Study for Kaiser Garden II, watercolor, 6.5" x 4.5"

Study for Kaiser Garden II, watercolor, 6.5" x 4.5"

There are still openings in my watercolor class starting Sunday, June 27; click here for all the information. Ok, business done, now on to the painting above, another study from photos I took at the Kaiser garden.

I learned the hard way to do a study first, after time and again putting hours, days or weeks into a painting that was doomed from the start.

No matter how skillful the painting technique is, if the composition is bad (the viewer’s eye goes to a bright corner and then right off the painting), or you’re trying to work from a photo that doesn’t have enough information, or your colors or values are uninteresting, the painting isn’t likely to succeed. Sketching exactly what you see is great fun, but sometimes nature requires editing to make it a painting.

What made me want to paint this scene was the water feature and the bird sculpture but when I looked at my photo I saw big problems with the composition:

Original photo, Kaiser garden

Original photo, Kaiser garden

There is way too much going on, the two big succulent plants on the bottom left dominate, a big stem above them leads the eye out of the frame, and the composition seems divided right down the middle, vertically. You barely notice the water.

So I spent some time in Photoshop cropping, rearranging and revising things:

Revised Photo Reference, Kaiser Garden II

Revised Photo Reference, Kaiser Garden II

Before cropping off the left side, I cut out the bird, moved it to the right, tilted it and gave it legs. Then I darkened the remaining succulents on the left and bottom to use them as a frame for the water feature instead of competing with it. When I started sketching the composition in my journal I decided to get rid of the messy tree branches poking in from the right too.

Although Photoshop is great for preparing a photo reference, so are the scissors, glue, sketches and notes that I used pre-Photoshop. Along with learning Photoshop, I’m also trying to become a better photographer and compose more carefully. I can do that with my digital SLR because it has a viewfinder but my carry-everywhere little Panasonic doesn’t. In the bright sun it was impossible to see anything on the LCD screen, so I guess I’m lucky that I got something I could work from at all.

My notes for the painting are in my journal opposite the study, with reminders about colors and things that worked (or didn’t). I’ve transferred the drawing to the canvas and it’s just waiting for its turn at the easel. I have a feeling it’s really meant to be a watercolor, not an acrylic painting, so may do it both ways.

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Category:
Animals, Art theory, Landscape, Outdoors/Landscape, Painting, Photos, Places, Sketchbook Pages, Watercolor
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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. So true. I have a rythym – I do 2-3 paintings carefully with preliminary studies, and they work pretty well, and then I invariably get overconfident, rush the studies (or skip them) and do an absolutely horrendous painting – sometimes a series of them. I’ll try to reread this post before I do that again!
    This is really gorgeous. If I were in SF I would love to take classes with you.

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    • I wish we could paint together! I actually thought of what you’d written on your blog about your struggles working from a Turkey trip photo that wasn’t giving you enough information for your painting (though I thought the painting turned out well anyway). Since you’re doing that series of 100, I wonder if those paintings *are *the studies? Jana

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  2. I love your banner, by the way.

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  3. What good advice you give because it is fun to just don’t think, have a go, but sometimes you can just be wasting good paint! To stop and re-design the composition is important so that you don’t invest your time and money into something that could be better with a little more care in getting the shapes right. These days I am so lazy that I don’t get past the very first stage of the photograph!
    Keep up the good work. You are so energetic, while we, in the southern countries hibernate in our cool winter!
    Wendy

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  4. What good information on planning a painting. I’ve got to learn Photoshop Elements, which is what I have (version 3). Any suggestions on how to learn it. Working by a book hasn’t been my best experience……

    Carol C.

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  5. You’re so right about pre-planning being the key – but how many of us do it? I’m very lazy about that, although I do like to see a photo in B&W to see the values more easily so perhaps I can score one point there!
    I shall look forward to seeing the final piece, Jana. x

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  6. You can buy a frame to go around the LCD screen to stop the sun going on it, you can get it at any camera shop and you just glue it on. It is around $10.00 I also a Panasonic Lumix and had the same problem.

    Hope this helps

    Annie v.

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  7. Thanks for the commentary. It is very helpful. I always get better paintings when I do the preliminary work but it is really hard at times…like when you are motivated and fired up and want to jump right in. That’s probably when I need it the most.

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  8. I hadn’t thought of photoshopping a composition for painting. Good idea.

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