Sunday, May 22, 2022

"Queen Anne's Lace Lake" (watercolor and gouache on paper; 12" x 9")

 

"Queen Anne's Lace Lake"

 

The following is the description of what we did in the fifth week of the spring term, 2022 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class (my online Zoom class with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

This week we explored the mixed media of watercolor and gouache. Whenever you add a little white gouache to watercolor, the latter turns into an opaque medium of gouache. Please check out James Gurney's YouTube video on "Painting Peonies with Watercolor". In this video, you will learn the nuts and bolts about plein-air painting and how to paint tree peonies in watercolor and gouache. He is a world-famous painter of many mediums; he is one of the most creative artists I know of.

"Queen Anne's Lace Lake" involves the hard/soft edge handling as well. After drawing the design, we wetted the paper thoroughly and evenly and first painted along the horizon (both above and below) with a very pale winsor lemon (if you are heavy-handed with lemon, your sky will turn green!), then painted the rest of the sky and water in cobalt blue.

After drying the paper, we wetted this time the sky shape only and dropped the greens (lemon and cobalt blue) and purples (French ultramarine and permanent alizarin crimson) to suggest the distant trees. If your paper is too wet, you will lose control and the distant trees will be as tall as the middle-ground tree. Drop purples generally along the horizon, but don't be automatic. Refer to my painting. At one go, I created the impression of the soft-edged distant tree line with layers of tall and short trees.

After the paper dried, we wetted this time the water and tall middle-ground tree shape. We dropped purples for the reflections of the distant trees along the horizon and the reflections of the tall tree and middle-ground land shape. We also dropped greens and purples for the tall tree. Make sure the tall tree shape looks like a tree, not a mitten! If you haven't wetted the paper thoroughly, you will have hard edged reflections!

While the paper is still damp, make grass strokes in the foreground with various greens and even some purples for dark shadows in between grasses. 

When the paper dried, we pained the middle ground land shape (now hard edges are happening for definitions).

Time for gouache! Whenever we use gouache, we have to use it with much less water. If you use it in the consistency of watercolor (with lots of water), gouache practically disappears. Whenever we mix watercolor with white gouache, the mixture dries about two value scales darker (the opposite of watercolor).

Keeping these two things in mind, stipple dots with the watercolor/gouache mixture of appropriate colors in the tall tree, middle-ground land shape, and middle-ground reflections in the water. These dots suggest the tree foliage, distant Queen Anne's lace and their reflections in the watercolor.

For the foreground, we are also using the watercolor/gouache mixture, but in a more controlled manner, tiny dots for the Queen Anne's lace flower heads, elongated strokes for the cattails, and long grass-like strokes for the tall grasses
 
Make sure that the flowers or cattails don't have the same heights or are not evenly spread out as if they are a marching band. The grasses should have different heights and some should reach all the way to the middle-ground land shape. Grasses should have a variety of greens; stroke in some ocher-colored grasses and dark blue shapes for a variety as well. 

At the end, as the icing on the cake, I painted the tiny water lilies in the water using permanent rose and gouache.

As you can see, introducing a white gouache to watercolor opens a whole new world to the watercolorist. We can go not only from light to dark as the medium dictates, we can also go dark to light. Freedom it allows us may not be for all watercolorists, but I embrace it whole-heartedly!



"Amsterdam Jordaan Neighborhood" (oil on linen; 6" x 8") sold

 

sold

 

 In 2017  my husband and I visited the Netherlands. For me, it was to visit its world-class museums. We stayed in Amsterdam at the beginning and end of our two-week-long trip. I loved this charming city! Do you know it has the highest density of museums in a square mile in the world? It has even a museum of purses, which I had to stop by! People are easy-going and speak English better than us. You have to watch out for the bicyclists, though.

Admire the neat row of townhouses by a canal in the famous Jordaan neighborhood of Amsterdam. In the foreground, red geraniums bloom in planters hung over the bridge. A quintessential Amsterdam view in a miniature! This is the second time that I painted this particular image and the painting sold right away in both occasions. Another reason why I love Amsterdam!

 

Friday, May 20, 2022

"Sabrina at Dean Village, Edinburgh" (watercolor on paper, 8" x 10")

 

"Sabrina at Dean Village, Edinburgh"

 

The following is what we did in the fifth week of the spring term, 2022 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class (my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

This week I finished "Sabrina at Dean Village, Edinburgh". It is an independent project with the focus on painting a subject with glasses/sun glasses. She is wearing the shades with a metal wire frame and brown, ombre lenses. What I did was paint around the frame and at the very end of the session, I toned it lightly with yellow ochre (quinacridone gold would have worked too) with the a few exceptions of highlights (left untouched). Then I gave the frame dark accent wherever appropriate. However thin the wire is, it still has a volume, so be careful about where you add the dark accent strokes (it can be the top or bottom or the entire width of the thin frame) if you have a similar situation.

