Peonies from My Garden

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Peonies From My Garden  by Mary Ercoli Walsh -watercolor 16×20″ 140 lb cold press paper

I’m not sure which I enjoy more – putzing around outdoors gardening, cutting and arranging the flowers I’ve grown, photographing them or sitting down to paint them.  Hmm… I guess the answer is ALL.  I enjoy the entire process, every single minute of it.

Below is the progression of this painting.  Something to note is that I usual work one area at a time,  my paper is usually white except for each new addition.  With this painting I blocked out the lightest shades of all of the colors and then went back to darken each place that needed it. The technique is called watercolor glazing.

 

peonies

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I know the focus is the giant flower blooms, but my favorite part of the painting is the bananas and their shadows.  Funny, I debated even allowing them to stay in my composition, but I am glad I did. The shadows are just so fun and interesting.

Like a true child, as soon as I hit the half-way mark of a painting, I am already mentally thinking about what I want to paint next.  It’s almost like I am frustrated with how slow my hands can work because my mind is so much faster.  Luckily, I’m a grown-up and I’ve learned the importance of finishing what I’ve started and staying the course. However, the day a painting is finished I am so excited…it means I get to START all over again!!!

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Teaching Watercolor – Painting Glass

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Painting the image of glass is something beginning painters avoid.

Why would you want to avoid painting glass? Hmm, let’s see. First you need to capture the background which is showing through the glass. Next, you have stems and leaves that show through. Third there is refraction going on, so the stems might appear bent or not where you expect them. Next you need to capture liquid. Is the glass half-full or empty? Finally, you need to paint the glass itself and the reflections that bounce off of it.

So yes.  There is quite a bit involved.

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I came to watercolor class with everything else painted and ready to go.  I also sketched in some very simple guide-lines.

vase

The two glass bottles in this painting were done using two different techniques.  why?  So I could show my class there are two ways to tackle the problem.  I wouldn’t normally do this in a painting, but it does help to show.  The left bottle was done with dry-glazing techniques. Meaning I used many layers of light watercolor wash.  You use very little water so as to have more control.   The bottle to the right was painted using the wet-on-wet technique.  I painted the entire bottle with clear water and then dropped paint into the water which makes it spread where ever there is water.  The glazing technique gives you a more precise look and the wet-on-wet is generally softer and more flowing.

Now I’ll tell you the secret to painting glass in watercolor no matter which technique you use.

glass

There is no white paint in watercolor.  You use the white of the paper.  So if you want a white area, don’t put any paint there.  However, there is another technique you can use to create white areas.  The technique is called lifting.  Lifting is when you take a clean paintbrush, dip it in water, take the access water off so it is damp and then you rub the paint away in a particular area.  Watercolor is not permanent.  You can’t dry it and it’s there forever.  In some ways that’s bad, but in some ways it’s good.  By simply wetting your painting you can pull up or “lift” the paint off the paper.  Now look at the photo above.  See all the different places where I am simulating reflection by creating light areas.  I rubbed, scrubbed and wet those areas until the paint lifted.

The rest is observation and practice, which for most of us takes a life-time.  With that said, there’s no time like the present.  Let’s get practicing!

Watercolor Techniques: Glazing

Glazing 101 (9)b

For weeks and weeks I have been drilling my students “More water! More water!  Drop the paint into the water and let it ooze, swirl and flow….”   

Well this project is the complete opposite of that.

 

glazing

In order to get those thin washes of color, you have to work very quickly and with very little water in order to not disturb the layer of paint below it.

So, I called this class the “STICK IT TO MARY CLASS”.  Because everyone would not have to hear my water nagging and they could possibly provide proof that you could create a watercolor painting not using the wet-on-wet painting method.  I so wanted to prove my class wrong!

Guess what?  Doing a painting fairly dry with quick layering strokes or glazing – works (however,  I am not admitting that to my students!).

So here is how I laid out this project:

glazing 101b

First you lay-out a very loose sketch. Pretty much, make shapes for where different colors or subject-matter will be.

