Hoffmann Watercolors



Everybody's Homework 6/7/19 What Looks Tricky?

The last homework of the term has traditionally been "do it yourself", where each individual designs their own exercise. This term I want to suggest that you assess a photo for difficulty by asking "What looks tricky?". When you believe you understand the nature of the challenge, practice it until you become confident.
For example, this photo looks clear enough at first, but when I imagine putting in  that tree I get the feeling that it will take over the painting. The buildings and the sky are subtle and soft edged, while the tree is harsh, all black and hard. I'd like to find a way to make it more gentle.

If I make the tree soft maybe it can stay very dark. Or maybe it can stay hard if I make it lighter and greener. Either adjustment will turn down the impact the tree has. Maybe a little of both; adjust the value and the edge quality.

You get the idea.

Here's another image to analyze:

Finding your own image or painting from life gets you extra credit. Feel free to move or remove anything that creates unwanted ambiguity.
Have fun.


Intermediate Watercolor, 5/30/19 Who Needs Gravity?

We took some bold liberties with the decorative complexity of the Gasworks structures yesterday. If you enjoyed that process, perhaps you'll be encouraged to let go even further by looking up John Marin and Lyonel Feininger:

John Marin

John Marin

Lyonel Feininger

Lyonel Feininger

Lyonel Feinger

New territory?

You can use the sketches and studies you made at the park and see what happens when you set the shapes and lines free. 

Meanwhile, I hope everyone is entering something in the Best of Gage show. I've seen plenty of terrific work this term. Let's flood the halls with watercolors!


Beginning Watercolor, 5/30/19 Taking Your Time

When a painter wants to "loosen up" their brushwork, it might seem counter-productive to bring a lot of thoughtfulness into the process, but I am convinced that it is clarity of intention that gives rise to confident paint application.

Charles Reid

Asked if he painted as quickly as his work suggested, Charles Reid replied that,  in fact, he painted slowly. 
"I work very slowly, which may come as a surprise because most people think I paint loosely. That's an illusion. Each stroke counts. Fewer strokes with more thought is better. " 
Reid applies the paint quickly once he had made up his mind, but first he thinks for a long time about what to do next .

In class yesterday there was a palpable quality of attention to edges. We had talked and visualized enough that everyone was tuned in once we started painting. I've selected some images that welcome a variety of soft and hard edges. Think about your intentions and make decisions based on which kind of edges will support them. Take your time.

Please submit a painting to the "Best of Gage". 
I think everyone has gotten an email about the process.
Let's fill the walls with watercolors!


Intermediate Watercolor Homework, 5/23/19 Rocks

Water, animals, cars...Do you have painting subjects that you avoid? How about rocks? They should be easy, it seems, since they hold still so well. But, somehow, they tend to come out over-worked.

Copying other painters rocks might light the way, especially if the artists have found effective ways to simplify the subject. George post comes to mind, and Sargent. Hopper, Wyeth. Painters who do a great job of elaborating rocks, like Stanislaw Zoladz or William Trost Richards, might also open doors for you, even just to borrow their shapes.

Right now the sun is out, and there's the promise of sun in the forecast. How about going out to look for one well lit rock that you can paint several times till you can make one without looking at the actual rock?

Here are a few images to get you started. Looking online for more images would be time well spent. At the least you'd get a better idea of what you like. Have fun!


  1. Post




Beginning Watercolor 5/23/19 Shape First, Then Texture, If Necessary

Here's a painting by Joseph Zbukvic in which he relies on a very general description of the buildings to make the scene believable. Although the artist has an undeniably deft hand, it is not the brushwork that is most impressive in his work. Zbukvic's awareness of what is essential and what is optional is what dazzles the mere mortals among us.
 How did he know that so little specific information would be enough to tell the story? He paints shapes, and very little else, yet there seems to be more there than he has actually described. Do you see the sculpted figures on top of the building on the right side of the background? Here's what they look like up close; 

It's as if he can read our minds and see just how far we will go to meet him halfway. And just when we think he's stretching the limits of what we are willing to accept, he pushes it a little further;

How about those buildings? You know Zbukvic could see lots more information that just three gray shapes. These are deliberately oversimplified. If you cover the street level area of the scene so the buildings are all that remains only the street lamps tell us what we're looking at. He's playing with our heads, and I, for one, am happy about that. As a viewer, I want a role to play in the interpretation of the subject.

For homework, experiment with putting yourself in the viewer's place. How much information is enough for you? 