The lenses were painted at the same as when I was developing the skin tones, which required three or four further layers, each additional layer becoming increasing deeper. I used cadmium red, Sennelier helios purple, cadmium yellow pale, permanent sap green (in the philtrum and below the lower lip areas), ultramarine violet, brown madder, perylene maroon, and quite a bit of perylene violet (for the dark form shadows around the cheek and chin and in the neck as well as inside the lenses).

Lately I have been avoiding using cobalt blue in skin tones; instead I seem to be using perylene violet, which is a dark, muted violet. The reason behind is that blue (either cobalt or ultramarine blue) can lead to too blue purples in shadows.

Sometimes you may see the eyes, as in my case. There aren't going to be any pure whites of the eyes due to the dark tint of the lenses. After a few layers, I painted around the eye shapes (the pencil lines had disappeared long ago; you may want to redraw the lines with pencil if you feel nervous about "drawing with brush", which I do all the time). Suddenly the "whites" of the eyes appeared; values being relative, the lighter-valued shapes were, because of their shapes and locations, obviously now the "whites of the eyes".

I painted the irises with dark color; when it was still damp, I added the pupils with neutral tint. I also gave the darker lines along the upper lash lines, and darkened the inner and outer corners of the eyes, as I would have done in any portrait.

I didn't have any exciting reflection shapes, which you get sometimes inside the lenses. I did, however, have the exciting, wing-shaped cast shadows on the subject's cheek areas. I used warm/cool colors to develop these shadows with hard edges.

I paid a particular attention to the hard and soft edges. The form shadows have soft edges and the cast shadows usually have hard edges. The contrast of the two give the finished portrait the pizazz, I believe.

This attention to the edge quality (that is the artistic term) applies to the hair, of course. You will see in the recording how I further developed the hair (using indigo and perylene violet).


Sunday, May 15, 2022

"South Downs Fog" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")

 

"South Downs Fog"

 

The following is the description of what we did in the fourth week of the spring term, 2022 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class (my online Zoom class with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

This week we explored the aerial perspective through "South Downs Fog". The aerial perspective is the phenomenon that occurs in nature in which the farther things (let's say, mountains) are, the lighter (value), duller (chroma), and bluer (hue) they appear. The details also disappear progressively as the distance between the viewer and things increases. The phenomenon is caused by the presence of dust, pollution and moisture. The following images from the internet are good examples of the aerial perspective.





How do we achieve the aerial perspective in watercolor? Watercolor is ideal for painting this sort of landscape situation. We have been exploring the wet-on-wet variegated wash for the last two weeks and that is precisely what we used to create the soft, diffused look of the distant hills in the reference. Since we go light to dark and soft to hard edges, we established the general atmosphere in the first wet-on-wet layer.

We wetted the paper thoroughly and evenly and painted in horizontal strokes, using cobalt blue, permanent alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue (the last two make purple). At the very bottom of the paper, you may want to use a little winsor lemon with cobalt blue to paint the light yellow green field. Dry the paper.

The rest of the painting was painted on dry paper to create crisp top treelines, using stippling method (reminiscent of Seurat's pointillism). A small round brush is better than a large one. You have to use enough water, otherwise the dots will dry by the time you stipple the next brushful of different colored dots, therefore not allowing the paints to mix on their own on paper (as supposed to the artist mixing the paints on palette).

If you look at my painting above, you will observe the bottom of each treelines is darker than the top of the treelines. This occurs in nature as the bottom of a tree or treeline doesn't receive as much light as the top. We created the illusion by starting each treeline with the dark purple mixture of ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson.  Immediately we switched to stippling with the darker green mixture of ultramarine blue and gold and the lighter and brighter green mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow pale (for the top of trees). In the shadow areas, you can stipple with the purple mixture.

Make sure you draw some tree trunks and limbs to suggest these dots are trees. Also connect the dots here and there so that they don't look like a jumble of meaningless dots. Some trees should have more "sky holes" than others for variety.

Before the first dark purple strokes started drying, we stroked cobalt blue shadows to create the soft, fuzzy look. In the case of the first treeline, I stroked the cobalt blue wash diagonally and left some first light yellow green wash intact (to suggest the sun rising and the fog lifting) in this mellow southern English landscape.

For the second treeline, we used slightly less paints to make it lighter; for the third treeline, even less so that the aerial perspective was materialized. The control of values by using less or more paints (or more or less water) isn't easy. In my class demo, I erred on too light a third treeline, which had almost the same value as the fourth treeline. I could have added another layer (glazing), but didn't have time.

