Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Seven!

16/11/2019

We had our first big snowfall earlier this week in southern Ontario. I thought this still-life might suggest warmer climes. Whether or not it did, the watercolour students at Dundas Valley School of Art enjoyed it. I didn’t do a demonstration on Wednesday evening. Instead, I reviewed the demos from the first six classes and discussed the elements of the still-life. This approach gave the students more painting time than usual and they responded very well.

Progress continues to be made. I stress that the whole painting be considered. All of the relationships within the frame of reference will affect the outcome. In particular, that means the backgrounds must be considered. On Wednesday, several different treatments of the background were implemented; warm colours, cool colours, light values, darker values, geometric, and graded washes. Which do you think work best?

As usual, click on the critique to view a larger version. Thanks for following!

Wednesday Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

13/11/2019

The rusty and dusty objects visited Arts on Adrian in Toronto last Saturday and yesterday. It’s a more complex arrangement than I’d used last week at Dundas Valley School of Art as the AonA students are quite experienced so I increased the challenge. Also, the Sustained Saturday group has a whole day to paint.

I suggested that the students zoom in on the still-life for several reasons. When you zoom in, the shapes get bigger within your frame of reference. The shapes can take on a somewhat more abstract quality, as well, especially when you crop them. Here’s an example:

With that in mind, I did a compositional sketch focusing on one area. I made a few alternations and I used a 3×4 format. Many watercolour blocks and sheets are 3×4 (12×16″, 18×24″, etc). Shouldn’t your compositional sketch be in the same format as your paper?

These weathered old things have a lot of texture so I discussed a few ways to create texture with watercolour. Soft-edge techniques can work. So can the use of other materials such as wax. I brought in some very cheap stiff bristle paint brushes and they work very well for creating texture with a drybrush approach.

I was pleased that the students enjoyed the still-life very much. They put that pleasure into their work and it really shows! Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Six!

11/11/2019

These rusty and dusty old cans were our subject matter last Wednesday at Dundas Valley School of Art. My demonstrations have been focused primarily on soft-edge techniques and brush-handling this term. I added a new wrinkle to the process on Wednesday evening.

I started the demo with a pencil drawing and then taped around it to create a composition. Next, I painted a very light and slightly varied wash across the whole image, using a mix of Cobalt Blue and Raw Sienna. When the wash was dry, I continued the painting and started with the bigger shapes, often touching in a new colour or value and letting it run a bit. Gradually, the image took shape as I continued to work with a ‘light to dark’ and ‘big to small’ process.

This demonstration took a while. The students watched the initial washes only before they got to work. I carried on with it as they painted. I’d do a step and hold it up to show them. After walking around the studio to give feedback, I’d do another step and so on. Once in a while, a sustained demo can be helpful but must be balanced with the student’s painting time.

The preliminary wash idea was new to most of the class but everyone tried it. In a way, it breaks the creative ice. All of the sheet is covered by paint right away even though it’s a light wash. The gritty old gas cans were the right subject, as well. It’s hard to get too precious as they’re so worn and they’re fun to draw.

Here’s the work! Click on the image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Five!

04/11/2019

Last Wednesday was a grim, dark and damp day. These colourful objects brightened up the studio at the Dundas Valley School of Art. Also, they were the perfect subject for our continuing exploration of soft-edge techniques.

Soft edges create gentle transitions across the planes of an object or surface. Success with these techniques requires thought and perseverance. It’s worth the investment in time and energy as soft edges are a key element of watercolour painting.

In class, the focus tends to be on finishing the painting before the end of the evening. That can backfire sometimes as not enough time is spent on practicing techniques on scrap paper or the backs of old paintings. I suggest that my students fill up sheets with ‘swatches’. For example, paint a 2 x 2″ shape in a light blue wash. While it’s still wet, touch in a darker blue wash in the bottom half of the swatch. A soft edge transition should result where the light and dark washes meet. Sounds simple? Try it. It’s hard to believe how many things can go wrong before you’ve spent hours and hours at it.

I’m going to continue to stress these ideas in the weeks ahead. Now, let’s have a look at the student work from Wednesday evening.

Wednesday Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

30/10/2019

I tried something a little different at Arts on Adrian this week. The still-life is based on the paintings of Luis Egidio Meléndez (Spanish 1716-80). A few weeks ago, I was showing some of his work to the students on my iPad. It was well-received so I formed a plan.

First of all, I didn’t do a demonstration for either the Sustained Saturday or Tuesday afternoon class. Instead, I prepared a short presentation using my projector. We looked at several of Meléndez’ paintings and discussed them.

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish (1716-80)

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish 1716-80

The students were very inspired by these striking still-life paintings and it shows in their watercolours. Several of them suggested that I do more classes with an art historical emphasis! More work for me, I guess. Fortunately, I’m a lifelong student of art history and enjoy the research.

Make sure you click on a critique image to view a larger version. You’ll definitely want to study these more closely. Also, take a second to think about Luis Egidio Meléndez. He died in poverty.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Four!

28/10/2019

These terracotta objects were our subject last Wednesday evening at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I like the way the students have been coming along with their work over the first three classes. Still, this is watercolour and you can never practice soft-edge techniques enough. With that in mind, I did some review with my demonstration.

The objects themselves are not too complex. It’s critical to get the basic light and shadow relationship, of course. Once that is established, the soft-edge washes can add a lot of visual interest.

We’re halfway through our eight-week fall course! Progress has been made and I look forward to even more in the weeks ahead. Don’t forget to click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Three!

17/10/2019

Wednesday evening is watercolour night at the Dundas Valley School of Art this fall. It was the third class of eight and I’m still sticking to basics. The first evening of this course, I discussed value. Last week, I presented soft-edge techniques. Yesterday, my demonstration focused on creating even washes over larger areas. In this case, that meant not only the two baskets but the spaces between the various objects.

