A half hour drive west on the interstate last week took me through beautiful monochromatic landscapes shrouded in fog. When I returned home, I painted the scenes from memory. First I divided a 9×12 sheet of watercolor paper in fourths to practice with small vignettes. I used a limited palette of Payne’s grey, lamp black, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre and burnt sienna (it might be Indian red, not sure because I filled my watercolor pans a while ago.) I added Chinese white details with a rigger brush at the end.
I started two slightly larger practice pieces next, including a color chart at the bottom of the paper. I was trying to really think through the process, but also trying to keep the nice transparent, loose quality of the medium. I hoped to somehow get the foggy effect of the day by leaving white paper to suggest the fog curling around the trees and foothills. The sketch below seemed like a good start, but then …
…I struggled, and worked, and belabored the whole thing and lost the fresh beginning, see below. I think I’m finished with this and maybe I’ll try a full-sheet painting next.
What did I learn from my practice pieces? What I really missed in these exercises is a source photograph to work from, and my teacher! When I work at home, I hear my teacher’s voice in my head, but I don’t have her experienced eye on my work. Next week, back to class.
I returned to my studio after a long break and found these fall gourds have turned all moldy. Yech!
If you ever wondered why artists paint still life subjects, you probably realize that everyday objects are cheap, available, they don’t fidget like live models, or run away like children and animals. But flowers wilt, candy gets eaten, and produce can get disgusting after a while.
Someone told me that the painter Soutine, known for his still life’s of raw meat, would keep the meat until the stench of rotting meat was unbearable and meanwhile he really was a starving artist because his stomach ailments made it difficult to eat.
And another still life anecdote, Cezanne demanded of his model, ‘you must sit like an apple!’ Which explained why he painted apples so often – more cooperative and uncomplaining.
So work quickly and take pictures. Just think what Cezanne and Soutine would have done with an iPhone!
This watercolor of a rooster was made without making an underlying drawing first. Using a photograph as my source, I sketched in the shapes with yellow watercolor and went from there, painting the shapes, building up values and punching up to brighter colors. My teacher and fellow students told me to stop painting at this point. So here it is. I would have gone on fiddling with the details and probably would have ruined the rooster, lost the freshness, and muddied the colors if I had done this at home alone.
Next, I painted a red bird, also from one of my teacher’s wildlife photographs. Red Bird quickly became Drippy Sad Bird, so I stopped painting. He has a nice droopy affect that is kind of comical, so I like him even though this is a bit of a technical #fail.
Sad Bird, watercolor
After class, I brought home the source photographs and continued working. The image below shows the process from top left to the final bird on the bottom right. I made a sketch first with yellow ochre watercolor pencil. Next, I might make another painting of this bird or, more likely, for my sanity, I will try painting another bird for a change. Clearly, capturing shapes and values with watercolor is very challenging, as advertised. The hardest part for me is just to sit down and make art and be willing to fail, over and over, with the occasional successful Rooster popping up under my paint brush in a happy accident.