Sunday, November 28, 2021

"Autumn Park" (watercolor on paper, 12" x 9")


"Autumn Park" (watercolor, 12" x 9")


This is a park in my neighborhood where I take a daily walk. This is where I go to commune with nature, to watch the seasons change and observe nuanced colors in different weathers. On a sunny autumn afternoon, the trees were casting beautiful shadows on the path.

Dappled light is the spotted light which comes through gaps in a tree canopy and produces the feeling of light and the airy, cheerful mood in a landscape and cityscape. I am teaching a in-studio workshop at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA on December 4 and 5, 2021.  We are going to create these happy paintings together through the mastery of edges, greens, and shadow colors!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

"Spring Wildflowers" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")

"Spring Wildflowers" (12" x 9")

Let's take a walk on a beautiful spring day in the park. This is the Virginia nature trail at the Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA. I see blue woodland phlox and golden ragwort blooming. Dappled light on the path is as delightful!

"Spring Wild Flowers" Reference

Dappled light is the spotted light which comes through gaps in a tree canopy and produces the feeling of light and the airy, cheerful mood in a landscape and cityscape. I am teaching a in-studio workshop at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA on December 4 and 5, 2021.  We are going to create these happy paintings together through the mastery of edges, greens, and shadow colors! 


Sunday, November 21, 2021

"Provence Olive Grove" (watercolor on paper; 9" x 12")


"Provence Olive Grove" (watercolor, 9" x 12")

I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the last week of the fall term, 2021 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class.  

The lesson was "Inspired by Vincent van Gogh," the famous post-impressionist painter who doesn't need introduction. We painted the olive grove next to the Abbaye de Montmajour, near Arles, where van Gogh used to live. He drew the medieval monastic ruins many times. He probably painted the same olive grove with the distant Alpilles mountains in the background. We tried to channel van Gogh in watercolor, focusing on mark-making with a high-key, impressionist colors.

First, I drew the design with watercolor pencils. Then I painted the sky on dry paper with very pale Winsor lemon (along the mountains) and cobalt blue (from the top of the paper) and let the two colors merge. If the brush skipped the paper and left some white bits, so much better. There you go an instant cloud or two!

When the sky wash dried, I painted the distant mountains in a mid-tone purple mixture of cobalt blue and permanent alizarin crimson (adding a little quinacridone gold to neutralize the purple). While the mountain wash was drying, I painted the dry grass shape with a light gold wash, leaving some white bits. Then went in the distant plane (between the mountains and the olive grove) in the light green wash of cobalt blue and lemon.

The olive leaves were painted with the same mixture, perhaps slightly bluer (even with the two-color mixture, you can push it to one way or to the other). The gnarly olive tree trunks and branches were painted with the mid-tone mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. The foreground bush was painted with light green and some yellow on top. Don't put this shape right in the middle, or make it too big, important and detailed! The purpose of the bush is to introduce some interest in the big foreground grass shape.

Now the painting is blocked in, it was time to break it down, add definitions, details, and brush strokes, and generally add busy marks in the style of Vincent. This was done with an increasingly deeper versions of the first colors, making sure we don't go too dark, maintaining a high-key feeling.

For the grass, I used a rigger brush, which made different marks. The shadows of the trees that indicate the time of the day (late afternoon) and the flat terrain were painted with the purple mixture of ultramarine blue and crimson.

I don't think I painted like van Gogh at all. Busy brush strokes are not my cup of tea! It was a fun project though. Below are the reference and my sample painting (at the bottom of the post). 


"Provence Olive Grove" Reference

Here is a quick look at what we have covered in just nine weeks. I am planning lots of fun projects for the winter term. The winter registration for my online "Watercolor from Start to Finish" is open; here is the link for the class.

Fall Trees Small File.jpg
"Fall Trees" (watercolor, 12" x 9")
Sunflower Love Demo.jpg
"Sunflowers" (watercolor, 9" x 9")

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse Demo Small File.jpg
"Peggy's Cove Lighthouse" (watercolor, 12" x 9")
Red on Red Small File.jpg
"Red on Red" (watercolor, 9" x 12")
Holmes Run Rocks Demo.jpg
"Holmes Run Rocks" (watercolor, 12" x 9")
Storm Moving In Demo.jpg
"Storm Moving In" (watercolor, 9" x 12")
Siberian Tiger Small File.jpg
"Siberian Tiger" (watercolor, 9" x 12")
"Annie" (watercolor, 12" x 9")

"Provence Olive Grove" (watercolor, 9" x 12")

Friday, November 19, 2021

"Happy Days" (watercolor on paper; 8" x 10")


"Happy Days" (watercolor, 8" x 10")

I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the ninth week of the fall term, 2021 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class.

