Hoffmann Watercolors



Intermediate Homework 9/24/20 Complexity

 I often talk about the four variables of painting; Value, Edge Quality, Composition and Color. I think of them as the dials on the watercolor console. We can turn them up or turn them down, modulating the mood or style of a given painting. Color, for example, may manifest as understated or raucous, depending on the number of colors in the palette.These two paintings by Pail Klee have some qualities in common, but the overall feeling is very different, due to the limited palette in one and the extended palette in the other.


There is another factor at work, Complexity, 
which definitely involves adjusting the dials. Complexity reveals its presence by influencing value, color, composition and wetness.How simple or complicated a painting will be is revealed in the way those traditional variables are made to behave.
The mood that is projected from Klee's paintings is evident because of what the artist decided to do with color and company. 
For homework, find a photo and make two different versions of it, one very simple and the other very complex.  This one would work, or use one of your own, but when you're done, please send the photo you used along with the paintings.


Beginning Homework, 9/24/20 Layers of Soft Edges

Here are a few sky photos and paintings. Use any of these as a guide in your exploration of soft edged clouds. You might also try inventing a sky.

The step by step sequence goes like this:

1)   1) Wet the paper.
You can use a large brush or a soft sponge. Wet one side of the paper or both sides. You can soak the paper in a tub or run it under a faucet. Room temperature water is best. Definitely not hot! The more thoroughly you wet the paper, the longer it will stay wet. For these experiments please aim for all soft edges in the sky. The paper should be shiny but not puddled.

2)    2) Mix up a supply of pale neutral paint. Paint the shadows that appear on the bottom of the clouds.

3)    3) Add more pigment of a color similar to the first layer to get a darker version of the shadows. You don’t need more water for this step. There’s enough on the paper and in your brush. Paint the dark shadows along the bottom edge of the clouds.

4)    4) Wash and lightly dry the brush. It should still have a little water left for picking up some blue and painting the spaces between the clouds. Leave some white space above the cloud shadows. Hopefully, all the edges will come out soft. If you see hard edges before you're done, you can dry the painting and then re-wet the area where you want soft edges.

5)    5) Put some land or water along the bottom of the sky. Here hard edges would be fine.

6)        Send one or two of your skies to Linda.


No blue!? Can you still see this image as layers of pigment on wet paper?



Beginning Watercolor Homework, 9/18/ 2020: Mixing Complex Colors

Here's an exercise that will give you practice knowing where to begin when you feel challenged by a complicated color. 

Imagine that you live in a world where there are only 6 names for colors; Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Orange and Violet. 

Hold that notion while we gather some colored objects: Look around the house for a few things that are complicated in color; a paper bag, for example, or the palm of your hand. Eggplants are in season.

Using just one red, one yellow, and one blue. consider how you would begin to mix the color of one of your objects. How about a paper bag? If you're inclined to call the color brown, remember that in our world that is a meaningless word. You'll have to make an approximation and come as close as you can with our limited vocabulary.

 Now, what color is the bag? Maybe yellow. or orange? Whichever of the 6 color names comes closest is the dominant color. That is the most efficient place to begin mixing. Starting with the dominant color gets you pretty far toward a good duplicate of the color of your object. Go ahead and make the best match you can with your set of primary colors. Make a wash about 4x4 inches of your color on a piece of good paper.

Next, use a different set of primary colors and mix a match of the same object. Make a smooth wash of this match beside the first one. Take note of what you observe. Write the n\ames of the colors you used.

Do this same exercise for a few different objects. Save your color washes and the object you were matching for our "show and tell" next week.

Have fun


Intermediate Homework:9/18, Encore!

 The work you all did making Variations on a theme is inspiring! I'd like to go further on the road to refinement, this time holding onto value and exaggerating color, edge quality, composition and/or complexity.

Keep in mind that exaggeration needn't involve harsh or clamorous experiments. You could use a limited palette, for example, exaggerating a mood, or turning down intensity by adding a little bit of the compliment of each color. 

The impending storm, above, significantly downplays the textures of the fields. 