Second is color-blocking. This very much reminds me of old fashioned paint-by-numbers.   You block your entire image with very simple, very light areas of color. For instance, the yellow flower has shadows in it, but for color-blocking purposes you would simply add a light shade of yellow.  All those details will be GLAZED in later. Another example of this is the splotch of light purple in the upper left quadrant. It is flat and light.  It marks the space where I will later add purple painted details.

Third, you begin to move around the painting adding quick layers of color.  For me, I like to move around and apply the darkest shadows.  The color-blocking step already established my lights.  So, if I then add the darkest darks, I can easily establish the medium tones later.  In the top right corner in the left-hand picture you can see a block of orange.  In the right-hand photo, you can see how I added the shadows between the flower petals to make that part of the image come alive. It went from orange splotch to orange flower petals.

Pretty much, you keep adding layer upon layer, detail upon detail, until you feel like the image is complete in your eyes.

Here’s another example:

glazing 101 c

Can you see how the left-side image looks flat, blocked and like a paint-by number? Do you see how much dimension you can create by adding more and more layers of color?

Here are some of my students. They are at the color-blocking paint-by-number-looking stage…

Glazing students

I can’t wait to see how their paintings come out.

I hate to admit this, but as soon as our classes were over, I rushed home to finish my demos.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I just couldn’t resist adding more and more layers.  I didn’t get up from my seat until I had finished both paintings.  Secretly, I found this glazing method extremely addicting :)

In a nutshell, this is not how I normally paint.  I like to use tons of water on my paper so that I get chemistry experiments of paint combining in strange watery ways.  However, I am TOTALLY going to incorporate more of this glazing into my work.  I think the quick movement provided me amazing opportunities to add way more colors than I ever would have, the normal way I paint.  I will definitely be chasing this freedom in future paintings.

In fact, I’ve just started another painting today :)

Understanding Grayscale in Painting

 

I have a student who complains that she never makes her darks dark enough in a painting. It’s a fair complaint. Without intense lights and darks, a painting can look very flat. With this in mind, I created this lesson.

Almost any art store will have a copy of this tool. An artist can place this gadget on top of their artwork and see if they have high contrast which is created by using colors at opposite sides of the value scale.

When we placed the grayscale/value finder on my students work, her work fell in the value 5,6,7,8. Pretty much there was no contrast.

This photo is perfect for studying value and grayscale. Do you notice the intense lights in the center of the image and the intense darks towards the edges? Do you notice that each leaf goes from light to dark but in different ranges?

Every leaf in this image provides a valuable lesson.

Doing this project in only black and white is a terrific way to understand the range of lights and darks in an image. The next level is to try to provide the same range of lights and darks using colors. Icey pink is going to present on the lighter range of the spectrum while eggplant purple will be on the dark. Greens with yellow in them will present lighter than a green with brown in it. It takes a bit of practice and observation, but like blacks and whites, artists need to consider the value of colors.

For this painting demo I created an under painting. If you look at the unfinished painting above, you can see what looks like a blended bulls-eye with yellows towards the center and purples towards the edges. Already, I am setting up my painting to incorporate lights and darks. In the same painting demo you can see particular leaves. Each leaf has darks toward the stem and lights toward the leaf’s edges. Because of the under-painting, the lights and darks of the outside of the painting will not be the same as the lights and darks of the center of the painting.

Towards the end of the class we started to play even more. Using warm colors like yellow, orange and red will make the area come forward while using cool colors like blues and purples will visually make that area of the image recede back. Ever so slightly we added a bit of warm colors to the center of the succulent and put the cool colors towards the outskirts.

Adding warm and cool colors to an image that you might not have attributed to the subject matter is great way to create visual interest.

Ah, there is so much to think about while painting. I hope I’ve shed a little light on the subject (and darks too! :)

Teaching Glazing Watercolor Techniques

Each week I try to find a particular concept to cover during my painting class that I teach. For this particular week I wanted to explore watercolor glazing. There are two different ways to apply watercolor paint. One way is to apply clean water from a brush onto the paper and then drop pigment into the water. The colors bleed and mix together creating unpredictable color patterns and combinations. This technique is called the wet-on-wet technique (wet paper and wet paint).