The lesson was about painting a double portrait. I chose a reference I took when my daughter was nine. As a matter of fact, it dates from the same day in August, 2007 as the reference for "Sabrina in the Breeze". In Napa, California it was. We were attending a family wedding and decided to make a vacation out of it. We drove around in the area, soaking in the brilliant Californian light. I have created many paintings from the trip, partly thanks to the excellent light and partly because of the happy memories. I even titled the double portrait "Happy Days"

The first decision I made was to make the small background shape mid-tone instead of dark as in the reference. In a photo when something is in direct sunlight, it sometimes gets bleached out to a pure white, which you don't see in person. So I gave my daughter's pink bucket hat a very pale Winsor lemon wash, then even glazed it with pale permanent rose. 

I've noticed how cool the skin tones were in the reference, because the faces were in shadow. So, instead of cadmium red, which is my go-to red for skin tones, I used, for the most part, permanent rose, Sennelier helios purple, Holbein madder brown, permanent alizarin crimson, and quinacridone magenta. I used cadmium red and a little Winsor lemon in the initial wash in the highlight areas. 

 My daughter's right-side cheek, although in shadow, is influenced by the reflected light of her white shirt. So I introduced a little cobalt turquoise light (Winsor Newton), my go-to color to imitate the sky reflected in the skin. There are a lot of blues because of the sunny outdoors lighting. Cobalt blue was used liberally (I made sure not to use French ultramarine blue this time unlike with "Sabrina in the Breeze"). Comparing the skin tones of the two related portraits, I regret using cadmium red and ultramarine blue in my daughter's portrait. You see, we learn through our mistakes!

For my daughter's white shirt, I used cobalt turquoise light, cobalt blue and ultramarine blue to create folds.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you are interested in taking my online watercolor portrait class, the registration for the winter term is now open. Click here for the information.

"Happy Days" Reference

"Sabrina in the Breeze" (watercolor, 10" x 8")

Sunday, November 14, 2021

"Annie" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")

"Annie" (watercolor, 12" x 9")


I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the eighth week of the fall term, 2021 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class. 

First, I finished "Siberian Tiger" by glazing using the same colors as the last week to make the painting more vibrant and model the form a little bit.
"Siberian Tiger" (pen and watercolor, 9" x 12")

 The main business of the day was painting "Annie" in sepia. To make sepia, we used only burnt sienna (my favorite is Daniel Smith) and cobalt blue. The below is the value scales and color swatches I made to test values. The value 1 is the white of the paper (highlights). The value 7 is as dark as it gets with the mixture of the two colors. The value 9 is black.  

"Values Scales and Color Swatches"

Many beginners have trouble reading values and translating them into colors. By using a sepia (or black and white) reference, we can remove the puzzle; by using only one neutral color (sepia in this case), we can remove the difficulty of reading colors in values. This value exercise is invaluable and used by many instructors. We are trying a portrait, which is a whole new ball game with its snares and pitfalls, but here we go. You can do it!

I first painted the background wet on wet with the value 3 wash (slightly bluer than the subject). When the paper dried, I started with the lightest wash, covering the entire area of the subject, except the lightest parts (highlights, including the catch light of her left eye). Don't make this layer too dark!

In between layers, dry the paper thoroughly. We are glazing, so paper should be bone dry. At each stage, we mixed a slightly darker batch; mix more than you think necessary. By the fourth layer, we got everything done, except the pupils. The darkest bits in the face are usually the upper lash lines, nostrils, and the line between lips. The pupils are black (or near black in this case).

The biggest challenge in a value study is to read values correctly, of course. With a soft and round face of a young girl, it is not easy, but I believe the exercise forces you to be decisive in your value reading. Do your best to preserve the white of the paper for the highlights at the beginning and don't forget to put in some darks at the end. As you can see, the majority of the painting was done in mid-tones. Most paintings require five to six values and you rarely need full nine scales. Without the highlights and darks, however, the painting will lose its impact.