Below are a couple of photos that offer a simple collection of dark, middle and light shapes. Get a good grip on the value pattern and take of into an interpretation of your own.


May 28th, 2020 Beginning Homework, Wetter Wash, Thicker Strokes

Read this whole post before you begin painting, please.

This painting is made up of a sky and a field of sagebrush. Each was made by applying a  colored wash with some secondary strokes of texture, which were laid down while the wash was still wet.   We are going to try two different techniques for making the wash and stroke areas with all soft edges.

Starting with the sky, make a large puddle of a pale, warm neutral, and lay it over the entire top half of the page. Add some pigment to make a light grey, then paint the paler clouds with a few quick strokes. Add some more pigment to your brush to make the darker clouds.  Neither of these layers require more water. You already applied the water when you laid down the warm wash.

At this point, everything is soft-edged, right? If not, leave the top half alone and move on to the sagebrush.

Again, make a puddle of pale color for the initial wash. Lay it down over the entire field. Then, mix up the green for the 3 patches of sage. Add a tiny bit of red-orange to turn the green to brown and paint the middle of the field brown. Quickly add more pigment to the brown to make a darker brown for the branches of all the bushes, If the paper is dry, go on to the blue mountains. If you forgot and dipped your brush into the water bucket, remember to dry it.

OK, that's the approach called "working with the drying time of the paper." Now we'll practice re-wetting. This is the "no panic" approach. You'll need to stay aware of how dry the paper is, but you can take all the time you need.

Proceed just as you did in the first study, always watching for hard edges. When you see them, stop painting! All you have to do now is dry the paper thoroughly. Then it's ready for re-wetting. Apply a layer of clean water over the area where you want soft edges. Be efficient in your brushwork, not going back and forth and back and forth. That would cause the under layer to dissolve and move around. creating streaks and overlapping. Now apply the strokes of color while the paper is wet again
You should end up with two copy/studies, one from each approach. You've probably seen that you can combine the two techniques. You'll soon have a good sense of how fast the paint is drying in the current atmospheric conditions. If you're working outside and can't find the cordless hair dryer (because no one has invented it yet!), what you can do is work on two paintings at once, letting one dry naturally while you work on the other,


Intermediate Homework May 28th 2020 Lost Edges

For a variety of reasons, artists often choose to deliberately obscure portions of a painting, creating a so called "lost edge". It's an interesting term, since the artist usually knows exactly where that edge has gone. 

                                                                   Mary Whyte

In this dynamic portrait the artist has allowed the outline of the figure to dissolve along the shoulder blade. Compare the edge of the hood with the figure's right shoulder. Similarly, the right hand is perfectly clear and solid, while the left melts into soft edges that suggest another hand in action without specifying its activity. The feeling of movement is emphasized by losing portions of the hard edge profile. The overall feeling in the painting would be quite different if the entire figure were outlined with an unbroken hard edge.

Here's another beauty by Mary Whyte. Look where the shadow of the subject's hat comes across the bridge of his nose.

The brim of his hat, the shadow it casts and the subject's right eye all merge into a patch of similar value. Would it be a stretch to say that Whyte wants to display the man's connection to his work and his home, so she lets them share a shadow and an identity? 

Charles Reid

Charles Reid is another painter who makes use of lost edges to connect his subject to its background. For some reason I can''t discern, here he has selected purple spots as candidates for deliberate diffusion. 

Charles Reid

Reid also liked to allow parts of a figure's profile to dissolve. The right shoulder and the left elbow in this sketch have nothing but the initial pencil lines to separate the figure from the ground. It may be that Reid felt the left arm needed a little bit of shadow to keep it from disappearing altogether.

How does one decide where and when to lose edges? Some like to give the hypothetical viewer a job to do, so they look for places where they can "afford" some ambiguity. A sensitive viewer enjoys filling in the blanks, or at least a few of them. It can be overdone, of course.

Here are a couple of photos that may provide opportunities for experimenting with lost edges. Your own photos  will be fine, too. Try softening a bit here and there.


