Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
When I visited my mother in Albuquerque, NM recently, I was delighted to discover that she still had this piece I’d made when I was a freshman in high school. I don’t recall what stained glass this replica was based on – some medieval cathedral in Europe – but I had a lot of fun making it.
First, I sketched the piece on a sturdy piece of paper parchment. To create an “aged” look to the piece, I used a method my freshman high school art teacher taught us: Using a very hot iron, I “ironed” the piece until the parchment paper began looking slightly browned. I then painted my sketch with some student-grade watercolors (many of the colors are not as vivid as they once were originally). Obviously, this technique would not be advisable on anything you want to keep for posterity – though I have to say, despite all odds, this piece has survived pretty well for over 40 years!
The piece is somewhat dull until you hold it up to the light. Then, like light showing through real stained glass, the image becomes vivid and pops out of the darkness.
Here is a detail of the kings’ heads:
When I recently visited my mother, she gave me some painted eggs I had made when I was younger. I’ve written about eggshell art previously. This particular egg has always been one of my favorites. I painted with what I had at hand at the time: watercolor for purple background; India ink for black to outline the three kings while reserving the white of the natural egg, and nail polish to add the “lacquer” at the end, and to strengthen the egg shell.
For the inside, I pasted a Christ Child in the background and stuffed the foreground with dried flowers. It’s taken a beating: parts of the shell have broken away, and there’s a significant crack. But it was fun to see it again.
I was showing the progression of my last painting “The Meeting of Curious Minds” in my last post, in an attempt to show how gouache can be used.
I finished adding a darker undercoat of brown to the trunk of the madrone tree. I also finished the hummingbird. I did not want to delay doing so, because I needed to see how the small bird fit in with the trunk and foliage before continuing further. As for the leaves, I did reserve the lighter color of the paper underneath, as in this case it would have been a lot of work and a waste of paint to have to paint over the darker area.
Here is a close-up of the juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird:
The next step was to work on the leaves of the poison oak. Then the fun part began when I smeared big blobs of white paint with a stiff bristled flat brush onto the trunk to provide the undercoat of the bark that covers the lower regions of the madrone tree. Some daubs were thicker or thinner, to simulate the variety of shades one encounters normally in nature.
The rest was then take up with further refining the look of the bark, to make it more realistic, using shades of black to gray and some browns. I spent quite a lot of time working and reworking the leaves, to get a balance between recognizable and super realistic. To have done too much would have detracted from the rest of the painting.
And then the final. I really enjoyed working on this piece, and I really love how gouache enables me to do many things that would take much longer in pure watercolor, and/or be extremely difficult to do.
Gouache is not as common a medium for fine art now as it should be, in my opinion! Gouache is mostly used in the present time by illustrators and designers because the colors are brilliant, they dry fast, and they are opaque like oils. Unlike watercolors which require working from light to dark and reserving the white of the paper for lighter areas, you can work from dark to light with gouache.
It is an old medium. It was used in the 14th century (and probably earlier) and known also as “bodycolor.” Wikipedia states: “Gouache differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and an additional, inert, white pigment such as chalk is also present. Like all watermedia, it is diluted with water. (Gum Arabic is also present as a binding agent, just as in watercolor.) This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.”
Some artists of note who have used it often: Albrecht Durer, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, Edgar Degas, and others. I’d say that was good company!
As a matter of interest, I thought I’d include some photos of the progression of my last painting “Meeting of Curious Minds,” which is mostly gouache, with some watercolor.
I used a multiple-ply acid-free cotton rag illustration board for the paper support. While you could use watercolor paper with gouache if you used thin washes, most of the time you must use a stiff inflexible support for gouache, as the thicker parts of gouache painting will crack if the support is bent.
After sketching the basic lines of the piece, I painted an undercoat for the tree, the hollow, and the owl to give me some basic tonal values to work with. It all looks rather ghostly so far.
I next worked further on the owl, adding more darker areas over which I would use white gouache later on. The beauty of gouache is that you can paint dark colors as an undercoat and, depending on how transparent you make your gouache strokes, you can allow that undercoat of fur or feathers to show, as they often do in nature. I figure that if I mess up here, it’s not worth continuing. So I always tend to do the hardest parts first so that if I do make irreversible mistakes, I don’t waste too much time!
In the photo below, I’ve finished the owl, adding pure white feathery strokes of a fairly well-loaded brush. I’ve worked on the aged, non-growing wood of the madrone nesting hole, and also darkened the interior of the hole so that the owl is seen in better contrast. Now I must work on the rest of the trunk.
I see that in order to bring out the contrast between the rich hues of the tree trunk and the craggier, lighter bark that lives on top of the smoother trunk underneath, I have to make the background much darker than I have so far. So out comes a darker brown, as well as the first greens of the poison oak that has insinuated itself onto the tree. The hummingbird also begins to appear.
To be continued…
I finally finished this painting – whew! The tree is one of my favorites: a Pacific Madrone with a hollow.
And the owl is a Barn Owl. Have you noticed that I like Barn Owls? I think they are my favorite owl. That’s a juvenile ruby-throated humminbird who is checking out the owl.
What I used: watercolor and gouache. The gouache was especially helpful in enabling me to create the tree bark and add essential highights to the owl’s wispy facial features.
That green stuff, by the way, is poison oak! It often climbs up madrone bark.
