Sunday, May 1, 2022

"Acadia Milky Way Reflections" (watercolor on paper; 12" x 9")


"Acadia Milky Way Reflections"


The following is the description of what we did in the second 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 the wet-on-wet variegated wash through painting "Acadia Milky Way Reflections". The way we did it was a little unusual, but the sky is the limit as far as the variegated wash is concerned, and I cannot emphasize its importance in watercolors. 

We drew the design with a HB pencil very lightly. Then we wetted the paper thoroughly and evenly except the land shape below the horizon. The success of the variegated wash depends on how you do this step; don't rush it. There are no fixes when the paper is wet unevenly.

We dropped very pale Winsor lemon, then a little permanent rose in the sky and water, where you see the glows caused by the gazillion stars. Make these pale shapes interesting and somewhat mirror-image (the glow shape in the water is the reflection of the same in the sky!)

Dry paper until it's bone dry (feels room temperature, not cool, to touch). If you rush this drying stage, you are likely to disturb the underlying layer(s). As long as you bone-dry and then wet the paper gently but thoroughly for the next layer with a soft flat brush, you can do this theoretically up to hundred times, although only a few fanatical watercolorists do it!

The next layer was cobalt blue to suggest the night sky. The night sky is usually very dark, almost pitch black, but when there is a full moon, aurora, or a galaxy full of stars, it will look quite colorful. Don't cover the glows from the first layer. Bone-dry the paper and wet it again for the third layer.

We darkened the periphery of the paper with the blue purple mixture of French ultramarine blue (darker than cobalt blue) and permanent rose. Quite a few of you ended up covering up the cobalt blue layer entirely. Please don't. If you haven't wetted the paper nice and evenly, you will by now have many hard edges around the glows in the sky and water. It's game over because the sky and water take up 90% of the painting. We cannot even say they are the background or negative space; they are the painting, the story (plus the stars). Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the beautifully executed variegated wash at the beginning of many paintings.

Many beginners feel thwarted by the variegated wash or wet-on-wet technique altogether and decide to stick to the wet-on-dry, paint-by-the numbers-without-numbers technique. If you are one of them, you are limiting your potential. Watercolor is capable of achieving the infinite variety of subtle and not-so-subtle images. You master both the wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques, the world truly becomes your oyster!

If your sky and water are not dark enough, you have to repeat the process. Don't be afraid of using enough paints. Don't paint wishy-washy, anorexic paintings. Nobody swoons over the half-hearted washes.

Now, it's time to paint the small sliver of the land shape. Paint the rocks in three layers: quinacridone gold base, burnt sienna mid-tone cracks, and the dark mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, plus a little gold (for the dark base, some cracks, and reflections of the dark rocks in the water). Using the same dark mixture (don't mix the paints thoroughly ever!), paint also the coniferous tree shape, making sure the farther trees are smaller to have them recede.

Finally, it's time to get messy with the white gouache splatters. Cover yourself and working area because these pesty splatters tend to end up everywhere! And mask the water and trees with two pieces of paper. 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!
We will be using the splatter technique again. So if you don't like the mess, get over it! It's useful for stars, sands, rocks, or to add some visual noise where nothing of interest is happening.

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