sit and observe the light and shapes from my selected spot, create/design a couple of thumbnail value sketches, take a mental snapshot and get stuck in. A painting buddy pointed out to me recently that I don't refer to the actual scene very much after that except for a few detail reminders. For me it's all about the essence of the scene, and certainly, sometimes I wonder who made me paint in that particular locale - it's all their fault!! :)
Please remember these are 'rules' i have set for my myself and you don't have to follow them blindly - they might not work for you/your current style/medium/whatever. I think this is where students get caught up, rule #10181614172930 works for X and X swears by this rule and may insist their students follow it too (when a tutor start telling their students there is only one way and it's their way or the highway, choose the highway!) Remember, there are no magic bullets - you might have to forge on and create your own methodologies - experiment and have fun!!
ciao bei pittori xx
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You probably know this - colour mixing in watercolour is vastly different from other mediums. There are several reasons for this, including the fluidity of the medium - water; the watercolour paper; sizing; the pigments; and, the white of the paper.
To explore colour mixing with water further, water is used to lighten and deepen values and saturates. The more used, the lighter the value; The opposite is also true, the less water used, the stronger the colour, saturation and value. Although there are many ways to paint a watercolour, a process for the beginner watercolour painter to live by is to start your paintings with more water and less pigment, subsequent washes should have less water and more pigment until your final marks are virtually paint straight from the tube!
In addition to using water, the colour we have that's not a colour is the white of the paper. In transparent washes, light travels through the paint to the paper and bounces back and helps to optically lighten values, this is also the reason we use a white palette and not a coloured palette.
Professional grade watercolour paper is not actually paper at all; Exhibition quality 'paper' is made from cotton rag, versus student papers which are made from wood pulp. Exhibition papers are archival meaning they are acid free and, providing they are kept thoughtfully (not under the bed), in a dry, cool environment, away from direct sunlight they will be perfect for a LONG time!! Framed paintings should be hung away from direct sunlight just like any other artwork in any other medium.
I have to admit I am not an expert on watercolour paper sizing (i'm not much into the science - I just want to paint, so I'm not going to pretend), what I do know is that the sizing helps to keep the paint on the surface of the paper thereby helping to retain your painting's brilliance, lustre and transparency. A good quality paper will be sized to it's core not just on the surface. This means that, from a colour mixing perspective, different papers work differently and will allow the pigment and water to work differently.
Although black and white pigments are manufactured, typically, we do not use a black for dark value washes, nor a white to lighten. My reasons for not using black as a wash is because I find it exceedingly boring. For me watercolour is about poetry, there is no poetry in black!! Watercolour painting is about creating beauty and light and life, as Delacroix said 'Colour is the fruit of life'. I encourage you to step outside and find a dark area and observe the light bouncing around and colours reflecting, treat watercolor as an adventure. I prefer to make my own darks, creating areas of light and dark, warm and cool, opaque and transparent - so much more interesting!! If you are desperate, paint a black painting and get it out of your system! Apart from that, most blacks are created using a kiln firing process and seem to be very sooty, my eyeliner is the only black near me!! I have to admit I LOVE white gouache, I slap it in to darks (with restraint, sometimes not!) just for the fun of it. I also love white marks in a watercolor painting, however, white watercolour and gouache is not so pretty when used as a wash (and unnecessary!) proceed with caution.
There is vast range of watercolour pigments available falling into 4 main categories: transparent, opaque, earth and staining. Many of the pigments are made from natural minerals and due to these natural qualities, react and bounce off each other, quite fun to watch and experiment with.
To give yourself the best shot at painting watercolour, be kind to yourself and buy a set of transparent primaries in a professional grade of paints, however I recommend you seek advice from a specialist watercolour artist before purchasing.
For a beginner watercolour painter, I recommend just four pigments - get used to them and understand how they work together - do resist the urge to splurge - you will have more fun with a limited palette!! The pigments I suggest are artist quality tube paints, Permanent Alizarin crimson, phthalo blue (or french ultramarine), Indian yellow (or new gamboge) and burnt sienna. The most useful tool you can make for yourself is a colour wheel made from your own pigments. Just choose any yellow, blue and red then mix a purple, orange and green - complimentaries - yellow is opposite purple, green is opposite red and orange is opposite blue.