The other technique popular with watercolor painting is called glazing. Glazing is a fairly dry painting technique. It is a method of applying a coat of watercolor paint on top of an already dry layer of watercolor paint. Because the paper isn’t wet, the paint only goes exactly where you paint it. The beauty of this is that you can color mix the bottom and top layer. So if there was already yellow paint on the dry paper, a quick brush of red paint over it would create orange when the paper dried and a brush of blue would create a shade of green. You can transform an existing image quite quickly and easily.

The artist has to decide when to use each technique. The rooster photograph I provided to my students offers the perfect opportunity to use both techniques.

First,each student fills the entire rooster image with clean water and drops in watercolor in different places. Where the pigments meet, you get beautiful what I call “happy accidents”. It is unpredictable but it’s what makes watercolor so pretty. That’s the wet-on-wet technique.

Next, the students are going to add the detail. Think of all of the feathers and the head. The details are applied sparingly and with very little water. This is when you use the glazing technique.

Below is the Rhode Island Red rooster photo I provided and two paint demos I did during the class. See if you can pick out the two different painting application techniques.

The rooster image truly allows for so many variations of glazing. In total, I painted the chicken 3 times and each painting is completely different!

Here are some of the paintings from my students. You’d think we had 15 different chickens running around in the class!

 

By far, my favorite thing about art making

is that no matter what, each artist provides their own unique expression.

Little Paintings

In between larger works, I’ve been working on these smaller pieces. They are roughly between 8×10 – 11×14. They allow me to play without too much investment in time.

I am also currently working on large watercolors. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that my strengths seem to be better suited towards traditional watercolor still-lives (as opposed to acrylic abstracts).

What sort of stinks about this realization is that I have spent the last 6 years working tirelessly on abstract painting ! – and also constantly feeling frustrated.

Ahh…I am sure the knowledge and experience will be good for something… I just don’t know what that is yet.  Now, to be patient and present enough to let life unfold…

In the upcoming week or two, I will post my bigger more serious paintings.  And then you’ll get an idea of the direction I’m going…

Here’s to Life and Learning!

 

Translucent vs Opaque Painting

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My painting II class has resumed in the new year and our first lesson is a loose abstract play on translucency vs. opacity. Here is a little write-up I did on the project:

translucent vs. opaque

 

Where I find playing with loose shapes and a ton of water free and fun, a lot of my students panick at the idea.  Too funny.  I think the idea of having no control freaks us adults out, but very quickly it is a reminder that you can adjust and work with whatever comes your way.

Gosh, sometimes art is such a great metaphor for life isn’t it?  lol

So we got going.  In essence – “playing”.  Allowing the watercolor paint to flow where it wanted… and seeing what we could find to “pull out” of the painting.

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I started to hear comments about how it truly is easier to draw the negative space or contour of an image.  The focus is on the space between objects as opposed to the objects themselves. You use a different part of your brain which I’d imagine is the special part of the brain.  It feels different and is a great way to exercise that part which we don’t always use.

It was great to see how very different everyone’s artwork turned out.  Isn’t that another great thing about art?  You can all begin in the same place, but wind up in vastly different places.

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It was a successful class.  I could see I had challenged some people and took them out of their comfort zone.

We also discussed changing the opaque color.  What if it was white, taupe or green?  The different look you would get. Also, you could loosely paint with watercolor and after it dried, do another coat of watercolor as opposed to changing to acrylic.  The project is a great stepping stone into experimenting with mediums. How about gouache?

So if in these winter months you are looking for something to do, try it.  And send me a photo of what you come up with!

 

Nothing But Blue Skies

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Back in the US and back to work :)

Below you will find the tutorials on clouds that I provided for my watercolor classes.

The interesting technique I found worth sharing is to add a little pink and yellow to the whites of your clouds as opposed to simply white and grey.  The difference is a wealth of warmth in your painting.

make cloudscloud kindscloud kinds1

These were the demos of the different types of clouds I painted in class that week:

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It’s funny, you spend a week really focusing on something and your awareness becomes tenfold.

Ever since these classes I constantly find myself looking up :)

Painting People

 

I don’t know about you, but I find painting images of people scary and intimidating.  One wrong stroke and whoever you were trying to represent is instead someone no one can recognize.  It could be the smirk in a smile.  An eye being 1/16″ of an inch off… you name it, it’s hard.

As an artist trying to sell work, here’s another dilemma.  No one wants pictures of your kids, aunts or even your dog!  They are highly personal.  I hate to say it, but with images of people who someone doesn’t know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There’s a good chance you think you have the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  But that can’t be, because the woman right next to you has the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  You catch my drift?

So in my watercolor class I wanted to address adding people to a painting.  However, I wanted to add the “essence” of people without getting too specific.  Here in RI, we are also very familiar with the beach. So why not do an impressionistic painting of people on the beach?

Before each class, I scour the internet finding more than one way to do a painting technique.  I know how I would do it, but is there another way?  A better way?  I came across this tutorial and fell in love with the technique.  If you are at all interested in painting people, give this a view:

Here’s another thing.  If I have learned anything about painting, it’s that there are tricks to everything.  And I want to know what they are!  When you have 50 people in an image, it would take a month to draw each person to scale like in the diagram above.  The diagram above is how a masterpiece should be created, but a quick watercolor study?  There has to be an easier way…

I found this tutorial and I love its simple concept (click on the image above).

RECTANGLE CARROT

In an impressionistic image, you can create a human by first creating a rectangle for the torso and then making a carrot shape for the legs.  A head of course is round, but either way it works!

In my class, we sketched some quick human figures and then got to painting.  The video tutorial I included above teaches how to create human figures using blue watercolor paint that you drop human skin tones into. So you in essence start with a blue man.  We worked on all spectra of skin color, how to add clothing and how to allow the drops of pigment to bleed together giving you simply the “impression” of a person.  While all of this is happening, the blue paint that you begin with, gets pushed to the exterior of the figure.  Can you see the essence of blue as a halo around the figure?  It makes for a more colorful and in-depth image.

I’m not going to lie, painting people is just as difficult as I thought it would be.  But that’s all the more reason to push through the fear and give it a try.  I’m the teacher, and I learned a lot!  I am going to continue practicing.  and maybe next time, I won’t be so afraid to put a person in my painting (and maybe my pet in hope that no one is noticing ;)

Teaching Atmospheric Perspective

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Did you know that mountains look grayish-purple in the far distance?  Do you know why? 

I always knew to paint the objects in the far distance lighter and more purple/gray, but I don’t know that I ever invested in finding out the why.  For my painting class, I scoured the internet and figured it out.

On a cloudy day, objects far away simply look lighter.  This is because of all of the natural gasses and pollution in the atmosphere. However, on a sunny day with blue skies, the objects far away do indeed have a purplish cast.  This is because the blue sky is actually reflected in the atmosphere and smog.  Who knew?

So as a painter, keep this in mind:  If your landscape is cloudy just make the distance lighter in value, but if there are blue skies in your landscape, make the scenery far away purplish and lighter.

Here’s the tutorials I dug up from the web to give to my students:

atmospheric perspectiveatmospheric perspective 2

Here are the two demos from the project we did in class:

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When working with watercolor, there is no white paint.  You simply do not paint where you want something white.  You use the white of the paper.  This image with the mountains lighter in the distance as well as fog rolling through the hills is a wonderful opportunity to figure out how to use the white of your paper.  The trick is a ton of water.  You apply to the paper clean water and then you ever so slightly add some pigment and let it bleed through the area.  If you put paint on one side of the water-soaked area it will be dark on that side, but on the opposite side, the plain water side, it will still be mostly white paper and water.  This creates an ombre effect.  A graduation from dark to light.  There are so many instances to use this in watercolor.  It’s agreat thing to know how to do.

When your out on the highway looking at a large expanse of land, check it out for yourself.  The rule should hold true!