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! 

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