Posts Tagged ‘watercolor’

Two Birds in Watercolour

13/02/2021

A while back, I posted a step-by-step pen and ink drawing of a Northern Mockingbird. The post may be viewed here. Occasionally, I paint birds in watercolour, as well. I’ve done a few recently and I thought I’d show you a bit of my process.

Several years ago, I was teaching an en plein air watercolour class on the Toronto waterfront. It was during the month of June and the trees were alive with busy local nesting birds. At one point, I reached for my binoculars to check out the source of some particularly harsh squalling. It was a fledgling, a young bird that had only very recently left the nest. It was one of the ugliest creatures I’d ever seen and I didn’t know what species it was until a parent dropped by with a beakfull of nourishment for the hungry youngster. I won’t reveal the species right away. Let’s talk about my process.

I worked from my own photo back in the studio. I print both a colour and a black and white version. The black and white version helps me see and understand the values. I grid the colour version and then draw a rectangle of the exact same proportion on my paper. I used a small block of Arches, Hot Press, 140lb., watercolour paper. Using the grid, I draw the bird with a very light touch of a soft 2B pencil. The pencil lines are quite faint and hard to see but easy to clean up with an eraser. For the sake of this post, I strengthened the drawing so that it would be clearer.

Step One of Fledgling

So far, the first step is identical to what I did with my pen and ink drawing of the Northern Mockingbird. This is a watercolour, however. Step Two means it’s time to paint. I mix Burnt Sienna with Cobalt Blue in order to create a cool/neutral grey. In Step Two I painted a narrow range of values to show the darker areas of the bird and also to suggest texture.

Step Two of Fledgling

Local colour is introduced with Step Three. Our fledging is a fairly colourful creature. I ‘glaze’ thin washes of colour where needed.

Step Three of Fledgling

Step Four is really a series of steps as I continue to develop colour and value. I step back a lot and take short breaks. The stepbacks and breaks are just as important as touching the brush to the paper. Eventually, the painting is finished.

Step Four of Fledgling

By the way, I don’t use opaque white paint. I reserve the white of the paper. It’s challenging, especially when there are white areas on the bird. Can you guess the species? It’s a young Red-winged Blackbird.

I’ll show you one more bird painting while I have your attention. It’s another common urban bird and this time I’ll just show two steps. Here is the ‘monochromatic’ stage of this study of a House Sparrow. Again, I’ve used a few values at this point.

Study of House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is not a colourful bird, at all. I stuck with the combination of Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue for the entire painting. Also, I gradually darken these paintings as the ‘light to dark’ process is very forgiving. These paintings are quite small, only 4 by 5 inches or so. The image on your screen is probably larger than the actual watercolour study. I hope you find this approach useful for working from your own photographs. It’s just one way to do it as, of course, there are likely as many ways to paint birds as there are artists. If you’d like to view more of my bird studies, click here.

Winter Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week Four!

15/03/2020

Last Wednesday, I was back at Dundas Valley School of Art. It was the final evening class in a short series of four. My demonstrations on the first three nights had focused on various fundamentals of process and technique. What to do for the final evening?

I decided to paint a small work (7 x 6″) from start to finish. I followed a forgiving light to dark and big to small process. I worked quickly and discussed my thoughts and decisions as I painted. I completed it in about 32 minutes thanks to a handy hair dryer. I rarely do a whole painting as a demonstration but, once in a while, I think the students can benefit from seeing all of the steps.

Something clicked. This group has been a pleasure to work with and their progress over four short evenings has been remarkable. Click on the critique image to view a larger version.

That’s it until spring term. The schedule is up in the air right now due to the coronavirus. Most of us will be spending much more time at home for the next while. If so, paint a lot and stay well!

Wednesday Evening Critique

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Three!

11/03/2020

Cabinet of curios? Treasure Chest? Ye Olde Antique Shoppe? Whatever you want to call it, this still-life offered a variety of opportunities for the watercolour students.