Beginning Homework 5/21/2020, Let Value do the Work

Here are a few images that rely heavily on the darkest darks to carry the narrative content of the scene. They have been desaturated to make it easy to make a monochrome version. Take all the time you need. When the monochrome is finished, dry it thoroughly. Now, paint with colors right over the monochrome as loosely and as sloppily as you please. Here's a chance to paint outside the lines! It's best not to stroke your brushes back and forth too much. That could cause the darks to run and get streaky. The idea is to see if you can depend on the darks to tell the story, and to get some wet and juicy edges that remain visible when the painting is done.


Intermediate Watercolor May 21, 2020 Mixed Edges and Good Intentions

Here's a scenario that may sound familiar;

Wet the paper.

Block in the pale major shapes (plenty of soft edges).

 Prepare and apply middle value shapes. The paper is now almost dry. Most of the soft edges from the first layer get covered by mid-values and darks.

Voila! Another painting with all hard edges.

What can you do? You meant to have a mix of hard and soft, but the paper got dry.

Here are a couple of strategies;

Many images provide strong darks that give definition to very fluid first and second layers.

Rex Brandt

As is often the case, the soft edges in the sky remain visible in the finished painting, but the artist has anticipated opportunities to use strong darks to allow other areas to remain soft. Look at the white building. When he painted the sky, Brandt left part of the building shape white. The edges of the building diffused slightly into the sky, but the hard edged dark details that came after the paper dried give it enough definition to make the whole shape feel solid. The shadow side of the building is also soft edged. When do you think Brand painted that?

 Trevor Chamberlain

If we could peel back the darks in Trevor Chamberlain's cityscape we would see that they were floating in a fluid matrix of grey and gold. Chamberlain left a series of light rectangles dry to represent rooftops while he painted the overall wash warm and cool and soft edged. He had faith in the dark trees and shadows to make that complex wash meaningful.

River Arno, detail

Here are some photos that have darks strong enough to tell the story all by themselves. You can be very loose with the lights and still pull the painting together. Have faith, and take chances. Feel free to copy one of the paintings if you want to take a break from photos.
I'd like to stay on this subject a while. Next week, rewetting.


Intermediate Watercolor, 5/14/20, Five Minutes (A golden oldie)

It takes practice to learn to identify which information in a scene is essential and which is optional. Then it takes even more practice to let go of the optional bits. The job is made easier by warming up with a very quick sketch. I like to start work on a new subject with a "five minute painting". 
Putting a radical limit on how long you spend on your first sketch means you haven't got time for details. When you have no choice but to see the scene in very general terms the big shapes emerge as the fundamental structure.
You can often find the "bones" of a scene by looking at the relative values of the shapes.
In the image below there are just a few major shapes. Start with the lights; sky and road. Then the mid-values; the buildings visible under the elevated highway and in the distance, and the darks; the highway and the shadow it casts. If you have time you might add a car or two, and a few windows, but even without any details  the essence of the scene is there.

A large part of letting go of detail or texture involves giving yourself permission to treat subjects approximately. In the image below the white crane presents the familiar problem of reserving specific lights while applying a clear wash. Trying to paint around those skinny white lines without compromising the fluidity of the sky wash is enough to get you reaching for the masking fluid! But with only five minutes, you haven't got time to wait for that stuff to dry. Instead, you can let go of getting the crane to be correct, and simply do the best you can. Relax your standards. It's not a painting, it's an approximation.

If you were painting from the photo below, it would be understandable for you to work to keep the buildings separate from each other by letting the paint dry on one before painting an adjacent shape.
This would be impossible in a very quick sketch. You would have to accept that the buildings would flow into each other. The good news is that you would get to see how the buildings look when you give the paint lots of room to run. If the sketch starts to get dry you could give the buildings more definition with the darkest darks, like the outline of the gable on top of the yellow building and the windows of the white one.

A few more...


Beginning Watercolor 5/14/20 The 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 one of these 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. You may want to read it more than once. 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.
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 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 Value should 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.


