Hoffmann Watercolors



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


Beginning Homework 1/25/19 Shape first, then Texture

Take a long look at the image, below. 

What do you see first, texture or shapes?

Look at the green grass, for example. Does it register as a yellow green rectangle before you get lost in the rich variety of lights and darks?

To keep a painted version of the scene simple, it helps to start with the most general statement, in this case, a green rectangle. The texture of the long grass is of secondary importance. It would probably be best to keep all those swirling brushstrokes soft-edged, so they wouldn't get too busy and distracting.

In terms of technique, the overall green wash should be applied nice and wet, so it will stay wet long enough for you to add the texture without getting hard edges. As long as your strokes are soft, you can make lots of them without overworking the area. The soft edges become part of the general statement, where hard edges would stand out as separate entities.

This would be a good passage to practice. You could make a couple of versions of just the grass, out of context. The mountain would also benefit from a wet into wet treatment. In both cases, try thinking of the initial wash as your whole water supply. You can make the second and third layers -  the middle values and the darks - by just adding more pigment to your brush, not more water. It can be hard to remember that you don't have to wash your brush before you darken what is on your brush. It helps to push your water bucket out of reach as soon as that first was has been applied.

Here are a few more images that present opportunities to look for shape first. When you are ready to apply some texture, you can proceed by increments, stopping often to assess whenever you have done enough.

Note that the barn roof shape has soft-edged texture - the rust stains - but it has a hard-edged profile. The same could be true of the dark trees, below.

Use good paper for these studies. The back of a failed painting works jus fine. You can fill a page with various attempts. These are studies, not paintings. 
Have fun


Intermediate Homework 1/17/19 When to be Careful and When to be Carefree

When you are just beginning a watercolor the usual procedure is to block in the major shapes with the lightest tone that is present. At that stage, it is not necessary to make sure the viewer can tell what the subject matter is. Broad statements about color and value serve as underpainting for the more specific work that is yet to come. They are often nebulous and indistinct. 

In many cases the second layer, too, doesn't describe specific content, nor does it provide a context that might give the viewer at least a clue as to what's what. It can be disheartening to have laid down a couple of layers on your page and still not have much narrative content to show for the effort. Don't give up, though. Chances are your image is one where the shapes don't get their identity until the darks go down. 
With a little practice you will get in the habit of asking when the shapes become recognizable before you begin to paint. If you can see that the darks will do the work of bringing out the meaning of your strokes and washes, this is very good news. It means that you can be casual in the early stages of the painting, giving the paint room to flow. 
The following images are part of a new crop of photos, including some in which the final layer can be counted on to pull the whole painting together. To identify these, imagine what they would look like if you painted only the darkest darks. For homework, please choose one or two that you think will work and paint the pattern of strong darks by itself, just black shapes on white paper. Stand back and see if, in fact, the darks tell the story. If so, dry the study thoroughly and, in a carefree manner block in the middle values and the lights right on top of the darks.
Most likely, what you will see is that this is an image where what is usually done first could be done very loosely.
It might be a good idea to read this again before you start your homework. It asks you to work backwards.



Beginning Homework 1/17/19 Soft Edges

 A hard edge is a hard edge. There's no such thing as a slightly hard edge or an extremely hard edge.  If your paper is dry, the strokes you make will have hard edges.

Soft edges, however, can, indeed be slightly soft or extremely soft. How much the paint on your brush diffuses when it touches the wet paper is your choice

 How can you make edges that are just a little bit soft? Is it possible to make a stroke that is hard on the bottom and soft on top? How do you avoid blooms?

Consider the variables;

The wetness of the paper

The thickness of the paint on the brush

That's it. The entire range of edge quality possibilities is created by adjusting those two variables.

For homework, experiment with the relative wetness of the paper and the brush. You can use the photos and paintings below for your attempts to copy specific edges that interest you. It's not necessary to make complete paintings for this exercise. It would be fine to fill a page with unrelated experiments. Make notes on your practice paper so you will remember how you adjusted the wetness of the paper and the brush.


Have fun!


Homework for all 11/9/18

The last week of class the homework is always up to you.
Work on some aspect of your practice that needs strengthening, or something that delights you. please bring some work to put up on the wall. Spectacular failures are welcome, if you're feeling brave enough.


Everybody's Homework 11/2/18 Composition

It was fun watching everyone in class asserting their opinions about changes in composition. Clearly we all have an archive of examples of what works and what doesn't, and a tool kit for putting together solutions.

Here are some images that might benefit from adjustment. Some require removing portions of the composition. Others want the shapes to be moved around, or for there to be fewer shapes, overall.

Vertical or horizontal?

That cloud!?

Off balance? Need permission to move something?  

Look at the relationship between the image and the frame. Also, where's the horizon?

If you wanted to break the symmetry of this image, should you add something or take something away? What about moving something?

What a mess!

Subtle changes...

