17 October 2016

Another workshop

This weekend, I went to the long-anticipated three-day workshop with painter Iain Stewart, whose work I tremendously admire.

Fife Sheep, by Iain Stewart

I'm glad I took the workshop, but although I learned a lot, the thing I took away from it was that it's time to quit taking workshops. Not because of anything that happened there; Iain was great. He shared a lot of knowledge and technique, and was laid back and helpful.

Iain's techniques bore some resemblance to Paul's, in that both of them start with a light wash, either smooth or variegated, and then build on that with a middle ground, middle dark, and a foreground darkest dark to highlight a focal point. They are both planners, but while Paul's planning seems to take place more on/during the actual painting, and he considers specific steps in great detail, Iain's planning takes place mostly in his sketchbook, where he does multiple layouts until the composition pleases him. Then he transfers the sketch to watercolor paper, still adjusting as he goes, and once he picks up a paintbrush, things become a lot more spontaneous (and also a lot harder to duplicate).

Here is an example of a piece he did to teach us, and following is my attempt at it:

This is a long view of a landscape in Pals, Spain. Off in the distance is water, with Catalonian islands emerging from it. In the middle ground are buildings, trees, and fields, and in the foreground, a bunch of trees rise up in front of the viewer. The goal with this was to teach background-middle ground-foreground in terms of value intensity, in terms of attention to specific detail, and also to show layout--how you have to balance the elements in a painting (placement of the buildings, direction of the fields, roads, and trees). This isn't the demo Iain did in the workshop; that one was even more monochromatic in terms of color than this one was, and we dealt with fewer buildings. But it's the same scene.

Here is my attempt. (Some of the left side is cut off, due to the capacity of my scanner.) While it's not horrible, and in fact a couple of people complimented me on it, it's a textbook example of what I came to realize, after spending three days with Iain only two weeks after spending three days with Paul Jackson: What I need is not another workshop, but a regular, disciplined approach to painting. I need to make many, many paintings!

I spent much of the three days frustrated, not because I didn't understand what he was doing, but because my eye and hand just wouldn't duplicate it. And it's not because I'm not capable, it's because I'm not practiced. Using this as an example: The islands and sky are too dark for background, as are the trees just in front of them. The church on the right should be bigger than the house behind it, because it's much closer to the viewer, and the villa on the left should be twice that size, so that you have the sense of the scene moving forward towards you. The darks in the mid ground are also too extreme, so that what you have instead of a graduated scene of less detail to more detail and less intensity of value to more intensity, is a series of stripes of light and dark. (We won't talk about the tree line in the foreground at all!)

So the truths I discovered from this exercise were: I don't use my sketchbook to think out what I'm going to do. I don't sketch much at all! I don't spend a lot of time planning things out, or considering what elements need to be balanced with other elements. I don't have a good grasp of perspective and planes. My judgment is not good when it comes to light, medium, and dark gradations. I don't have good control of brush, color, or water. I haven't developed the judgment to know when the brush is too wet or too dry, or which colors to use to mix what I need. And if I want to be a good watercolor painter, I need to learn to make snap judgments as I go, to be fast enough so that the "bead" doesn't dry up on me before I can work it smoothly down the page.

In short, what I had to face this weekend, which made me so uncomfortable that I actually left the workshop early on the third day by making a lame excuse about having to go to work (yes, I need the practice, but doing it in front of other people was getting to me), was that while I have nascent skills that include drawing and color sense, without a regular practice, I'm not going to improve. I enjoy making my contour drawings and using watercolor to enhance them, and I'm pretty good at it; but compared to what the serious artists whose work I admire are doing, I'm just noodling around. While there's nothing wrong with that, and while I will keep doing that, it's time to make a plan for a life as a painter that includes daily attention.

I don't know whether I'm ready for that yet, if I'm completely honest. So I'm not going to make a bunch of resolutions here, only to break them. I'm just going to know that I now have the knowledge, and when I choose to do so, I can develop the skill. But I have to want it. I hope that I'll have great things to post on this page someday that let me take myself seriously as a painter. Until then...I'll keep noodling around.