After a conversation with another artist friend who had shown me some of his stunning watercolors, he informed me that he had used over 200 glazes (one layer over another of wet paint onto dry).
Some years ago, I did some of that sort of work with watercolor but found that a small simple painting might take a few weeks to complete. The effects of working that way can be very ethereal and subtle with all sorts of luminous things happening . . . .or developing mud if one doesn’t work with transparent glazes. Burnt Sienna, Viridian and Magenta.
He described a limited palette to me that he had used, Burnt Sienna, Viridian and Magenta . I had never ever considered that combo of colors before. With the abstract work I have been doing off and on over the last few years, his conversation gave me some interesting ideas. So, I went immediately to the studio to ‘fiddle’ with my ideas.
This piece now has around 40 glazes of thin watery color laid over each other. Sometimes, with one color, I may intentionally miss a shape and others I will cover that shape with another. Over time, as the colors mix optically, different intensities develop as well as values. In this piece my values have begun to separate distinctly and that is NOT what I set out to do. So, I must glaze over the lighter areas and work to bring the values closer together so that the colors may offer their contrasts of temperature or intensity rather than value.
Succinctly, it’s tricky! Watch for future posts of what happens to this painting. it could well become a stinker!
The very first thing one must do . . . .and this isn’t the easiest to even recognize, much less actually DO . . . . .is to let go of what you think you know. That is precisely what I must do when I paint anything, much less a seascape like this.
First off, let’s look at the most obvious dangerous thought in this painting: “The foam is white.” Nope! Wrong! It isn’t just white. Believe me, there is a rainbow of color in there. So, one must THINK carefully about what color goes where to leave a ‘white’ idea but a visual which has complete impact. There is a range of violets, greens, grays, blues, oranges and an occasional red in all this white. It must all work together to read as ‘white’ but cannot actually BE white.
The same goes for all the color in the cliffs and hillsides. The reflections, too. It is a chorus or a concert, if you will, of multiple colors and values.
The biggest concern I had in this painting . . . .get ready for this! . . . . was how big is the ‘white’ (or very light valued colors that approach nearly white) versus how big were the medium and dark values. Yes. Failure to pay attention to size dominance (where one group of values is significantly larger than the other group) could have ruined this painting. A half and half split between sizes would have been most unsettling. One value group (lights or darks) must dominate over the other in size.
Those are some of the things I must pay close attention to in the act of painting. It would have been a large mistake to think “Water” and “Waves” and “Rocks” . . . rather than light, mid and dark value . . . rather than warm and cool . . . rather than soft edge versus hard edges . . . .rather than splash is white . . . .rather than paying attention to the edges, the temperature, the value and whether there is shadow or light on the splash.
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
The far shore is what this piece is about. Every thing else in the painting is supposed to lead the eye to that point. Click on the painting to expand it so you can see what’s happening there. Hopefully, the monitor resolution is good enough to make out the color detail there. The stark value contrasts there and the edges keep the painting in balance (I hope!). It took nearly six different attempts and glazes to dial it in.
I have been on a tear to paint lately, since I have another show coming up, which has a theme of water flowing to the sea. So, I am painting big, strong pieces in hopes that a few will be show worthy. This is a welcome break from the web work on my website last week. If you haven’t seen the new site, check it out here.
I have been playing with the same motif of the cliffs and bluffs along our coast for as long as I have been painting. Against the sky or the sea, the cliff is nothing more than a severe bump or rise out of a flat area. What makes a “bump” entertaining? Go on, tell me ! what?
The answer is not in the reality, but in what the artist creates. The more we copy what we ‘see’ as reality, the more mundane it can become. So the artist must do something to arrest the viewer and hold his attention. Or, the painting must hold some degree of shock value, I suppose. The artist only has a few tools to play with: Value, Shape, Color, Texture and Line. That is it. Value, shape and color hold the greatest potential for developing that ingredient of ‘shock’ or ‘visual stimulus.’ (Notice that details are not mentioned! . . .or considered . . .it is NOT details that matter.)
