21 February 2015

Day Two: Keiko Tanabe

This morning, Keiko started with a demo of a watercolor value sketch, of what I considered to be a fairly mundane street scene. She painted it all in Neutral Tint to show us how to simplify our picture into three, or at most five levels of value, from lightest light (white of the page) to darkest dark. I thought I understood value, but this was an eye-opening demo, especially as regards color and also watercolor as a medium. She put in a light wash, and then jumped in with something so dark I thought Oh, that's a mistake! But then it dried, and she went darker still and the one I thought was too dark became a light-medium element in the picture! It was a good lesson in getting rid of the color so you can really see what you're doing. Here is the photo:

I thought I had a photo of the value sketch, but I missed that one--I'll add it later if I can get a photo tomorrow.

Then she put up an easel so we could all see her, and we did this under-drawing together step by step, so she could walk us through it. Again, I think of myself as fairly adept at drawing, but doing a street scene like this is an exercise in perspective, and mine is woefully inadequate! So the walk-through was really useful--we found the horizon line, then we found the vanishing point, and then everything was directed towards that. She showed us how to anchor our cars to the ground by starting with the tires and placing them properly on the road, then drawing a box for the approximate size of the car and refining from there. Cars are surprisingly difficult! I think my exercise for the next few weeks is to go sit in the parking lot of the library on my lunch hour and draw them from every angle until you can distinguish in my drawings a Prius from an SUV from a Fiat. Size and scale is particularly difficult to calculate, but Keiko also showed us how to know how big to make things--if they are on the same plane, they are the same size, but if they are forward or backward in the photo, then they increase or decrease accordingly. Sounds simple. It's not. And knowing how big to make people is similarly challenging.

After the drawing, we went back to the demo station, and she painted the first wash. Her audacity when painting is truly amazing--she put in the light sky and road, and then jumped in behind the main elements with something I would have considered about five shades too dark. Then she started on the buildings and again I was blown away by the speed and confidence with which she does everything. Here is the first wash:

Then some of us went to lunch. There are always those die-hard students who skip lunch or down a quick sandwich while madly painting, but I personally need a break from all the stimulation!

After lunch, Keiko finished the painting in about 40 minutes while we watched, and then we went back to our desks and attempted our own versions. Here is hers:

You can see how much she alters from the original photo--she places the cars differently, she adds people for interest, plus the guy on the bicycle and the flags flying from the building on the right, and what seemed like a snapshot of a not-very-remarkable city scene suddenly became something special!

I have to say that I have never worked as hard and been less satisfied with my results. The cars look like toys, the people are weird-looking, the buildings are overworked and have little of the light-and-dark pizzazz of Keiko's--finesse is missing. But I am proud of myself for putting in the time on this (three hours at the workshop and another hour when I got home!), and I know that if I just do this about 300 times more, I will have something I'm really pleased to show! For now…here's my best effort:

Tomorrow is the last day, and we are choosing our own pictures from which to paint. Hmmm. What to do, what to do. You'll see tomorrow night…


  1. You have done sooooooooooooo well. Seriously. This ain't easy and you are not alone. Mae have many people who come here and who are wonderful artists in their own rights who end up beating themselves up because theirs doesn't look like hers. But by the end of the week they do get very close. I'll send you the link to the results of last year. Bx

    1. Definitely true--my level of frustration isn't the worst in the class! I have never done any kind of street scene or urban setting, beyond a sketch or two, so I'm not embarrassed, I'm just humbled by how little I turn out to know from all these years of still life and single subject-object paintings. Constructing the entire scene is exhausting! I think I have that in common with a lot of people in this class who are good painters but haven't done this kind of thing before either.

  2. Wonderful blog post. Thanks for posting the work in progress with the steps.

  3. So wonderful to be able to learn from such a great artist and she's quick too! I think you did really well too :-)