Beginning Watercolor Homework 5/7/20 Light, Middle, Dark

Seeing your painting subject as a series of layers is a very helpful approach. The transparency of the medium suggests that you proceed from light to dark, and most watercolor painters tend to follow this logical path. It is easier to add paint, after all, than to remove it. Some very good painters begin with the darks, but for our purposes now, let's see what happens as we begin with the lights,  continue with the middle values and finally apply the darks.

Here are a couple of images that resolve neatly into light, middle and dark layers. There are often multiple layers of the middle values, as is the case here. Notice the clouds have a horizontal band of shadow that is darker than the overall cloud shape. The water fits into this category, too. It is darker than the cloud, but definitely not as dark as the trees.

If you are feeling brave, try to match the edges you see in the photo. Otherwise, let the paint dry between layers.

Which is lighter, the boat or the clouds? Squint hard to see which shape emerges. When you get to the darkest darks, let the shapes have some color identity. Just because it's dark doesn't mean it has to be black.

You can desaturate an image to better read the values.


Intermediate Watercolor Homework 5/7/20 Simplify by staying abstract

When faced with a daunting scene or image it is understandable to fall back on accuracy. Instead of looking for a common feature in the rock pile, we begin by making each rock separate from its neighbors. It's like painting the forest tree by tree. Before you know it, you are committed to a degree of specificity that is not much fun.

Finding a way of simplifying the scene is how we keep the process enjoyable and the product expressive. Think about the subject as a singular noun, in this case a pile. Rather than starting with rock number one, make a general statement about the whole pile. It's too early in the painting process to get specific. Is there a common denominator you could start with? How about color? Generally speaking, the pile is a pale, warm neutral, with a few rectangles left white.
Then look for the next most general statement. How about the shadow pattern? What percentage of the pile is in shadow? How are the shadow shapes distributed? What kind of shapes are they? Organic? Geometric? What kind of edges do they call for? How many marks are enough?  (O'Hara says, "Fewer than half as many as you think you need").

The answers to questions like these are abstract in nature. They refer to form, not content. Following abstract guidelines requires faith that the identity of the marks and shapes you make will be recognizable to the viewer. Keep in mind that the audience for your work is actually you. What kind of paintings do you like to look at? Paint those. That's what I mean when I say it's not your job to make sure the viewer knows what they're looking at.

Accuracy is best spent on getting the values right. Then the rest is carefree.


4/30/2020 essential or Optional?

Look around for a simple object that has some strong darks and some very light lights. An onion or an apple would do, as would a tea pot. Make a painting of the object. Keep it simple. Shape is more important than texture. It is not necessary to make sure the rest of us can tell what you were painting, but take all the time you want. Now paint it again. And again. Paint it at least 4 times. As you become more familiar with the subject you will naturally find some features that have to be right and others that can be approximate. When you start to feel that the brushes and the paint are behaving dependably, put the object away and paint one from memory.

Please send me your studies, especially the one done from memory. Label your work with your name, and keep the image files down to no more than 300 dpi per side



Intermediate Watercolor Homework Color Temperature, It's Relative

When you ask "How dark is the shape I'm about to paint?" the answer is always, "Compared to what?" The same kind of relativity applies to color temperature. A color is only warm or cool compared to other colors in the vicinity.

In the photo, below, there are several areas that we would usually call, "white". Let's look beyond the
family resemblance by comparing the whites to each other.

The barn in the background has white siding and a white roof. Do you agree that the siding is cooler than the roof? To me the siding looks practically blue in comparison.  So, It's fair to say that the roof of the background barn is warmer than the  siding.

Now compare that roof to the siding on the closer barn. Which is warmer? 

Hopefully, you can see that context invites comparison. How warm is the roof on the background barn. Compared to what? It's warmer than the background siding but cooler than the siding in the foreground.

It's sometimes difficult to keep track of whether we're comparing color temperature or value. Look at the truck in the foreground, for example. The potatoes are definitely warmer than the sky, but are they lighter or darker? Let's take the color out of the equation:

When we're just looking at value the potatoes are very similar to the sky, closer than you may have thought.

