I think I’ve finished this painting (but then I thought that several times before). The last time I thought I was finished, I looked back at the notes I’d written opposite my journal sketch about what interested me in the scene and my goals for the painting. I saw I’d missed a point or two and worked on it some more.
Now I’d really appreciate some honest feedback:
Do you think it’s finished or does it still need something, and if so, what do you suggest to improve it?
This was painted with Holbein Aqua Duo water-soluble oil paints. It’s such a joy to oil paint without odor, to thin paint to a wash without solvents, and to mix water instead of turpentine with the Duo linseed oil to make painting medium. The pigment quality, drying time and consistency is identical to regular oils.
After work Tuesday night we met to sketch at Lake Merritt which is across the street from my office. I guess I drank too much coffee that day because I couldn’t settle down and focus. There was a fascinating parade of people walking by, all talking to each other or on cellphones, leaving bits of conversation in their wake.
I warmed up with some sketches of the local seabirds and passing people, noting a few conversation snippets. That’s an old Chinese lady with a pole over her shoulders carrying huge garbage bags on either side that were bigger than she was. I assume she was gathering cans to recycle for a few dollars.
When it got cold and windy we headed up to my office on the 25th floor and drew the view out the window. I liked my sketch of the building and tall trees at the bottom of the page but instead of stopping there, I kept drawing until the page was full. I didn’t like that so tried various ways to hide the rest and finally pasted ruled tracing paper over it.
Today is my son Robin’s birthday so I painted this cheery parrot to print on a birthday card for him. I brought the card to his party tonight at Pier 23 in San Francisco, a waterfront “roadhouse pub” where we celebrated on their back deck right on the bay. It got pretty cold out there after the sun went down but their steamed mussels and clams were warm and delicious.
Drawing the bird was fun and interesting. I’d never looked that closely at a parrot (or any bird) before and made so many discoveries, from his long, segmented “fingers” to his funny tongue and the varied shapes and colors of his feathers.
I have a friend with an Amazon parrot and I think it’s time for a visit and some sketching in person!
My Sunday morning watercolor class focused on glazing this week. Glazing is applying a transparent layer of paint over painted or unpainted areas. Like a piece of colored glass, a glaze won’t hide what’s below it but will change the way it appears.
I used the study above to demonstrate glazing with gradations. To make the design I printed the word “HAPPY” in big capital letters and then playfully added more pencil lines between and around letters to make more shapes.
Then I glazed each shape individually, adding more glazed layers in various areas until it felt done. I used only transparent primary colors, so that they combined to create secondary colors. You can also use glazing to make colors appear brighter, duller, darker, warmer, cooler or in shadow or to unify an entire painting or a section of it.
A student who takes individual classes asked for help with painting birds so I used the journal spread above to demonstrate doing a pre-painting strategy session. I tried out various techniques and pigments as I thought about how I might paint the parrot whose photo we downloaded from Morguefile.com (where you are allowed to “copy, distribute, transmit and adapt” the copyright-free photos). Doing this bit of preparation and note-taking really helps to avoid some (but certainly not all) mistakes and corrections during the painting process. LATER I used the spread to write a journal entry (which I’ve blurred here for privacy), right over the feather and color experiments.
I still have these “cheat sheets” for many of my paintings. Recently I came across the one for Cheerios with Strawberries and saw that I’d used a wash of cobalt violet light (a favorite color but very expensive) to make the milk look just like the non-fat that I’d had in that bowl of cereal.
I loved the colors so much on this demo for flat and gradated washes from the previous week that I hung it on my wall as if it was a finished painting (my own mini Rothko).
Watercolor Class Registration
My next 4-week class session begins Sunday August 8. You can register and get more information on my website here. It looks like this session will fill so be sure to sign up soon if you want to join in. I am also planning a new “independent studies” class for people wanting to paint with ongoing coaching. If you’re interested, send me a note to get on the list.
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:
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:
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.