Stanislaw Zoladz

George Post



Try one of these, and have fun


everyone's Homework, 5/17/19 The Lazy Watercolorist

Hi everyone
Tom has asked me to fill in for him while he is in D.C. putting the finishing touches on his portrait commission for the senate chambers. Here's the work in progress:

Not bad, eh?

I am called the lazy watercolorist. You've heard Tom say that with watercolor, the easy way is the right way. He got that from me.

Today, I want to talk about layers. Once you see your subject as a series of layers, the work of planning is pretty much done. Light, middle, dark, right?

 First, look for the major shapes. For each one, block in the lightest color as as overall wash. Many painters wet the paper before applying the washes, letting them run together somewhat. This is the EASY way! Why struggle to get the shapes to stay inside the lines when most of the first layer will get painted over by the time you add the middles and the darks?

If a shape has shadows on it, paint the whole shape with the lightest layer. There's no need to leave a white place where the shadow will be. The shadow can be applied right on top of the local color, which is much EASIER than trying to match the edges of a white shape.

Look at the shadows in this scene. Each rock has at least one facet in shadow. Imagine leaving all those white and then coloring them in without overlapping or leaving any of the white showing. Way too hard for me. I'd rather treat the rock pile as a single shape, all painted the lightest beige, and then apply the shadows as a second layer, right on top of the first. Then, finally, the few deep darks on top of the shadows. On top, not adjacent. Got it?

It may seem logical to keep the shadows separate from the local color. They are different colors, after all. But, when you apply the second layer on top of the first, the transparency of the medium allows the light and the middle to work together to give a perfect illusion of sun and shade.

One more thing; look at the shadow on the red wall. You would have to paint that on top of the lighter first layer while the red local color was still wet. You couldn't get those soft edges by leaving a white shape and coloring it in with the shadow color. 

Here are a couple more images that give you an opportunity to practice laying your shadows on top of the local color. If you have time, try doing them the easy way and the hard way, so you'll see why I always take the lazy route.
Till the next time


Intermediate Homework 5/9/19 Using Color Dominance to Focus Attention

A very good way to focus attention on a particular part of a painting is to make it warm in an otherwise cool atmosphere, or vice-versa. Look at this scene, for example, where the windows are very warm while the rest of the setting is definitely cool:

The dominance of the cool makes the warm stand out.
The difference between the cooler and the warmer areas can be more subtle, like the relative temperatures in the scene, below, and still bring our attention to the portion of the image that is not dominant:

For homework, find an image you like and make a painting where you change the colors so that either the warms or the cools take up most of the total area. You can use one of the following images, or find one on your own.


You could cool down all this green and make the boat orange. Or make the trees and grass and water much more yellow and paint the boat blue. Or both!

Can you think of a way to leave the boat blue and change everything else?


What if you made the rocks rustier and changed the trees to Golden yellow fall cottonwoods? Then you could use more blue in the water and change the sky to sunset.


Beginning Homework, 5/9/19 Shadow Color

In class yesterday we came up with a fair description of how shadows are different from local color. By comparing aspects of the two we were able to conclude that shadows are generally darker, cooler and more neutral than the surface upon which they are cast. As with just about everything pertaining to art, there are exceptions to these rough guidelines. Let's do some comparisons to see how dependable the guidelines are.

This image presents a real variety of shadows. The red chair is half in shadow, half sunlit. The beige tarp is sunlit on the upward-facing surface and shadowed on the under side. The tarp also casts a shadow onto the ground, where we could compare the color and value of that shadow to the sunlit dirt  beside it.
Is it true, in this case, that the shadow is darker than the local color?
Yes, definitely.
Is it cooler?
Again, yes, it is.
How about more neutral?
Well, not really. The ground is already quite neutral. The shadow is also neutral, but not more so. One is a warm neutral, the other is a cooler neutral. Hmmm. Lets compare the sunlit tarp to the shadow on its under side.
Is the shadow darker?
Yes, for sure.
Is it cooler?
No. If anything, it's warmer.
Is the shadow more neutral?
Um, no, it's not. The upward-facing surface is nearly white, which is pretty much a neutral, but the downward-facing surface is a rich golden ochre.
Some of the guidelines appear to be slipping away. All that's left is that the shadow on a surface is darker than the sunlit areas of that surface. How can we find colors that will work for shadows if we have no recipe for success?
The answer is to observe and inquire. Which is darker? Which is cooler (or warmer)? Which, if either, is more neutral?
And while you're at it, what kind of edge does the shadow shape have?