For homework, pick two colors, one warm in comparison and one cool. Use the white barns picture or one of the following ;

I would change the color of the yellow car. It's too similar to the yellow building and they get tangled up together

Identify the warmest thing in the picture and paint that with your warm color in its pure form. Find the coolest thing in the image and paint that with the pure form of your cool color. The second warmest thing will be your warm color with a little bit of the cool mixed in. The third warmest thing will have a little more of the cool mixed in. Do you see where this is headed? It helps to read it a couple of times. Although the exercise is about color temperature you still have to get the values in the ballpark. There will be lots of comparing.
Have fun


Intermediate Watercolor, 4/23/20 How are the Shapes the Same?

Eugen Chisnesian

Look beyond the hard-edged darks in this floral display to see what was there before the final layer was applied. I think the paper was mostly wet, which allowed the green and purple and brown to flow together. The purple patches in the center area were all one shape. As the paper dried the large shadow (bottom left) was painted, giving hard edges to some of the individual flowers and the sunlit portion of the vase. 

Looking at the center portion of the bouquet you can see that it didn't take much to show what all that color was about. Just a few dark strokes on the now dry paper were enough to establish the separate components of the subject.

During the early stages of a painting it is often appropriate to put the emphasis on what the various shapes have in common rather than how they are different.

Here's another Chisnesian painting to consider


If we zoom in, you can see that much of the group of buildings has been initially treated as all one shape. Some whites were reserved, but most of the shapes have in common that they are in shadow. The artist is focussing on how the shapes are the same first, then shifting emphasis to how they are different. The progression is from general to specific.


The following images are good candidates for painting in this manner. Make a couple of sketches first, exaggerating the sameness of adjacent shapes. Then see what you can do with the hard edged darks. The idea is to gain confidence that the layers that  come later will provide sufficient opportunity to clarify the content. Take care not to over do the hard edges. Better to err on the side of too general than too specific.


Beginning Watercolor Homework, 4/22/20 Neutrals are Everywhere

Look around your living room. Most of the colors you see in the sofa, the rugs, the ceiling, just about everything is neutral, or at least somewhat neutralized. The exceptions are usually manufactured objects, like throw pillows, or art on the walls.
In nature, it's the same thing; the color of the majority of what we see involves all three primaries.

 For homework, find two neutral-colored objects, one warm and one relatively cool. Using one red, one yellow, and one blue, combine the colors to match your objects as nearly as you can. Make a patch of your colors on paper. Take note of the colors you used.
Now choose a different red, yellow and blue and match the objects again.

We'll spend some time next week laying out your palettes, so bring all your colors.



4/16 Adjusting and inventing

Last week we experimented with the concept of adjusting variables to create an illusion of space in a painting. Here's another common use for turning the dials  that is all about what to do with large areas of deep dark value.

This image has no white at all. Even the lightest light is a middle value. In order to display those subtle clouds the camera phone sacrifices the large ares of dark. They look pretty much like solid black. That's a lot of nothing happening. 
What can you do to enliven those patches of flat black?
The profiles of the landscape elements suggest what you might hint at. It isn't necessary to make careful rendering of trees or rocks. They are already present. Just a little bit of variation in the black should be enough to encourage the viewer to meet you halfway. Try lifting some of the dark, or let the smaller darks within the large shapes have soft edges. The idea is to do as little as possible

Below are a few images that devote too much space to nondescript dark.Try adding or removing a few strokes that will give the viewer something to grasp.

Considering how close to the front of the space it is, that dark shape in the right foreground needs a little something to suggest some texture, but just a little. It doesn't really look bad in the photo, but in a painting it would be a black hole.
There's plenty of recognizable context to identify what comprises the shape. Any marks you make there would be understood to be foliage. See how few touches of the brush the shapes in the middle distance needed. Don't go crazy and start painting every leaf.


All Levels Homework, 4/9/20 Adjust the Illusion

When you are working toward an effective illusion of space you may want to turn up the differences between the foreground and the background. In this photo, for example, the sense of distance is tenuous. C.olor, value and edge quality are very similar:

Increasing the difference between the foreground and background would make them different enough to describe greater depth. How about changing a combination of variables, like color and edge quality. I see a hint of purple in the background. Increasing the presence of the purple might push the headland further back across the water. How could you use hard and soft edges to create a more potent sense of distance?