Let's revisit "Holmes Run Rocks" of three weeks ago. I turned my class demo into a black and white and it still reads, doesn't it? From now on, if you are having trouble reading the values of your reference or your work in progress, do the same. Things will be much clearer to you! 

"Holmes Run Rocks in Black and White"

"Homes Run Rocks" (watercolor, 12" x 9")

Friday, November 12, 2021

"Birthday Girl" (watercolor on paper; 10" x 8")


"Birthday Girl" (watercolor, 10" x 8")

I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the eighth week of the fall term, 2021 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class.

This week we worked on the portrait in warm artificial lighting. My demo was a self-portrait with the birthday cake with candles lit (the other source of lighting was the chandelier). This unusual lighting condition created unusual light/shadow patterns and overall warm temperature; even the shadows such as the chest area seem infused with warmth. The reference didn't also had strong dark shapes because my face was lit full-on by the candle light. I don't have deep-set eyes, being an East Asian, so I couldn't play with the dark inner corners of the eyes, etc.

It was time to explore the color red. As you know, my go-to color for the skin tones for all races is cadmium red. But my red purple blouse influenced the colors in the skin tones, hence cool reds had to be introduced. I like to work in a string of  colors (similar in hue or compatible, but increasingly getting darker and muted) to model a form. For instance, for my hair, I used burnt sienna, Piemontite genuine (Daniel Smith), and moonglow (Daniel Smith).

A warm red line-up is cadmium red, brown madder, and permanent alizarin crimson; add cobalt blue to brown madder, you get a gorgeous purple for shadows. A cool red line-up is permanent rose, Sennelier helios purple, quinacridone magenta, and perylene violet. You can mix some of these colors, but there is no time to mix colors when you are in the middle of painting skin tones!

"Color Red Swatches"

I talked a great deal about the edge handling. If you know how to control edges, you can paint anything! In watercolor, which dries with hard edges when painted wet on dry if you don't do anything, the awareness of hard/soft edges and the ability to create either edge will put you ahead of the crowd and, boy, the watercolor world is beyond over-crowded!

Some things such as the hair, fur, clouds and candle lights require soft edges. Other things, such as rocks and hard candies, call for hard edges. Hard edges come forward, and soft edges recede. The areas you want to emphasize, thus, require hard edges; the areas you want to de-emphasize call for soft edges.

You can create soft edges by painting wet on wet, but it's not always possible to do so. For my hair contour, I painted the background wet on wet; while the paper was still damp, I put down burnt sienna strokes next to the background shape. The brush should not be too wet; if so, the excess moisture will cause havoc in the drying background wash.

You can also soften the edges by putting down a stroke and immediately rinse the brush and soften the hard edge with the clean damp (thirsty) brush as you can see below. If your brush is too wet, you end up diffusing the stroke too much. That's how I was able to paint the candle light: paint around the pure white shape with cadmium orange, then paint around the orange with the desired dark tone. If hard edges form, just soften the edges with a lifting brush (I use a small bright oil brush for this task).

"Softening Edges and Painting a Candle"

Since I was talking a lot about colors, I also talked about burnt umber, which I used to detest. However, you mix (not overmix) it with Winsor (dioxazine) violet, you get a gorgeous warm dark brown! Speaking of browns, mix Winsor violet with cadmium orange, you have a gorgeous transparent, dark brown! There are no ugly colors; it's matter of how you use them!
"Color Brown Swatches"

I worked for two more hours to finish my self-portrait, "Birthday Girl". It was a tough project, but I must say I love it! 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

"Siberian Tiger" (pen and watercolor on paper; 9" x 12")


"Siberian Tiger" (pen and watercolor; 9" x 12")


I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the seventh week of the fall term, 2021 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class. 

The first business of the week was finishing up "Storm Moving In". We continued the painting with the top panel on the left. First we wetted the paper and painted the glowing sky shape with the pale mixture of Winsor lemon and cadmium red pale. When the paper was dry, we wetted the paper again and dropped the blues in the clouds with the blue mixture of cobalt blue and burnt sienna. 

When the first layer (which took two separate steps to avoid contaminating the blue and pale peachy yellow shapes) was dry, we glazed the clouds with a little darker mixtures to create some edges and drama. When this layer was dry, we painted the seagull with the dark mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.