Find a photo that contains shadows and local color near or adjacent to each other, or use one of these, below. Starting with observation and inquiry, see if you can come up with answers to the questions above.
Take your time mixing colors to represent the local color and the shadows you see in your images. It is not necessary to make an exact match. Instead, focus on making a convincing  pair of colors. Do they describe a believable quality of light?
This is also an opportunity to practice mixing colors from the primaries. Choose one red, one blue and one yellow, and see if you can get reasonably close to the colors and values you see in the photos. Keep track of the colors you used by writing the mix beside the patches of color on your practice paper. To darken a color, try adding some of its compliment.
Don't forget to bring in your flops as well as your triumphs.


Beginning Homework, 5/2/19, Damp into Wet

A great many images and scenes involve passages where detail and texture are best added while the initial wash is still wet. This soft edges of the secondary information keep it integrated into the general statement. This prevents the detail from being too specific and attracting too much attention. 

Sterling Edwards

Take a look at the grasses in the foreground of this landscape. The soft edges allow the varied strokes to read as all one thing, keeping the area from becoming too busy. It manages to be complex and simple at the same time.

                                                                       Tony Couch

Here's a similar foreground in which the artist has made a general statement with an overall light green wash. While that was still wet, he added vertical strokes of varied color and value. If the green wash had been dry, the foreground would have overwhelmed the composition (it's a close call even so).

The following photos include some areas where this concept would be useful. Try out adding complexity to a wash that is still wet. The real job here is keeping track of how wet the brush is. After the wash is applied, the brush you used still has enough liquid in it to pick up some more pigment from the palette. Stay out of any puddles there, and don't stick your brush into the water bucket. If the paint on the brush seems too dry or thick, remember you are about to add water to it when it touches the wet paper.

Practice this on a scrap of good paper until you see the results you want. Then you're ready to make a proper painting.


Intermediate Homework, Where Do You Really Need Hard Edges? 5/2/19

When we study a scene or a photo to consider how to translate it into paint, the part of the scene we are about to treat is almost always in focus. It's what we're looking at, after all. And photographs in this digital era are entirely focused. You have to pay extra for depth of field, I think.

But this is not how we actually experience the "look" of a live scene. When we are interacting with the components of a location most of what is visible is out of focus. How much of a painting, then, should be soft edged? How can you decide where hard edges are really needed when the image shows you everything in focus?

                                      Trevor Chamberlain

Acting on the premise that the best way to see if something belongs in the painting is to leave it out, making a study with no hard edges should provide you with a tool that you can use for a road map. With a "soft edges only" study in hand, you can ask where a hard edge is essential, and proceed incrementally toward just enough.

The technical requirements for this activity are important. It's not easy to keep the paper wet long enough to get even a quick study to be entirely soft-edged, but you can do it if you resolve to put the brush down as soon as a hard edge appears. Then dry the paper thoroughly and re-wet it where you want the next soft edge to appear.
after making a simple drawing, begin by wetting both sides of the paper. Wetter, please. Even wetter! It should be very shiny, but not quite dripping. Work that water into the sheet of paper.

Remember, This study is supposed to be approximate. Look at the middle ground and background in Trevor Chamberlain's boat painting, above. Half of the page is made up of non-specific shapes. Use a limited palette, say, one red, one yellow and one blue, so you won't spend too much time finessing your colors.
When the study is done, ask where a hard edge would enhance the feeling you want. Practice restraint here. It's easy to add too many specific marks. I want to stop while I think it still needs one more hard edge. I can always add it next year, if the painting still calls for it.

Here are some examples of paintings with a variety of edges, and a couple of candidates for a soft study.


Intermediate Homework 4/25/19 Variety

The potent sky scenes you all invented yesterday in class were individualistic, to be sure, but they also had a couple of features in common: saturated color and soft edges. Having spent some time now working with relatively thick paint and diffuse edges, let's practice using those features in some places and not in others, so your paintings display a range of qualities.

Here are a couple of Gerhard Richter's watercolors:

In this painting, the paper appears to have been dry everywhere, except for that pink shape at the top.

Here the opposite is true. Almost everything is soft edged.

And here there's a mix of edges that gives emphasis to the hard edged darks. Deciding deliberately what kind of edge you give to your shapes puts a powerful tool in your hands.
 Choose a photo from those below, or use one you find on your own, and adjust the edges as you please. You might try different versions that shift which edges are hard and which are soft.