Please experiment with these adjustments. The variables can be thought of as a set of dials that you can adjust, labeled Color, Value, Edge Quality, Composition and Complexity.
Send me your versions, which I will put into a slide show.
Have fun


Intermediate Homework 3/15/20 Reading the Layers

The standard approach to making a watercolor goes by many names, such as, "wash and stroke", or , "wet to dry", but the common denominator is that most paintings progress from general statements to specifics. Here are a couple of finished paintings that were created mainly as a succession of layers beginning with pale, soft edges and becoming harder and darker;

Trevor Chamberlain

Can you imagine what the first layer looked like by itself? When did the soft-edged grey shapes become trees?

Trevor Chamberlain

The tree in the middle distance, although it is treated as a single shape, is more complex than those in the background. It displays a few specific marks (branches and openings).

In the following paintings the layers remain visible as successively darker and hard edged;

Torgier Schjolberg

Torgier Schjolberg

Light, middle, dark. Some images may require more than three layers.
Please make a simple, three or four layer painting from one of the photos, below, or try copying one of those, above. You may want to desaturate the image to more plainly see the layers.


Thinking Abstractly to Keep Your Realism Fresh

This dramatic sky wanted to be painted! It's a little intimidating, though, with all that activity in the sky. Rather than try to duplicate that complex array of marks, I'll look for guidelines that will lead toward an interpretation that feels similar. 
The warm wash across the upper sky portion seems simple enough, but the array of grey brushstrokes requires some analysis. It helps me to ask a few questions the answers to which provide guidelines for approaching the subject in a general way.

What proportion of the sky will become grey?
60%, roughly.

How are the grey strokes distributed?
The majority of the marks are spread across the center of the top half of the page, extending from one side to the other, running right off the page. Mostly clumped together, with a couple apart from the group. Only one or two strokes touch the top of the big shape.

What kind of marks are they? (organic? geometrical? Horizontal? Vertical? Hard? Soft?) 
Soft-edged but still distinct, roughly horizontal, irregular and varied.

The answers to these questions are abstract, in that they don't refer to content at all. Theoretically, following them will lead to a passage that reads as a tumultuous sky. It should be possible to turn your back on the scene (or turn the photo over) and still make a convincing version without mentioning the words "sky" or" cloud". Thinking abstractly eliminates the profusion of associations that come along with naming content. 

This approach is basically an act of faith. It requires letting go of the usual process where we keep checking to see if we've made sure the viewer will know what they're looking at. The viewers may be hypothetical, but they still deserve respect! Trust that they'll be willing and able to make sense of what you offer, and that they'll appreciate the opportunity to participate in the interpretation. 

The following images might seem more approachable if you observe them as pure form and leave content at the door:


Beginning Watercolor 3/5: Essential and Optional

How do you know what has to be in the picture and what can be excluded? Take a look at the pictures, below. As painting subjects, do you feel more attracted to one than the others? Can you tell what it is that appeals to you? What gives the picture its uniqueness? What would you not want to change?
Go down the list to see what jumps out as the important thing;
Value, color, edge quality, composition.
It's perfectly OK to be drawn to an image because it looks relatively easy, by the way.

Value and color


Shape first, then texture, if necessary


Let's use this industrial cityscape as an example.

 I like that the sky and the water are soft-edged, while all the man-made stuff is hard edged (EDGE QUALITY). I also think it would be fun to mix several neutrals, some warm and some cool, and use them in all three areas of the scene (COLOR). I see the strips of docks, containers and skyline as opportunities to combine adjacent shapes (COMPOSITION). As is so often the case, I'll want to get the (VALUES) in the ballpark.

Identify the major shapes and make a  simple pencil outline. 
Decide whether and where to wet the paper. 
Block in the lights.
Take a little more care with the middle values.
Place the dark strokes. Remember, the best way to find out if something belongs in the painting is to leave it out.
Stand back. You're done.