So, here is my shot at value, shape and color to carry the day with a ‘bump.’ I long ago let go of the photos and the actual subject to help me. Sketches from memory and establishing a strong compositional design (value sketch) before doing any painting is the basis for a strong, bold painting.
Have you ever done a painting, accepted it as done and went back a few weeks later to see it had **changed** ?
What are these mysterious gremlins at work on our paintings? Somehow, they manage to modify shapes, change the colors, put strokes in the paintings that I KNOW I never did. How does this happen.
Maybe I should pose these questions another way. Why was I so bloody blind when I was painting it? That is the real question!!
I have several paintings leaning against my easel which MUST be revised. I can see now what I could not see when I was painting them. It must be the incubation process. That is to say, like hens eggs, they must incubate quietly under warm conditions, then they hatch. Paintings have a similar character. We don’t really get to see them in the state they will be living until they have “incubated.” . . . . . .Or, been out of our vision for a period of time. . . . . How Long? . . . . . . . . Maybe as long as a year or more. Most times, though, it is usually a few weeks. Then I see the errors in color, shape, value, texture and direction. You can see in this painting of the poplars that it was rather blah. The sky was too yellow, the trees washed out, there wasn’t enough contrast of value, the color of the trees was wrong and they were leaning to the left. The more I looked at the painting, the more I itched to fix it.
So, here are the results, such as they are. I am much happier with the piece, but my mind’s vision is still a distance away from the outcome (that never changes, incidentally). As artists who are constantly looking for improvement in our work, I think our minds grow much faster than we realize. Perhaps that is why we can see the faults in our work in a matter of a few weeks.
Personally, I am very thankful for the constant change in my mental perspective. Incubation affords me to see the errors of my skills then consciously make improvements. How else does an artist grow?
Today, working with only a value sketch (2” x 3”) and not doing any drawing on the paper, I painted negative shapes and shadow shapes (good ole “light and shadow” again!) and left the whites. I have to admit that there was some hesitance to do this . . .in fact, “fear” might be a better word. And I struggled. The shapes are a little rough in places, but that is why I did it without a drawing; to get shapes I could never deliberately make (my corrective instinct is too strong!)
In the end, the whole thing comes to life with the addition of simple line work (calligraphy).
I was firing on all cylindars as I painted away . . .stuff was going together on the canvas rapidly. Within 2 hours, I was ready to call it quits, load up the car and head out. So, we did.
Getting to the car, I pulled the painting out to look at it in the shade. Wham !!! It hit me that my mistake was one I should have seen coming . . .in fact, I KNEW BETTER !
I had overdone the darks and mid-tones. So much so, that the dark shadowy areas were nearly black. Areas and shapes that should have been in a dark middle value had accelerated to the dark side, too! When you paint in the direct sun, the colors appear more washed out . . .the painter naturally compensates without consciously seeing that every mark is much darker than they should be. I have done this countless times and cuss myself for falling into the trap again.
The second mistake was not paying attention to color temperature as a means to show light and shadow. Again, I knew better. Instead, I was slamming the darks as pure value tones.
I awoke that night in the middle of the night and almost sat bolt upright in bed . . . .(why do realizations have to appear in mid sleep in the wee hours ? Why ?!!) . . . .I was visualizing what I should have done . . . .I should have used more blues to indicate shadowed areas . . . .cool out of the light and warm in the light (on a sunny day) ! sheeesh! How long does it take to make this a habit ??
The last mistake was to ignore the mistake. This morning I awoke telling myself to ‘git into the studio and fix it!” This little compulsion is the part of me that others call ‘self discipline.’ I don’t call it that. I HAD TO SEE if I was right in my mid snooze epiphany.
I think I was. I won’t again work sans umbrella . . . .and I’ll be more watchful of color temperature instead of absolute value. Clearly, Mistakes are the best teachers . . .if we pay attention.