Interpret Your Photos in Watercolour at DVSA – Week Two!

17/01/2020

Last March, I offered a one-day workshop at the Arts on Adrian studio in Toronto. The theme was to better understand the process and potential pitfalls of working from photographs. The day went very well and I expanded it to a four-evening course and offered it this winter at Dundas Valley School of Art.

We started a week ago Wednesday. I didn’t post the first class because we spent a lot of time looking at a PowerPoint presentation that I’d prepared. First of all, I showed a selection of watercolours from masters of the medium that were all painted without the aid of photographs and, of course, they were quite impressive. Then, we looked at photos that I’d taken and some that were submitted by students. Our goal was to identify potential problems, elements in the photos that would not necessarily work in a painting. We also analyzed the photos in terms of composition, light and shadow and colour.

Our overall goal is to transform the photo reference into something special and not simply copy it verbatim. We began by creating a four-value study from a photo during the first class. This is one of my photos and it’s unremarkable although the subject has potential.

I started by selecting an area of the photo in a proportion of 3 x 4 units and drawing a grid over the selected area. I chose 3 x 4 because so many of our standard watercolour blocks and pads are 3 x 4 (9 x 12″, 12 x 16″, 18 x 24″).

Using the grid, I transferred the image to a watercolour sheet. The new image is larger than the gridded photo but it’s in the same proportion of 3 x 4. This small watercolour study is 6 x 8″. It was completed with four values. The lightest is the white of the paper. The light and dark middle tones and the dark tones were mixed with a combination of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue.

Detail isn’t important in the study; simplification is the key. Four values create a strong pattern.

The students began their studies on the first evening but didn’t complete them. We continued with them during the second class. Click on the image to view a larger version of their studies.

Wednesday Critique

The students brought in their own photos for the second class and we had a thorough look at them. Each student picked one and started a four-value study. That experience will reward them with the next step which is a small watercolour painting in full colour.

We discussed a few other things on Wednesday such as mixing greens, browns and greys. Next week, I’ll catch you up with their paintings from their own photos. Also, I’ll be offering some more thoughts on how to effectively interpret your photos in watercolour.

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!

15/01/2020

This is a very dramatically-lit photo of our still-life for the Saturday and Tuesday classes. Maybe, the unusual lack of snow in these parts made me long for some white in my visual world. Come to think of it, I hadn’t presented white objects for quite a while so it seemed to be a good idea. Also, white objects make us focus on values, of course, and so it was a great way to kick off the winter classes.

First of all, let me show you a few close-up views of the still-life. I always recommend that the students select an area of the still-life as opposed to doing the entire thing. As you can see, there were many potential compositions to choose from.

On Saturday, I discussed colour options for making objects look white. In addition to that, I talked about observation and distinguishing direct light from reflected light. The white of the paper may seem like the best option for the areas of direct light but we considered some others. The three vertical swatches show cool, warm and neutral options for off-whites (as well as darker values of each).

The dark rectangle on the upper left has a whitish area within it. This closer look will show you faint hints of colour that give the white a nice glow. I created it by wetting the area. While wet, I randomly touched in some very diluted yellow, red and blue. Here’s a closer look:

This is the work from the Sustained Saturday class. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

On Tuesday afternoon, we first looked at the demonstration from Saturday. Then, I began a new sheet with a few variations of our theme. In the pitcher on the left, I used a blue/violet combination for the shadows. In the small pitcher on the right, I deliberately exaggerated the dark shadow areas and I varied the wash quite a bit. I wanted the students to feel comfortable, if not courageous, when adding interest to large areas of shadow.

I had a full house on Tuesday afternoon and there was a nice energy in the studio. I think it shows in the work they accomplished! Same suggestion; click on it for a better look.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

 

Cubist Watercolour Weekend at Arts on Adrian!