Beginning Watercolor Homework April 25, 2019 Seeing in Layers

Beginning Homework  Thinking in Layers

To extend our classwork into the realm of understanding a painting subject as a series of layers, I'd like everyone to make a demonstration piece comprising three separate sheets of paper. One will show only what the first layer looks like (the pale under-painting of the major shapes). Then another that shows the first and second (lights plus middle values), and, finally, one that shows three layers (light, middle and dark). The idea is to show the layer by layer development of your painting.
The process breaks down like this:

Start by identifying the major shapes in the image. There should be no more that 10 or 12.
Make a simple drawing that locates the shapes.
Paint in the first layer - the lights - of each shape, keeping the treatment as simple as possible (no texture or detail).
Now make two more first layer pages, so that you have 3 more or less identical sheets.
Put the second layer - middle value - on top of the first layer on two of your 3 sheets.
Finally, apply the 3rd layer - the darks - on top of one of the second layers.

When the process is finished, you should have one sheet that just has the first layer, one that has first and second layers, and one that has three layers. Please bring all three, plus the photo in to class.

In case you missed class, here are a couple of simple images that will resolve nicely into three layers. If you think there should be a fourth layer of super darks, put them on top of the three layer treatment.

Please read all that again. It's a little confusing, I'm afraid.


Intermediate Watercolor Homework 4/11/19 Descriptive, Symbolic, Abstract

In between realism and abstraction there is a broad arena where artists such as Jill Maclmurray, George Post, and Charles Burchfield roamed.  Image result for jill mcelmurry art website

                                                             Jill McleMurray

Charles Burchfield

Image result for george post

                                                                     George Post

These are definitely realist paintings in some ways. We can recognize their subject matter even though it is more symbolic than descriptive. It seems fair to say that the artists want the viewer to be able to identify what is being interpreted, but rather than simply observe and duplicate the subject  they devise a symbol based on the essence of the content.
An emphasis is put on abstract elements, such as shape and color, by distilling the subject down to a simple but unmistakeable form. In context, Maclemurray's sage brush is easy to recognize, even though she is not describing specific individuals.

Here are a couple of images to experiment with:


Beginning Watercolor Homework 4/11/19 Thinking in Layers, Watercolor Skies

Here's a good sky photo to use for practicing painting clouds. It's very similar to the one we made in class; white, light gray, darker gray and blue. For simplicity's sake, let's proceed as if all edges are soft. I recommend reading the description of the step-by-step process a couple of times before launching into your first try. Use good, 100% cotton paper if you have it. It will greatly increase the chances of success. 1/4 sheets (11 x 15") or smaller are good for this exercise.

First, wet the paper on both sides so it will stay wet long enough to mix and apply your colors. Use a big brush to work the water into the fibers. Put a little extra water around the edges of the paper. They tend to dry faster than the middle of the page.

Second, add some blue to the brush and mix it on the palette so the paint is uniform. Surround your cloud shapes with blue. If you want to get fancy, you can use two different blues, one for the upper portion and another for the lower. See the difference? Experiment on a piece of cheap paper to see which colors work best for you.

Third, add a very little bit of orange to the blue that is left on your brush. There is no need to wash off the blue before you add the orange. Stay out of the water bucket, please. You already have all the water you need on the paper,  plus whatever is left on the brush you used for wetting.
When you are mixing the blue and orange together, try to balance the mixture so neither color dominates. That should produce a good gray. If you find you're getting a purple, add a tiny bit of yellow.

Fourth, notice where the gray occurs on the clouds. I see it on the lower half of the white shapes. Apply the gray accordingly.

Fifth, add a little more pigment to your brush to make a darker gray, and apply a stroke or two wherever you see it in the photo. This step is often overdone.

The sky is a very forgiving subject. Just about anything you create could actually happen. Given this variability, resist the temptation to fiddle with your clouds. Take what you get. As soon as you paint something in front of the  sky, like a steeple, or a telephone pole, the whole thing comes together. Below, here are a couple of sky paintings you can copy for further practice.

Give this exercise a few tries, and bring them all to class. The failures are more informative than the successes. Stay relaxed.


Intermediate Homework 3/9/19 General to Specific

Most watercolors proceed from light to dark, since it is easier to put a dark on top of a light than to do the opposite. At the same time, the trajectory of a well-planned painting moves from broad, general statements toward more specific passages.
Select one of the following images or the ones attached to the beginning homework from this week. All are fresh photos, never before painted, except one that actually is a painting.
Stay loose until you have at least applied the middle values. I believe it's not the artist's job to make sure the viewer can tell what they're looking at, especial;ally in the early stages. To make sure you don't get specific prematurely, try wetting the whole page before you block in the lights.