The last panel (the one at the left bottom) was painted with the same colors and same techniques as the first panel, except here it starts with the yellow and alternates with blue, yellow and dark shape. The sea shape is slightly larger than in the first long panel and has layers of waves; make sure you don't paint over the waves in the first wet-on-wet stage to keep it light and foamy-looking.
"Storm Moving In Demo"

The main business of the week was "Siberian Tiger" done in the pen-and-wash technique. We did the line work with the quill nib pen and the black India ink. If you press the nib a little bit, the lines become thicker. This thin and thick line quality is called the varied line weight, something you will never achieve with the markers such as the Micron or Sharpie pens. If you are brave and you know the fortune favors the brave, you can also try the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. This sensational pen with waterproof ink makes drawing with the varied line weight portable and fun. It has a steep learning curve, but once you get used to it, you will never go back!

When the line work was done, we switched to a brush to fill in the fabulous patterns on the tiger with the India ink. With the inking finished and totally dry, we went to play! When you introduce line work to your painting, it does most of the work so watercolor takes the second stage. Thus less layering is required. That's why the pen and wash technique is so popular among the travel journal artists. Quickly put down the lines and whip out your watercolor box to add some color notes. Voila, you are ready to enjoy the next site!

I painted the blurry background on dry paper with quinacridone gold, cadmium yellow pale and cobalt blue to suggest the vegetation in the sun. When this was dry, I began to drop paints on the face, making sure I leave some white areas untouched. I used the yellows, cadmium red, permanent rose (on the pink nose), and the purple mixture (cobalt blue and rose) over the shadow areas. I didn't get to finish this fun part, but it won't take long to finish the painting next week! 
"Siberian Tiger" demo in progress

Friday, November 5, 2021

"Sabrina in the Breeze" (watercolor on paper; 10" x 8")


"Sabrina in the Breeze" (watercolor; 10" x 8")

I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the seventh week of the fall term, 2021 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class.
This week's lesson was about painting a child's portrait. First, I talked about how a child's head develops from birth until he or she reaches the young adult stage. The following images are from Burne Hogarth's "Drawing the Human Head". The adult ratio of cranial mass and facial mass is 2:1; the newborn ratio is 3 1/2:1! As a child grows the facial mass (from brow to chin) develops faster than the cranial mass (from brow to nape) until the child reaches the mature level by 14-15.

I've also shared my drawings and paintings of children to illustrate the following points:

Everything is crowded in the facial mass at birth; the neck is very short and thin. The first thing we notice is that they have huge eyes, because the eye openings are too small for the adult-sized eyeballs. That's why if you paint the subject's eyes too big, suddenly the subject looks like a child. You paint the child with too long and thick a neck, you have a football player instead of a child! Children's noses are not yet fully developed; very young children have hardly any chins. Overall, their features are soft and round with baby fat. They do have, however, all the bones and muscles, so our job as portrait painters is to look hard for the plane changes while rendering their wrinkle-free faces with as much soft edges as possible.

Child head development I

Child head development II

Child head development II

For the reference of the project, I chose the picture of my daughter taken at the age of nine. Her head is tilted although it's full-on. Her hair is blowing in the breeze creating interesting shadow patterns in the face while obscuring some features. The lighting was the full-sun natural light in northern California, hence a lot of blues bouncing about in the face and white T shirt.

Reference for "Sabrina in the Breeze"

I am not going to narrate the full painting process as you will be working on your own project. I started with the wet-on-wet gradated blue wash for the background, pulling the blues into the hair, then proceeded with painting the hat, face, hair, and the shirt. My skin tones colors were as I have explained last week; however, I didn't use any permanent sap green.

Lots of cadmium red, a little Winsor lemon in the sunny area, some permanent rose (due to the cool sky blue), a lot of cobalt blue (I even used some French ultramarine blue along with permanent alizarin crimson for the shadows; in retrospect, I should have avoided this granulating paint; instead, I could have used cobalt blue with brown madder). Many layers went in to get at the right values. Don't paint your darks as dark as you see in the photo!

As many people have brown hair, I talked about the browns. Please refer to the image below. I don't generally use the usual brown paints shown here, either in the hair or for the African-American skin tones as they tend to get muddy-looking. Browns in the shadow become near black; browns in the light are almost yellow (the bleaching effect of the warm sun) or light blue (the reflection of the sky). Experimentation is the thing!

Brown swatches