Making notes as you consider these flawed compositions will help us share thoughts during our discussion in class.
You might want to try out any changes you come up with by making small pencil or pen thumbnail sketches. If you do, please bring them along to show your process. 
Make a simple painted version of one or two of these after you decide what you want to change.
Have fun


Jill McElmurry

While we're still on the subject of symbolic realism, the artist I've been searching for has emerged, Jill McElmurry. I couldn't get the spelling right till today. Here's some of her wonderful work:

Hard edges, shape first, pattern rather than texture, limited palette. George Post would have been delighted. I wonder if they ever met.


Intermediate Watercolor 10/24/18 The Easy Way

Photo by Sally Hayman

This market scene resolves nicely into just a few shapes. There's a strip of dark along the top (the awning), with a strip of middle value rectangles (the doors) below that. Then there's a strip of dark below that (the shadow), and a strip of light below the dark (the fruit). Finally, there's a triangle along the bottom made of a mix of all three values. Five shapes.

It would be nice if you could paint everything light, then put the middle values on top of the light and the darks on top of the lights and the middles. Can you see a way to do that? 

Imagine wetting the paper first, then blocking in lights everywhere. The fruit could be a cloud of light yellow and red. It wouldn't matter if it bled a little into the triangular shape below, since the strong darks in that area will give sharp definition later to the bottom edge of the fruit. And it would be good if the red and yellow bled into the shadow area, since there are fruits in the shadow area, too. 

The strip of middle value doors could all be painted a color like the warm neutral you can see right behind the post in the center. I'd put some other neutralized middle value colors in while that wash is still wet. You can run those middle values right up to the top of the page. Later, you could add some slightly darker verticals in that area to show that there are various rectangular doors. Soft edges or hard? I think it could be either or both. I wouldn't make them as dark as the shadow section that comes last. That would make the background come forward. The dark awning along the top, if you decide to include it, could go down right on top of the middle values after they're dry.

Finally, the big shadow. Use your practice paper to get the value dark enough so you don't have to go back over the shadow again. If the fruits don't show through the shadow glaze well enough, add some red, yellow and green into the shadow while it's still wet. Make sure the paint on your brush is pretty thick for this job to prevent blooms, but If a bloom occurs, leave it.

How much information does the painting need before it's done? That's up to the individual painter, of course, but be respectful of your alter ego, the viewer. Leave a little for them to interpret. 

It may be a good idea to read this again before launching into a painting. A monochrome value study would also be very helpful.

 Here are a couple more images that resolve well into light, middle and dark layers to choose from.


Beginning Watercolor Persimmons made of paint 10/24/18

So far, in class we've done more work from photos than from life. This week's homework exercise puts your understanding of seeing in layers to work on a simple 3-D object, like an apple,

Image result for gerhard richter watercolor
Gerhard Richter

or a chalice.

Image result for lars lerin

Lars Lerin
(This is a watercolor, by the way)

Look around the house for an object that invites a watercolor interpretation. I find the refrigerator to be a great source of candidates. A bottle of hot sauce, a jar of mayonnaise, maybe a rutabaga. A stovetop tea kettle? Try setting up a single strong light source so the light and shadow shapes are easy to identify. 

Does your object resolve nicely into just a few layers? If so, get started with a monochrome value study. Keep it very simple. No need to make the first attempts into handsome paintings. The idea is to begin seeing a series of layers; light, middle, dark.

Once you've seen your way through the single color study, make a color version with a limited palette, just one each of the primaries. In fact, make 3 or 4 versions, all increasingly simple. 

Eventually, you will begin to recognize what needs to be there for the subject to have some presence. Adding the cast shadow will be very helpful. Make that simple, too, of course. Fussing with the shadow will do more harm than good.

After you've painted 5 or 6 of your rutabagas, or persimmons, the translation into "watercolor" will be realized. When you feel confident that you understand the subject in terms of layers of washes and strokes, put the model away, where you can't see it. Now paint a version or two by heart.


Beginning Watercolor 10/19/18 Thinking a couple of layers ahead

In class, we've been working on thinking and seeing in layers. Understanding a scene or an image as a sequence of layers allows us to foresee how what we're doing now will affect what comes later, and vice-versa

Eugen Chisnicean

Imagine what this painting looked like when only the first layer was there. There was a sky, but not any background buildings. The whole street and sidewalk level was wet stripes of warm red, cool blue and neutral grey, with no identifiable subject matter. The light blue was destined to become awnings, cars, and figures, but not till the  first layer dried and the middle value shapes and the dark layer were applied. 

Shari Blaukopf

Shari Blaukopf had two or more layers in place before her paper dried. The sky, for example, started as an overall light grey wash. The artist then put in the red where the trees were going to be, and the darker grey just below. It wasn't until the darker middle value shapes were applied (the trunks and branches) that hard edges began to show up. The final layer comprises just a handful of small dark strokes on dry paper.

Here are a few images that can be kept soft-edged for a layer or two. See how long you can wait before you start giving definition to the lights and light middle values.
Have fun!


Intermediate Watercolor 10/19/18 Symbolic Realism

 "Symbolic Realism" is a good name for paintings that feature images that are more about what we know or feel than what we see.

George Post

Anyone would immediately recognize these shapes as trees, even though they do not describe what the trees look like. They are more about trees in general than specific trees. The artist has created symbols that rely at least as much on shared knowledge of the subject as they do on careful observation.

Unfortunately, the term "Symbolic Realism" has already been attached to another type of image, altogether.

Frida Khalo

So, I'm looking for another term for the kind of symbolism I mean. Any ideas? For now, let's see if looking at a bunch of images can get us all on the same track. Gracias y adios, Frida. 

George Post
The array of rectangles in the background adds up to the feeling of overlooking a city. Post has observed what the buildings have in common more than how they are different.

George Post

Sterling Edwards

The simplicity of treatment Edwards displays comes from finding the features that the pueblo buildings have in common.

 George Post

Sterling Edwards
The halo effect surrounding the rocks is more about the feeling of being there than what you might actually see

Tom Hoffmann

Tom Hoffmann

In all of these paintings the subject matter has been distilled down to the essential information. Most of what has been removed was optional. If you were painting from life, you could observe what the background looks like when you focus on the foreground.

Here are some photos that invite refinement. See what you can do.

Add caption


Intermediate Homework 10/10/18 All Painting is Abstract. All Abstraction Tells a Story

This is the homework for the coming week. I'm posting it early because I'm heading to Portland for a workshop. Scroll down to find the entry for 10/3.

As we let go of the need to establish an illusion on the page the balance of form and content shifts distinctly toward form. Without narrative content to occupy the viewer’s attention, it becomes more important than ever for the paint itself to be worth looking at. Freshness and clarity, fluidity and interaction of colors, - the qualities that attract us to watercolor in the first place – are now the subject matter of the painting.

How do we decide what works best when we let go of the usual standards? Are there any guidelines, or is abstraction a painting free-for-all?

Nathan Fowkes has let go of texture and specificity, but he keeps a good grip on value and color.

In fact, the same standards that apply to realists are equally important to abstract painters. A painting with too many shapes, for example, feels busy whether it is a cityscape or a non-representational collection of forms. Wherever your work resides on the continuum from realism to abstraction it will benefit from being clear and deliberate in your use of value, composition, color and edge quality. As you extend the range of your comfort zone you can keep one foot in familiar territory.

 The transition from realism to abstraction is a process of combining what you know from your previous experience with experiments into the unknown.

The pattern of light, middle and dark is thoughtfully constructed, just as it would be if this were a painting of a barn.

There is as much of a story being told in an abstract painting as in a realist image. It may be a story about rectangles touching the frame of the painting, or pale, soft-edged shapes being traversed by hard-edged diagonals. The wonderful irony is that this kind of narrative is also present in even the most hyper-realist work. The difference is that in abstraction, the viewer is invited to pay attention to it.

The patterns of marks you make, the distribution of warm and cool color, the dark/light shapes, how shapes relate to the frame of the page, all the design decisions you make play a much more obvious role than they do in realist work. Most of these decisions have to be made deliberately, painting-by-painting, or we tend to fall into making the same default choices every time (the offset cross, the centered horizon).
Having said that, it is also important to leave room for surprises. Break your own rules, just to see what happens.
Some painters will naturally start exploring without guidelines and discover what works and what doesn’t. Others will want to begin with some deliberate structure in place, like keeping the shapes parallel to the edges of the paper.

For homework, do whatever you want.


Beginning Watercolor 10/10 Juggling Color and Value

This is next week's homework posted a couple of days early because I'm heading to Portland for a workshop. For the homework for 10/3 scroll down.

Looking at an image or a scene as a series of layers can be an entirely new way of seeing. Now that you have all had some practice deconstructing a photo in terms of layers of value, let's try seeing both value and color at the same time.

To make the process simpler, begin by identifying the major shapes. These are the shapes that need to be separated from each other in order to understand where they are in the illusory space. In the image above, the building on the right is farther away from us than the school bus, but closer than the dark green hill. To get the building to separate from its neighboring shapes it must be different from them in terms of value and/or color (for this exercise let's treat all edges between shapes as hard edges. Two variables are enough.)
For each of the major shapes, choose a color and value that will separate it from the adjacent shapes. Try to ignore the texture. The job is to deliberately oversimplify the information. The windows on the building, for example, could be left out without undermining the feeling of space. Put them in if you want, but first establish what you see when you squint. 
How about the bus? Think light, middle, dark. The whole shape can be painted the sunlit local color, except the windshield. Then, when that's dry the right side gets a second layer of middle value. Then a few dark windows and stripes, if necessary. 
Remember, this is a study. We want to find out if the illusion of light and space can be established with a minimal treatment. That will reveal what really needs to be in the painting. When the shapes have all been blocked in, ask where you would want greater subtlety or specificity. Make notes, but don't embellish the study tool much. Leave it too simple. The best way to find out if something belongs in the painting is to leave it out. If you have time, use the study as a road map for a proper painting.

How many shapes does the pile of logs represent? The key word is "pile".


Page created: Sat, Apr 20, 2019 - 09:05 AM GMT