|"Crocuses in Snow"|
The following is the description of what we did in the third week of the winter term, 2022 for my "Watercolor from Start to Finish" class (my online Zoom class with the Art League School in Alexandria, VA).
At the beginning of the class, I shared my Hawaii travel journal, which I compiled during the trip for the most part. (I blogged about it) Watercolors are the perfect medium to travel with, either for a short hop to a local park or around the world. It's compact, it dries fast (think the oil medium, which takes weeks to dry!), it can be done half-way (drawing done on location with some color notes or photos) and finished later at your leisure, etc. I highly recommend you start keeping travel journals in the future!
Then I talked about the color yellow: its value range (very narrow), intensity, temperature, and chroma. I also showed you how to mix purples with reds and blues: some mixtures make beautiful purples (cool reds and warm blues that are closer on the color wheel); others make brownish purples (mixtures with cadmium red, a warm red; the red and blue are near complements in this case).
The main business of the day was painting "Crocuses in Snow" to explore the complementary harmony of yellows and purples. On the design drawn on the square format, we started the painting by applying Winsor lemon (the coolest and lightest yellow) on all the flowers.
When the paint was dry, we glazed the flowers with cadmium yellow pale, while preserving the highlights. Finally, we mixed deep yellow/orange with cadmium yellow and a little bit of cadmium red (be careful; otherwise, you end up with scarlet!) for the deeper, warmer bits. With only three layers, we were able to create form for these high-key flowers with a narrow value range.
The rest of the painting went fast. Remember that the white of the paper signifies the brilliant sun-lit snow, hence mustn't be touched! The grass-like leaves, which I extended to the edges of the paper (don't paint a subject floating in the middle of the painting!) were painted in two layers with the mixture of lemon and cobalt blue (the second layer being a little bluer and darker).
The mid-tone shadows on the snow was painted with cobalt blue. Don't make it too light or too dark. Make the shadow shapes as organic as possible, not looking like a starfish; extend the shapes to the edges whenever possible; don't make the shadow shape too small or too big.
In the reference, you don't see much color in the shadow, so I practiced an artistic license because I know from experience that shadows on snow on a sunny day often take on a blue cast thanks to the blue sky being reflected back into them.
You may have noticed that the yellow flowers alone on the stark white paper made them look isolated and not so impactful. After we put down the blue shadows (remember blue and orange are compliments?; and blues are darker than yellows), suddenly the flowers look more beautiful and anchored (with the double contrasts of values and temperatures. If we had used a dull shadows as in the reference, the contrast would have been less and the impact not so great.
Finally, as the icing on the cake, we plonked down a deep purple (mixture of permanent alizarin crimson and French ultramarine blue) for the dark shadows and earth showing through the snow. If I had chosen permanent rose and cobalt blue (which makes a mid-tone purple), the contrast would have been compromised. Don't' make this shape too small or too big.
I said last week that many beginners' paintings suffer from the lack of highlights and darks. Highlights or whites were mindfully preserved in this exercise (or in the last week's) because we were painting snow, but I saw some paintings without the darks during the critique (probably you didn't get that far). You've seen the difference the presence of these darks make in a painting with your own eyes!