Gage classes will be working from a model this coming week. If you have any large sketch paper, please bring it along. We'll use it for the short poses.


Beginning Homework 3/9/19 Light, Middle, Dark

Most images or scenes can be translated into watercolor with no more than three layers. The transparency of the medium suggests that we start with the lights and progress through middle value to dark. The following images are all new. No one has painted them before. They have been selected for the ease with which they can be seen as a series of layers.
I like to start by identifying the major shapes and outlining them with pencil or very pale paint.

Sky, hill, ground, trees. Keep it simple, and notice that any white you see in this picture is in your imagination. The darks here are very linear. You could easily make too many hard-edged, dark lines. Remember what Eliot O'Hara said about how many are enough, "Fewer than half as many as you think".


The key to simplifying this scene is to paint the cluster of sheds, vehicles blocks and fences as one single shape. Save a few whites within the overall shape and paint the rest middle value. Then put in a few dark rectangles and Bob's your uncle.

A patchwork quilt of rectangles. Graffiti or no graffiti?

Let's not all paint the snow scene.
Have fun

Gage classes will be working from a model this coming week. If you have any large sketch paper, please bring it along. We'll use it for the short poses.


Intermediate Homework 3/1/19 Keep it Simple

How do you know when you've done enough to describe the subject matter in a painting? There always seems to be a little more that wants to be included. I think the key is to look inside rather than at the scene or the photo. You have to trust your gut feelings. 
In the alleyway sketch, above, the most important aspect is the sunlight. That's the story I want to tell, so if the shapes appear to be lit by strong light, the essential information is there. I could stop even though there is plenty more optional information I can see. On the sunlit side of the garage the siding is described with a few swift strokes. I haven't made clear whether the siding has corner boards or mitered corners. Should I add more information to make sure the viewer can tell? 
What about that brown shape in the lower right? I'm guessing no one but me knows what that is, but the sun is shining on it, and it contributes to the feeling of a cluttered alley. That's enough.

In this scene of headlands in fog Eliot O'Hara uses the foreground shape to tell us what the shapes in the background are. Only the closest form needs any detail for the viewer to know all they need to understand what the rest of the painting is about. Try closing one eye and covering the foreground. Without that information the background is insufficiently described, but when there is a clear context there is atmosphere and light and space. This is a painter who knows when to stop.

The following images present opportunities to tell a story that can be complete even though there is more that could be added. Decide for yourself what the most important thing is. Once that is present, that could be a good place to stop. Err on the side of too little information rather than too much.


Beginning Watercolor Homework 2/28/19 Figure /Ground

When we talk about the figure/ground relationship in visual art we are usually referring to how the forward objects interact with the background. This is not limited to literal figures. We could just as easily be considering how a vase of tulips stands out or merges with the space behind it.

Image result for raphael portrait of castiglione

Portrait of Baldassari Castiglione  by Raphael
I love this portrait. There isn't much space in the painting. I think Raphael wanted us to feel as if we were sitting quite close to Signore Castiglione, maybe at the same table. The soft shadow the figure casts shows us  there is a wall right behind him.  The artist keeps the figure separate from the background almost entirely by controlling the relative value of the wall and that remarkable tunic and hat. Having made sure that enough of the dark-clad figure contrasts with the lighter wall,  Raphael allows the sitter's elbow to merge with the wall.

Image result for wyeth watercolor

Andrew Wyeth uses similar means to separate the figure from the ground. On the dark side of the figure the background is light, whereas the light side of the figure is contrasted with a darker ground. Wyeth also uses the content to create another kind of contrast,  juxtaposing the rectilinear white cabinets with the scruffy figure.

In this photo the tree is separate from the mountain thanks to color, value and edge quality. If you were painting the scene, do you think you could afford to let some of the edge of the figure merge with the ground? Would you use hard edges or soft for the detail on the mountain?
Give it a try one way or the other, or perhaps both.

It's not necessary to duplicate the photo. Make any changes you please.


Beginning and Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/20/19 Edge Quality

Here is a very fluid watercolor by Paul Jenkins:

I think we can say that once he applies the paint Jenkins does not appear to limit its movement. He seems to want to follow rather than direct the flow of the richly saturated colors. It may be that he has in fact rotated the paper or tilted the backing board to encourage mixing or feathering, but the feeling that comes through is spontaneous and receptive, as if the artist's job is just to make sure the pitchers are full before the pouring begins.

Here is another watercolor, painted 40 years earlier by Georgia O'Keefe:

There are definite similarities and differences between the two paintings. Both artists delight in the fluidity and transparency of saturated paint, and though O'Keefe exerts more obvious control over where and how far it travels across the page, neither artist appears to make corrections. Jenkins wants his colors to interact, while O'Keefe keeps hers separated by barriers of dry paper, but both artists leave the paint alone once it has been applied to the paper.

                                             Pickpockets                          Tom Hoffmann

For homework, invent shapes and colors to give form to your feelings. Exaggerate, investigate, But above all, respect the medium. Give the paint room to do what it will, and allow that it may do some things better than you can.


Everyone's Homework 2/16/19 Easier Than it Looks

I'm convinced that watercolor doesn't have to be as difficult as it seems. I'd like to place more emphasis on how the medium is, in fact, very forgiving. Let's do this together, starting with a shift in the way we talk about our practice. Stay positive. Instead of complaining or putting yourself down, try looking for where your work is growing stronger. Tell us how you've managed to widen the range of what is acceptable.

Above all, stay approximate. Begin with general statements. In the early stages of your paintings it is not necessary for the viewer to know what they're looking at. Put off the moment when you specify what the shapes represent. It comes later than you might think, and sometimes it never comes.

Here are a few photos that rely on the late stage work, that is, the darks and the hard edges, to give meaning to the earlier statements. Look them over, asking where and when the shapes get their definition. This may not be obvious at first. It could take some practice before you can see which passages pull things into place. Have faith! Or just take my word for it.

To push past the habit of defining the shapes prematurely, wet the paper completely first. That will assure that your early stage work is approximate. Even working wet into wet you can get your blocking in to be a little more distinct by staying out of the water bucket. Use thicker paint and a fairly dry brush. The wet paper is your water supply. As it dries, the marks you make will be increasingly distinct.

Many of the shapes in this Jersey City scene are surrounded by dark lines. That fence, for example, involves dark strokes that make even the most casual first stage specific. By the time you get to the darkest darks in the image you will essentially be making outlines. Don't overdo it.

The lightest lights can also provide definition, like those vertical lines sticking up through the roofs. Could they be black?

What role do the darks play in this image?
A version of this scene with only the darkest darks painted onto white paper would quickly provide  an answer to that question.

Trevor Chamberlain

Maestro Chamberlain was content to make a very rough version of a riverside scene. How do you feel about it?  If this were your work, would you want to add a few hard edges or strong darks? Would they be welcome?

Have some fun with these


Beginning Homework 2/8/19 Seeing in layers

This exercise requires that you simplify the myriad subtle value relationships between shapes so that there are only five: White, light grey, middle grey, dark grey and black.  Some rounding up or down will be necessary. We are approximating. It is supposed to feel like an over-simplification. Read the whole post before you start painting
Begin by identifying the major shapes:

Cars, pavement, sky, overpass, nearer building, distant building, mountain. 7or eight shapes. That should be simple enough. If you come up with more than 12 shapes, see if you can find a way to combine ones that are near one another and similar in value. An example might be the mountain and the distant building.

Make a simple pencil sketch just outlining the major shapes. This is to help locate the shapes relative to each other. We don't need to know what they are, just where they are.

 Now, for each shape, assign one of the 5 values (1white, 2 light grey, 3 middle grey, 4 dark grey, 5 black). Write the corresponding numbers in the appropriate shapes.

On your sketch, paint the whole page light grey, except for any whites, which must be reserved.
Do this on 3 more pieces of paper. You'll have 4 identical studies, each one showing the whole page as a light grey wash that, in this case, covers everything except the two white cars. Put one of the studies aside.

Now, when the remaining 3 studies are dry, paint everything middle grey, except the light greys and the whites. Put one of those aside.

When the 2 remaining studies are dry, paint them all dark grey except for the middle grey, the light grey and the whites. Put one of those aside. See where we're going with this?

Now on the last remaining study add the blacks. When you're done, you should have 1 study that shows how the scene looks with only layer number one applied. You'll also have one that shows how the scene looks with two layers, one with three layers and one with 4 layers . When these all go up on the wall we'll have 15 different people's examples of seeing in step-by-step layers. That should make an impact.


Intermediate Watercolor Homework 2/8/19 The Preliminary Drawing

How do you decide how much information to put into the pencil work you do before you start painting?

                                             Skip Lawrence

I think we'd all agree that Skip Lawrence gave his paint plenty of room to flow,  allowing the colors to interact on the page. He could see that as long as he took care of the essentials there would be many opportunities to let go of control and allow the watercolor to do what it does best. Of course, this is easier said than done. How did Lawrence know what had to be done with more care? Some passages are very fluid, with soft edges running wild. Others, though, are hard-edged and quite specific. Let's just look at the buildings for a while.  The artist seems to be most carefree when he is describing the large surfaces, like the main walls of the living quarters. Then, when he comes to the edges of those big shapes he takes care to show us which plane is which, especially when the shapes are silhouetted against the sky. Shape is more important than texture in this painting. Lawrence holds on to accuracy of drawing when he is describing where a vertical wall becomes a slanted roof, but he lets go of of specifics entirely when he gets to the siding on the wall or the shingles on the roof.

Look at the green apparatus in the background of this scene. Is it your job to make sure the pipes and tanks and conveyors bandleaders all connect so that they make sense? I'm more inclined to state as little as needed to just suggest that it's a busy cluster of industrial stuff.
The area around the rail car feels too busy to me. What might Skip Lawrence do?

Here's another image with similarities to that Skip Lawrence painting.

Feel free to crop these images if it helps you decide where you'll be careful and where carefree.

Easy on the texture!


Intermediate Homework 1/31/19 Big changes; Lie, Cheat, and Steal

In the top two images there is some space described between the foreground and background, but what if you wanted more? The usual adjustments might do the trick;
Color: Make the background cooler or the foreground warmer.
Value: Compress the range toward middle value in the back ground, or exaggerate the darks and            
             lights in the foreground.
Wetness: Make the background much softer.
Composition: Can you enhance the illusion of space by rearranging the location of the major shapes?

What if you made all of these changes? In other words, why not maximize the differences between foreground and background? There may be a good reason why not, but let's have a look. Turn the dials all the way!

The image of the lake has a lovely streak of sunlight on the far shore. What might you do to intensify that light?

Some students are uncomfortable exaggerating the colors or the composition of a scene. It may feel like lying, or failing to do justice to the subject, as if we are meant to do the best we possibly can to duplicate reality. I believe our job is to interpret the subject in a way that displays our personal connection to it. Think of the origin of the word "Art", as in "Artifice".

If you work from your own image, please bring a print of it so we can see the changes that you made.


Beginning Watercolor Homework 1/30/19 Monochrome Value Study

Please read this slowly before you start painting.

In the image above, which is darker, the door of the shack or the shadow on the bow of the boat? Where does the sunlit grass fall in the range of dark to light? It can be difficult to tell, especially with color complicating the task. A value scale would make this much easier. Here's how to make a rough but effective version:
Cut a piece of watercolor paper about 8 x 3 inches. With pencil, divide the paper into 10 strips that run across the narrow dimension.
Leave the bottom strip white, and paint the rest of the paper very light gray. Dry the paper.
Leave the strip next to the white one light gray and paint the rest of the paper a little darker.
Continue making layers and leaving consecutive strips until your last layer is a single black strip at the top. Ideally, each step on your scale would be an equal size jump from the previous one, but the scale will still work just fine even if your steps vary in how much they change.

Now use the scale to measure the value of the door, the shadow on the bow, and the grass. Which one is darkest?

For homework, find an image that resolves into just a few major shapes - fewer than 12, let's say. You can use the Cape Cod scene, above, or this one, below, or one of your own.

Make a monochrome value study that deliberately over-simplifies the image. Just shapes, for example, no texture. 
The following is a fairly long excerpt from my book. It describes a process for making a five value (white, light gray, middle gray, dark gray and black) study in monochrome. It may be that the image you select can be nicely simplified down to only three values; white, middle and black. Your first job is to decide which is the appropriate treatment.
Remember, please, that the whole study should take no more than 20 minutes. If it takes longer, you are probably trying too hard to make it a handsome product. It's supposed to be kind of dumb. If it's too simple, it will tell you where you need more subtlety. Don't use the same image I used to illustrate the process.
Then, paint a color version of the image you choose. Limit your palette to one red, one yellow and one blue. Any combinations of these three colors are welcome.

