Tuesday, August 05, 2008 8:38 PM

on paint and learning

Many times I share a new painting because I love it, but this time it's more that I'm posting a painting that was frustrating but taught me a lot. (Which of course, I will share.)

Miss A, reading, on a blanket, in our backyard.

Most frustrating thing: after looking back at the lemon painting I had done with watercolour pencils, I decided that they were just what I needed to create a great texture for the line of arborvitae in the background. I spent ages blending colors, putting in shadows, blah blah blah, only to start adding water and realize that I was nowhere near the effect I wanted, and it was going to take another week of meticulous pencil blending. I said phooey to that, grabbed the paints, and started splashing them around. I was done with the trees in one night. Not only were the watercolour pencils a waste of time, but why did I start with the background and not with Angela, the focus of the whole thing? I was so in love with the idea of the prickly branch effect that I went straight to it. Next time, Angela first. Background later.

With my copy of The Watercolor Bible in hand, I decided to really try to apply the examples rather than just looking at the pictures. I read
"Remember to paint only as much detail as is needed to tell the viewer what an object is. Too much information is difficult to paint and makes it hard for the viewer to know what you intend as the focal point of the painting."
This is so different from the way I usually paint (anal-retentive amounts of detail) that I literally sat for a minute with the book in my hand, staring at the painting and wanting to throw the whole thing out.

But clearly, I didn't. One detail I do really like is the book in Angela's hand - there's no pencil work there, all edges are created from the edges of two colors meeting. Hand on leg, arm behind - edges of color to define them, and no leaning on an outline to separate them.

I sort of have a technique I use for hair, and it works for me. But I decided to go with the book's sample, and do washes instead. I didn't do the exercise, or use the colors they listed, just went with the general feel. Angela is in bright sunlight - you can't even see the difference between her skin and her dress at some points - and her black hair has to show it. Parts are black, parts are brown, parts are white, and parts are sort of some non-descript-un-color. I kept everything soft and built up the layers of color from lightest to darkest, adding touches of black at the end. I also added a wet brush and lifted color out in spots. And that sweet face! I went in only around the edge of the face with a sharp pencil just to provide extra definition. Had I been a better planner, I would have had that same definition of color I had around the book.

The grass was, at one point, painful. If I was really going to do it right, I should have masked some blades out. But then again, that might have been the detail-overload way. At one point, I could see myself grabbing the watercolour pencils again and making billions and billions of blades of grass.... I also was doing my media fast, remember? I usually work with the TV on in the background (I don't face it, but it's on as background noise); instead, I was so frustrated by the quiet on the first night that I literally couldn't work. I wound up putting on iTunes, standing up, and singing while I flung paint around for the grass - I had to work in a completely different way to break through my old habits. I do really like how the grass came out, though one teeny-tiny bit of masking fluid in retrospect wouldn't have been unwelcome. I like how it came out a little Brian-Wildsmith-y.

The whole painting is more in the feeling of this one - more loose, more fluffy, more flowy. I have been painting in watercolour for over 20 years. And I have so much, much more to learn about how to paint.

And how fantastic is that?

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