I started the baskets with a yellowish wash that covered both baskets at the same time. I then added darker values which helped to distinguish the baskets from each other. I kept it simple and used only three values.

The tabletop and the background were painted with even, ungraded washes. Graded washes might offer more visual appeal but let’s walk before we run. Creating an even wash without streaks and blossoms/backruns takes thought and practice.

Most of the group are working in fairly small  formats. I don’t mind as it gives them a chance to resolve their work in the alloted time. That way, they can complete all of the shapes in their paintings and get a sense of how all of the value and colour relationships work together. I can see progress over our first three classes and I’m looking forward to next week.

Wednesday Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Two!

12/10/2019

I was back at the Dundas Valley School of Art on Wednesday evening for our second class of the fall term. Last week, my demonstration/lesson focused on light and shadow and value. This time, I discussed basic soft-edge techniques and compared the results to a crisp-edge look. Many watercolourists combine soft and crisp edges. It’s the soft edges that require the most practice in order to gain fluency and control.

During the class, I showed the group some work by the great Spanish still-life painter, Luis Egidio Meléndez. Meléndez did many things well but it was his command of light and shadow that I drew to the attention of the students. His wonderful textures and rich colours are held together with a consistent light source, which lends a three-dimensional quality to the objects portrayed and creates a dramatic pattern of light and shadow throughout each image.

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish (1716-80)

Luis Egidio Meléndez Spanish (1716-80)

Only one of the students chose to adopt the very dark background favoured by Meléndez. Red was a popular option and why not? It complements green. See you next week!

Wednesday Critique

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

09/10/2019

My autumnal theme continued at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week. I created a  challenging still-life of pumpkins, squashes and gourds with the backdrop of baskets and boxes. The first students to take it on were my Sustained Saturday group. It’s a full day of painting. The Tuesday afternoon students worked from the same still-life and I gave the same demonstration/lesson to both groups.

I also continued with the ‘back to basics’ lesson I offered to the Dundas Valley School of Art students last Wednesday evening. My focus again was light and shadow and how it can be used to create form and pattern in a painting. Observational painting and drawing is a balance between the visual and the rational, what we see and what we understand. Seeing light and shadow can be very difficult, even with a good lamp on the still-life. Squinting helps. Turning off other lights in the studio helps. Still, an understanding of how the objects receive the direct light from the lamp is crucial.

Imagine the circles in the upper row of my demonstration sheet as spherical objects, like oranges. The arrows indicate the light direction. In these cases, I’ve lit them from the upper right.  The direct light (paper-white) and the core shadow (blue-grey wash) meet at the cusp. Which ones feel right to you?

• The one on the left shows the cusp as a straight edge. That doesn’t make much sense on a curving surface. Also, the sphere is evenly divided between light and shadow. This creates symmetry and that usually makes an object look flat.
• Second from the left? The curve of the cusp is curving in the same direction as the bottom edge of the sphere and gives the light area the shape of a football. Doesn’t work for me.
• Third from the left? This sphere is lit, like the others, from the upper right and a little bit behind the sphere, which creates more shadow on the object. Backlit, essentially. Note that the curve of the cusp corresponds to the closest edge of the sphere! In this case, that’s the upper edge of the sphere. This makes sense to me.
• The final sphere is lit more from the front and the light area is larger than the shadow area. Again, the cusp curve is similar to the closest edge and, this time, it’s the lower edge of the object. It gets a check-mark, in my books.
• One last thought! Look again at the two spheres on the right with the check-marks. Note that the light on the backlit one is in the shape of a crescent. The shadow on the rightmost sphere is also in the shape of a crescent. These curving shapes help to describe the sphere.

Understanding light and shadow is a discipline. The great Italian Renaissance artists called it chiaroscuro. It takes thought and practice and it pays off. It worked for the Old Masters, didn’t it?

I didn’t insist that the students just do value studies. Earlier, I’d leafed through past demonstrations and showed them to both classes. There are many ways to skin a cat and these sheets show a few different options.

It wasn’t a bad way to kick off the season of still-life painting in the studio. As usual, the students applied themselves thoughtfully and here are the results. Click on these critique images to view larger versions.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique

Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week One!

03/10/2019

It’s pumpkin time in southern Ontario and that means that fall term is underway at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I teach a class called Watercolour: Concept and Technique on Wednesday evenings. It’s an intermediate level class but I always like to start with a few fundamentals. Last night, I discussed value and light and shadow. Our class is still-life based and a solid grasp of these concepts is of key importance to observational painting and drawing.

I kicked things off with a demonstration of a value study. I did a pencil drawing and then mixed a brown wash with Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. I applied the wash everywhere except where I saw direct light hitting the still-life. This simplifies and unifies the subject and creates a pattern in the painting. We also start to feel an emerging three-dimensional quality.

The students got to work following the demonstration. While they worked, I painted another small demonstration and called them over to see the successive steps. This time, I began with a wash of the same two colours but it includes a lot more  Cobalt Blue and appears as a cool grey. Once again, the areas of direct light were left untouched and remain the white of the paper. The ‘panels’ of the squash were painted one at a time, which allowed me more control as I created soft-edge transitions. When the grey washes were completely dry, I glazed thin washes of local colour over the relevant areas.

 

This is a rather old-fashioned way to paint a watercolour and was employed by many of the early English watercolourists hundreds of years ago. All approaches and processes have their pros and cons. This method is very helpful to the student who strives to understand value.

We got off to a good start and I’m looking forward to our next seven Wednesday evenings at DVSA. Please, click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique