Into the Woods

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I am constantly hunting on Pinterest for lesson ideas for both my watercolor and acrylic paint classes. I found this lovely little watercolor of the woods and thought boy is this a great way to show students how to paint a subject matter that is visually chaotic.  When looking at the woods, I think most of us would not know where to begin.  Now I want to give credit to this artist, but the website is not in English. So this is what I found:

​[남일 풍경수채화 시범작품]

숲길 – 수채화 과정.

 watercolor on Arches (rough)

by NAMIL

* 그림과 영상이 마음에 드시면… 공감, 댓글 남겨주세요~

시청해주셔서 감사합니다~

This was a blog and there was a wonderful  progression showing how the artist tackled the subject matter.

trees woodsb

Guess what?  This progression works!  Some ideas to keep in mind are to paint the background lighter and the foreground deeper in color and have less detail in objects that are supposed to be far away and more detail in the objects closest to the viewer.

Here were two paintings I did while teaching the class:

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Thank you to Namil.  His demo made it possible to teach a whole class of students how to paint the woods.

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Garden of Grackles

__2019-05-08 09.31.15bGarden of Grackles -watercolor 18″ x 24″

This painting is very special to me.

I have been blogging about my art journey for almost 8 years now.  Can you imagine that?  -8 years.  In that time I have complained A LOT. Sorry about that :)  My almost decade frustration has been not knowing what my “message” as an artist would be.

First, as an artist,  I had to figure out what art medium was best suited to me and which best expressed my talent. Second, what style felt right?  abstract? illustration? graphic design? botanicals? landscapes? still lives?  and Thirdly, most importantly, what is my message as an artist?

Eight years later I can safely and proudly say I am an experiential learner. Meaning, no one could ever tell me me the answer, I had to learn the hard way.  I had to learn by trying EVERYTHING and I’m sure I will keep exploring.  No one could say “Hey, you seem to shine when you do xyz” or “You really should stick to xyz subject matter”. I have painted with acrylics, gouache and watercolor. I have tried printmaking, pastels and mixed media.  I have painted still lives, landscapes, abstracts and everything in between.

I really struggled with my message as an artist.  Some artists don’t care. They are just happy doing what they’re doing.  But inside me all the existential questions lie.  Why was I born?  Why am I on the planet earth? What is the point of  being alive and dying?  Is there a point? What will I do with the life I have been given?  I have gifts how will I use them?  and most importantly, what can I give back to the world?  

As an artist I have always taken this last question to heart.  I was not born with a scientific brain to cure diseases.  I wasn’t born to be a world leader that will guide future generations. I wasn’t born with a medical mindset to nurture and heal others.  I was born with a particular gift of creating images.  I haven’t really seen a society who value’s this gift.  Not like they value notoriety, wealth and technology.  How do you answer the question of giving to your community, your planet and the world at large as an individual?  As a human, I can care about the earth, be politically active, raise responsible children, pay my taxes and do no harm.  But a give to the world by making images?  I’ve struggled for years with the guilt of feeling frivolous, redundant, obscure, voiceless and insincere.

With age comes reason.  Again it comes back to experiential learning.  I had to experience and search and search…. and continue searching.  And the answer is that it was always with me all along.  The school of hard knocks. I would not accept any other way than to search, knock on hundreds of doors, open hundreds of doors and close a hundred doors. I can say I’ve tried on one hundred hats and I think I’m at the point of finding one that fits.

This is a bit long-winded, I know, but now I’ll get to why this painting is special to me. It has taken 8 years of trying everything else to be clear in what is special to me.  Artists that gleam the attention of the world’s mainstream express their strong feelings about death, suicide, mental illness, sexual identity, war, human rights, activism, ant-capitalism, tribalism…. all sorts of -isms. I’ve tried them all, but I never felt true to myself.  Again, like I was wearing someone else’s hat.

My message is a lot quieter. It’s really quiet actually.  My loves are very simple and I can’t change that.  Lord knows I’ve tried.  I love my gardens, the critters that crawl within them, my bird-feeder, staring out the window, smelling nature, feeling it underneath my feet and I am obsessed with recreating it in COLOR.

This painting is special because I am owning this quiet little message.  It may not be loud, it may not be flashy and it may not get a ton of social media hits, but it’s still a message.  It’s a message to my tribe.  My tribe of flora, fauna and everyday backyard enthusiasts.  I for several years, have tried to run as far away as I could from this concept.  But  I have to own that inwardly, I am very quiet. I’m a bit of a dork actually.  I don’t mind sitting in my driveway for hours watching squirrels and listening to the birds.  And they don’t have to be fancy animals either. Blackbirds, robins, cardinals and seagulls, insects, woodchucks, skunks and bunnies – they do it for me.

Forever, I have painted what I see ( ie. a gorgeous bouquet from my garden or a beautiful scene from a vacation). This painting above is one of the first explorations from my imagination.  I simply thought about all the things I love and assembled them into a composition that does not exist anywhere other than my mind. That is very scary.  I think it’s why I haven’t really done it before.  I can’t blame the image on the circumstances or the environ. It’s on me.  I am telling the world what I love and it’s incredibly personal.  There’s the fear of what if people don’t like what they see?  But again I think that age and time give you the confidence to care not. There is so much freedom in not caring.

I made a painting and  “I”  love it because it has all the things special to me within it.  It’s colorful and happy and strong and unapologetic – in a very quiet way.

Bingo. That’s the direction I need to move in.

I’m feeling very comfortable in this hat.

LOL. So now I’ll get off my soapbox and show you the progression of the painting and some of my favorite parts:

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Thank you so much for being on this journey with me :)

 

 

To Paint like Shirley Trevena

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The students in my watercolor class are fabulous.  I throw so many challenges at them and they take them and run with it.  This challenge was no exception!

Shirley Trevena is an amazing water colorist from England.  When you look at her work, there is so much going on, you can barely figure out how she does what she does.

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Luckily she is a giving enough artist that she shares her process in her many books.  I grabbed two of them, studied them and created a lesson plan to try some of the painting techniques in our watercolor class. Below is a word doc explaining some of her painting techniques.

TECHNIQUES TREVENA LIKES TO USE

Here are two paintings I used to demo in my class:

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If you are interested in trying some fairly unconventional watercolor techniques or you simply want to enjoy some absolutely gorgeous artwork, check artist Shirley Trevena out.  She is a master.

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!!!

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!