Over a year ago, I included a blog entry about this man of mystery.
He is still around and become even more mysterious. He’s looking cool and very sharp with those blue shades!
When I visited my family in Albuquerque, I went through some old family stuff and found, to my delight, this ancient crayon drawing I made of my first dog Stubby. She was a Poodle/Scottie mix and I chose her out of a litter of pups when I was 9 years old, after which I made this sketch. She had been lying asleep on my bed in the sunshine. (I later got a prize for the drawing in school, which I was quite proud of.)
Stubby was a darling little thing and became a fast buddy to me, my sister and brother, and of course my mother in particular. After all, Stubby spent more time with my mother – while we were in school – than we did when we were at home.
Nevertheless, I was quite happy that I chose her for my family.
Here is the entire gang when we were oh so very young…
Stubby was extremely particular. When she was old enough, it was decided that she would be bred to a Scottie to produce a litter of pups. She’d have nothing to do with the male dog chosen for the task. And yet, a couple years later, she fell head over paws for a roguish Beagle that roamed the neighborhood. That was not a planned mating, and the resultant pups were anything but cute. Well, a few of them turned out OK, but one in particular was quite homely. She had a nearly smooth Beagle coat with dark Scottie coloring. But then she had these weird wisps of long hair that stuck out all over the place. It was as if the poodle genes had been fighting the Beagle genes and neither side won. We called her Grizelda. She was the last pup to find a home, but we found one eventually – to an elderly, rather eccentric woman who doted on her in breathless accolades about Grizelda’s many sterling qualities.
Stubby was a loyal and fierce protector of the family and was with us through thick and thin, tolerating and accepting all the various other animal additions to the family, including cats!
This is my latest painting, finished this weekend. This is a little Pine Siskin I found, seeking warmth from the late winter sun on a very cold afternoon. He had found a warm spot on the concrete between my house and an herb planter.
He was all puffed up to conserve heat. He looked so vulnerable. That’s what I called the painting.
For anyone interested in knowing the techniques involved:
1. First stage was laying in a couple of washes of yellow, then a brown (now I forget which one)
2. Then I used a fairly dry brush to lay in the lines of the concrete.
3. I splattered, using a very stiff bristle brush, spots and “dirt” that one normally finds on concrete outside; then I smudged various colors to imitate more concrete untidiness.
4. The bird is a combination of washes and dry brush. The crack in the concrete is mainly dry brush on the dry background.
5. The shadow is a wet application of a layer of pthalo blue and a brown
Here is a detail of the Pine Siskin.
Before launching into actual painting, there are a few other aspects to watercolor paints you might like to know. While these facts may not have much bearing when you first start painting, in time they will become more important.
Tubes vs. Pans
When we were children, most of us were given watercolor sets in little tins that contained a number of dry pans of pigment. These are student-grade paints that usually are extended with chalky fillers to keep costs down. These chalky fillers also prevent the full luminosity of watercolor pigments to show on the paper. Another good reason not to skimp on paint quality.
There are of course artists’ quality hard pans too, and these are very good paints, but they are suspended in more glycerin than tube paints – to keep them from cracking. It takes a lot of wear on brushes to wet the pigments sufficiently to provide a good loaded brush of pigment. (And it’s very hard to keep each pan clean of other pigments that will mess up the true color of the pan.) Most artists use tubes of the thick, creamy wet pigment. It’s wonderful to feel on the brush. I feel one has more control, and it saves one’s brushes – which are not cheap to replace, if they’re decent quality. Overall, I think using tube paints is superior from most standpoints. I do have a set of hard pans – but just for traveling purposes.
You can buy a watercolor palette cheaply at most art stores, or even a supermarket. Plastic ones are very cheap, but I prefer enamel or porcelain. The paint handles better, doesn’t bead like it does on plastic. Plastic gets stained and feels cheap somehow. But if you are short on money, plastic works.
Artist quality paints are manufactured as much as possible to be as lightfast – or permanent - as possible. You want your paints to be lightfast – pigments that have been proven not to fade or change color when exposed to reasonable light. Winsor & Newton publishes a comprehensive brochure that lists every pigment’s lightfast quality, as well as its main ingredients, toxicity, characteristics, etc. Here is a link that shows such information for Aureolin .
I’ll cover some other aspects of watercolor pigments in the next post.
Meanwhile, time to experiment:
1. Set your pad of watercolor paper flat on your desk
2. Get a jar of water and a large flat brush
3. Place a dot of pigment on your palette (it doesn’t have to be a lot)
3. Load the brush with water, and cover a section of your paper with water to prepare the paper to receive the pigment.
4. While the paper is still very wet, brush on some pigment and tilt the paper toward you slightly.
The result should look something like this:
It really is lovely to see how the pigment seeks the water and runs with the downward angle.
You can also use the pigment on dry paper, and these would be such results (same loaded brush):
As you can see, the top half shows the loaded still-wet brush. The strokes in the bottom half show how the pigment appears as the brush gets nearly dry. The paper has absorbed most of the wetness of the brush.
All three effects are used in watercolor painting.
Here’s another wet brush into wet paper (“wet on wet”):
And now here’s the same image where I’ve allowed the original sample to dry, and I’ve used a semi-dry brush to make the red lines more defined:
Experiment and have fun with these techniques.