The details also were minimized in the third treeline; by the fourth treeline, there was no detail.

At the end I tried the milky white gouache horizontal strokes on the fourth and third treelines to emulate fogs. You can try them too!

 

 

Friday, May 13, 2022

"Female Portrait in Full Palette" (watercolor on pape; 12" x 9")

 

"Female Portrait in Full Palette"

 

The following is what we did in the third and fourth weeks of the spring term, 2022 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class (my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

First we talked about the essential skin colors I use. I highly recommend that you should acquire these paints. I usually start a portrait with a very pale wash over the highlights in the face, neck, and shoulders (if applicable) in Winsor Newton cobalt turquoise light. The mother color of all skin tones is cadmium red; for cool red, I switch to Sennelier Helios Purple (this is a primary color and cannot be mixed successfully). For an area that is getting sun, therefore light and warm, I add a little yellow (cadmium yellow pale works well) to cadmium red.

When I see a little green in the skin tone, I use permanent sap green; when I detect a little blue (either caused by blue sky, clothing, facial hair, or blood veins), I introduce cobalt blue (I don't use French ultramarine blue in the face; I never use Winsor/thalo blue in any skin tones).

"Essential Skin Colors"

Before I started painting the brunette hair of the subject, I made a couple of color swatches: blonde and brunette. This is only the beginning. There are so many colors of human hair; one must continue to experiment how to render them accurately. Again I stand by the colors I use, but you are welcome to come up with your own concoctions.

"Hair Colors"

We started the full-on Caucasian female portrait in full color and will finish in in the first half of the next week's class. I successfully took the screen shots during and at the end of the demo and photoshopped them for you.

I always start the portrait with the background with the wet-on-wet variegated wash. In this painting, I aimed at the loose, mid-tone, yellow green/blue green background that suggests foliage. You have to wet the paper thoroughly and evenly, otherwise you are risking a hell of a mess!

"Screen Shot I"

Then I started painting the brunette hair with very pale cobalt blue highlight, then washed in cadmium orange, thereby created a damp environment to paint burnt sienna, Daniel Smith Piemontite Genuine, and the mixture of Piemontite and Ultramarine blue. (Paint one half at a time).

Hair is all about softness. I had already softened the outer hairline with a small stiff bright oil painter's brush. The reason why I dampened the hair shape with cadmium orange is to paint basically wet-on-wet, because as you know the wet-on-wet technique is all about softness within the shape. Apply the brushstrokes the way the hair grows. If it is straight as this particular subject's hair, use a long, graceful stroke. Think the hair as a series of long light, mid-tone, and dark strands, not individual hair (the same applies to eye brows or any other facial hair).

Many students struggle with hair. (As a matter of fact, many students struggle with everything: background, hair, skin tones, drawing of features, folds of clothes, you name it!) My aim is to make watercolor portraiture accessible to most students and I hope this step-by-step approach helps.

Next, I softened the inner hairline with the lifting brush (there is hardly any painting within which I don't use this brush). Then I started painting the first layer of the skin tones on dry paper, using the pale, watery versions of the above-mentioned essential skin colors (minus cobalt blue, which I used in the second layer).

I didn't mix any colors, except a little cad yellow to cad red in the forehead, etc. Depending on the moisture level of your brush, you may end up with blooms. Don't worry about them. It's sometimes hard to read whether a certain passage is a cool red or a warm red. You can mix the two reds; you can use either red (they are so pale that it doesn't really matter). As we spend more and more time looking at the subject, it becomes clear which area is warm and which area is cool.

"Screen Shot II"

In a light-skin-toned subject, the painting goes fast. I started the second layer, going bolder. I also started painting the features. There are so many things I covered that I am not going to detail them here. Please rewatch the recording.

"Screen Shot III"

Next, I finished the female portrait in full palette. I showed you how to deepen the hair without losing the feeling of softness that was established in the first wash last week. I emphasize the importance of soft texture of any hair. Avoid the liney hair with many fussy strokes and instead focus on the light/dark shapes.

How to create the soft, fuzzy texture in watercolor? Paint with water, i.e., as soon as you put down a linear stroke, rinse your brush, remove the excess water on clean paper towel, and stroke it down one or both sides of the previous stroke. Keep repeating the process until you are satisfied with the hair.

I painted the white blouse by painting pale shadow shapes. I used a variety of colors although the shapes are not very big. You can't paint colorful paintings with just few colors. Get into the habit of dipping into a different color each time you reach out to reload your brush. A wet stroke of Color A, then another wet stroke of Color B, and so on. As long as you control the moisture level of your brush, you will still see color variations in your shapes.