This is important because the colour wheel, for example, will show you the complementary colour to neutralise a bright/saturate pigment eg neutralise or dull a yellow by adding a touch of purple or it will help you decide which colours to charge into a luscious apple's shadow and which colour to choose to make one colour stand out from another. From these pigments you make a gorgeous silvery (or warm) greys, a luscious rich lively black and a myriad of other colours just with 4 pigments!! You can progress this by mixing a light value colour wheel and then a dark value wheel just by altering the amount of water on your brush.
Colour charging is exciting and frightening all at the same time - while the paper is damp, and without washing your brush, load up another colour and simply 'charge', ( ie slop, slap or drop) this new colour into or next to, the original colour. With watercolour, fewer brush strokes are definitely more, this also works for colour mixing on your paper. When charging in colour use ONE brush stroke - every additional brush stroke is another step toward opaque, 'dead' colour and lost luminosity.
Due to its transparency (even opaque pigments are quite transparent) glazing can be used to modify a value or temperature or simply mix colours. Glazing is washing over a previously painted area, use a soft bristled brush to ensure previous layers are not disturbed. For example, if there was an orange car in the distance but it's too bright and taking over, you could knock it back to the distance by glazing a wash of a blue (or purply-blue) over the orange, its not necessary to be neat just wash over everything that's intended to be in the distance, soften off an edge here or there and you're done!
Colours can also be mixed onto dry paper with wet brush/paint (aka wet into dry). Place colours beside each other and catch the bead from the previous mark, the secret is not to touch the same mark again, just keep catching the bead of the previous mark until you get where you're going.
One of the main advantages of watercolour is wet-into-wet painting. For amazing blends of colour, soak a piece of watercolour paper in a 'bath' for no more than 5 minutes, let the drips run off and place the wet paper onto marine ply or gatorboard. The paper will stay wet for sometime and you will be able to paint until it is dry.
Watercolour is the oldest known painting medium - the sistine chapel fresco is a type of watercolour! Think of painting watercolour with a feather - that's all it needs - a gentle touch!!
happy painting miei cari amici xx
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Thrilled to say Auckland Viaduct studio greys has been awarded 1st prize by Watercolour New Zealand and Gordon Harris Art Supplies.
I had painted the same subject en plein air the previous day and was dissatisfied with the result, I was, however, inspired to create the scene with a new composition and a different mix of greys.
As I am a heavy handed painter and struggle with light values and greys, more practice required!!
I started with a loose thumbnail value sketch, then applied a loose simplified sketch to my watercolour paper.
Painting in an en plein air style ie, top down, I started with varying mixes of greys (phthalocyanine blue, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna); warmer hues gradating into cooler and sometimes painting with clean water, all this around planned whites.
Once the shine had left the paper I splashed in some some light value spatter and continued to paint stronger washes of colour - that is, less water more paint with each successive shape created. Parts of the “office” and fishing boat were painted with colour straight from the tube. I painted in some dark people and also scrubbed out some lighter value shapes.
The paper was still quite damp which allowed me the freedom of soft edges and more spatter. I also started to add accents of raw sienna, cerulean blue and splashes of white gouache.
I get totally absorbed in negative painting - the worse you do it the better, some soft edges, plus some bleeding - squirting water and when close to dry, some final hard edges. I added some calligraphy marks to seal the deal.
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ciao cari amici xx
If you want a little heads up before you head to a new art class or maybe a little refresher if you've had a break from painting and drawing, have a look at my short video, Paintbox Tip #3 simple silhouette sketching!
grab a plain white cup and saucer and have a go at drawing the cup to start with, don't worry if you think it's not right, do it again and again!! most artists draw/paint same subject over and over and over!! We should too!!
draw cup and saucer from different angles and different heights but keep everything quite small - on your paper, cup should be no more than half the size of the actual!!
the really cool thing about pencil sketching for watercolour painters is the similarity of process - painting/sketching from light to dark and building up layers of value to describe form and light!!
ciao ciao cari amici!
It seems to me that students struggle with loading their brushes with enough colour and water. Their watercolour paintings look dry and overworked and seem to have a "scrubby" look. See my Paintbox Tip #1 to see how to load your natural bristle brushes with good juicy, rich paint!
Copyright 2009-2018 All images and text on Amanda's blog and website are the legal property of Amanda Brett and may not be reproduced without express permission, thanks for respecting my art and creativity.
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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Copyright 2020 All images and text on Amanda's blog and website are the legal property of Amanda Brett and may not be reproduced without express permission, thanks for respecting my art and creativity.
Amanda Brett Watercolour Artist
Paintbox Tips, secrets, thoughts, scribblings and doodles on art, my life as an artist, travels and musings!! www.amandabrett.net