21 June 2018

Proof of skill

I took advantage of the fact that today, the Summer Solstice, is the longest day of the year, and started a fairly complicated painting out on my patio at about 7:15, knowing that it wouldn't be fully dark until 8:30 or so. I still ran out of light for the last few bits, but I was just tweaking things by then.

I've painted most things of interest in my back yard; I'm getting tired of still life set-ups and coffee mugs; so I shuffled through a stack of papers on my desk to see what I could find for a reference photo. (I couldn't print anything out because my printer is kaput and I haven't yet bought a new one.) I came across a reference photo that I printed out and used about six or seven years ago, to paint a gift for a friend. She is an avid gardener, so I chose a cottage garden scene.

I thought that I had simply done a complete pencil drawing for that painting before I began it, but upon looking closely at the reference photo today, I realized that I had actually done a scribble-and-trace job on it. That's where you cover the back of your printout with graphite by running your pencil back and forth, up and down, until it's pretty solid, and then you lay your reference photo on top of your blank watercolor paper and trace around the details of the photo, which transfers the graphite to your paper. What I'm saying is, six years ago, I didn't trust myself to draw something and get it right, I had to do a tracing.

Not only that, but I simplified the painting further by cropping out some of the foreground, changing the steps and sidewalk, and leaving out that fancy white mailbox and the big pot planter on the step. Here it is:

Today, I painted the entire picture without using a pencil at all. I started in front with the poppies and worked my way backwards until I had painted everything. And although there are elements of it that certainly could have been painted better (impatience with drying always being my downfall), the location and proportion of everything in it is almost exactly that of the reference photo. The front door is a little misshapen, and should be about a quarter inch to the right, but everything else is dead on. And including the extra elements (mailbox, planter) actually made this one more detailed, though less precise and tidy.

Even though this isn't the greatest painting, I was really pleased that I could go from eye to paper without drawing, let alone tracing. And I liked my choices for more vibrant color. Progress!


20 June 2018

Negative painting

I always think "negative painting" is such a misleading term, because there's nothing negative about painting! For the uninitiated, it just means that you paint light foreground and then fill in dark background behind it, usually in layers (though in this case not), so that the light and white things are highlighted by the dark.

This didn't start out as a negative painting, but capturing flowers that are as white as gardenias are is a challenge, and as I went along, I realized that it was the green leaves and the rose bowl behind the flowers that would show up their details. When I finished, I pondered it for a few minutes, and decided to go with my humble and rather inept version of a Sarah Yeoman bouquet in which the dark background makes the flowers pop. I probably should have gone and looked at hers again before trying it—hers are amazing wet blended drippy blocks of color, while mine was definitely on the dry and scrubby side. Still, I'm working on sketchbook paper in a limited space, and it's the first time I tried this (at least without line of any kind), so I won't judge it too harshly. But I would like to try this one again, on good paper, and see what I could do.


Some rather lame attempts

I tried doing another book. It wasn't a success. It could have been; I could have changed to my reading glasses so that I could see better how to paint the letters in the dim light before the sun went down, but I was in a hurry to get 'er done and get some dinner, so I slopped on through. I cheated on this one by going back in with Photoshop and fixing the letters, at least to the point where they were readable.

The next day I decided to paint this big cup I have that I use for soup when it's the kind you can drink. It's colorful ceramic, and I did pretty well at capturing all its details, but then was impatient (sun going down again) and didn't let it dry properly before trying to put some shadows into it, and it turned out a smeared mess. It did occur to me, as a result of this, that I could paint all the shadows on the cup first, and after those dried, paint the cup over the top, so I'm going to try that. Sometime.

I guess the lessons learned here are: Don't rush. Think things through. Wear your good glasses! Every day can't be a winner. These two were not, but I learned some things. #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.

17 June 2018


Yesterday, after a fairly painful visit to the chiropractor (it was a taxing week), I couldn't face cooking breakfast so I stopped at Brent's Deli for an omelette and their excellent hash browns. (Why do so few cooks know how to get hash browns well done and crispy without burning them? Brent's has the secret.) While I waited for my breakfast, I decided to do a drawing of my cup and saucer. I've been working for the past 15 days (when I painted, which was about 10 of those) direct to watercolor with no drawing, but I was self-conscious to just whip out my paintbox and demand a cup for water, plus when it's a busy Saturday morning, you don't want the evil looks from people waiting for your table and wondering why you're sitting there painting instead of eating (and leaving)! So I got out the sketchbook and my Micron pen and made a contour drawing.

I realized, on the way home, as I was reciting to myself "Don't forget the highlights on the rim and in the coffee, and be sure to put in the shadow cast by the cup into the saucer" that my age has caught up with me—someone 15 years younger would have thought immediately of snapping a photo with their cell phone to get those details for later, while I tend to completely forget I have that option. So I was doomed to painting from memory (which also isn't the greatest, the older you get, ironically!).

I looked at the contour and thought, "Maybe I should try painting this on another page, without the drawing, so it fits with the 30x30 challenge," so that's what I did first. I wanted it to be a real Liz Steel partly-there-and-partly-not masterpiece, but didn't come close to accomplishing that. There were some parts I liked and some parts that were total fail (such as the misshapen saucer!), and many parts that I'm sure could have been better, had I had that reference photo on hand!

Afterwards, I went ahead and painted the contour drawing version too, just so I could see the differences. I made some slightly different color choices for shadows etc. There are parts I like better about each, and of course I am not satisfied with either one! But it was an interesting experiment. I find that I do like delineating edges and shadows without benefit of drawn lines, but I also like the quirkiness and personality that the contour line brings. I guess I'll keep working in both modes and see what shakes out!