What role does value play in the relationships between the big shapes?
As a first treatment of a new subject, it would be hard to find a better exercise than a value study. Understanding the dark/light relationships between the big shapes in your composition is an essential step to making a painting that is cohesive. A five-value version  (white, light grey, middle grey, dark grey, black) can be done quite quickly over a simple drawing of the big shapes. It also provides good practice for seeing in layers. 
Look for an image that resolves nicely into just a few shapes - no more than a dozen. You can use the one you brought home from class, or one of your own. Choose a color (just one) straight from the tube, that can get dark enough to represent black. It’s better not to make a color by mixing, since that introduces another variable. This exercise is designed to focus on value only. Similarly, all paint should be applied to dry paper, to keep wetness from distracting your attention from value.
If you are tempted to get fussy about edge quality, or texture, or any kind of detail, remember, this is NOT A PAINTING, and it is supposed to be too simple. A door may be important, but the doorknob probably isn’t. I have seen some so-called value studies that are, in fact, very carefully observed monochrome paintings. They may be quite beautiful, but as tools designed to reveal the essential elements of the scene, they are not very useful. The best way to find out if something needs to be in the picture is to leave it out.
After each step, while you’re waiting for the paper to dry, assess how complete the illusion of light and space and substance feels.

Light is an important component of this image. Isolating the variable of Valueshould reveal the role it plays in creating the illusion of sun and shadow.


In your drawing of the big shapes, try to keep the number down to ten, or fewer. The profile of each shape is all you need to draw. The idea is tolocate the shapes, not to describe them.

· Starting with the light grey, paint the entire page, except for any shapes that need to stay white.
Is there a feeling of light in the study? What about space? Substance?

· When that layer is dry, paint the whole page middle grey, except for the lights and the whites. If you can’t decide whether a shape should be light or middle, round it off one way or the other. The finished study will reveal whether you made the right choice.
Again assess the state of the illusion: Light? Space? Substance?

· When layer two is dry, apply the dark grey over everything except the middle, light and white shapes. Now that the background figure has a dark grey layer, and the section of wall behind him does not, notice how effectively the two separate, compared to the previous stage.

Finally, paint in the darkest darks.
The role of the darkest darks in creating an illusion of light, space and substance is clear even in a radically over-simplified image.

Where do I need more subtlety or specificity?
When the value study is finished, it can be compared to the source image or the scene to see where adjustments need to be made. Having come way over into the realm of too little information, we now have a basis for judging how much more needs to be included.  Don’t skip this step.  A study, as the name implies, is a learning tool. Your painting process will be more efficient and your paintings more cohesive if you extract all the lessons you can from your preliminary work.
In the photo, the two mounds of dirt are so similar in color and value it seemed sensible to treat them as a single shape. But the study reveals that it would be better to separate them, making it clearer that the one on the right is in front. It is also clear that the mound on the left does not separate sufficiently from the wall in the background. It looks ok where there is a shadow behind it, but where the wall is sunlit only the pencil line separates the two shapes. Perhaps lightening the left mound a little could solve both of these problems. Five values, in this case, are not quite enough. This is an example of the need for more subtlety.
The little raised frame beside the doorway that catches the sun is a fine feature  of the photo that I miss. It does an important job, describing the light. It is a bit of specific information that will add significantly to the picture without becoming a distraction.
It is surprisingly easy to see what is missing and what needs to be changed when the image has been over-simplified. If I had made a complex first attempt it would be difficult to know which of the (too) many elements were not necessary.


Intermediate Watercolor Homework 1/26/19 E Pluribus Unum

These rocks look like a challenging subject when you think of them as separate shapes. Let's start by combining all the components into a single shape by emphasizing what they have in common rather than how they are different.

If you ignore the darks and middle values, you can see that the whole wall of stone has a light gray first layer.

If you make your gray from a warm and a cool color you can adjust the initial wash with touches of  those components, creating a soft-edged pattern that begins to suggest facets.

While the initial wash is still wet, add the middle value rust stains and a few soft-edged shadows. Not too many. Better to err on the side of too little information. At this stage of the translation you can shift your attention from the photo to your study, asking whether you have done enough to tell the story rather than if you have duplicated the image.

All that remains are the hard-edged, dark mid-value shadows and the dark, skinny cracks. I have to be especially careful not to overdo these. They are so potent I want to make lots and lots of them, but remember Eliot O'Hara's advice about how many specific little dark marks are enough, "Fewer than half as many as you think". 

It is helpful to avoid surrounding individual rocks with dark outlines or hard edges, even if you see them in the photo. Let the wall continue to be a singular thing.

Make a few studies. When you are confident of your sequence of layers, try putting the rock in context.
Have fun


Page created: Mon, Aug 19, 2019 - 09:05 PM GMT