Sunday, May 29, 2022

"Great Falls Rapids" (watercolor on paper; 9" x 12")


"Great Falls Rapids"


The following is the description of what we did in the sixth 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 painted rocks and rapids with "Great Falls Rapids". Painting a landscape can be daunting due to the seemingly endless shapes of trees, leaves, rocks, etc. It is essential to break the scene down into big shapes. In this painting, there are three big shapes of the sky, trees, and rocks/water. As you are familiar by now, we generally paint the landscape from what's farthest to the closest from us (from the top to the bottom of the paper).

So, first we wetted the sky thoroughly and evenly and painted it in cobalt blue in graded wash. We dried the paper for the next step of the tree shape. By the way, the rest of the painting was painted on dry paper with mostly hard edges.

Here I decided to do something different from my sample painting above, which I felt too claustrophobic. Upon analysis, I realized I had painted the trees (two stacks of the farther, blue green and the closer yellow green treelines) too dark and too bright. Instead I decided to paint them slightly lighter, duller, purpler and with less details (and soft edges between the two stacks) so that they will recede to the background instead of coming forward.

For the darker tree stack, I used the purple mixture of French ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson and cut its brightness down a little with the complementary yellow (quinacridone gold). We used the largest round brush we can handle for the tree shape.

While the wash was still damp, we quickly brushed in the dull blue green mixture of ultramarine blue and gold, making sure this front stack was lighter (more water and less paint!). If you are quick enough, you will end up with the soft blurring between the two stacks of trees.

While this front stack was still damp, I decided to brighten the wash by charging (dropping) Winsor lemon into the wash (make sure you don't introduce too much extra water). That was enough and we were done with the tree shape That's how I like to roll with the minimum fuss.

Now the fun and excitement of painting rocks and water began. That rocks are hard and water is not is what you have to remember. Forget the details and focus on the big shapes and gradually break down the big shapes without ending up with tiny pebbles or hard-edged, frozen water.

First, we painted the rocks, then water. For the first wash of the rocks, we painted in a light mixture of gold, burnt sienna and cobalt blue, sometimes pushing the color to yellow, sometimes to brown, and sometimes blue. As long as you don't mix the three colors completely, you can paint the same light-value, first wash in subtly changing colors!

For the mid-tone planes and dark crevices and cracks, I used two different dark mixtures: the first mixture of ultramarine blue, alizarine crimson and gold and the second Jane's Gray mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Remember that the rocks are not only hard-edged, but also round objects with volume. Think mass/planes, not lines. Otherwise, you will have a bunch of flat-shaped, busy-looking thingies. Also don't paint over all the light-value, first wash shapes. They are the highlights. Think light, mid-tone, and darks to create the rocks with hard outer edges, but with voluminous mass.

Make sure you don't accidentally paint over the white water shapes. Paint slowly, looking for the rock shapes. Get into the flow and enjoy the process. You are not in a rush to finish the painting. If you get tired because this may take a while, take a break or finish the painting another day.

For the water shapes, we switched to Winsor blue as the base blue; it's a transparent, staining, and cool-temperature/greenish blue. For the turquoise water, we added Winsor lemon; for purple areas, we added a little alizarin crimson. Leave plenty of white shapes to suggest white water. If you accidentally lose white water shapes, it's okay to retrieve them with a white gouache, but it's always best to be mindful and utilize the white of the paper to the maximum.

I  didn't get to finish the demo. But I love the way it's heading; it's so much better than the sample painting, don't you think? I may even finish it someday. I think that's the value of doing the same project twice: learn from the first try and do things better and differently the second time. Be one's own constructive critique without the destructive self-talk. Be kind to oneself, but be objective to oneself as well.

"Great Falls Rapids Class Demo in Progress"

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