Shape First, then Texture, if necessary

I'm sure I don't need to post an image here to show you what an overpainted picture looks like. The main feature is too many brushstrokes. If you are about to paint a tree and the fist thought you have is, "Trees are made of leaves", odds are you'll make many more strokes than we neto recognize it as it a tree. 
I think we actually see the shape of an object before we see the components. First the forest, then the trees. The wall before the individual bricks.

For watercolor painters deciding what comes first is as simple as you want it to be. It's easy to add more leaves if you have too few, but it's difficult to take them away if you have too many.

                                          George Post

Here's a Georege Post painting that demonstrates the approach of, "Shape first, then texture, if necessary". The pattern of symbolic leaves is sufficient to suggest that the trees are made of many   though very few are depicted.

Below are a couple of photos that are loaded with texture. Try making a quick painting with all the detail removed so you can then add a little at a time and stop while you still feel like more is needed.


Intermediate Watercolor 2/26/20 The Rabbit Hole

Are you ready?

For this exploration let's follow the same progressions we use for realist work, that is, light to dark and general to specific. I'll suggest a step by step trajectory which you can follow or not, as you please. Read it through one time before we begin.

As a first step, let's generate some shapes.

Paint a piece of cheap paper with an overall middle value neutral wash, and another one with a dark wash of the same color. When the papers are dry, rip them into strips and patches.

Arrange the shapes on a piece of unpainted paper, leaving some white showing. Photograph the arrangements you like best.

Now select a palette comprising no more than three colors.
Wet a sheet of good watercolor paper. Using one of your torn paper designs as a rough guide, paint big, pale, soft-edged shapes. Leave some white.

Some variables to consider at this stage:
Do your first layer shapes touch each other? Do they touch the edges of the page? Are the sizes varied? Does one color dominate the design? There's a lot to think about

There is no "right way"to do this. With no external source  to compare to your painting, it can be challenging. Have faith, and don't give up. There are always more opportunities to resuscitate a lifeless painting.

The paper may still be wet, or partially wet at this point. Before you begin applying middle values, decide what kind of edges you want. Rewet any areas where you want soft edges. A spray bottle can be very useful here.
The colors you get by combining the components of your limited palette can play a significant role as background for the more intense original colors.
Keep an eye on the first layer shapes as you apply the second layer. Let some of the earlier marks and shapes remain visible. Saving some of the white areas can be important at this stage. You can always cover them later if you choose.

The final layer often involves efforts to pull the painting together. Glazing adjacent shapes to give them something in common, for example, or adding a stroke that originates in one shape and ends in another. This is when the darks and the purest form of your initial palette are called upon to punctuate  the ramblings of the earlier layers. Stop while you think you're still not finished.`

Tom Hoffmann

                                          Gerhardt Richter


Intermediate Homework, 2/20/20 Hold on here, Let go there

When you feel the urge to depart from accuracy in your paintings, but the prospect of having no guidelines gives you pause, do as the Fauves did. Hold on to value so you can let go of color!

Derain painted his buddy, Matisse in exaggerated colors, but a B/W of the portrait reveals how closely he held to the actual values.

This version of Mt. Hood is familiar and outrageous at the same time. The colors and the values are in the ballpark, which allows the brushstrokes to be more about form than content.

The placement of the shapes in this interpretation of the laguna in Melaque, Mexico are approximate at best, but the colors are true. Holding on to one major aspect of the scene lets us take liberties with another.

Play around with the images that follow. Value is the real heavy hitter. Try holding on to a reasonable interpretation of the relative darkness of the shapes in your first attempts.


Beginning Homework 2/20/20 Simplify

Sometimes reducing the complexity of a scene is a worthy goal in itself just for the pleasure of seeing how simply the content can be stated.

The trees in the painting are more symbolic than realistic. They are brushstrokes more than they are trees, which serves to enlist the viewer as a participant in the interpretation.

See what the following images suggest to you. Are there aspects you might exaggerate to enhance a feeling? Are there features you could simplify, or some that you could let go of to make the ones you keep more important?

Have fun!


Page created: Mon, Sep 28, 2020 - 09:05 AM GMT