The Sustained Saturday group was first up. I discussed the subtle colours of the still-life; earthy browns and varied greys. Brasses and coppers. I restricted myself to primary colours (yellow, red and blue) and used the three of them to mix all other hues. Why did I do that? Try it sometime. You’ll learn a lot about colour and your palette if you limit yourself to the primaries. Also, your colours will tend to harmonize more successfully when you employ less of them.

As usual, I urged the students to zoom in on an area of interest. I never suggest that they paint the entire still-life. As they work on their thumbnail compositional studies, I walk around the studio and offer my thoughts. The group enjoyed the still-life and their pleasure is evident in the day’s work.

Sustained Saturday Critique

My demonstration for the Tuesday class focused on the same ideas. I showed them the demo sheet from Saturday, as well.

The Tuesday afternoon group also responded enthusiastically to the subject matter. I’m amazed at what they can achieve in three short hours.

Tuesday Afternoon Critique

Currently, I’m planning spring classes and they’ll be posted on this blog in a few days. I’ll send out my usual email notification, too. Of course, the coronavirus may ultimately affect the spring schedule and I’ll address that when I promote the classes. In the meantime, wash your hands and stay well!

Winter Wednesday Watercolour at DVSA – Week Three!

06/03/2020

Thanks for all of your comments about the value of critiques last week! I think that most of us consider the critique to be an indispensable element of an art class.

I chose these colourful gift bags for our still-life at Dundas Valley School of Art on Wednesday evening. First of all, the colours are cheerful. Secondly, the broad, flat planes allowed me to deal with applying even, ungraded washes for my demonstration. I painted the overall shape of this green bag first and strove to keep the wash consistent and without streaks or blossoms.

Following that, I continued to develop the bag, guided by a light to dark and big to small process. I used soft-edge techniques to show value transitions on the ribbon.

It was only our third class (one more to go) and I’m pleased with the progress already. There’s a lot to deal with in the world of observational painting; drawing, composing, grasping light and shadow, brush-handling and more!

Wednesday Critique

Winter Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week Two!

12/02/2020

I was back at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week for Sustained Saturday and Tuesday afternoon classes. The organic objects in the still-life are things that I have rarely or never used. Ya Li pears are the pale yellow fruits. The green vegetables are chayotes, a type of squash from Central America. I liked setting them off with the carved wooden objects and thought that the still-life had a bit of a Mexican mural look.

The ornate carving posed the greatest challenge so I addressed it with my demonstration. Do you ever try to read my notes in the top right corner of the demo sheets? This sheet shows four bullet points:
• simplification
• editing
• creative licence
• reverse values

We almost always discuss simplification and editing. Creative licence is closely related. What can we do to make the painting work best? Reversing the value is an idea that I employed with some of the decorative carving. I didn’t write down ‘negative painting’ but I used that, as well.

I reversed the values in the upper part of the vase on the left. That way, I didn’t have to painstakingly paint around all of the light ‘lines’. In the barrel in the middle, I used a negative approach and painted around the lighter areas. I know, I know! Masking fluid is available at art stores. Well, it’s not something I use and I don’t promote it in my classes. We try to solve the problems with the basic tools; brushes, paint. Add a lot of analysis and thought to that short list.

The still-life offered many opportunities. I suggested that the students zoom in and find a composition. Also, as interesting as the wooden objects were, I felt they should be used to bring out the light on the pears and squashes as much as possible.

Our usual Saturday crowd was somewhat diminished in number but we had a very pleasant day. One of our regulars, Karen, had to leave early but I photographed her lovely painting before she packed up.

Watercolour by Karen W

As for the rest on Saturday, here are the results. Click on a critique image to view a larger version.

Sustained Saturday Critique

I started the Tuesday class with a look at the Saturday demonstration. We discussed it in general and then I offered a closer study of the areas show here.

Watercolour demonstration by Barry Coombs

The Tuesday students responded to the still-life with enthusiasm and did very well. Not everyone was able to finish but I was quite pleased with their work.

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 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