27/11/2019

SATURDAY
I’ve presented this workshop to many art clubs and classes over the years. For a long time, my own watercolours were based on a playful and colourful response to Cubism, the early Modernist period that I’ve always loved. Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris were the giants of Cubist painting. I kicked things off Saturday morning with a slide talk about their work and it’s context in art history.

Our theme was a ‘Tuscan’ village. Here are a few examples of villages from some of the great Cubists.

Georges Braque

Pablo Picasso

Juan Gris

This entire weekend was a creative exercise with an experimental component. Almost everyone was initially out of their comfort zone but we approached our paintings through a series of well-defined steps. Our first ‘Cubist’ project was a value study in sepia. The participants had brought in photo reference of Tuscan villages. They studied the reference and selected various buildings and shapes that interested them. They drew simplified versions of these shapes onto sheets of cartridge paper. Next, they cut them out with scissors and created collage-like compositions on a new sheet of cartridge paper. The format was the same as a quarter sheet of watercolour paper (11 x 15″ or close to it). Once the compositions were resolved, they were transferred to actual quarter sheets of watercolour paper.

Four steps were taken to develop the value studies. First, the drawing. Second, a middle tone wash that covers everything but some randomly selected shapes that are left as paper white. Third, a darker middle tone wash. Finally, some darks. This exercise helped distance us from traditional realism and made us aware of the importance of a strong pattern in our paintings. A mix of either Cobalt Blue or Ultramarine Blue with Burnt Sienna was used.

I worked along with the group. Here are the two final steps of my demonstration.

  

This exercise took up most of Saturday. However baffled, the students followed the process and these are the results. Click on this image and you’ll see a larger version.

Cubist Value Studies

SUNDAY
Our next step was to enlarge the composition to a half sheet (15 x 22″). The half sheet is a different proportion than a quarter sheet, roughly 2 x 3 versus 3 x 4, so adjustments had to be made as they were drawn up.

Before we started painting, we talked about two things, colour and texture. We discussed the basic colour systems such as analogous and complimentary. We also considered using neutrals like greys and browns. I asked them to work out a palette and try to stick with it. Texture was intended to be a big part of the experience. Soft-edge, wax, rubber cement, spattering with a toothbrush and drybrush were all considered.

And we painted. I worked on my sustained demonstration while offering feedback to the group. This is my watercolour in progress.

The students plugged away all afternoon and their Cubist villages began to take shape. It was a lot of fun to walk around the studio as the colourful and cheerful images emerged out of the process. Although it was challenging, everyone followed the same basic steps and found plenty of room for personal and individual interpretation.

Only a few managed to finish but we’ll take a look at them anyway. I asked them to email me the paintings once they had a chance to complete them at home. I’ll finish mine as well and will post the results in a few weeks.

Remember to click on a critique image to view a larger version. There’s a lot going on in these watercolours and a better look is needed to fully appreciate them.

Cubist Critique a

Cubist Critique b

Cubist Critique c

Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Final Week!

22/11/2019

I wanted a cheerful subject for our final class this fall at Dundas Valley School of Art and these colourful peppers fit the bill nicely. Warm colours such as red, yellow and orange can be tricky to work with; particularly when one mixes the darker values. With that in mind, I talked mostly about colour mixing to start things off. Also, I took a shot at a red pepper and discussed the steps including the initial drawing, soft-edge washes and some useful brush-handling techniques.

I’ve enjoyed the group this term and been very pleased with their progress. During our critique on Wednesday evening, I pointed out that a successful painting isn’t judged solely by the ‘realistic’ rendering of the individual objects. A successful work is the sum of it’s parts. The skill to render a pepper realistically can be learned with practice. Creating bright, colourful paintings like the students did is no mean feat and not to be under-rated.

As usual, remember to click on the critique image to view a larger version. Thanks for following along for the past eight weeks! Thanks to you, this blog received it’s 280,000th view the other day.

By the way, the still-life served another important role; delicious stuffed peppers prepared by Aleda O’Connor! Check out her website.

Wednesday Critique

 

 

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