But more than anything else, the big picture of the left side of the white blouse being in light and the right side being in shadow has to be emphasized! Do you see the difference of the left and right sides in the finished portrait?

The skin tones needed to be strengthened a bit and the dark shadows of the neck introduced, so that what I did next. The subject with a fair skin tones doesn't require too many layers of glazing, but it doesn't mean you don't have to deny her colors!

After the break, I talked about how to approach painting the subject with glasses/shades. Less is more! Suggest the frames instead of accentuating them. Remember the frames, no matter how thin, have volumes; sometimes it's necessary to paint planes (especially if the subject is in three-quarters view. If you can't see the subject's eyes, don't invent them. If you see the reflections of interesting shapes, paint them. If the glasses/shades cast strong shadows, paint them.
 
This is an independent project, so I won't discuss my demo in details. I am painting "Sabrina at Dean Village, Edinburgh". I finished the sky, the background architecture and stream, and her hair before the class and focused on the skin tones for the demo. 

"Sabrina at Dean Village, Edinburgh"

In the image above , you can see the first layer of skin tones. It's very pale, but still gives the impressions of three dimensionality with the adroit use of the highlights (cobalt turquoise light and cadmium yellow pale with a bit of cadmium red) and warm red (cadmium red)/cool red (Helios purple). Something to think about!

 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"Double Cherry Blossoms" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")

 

"Double Cherry Blossoms"


The following is the description of what we did in the third week of the spring term, 2022 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class (my online Zoom class with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).

This week's lesson was about the edges through painting "Double Cherry Blossoms". We drew the design, then we wetted the paper thoroughly and evenly. The success of the variegated wash depends on how you do this step; don't rush it.

We dropped cobalt blue in the sky holes, pale permanent rose in the sun-struck cherry blossoms, yellow green (winsor lemon and a little cobalt blue) in the grass and trees, and quinacridone gold in the trees, side walk and street. We dried paper until it's bone dry. 

The biggest trap in a cherry blossom painting is paint it all pink and saccharine. One must focus on light and dark shapes. Desaturate the picture and print it out black and white as well as a color version to avoid the trap. We wetted a little more than the top half of the paper and dropped the purple mixture (French ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson) to suggest the cherry blsooms in shadow.

We mixed the dark green (ultramarine blue and gold) and dropped it in the two dark green shapes showing through the gaps in the cherry blossoms in the top left.

So far, the painting has no hard edges. We are going to bring the sunshine by introducing the crisp-edged shadows. The shadow colors vary depending on the local colors: the blue greens (cadmium yellow pale and cobalt blue; I glazed the purple mixture over green here and there later) on the grass and the shadow areas in the distant trees and purples (ultramarine blue and crimson; you may add a little gold for the street) on the sidewalk and street.

I've noticed during the critique session, quite a few of you made the edges of these shadows mushy. Don't be afraid of hard edges. What's problematic (at least for me) is that there are only hard edges in a painting. Hard edges come forward and they can also suggest the sunny condition; soft edges tend to recede, create soft textures and can suggest a damp weather condition. The ability to control the hard/soft edges indicates how advanced you are in your watercolor journey and will open the door for you to paint any subject you wish!

By the way, below is your homework. Please practice mixing greens. Many students hate mixing and painting greens, but we cannot avoid greens, especially in landscapes. It's actually not that hard to mix beautiful greens. Again, it's matter of practice and positive attitude!

Mixing Greens

We painted the tree trunks and limbs with the mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Make sure the mid-tone branches in the middle of the cherry blossoms tuck behind the clouds of flowers or dark shadows and not stick out out of nowhere.

Finally, it's time to get messy with the splatters. Cover yourself and the working area because these pesty splatters tend to end up everywhere! We first splattered with permanent rose, then white gouache. Use a small round brush, load it up with enough thick paint and splatter carefully in all directions. Avoid big bombs (caused by too much water in the brush). Nothing happening? Use more water. Don't be half-hearted with these splatters. Do enough of them so that they show!

I avoided these splatters (which suggest the highlights on the flowers) in the shadow areas. I splattered a little bit on the sidewalk and grass. At the end, I decided to splatter the mixture of a little permanent rose and white gouache as well.

Below is my class demo. This is only one way of painting cherry blossoms. You may want to try a different approach with more hard-edged flowers. As long as you include the dark shadows of these delicate flowers, you will have success.


"Double Cherry Blossoms Class Demo"


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

"Enchanting Bluebells" (watercolor on paper; 9" x 12") sold

 

"Enchanting Bluebells" (sold)


 

Virginia bluebells are blooming in the Riverbend Regional Park in Great Falls, VA. Let's walk down the path in dappled light together. It is so magical and enchanting that all the worldly worries are forgotten here.