My granddaughter Sadie loves to swim (and play soccer, basketball and read books, too). At the end of the season, after winning many races and awards, to fundraise for her team she swims lap after lap and people pledge $ per lap.
Trying to paint Sadie from this photo led to me giving up on oils and going back to watercolor. As was my way with oils, I tried repeatedly, persistently (obsessively?) but couldn’t make it work. This watercolor isn’t perfect, but it captures the joy of the moment and that makes me happy.
With watercolor I’m able to paint to a certain point and then happily call it done. Watercolor doesn’t allow you to keep fiddling forever like oil does.
I again used a limited palette because it’s fun to see what I can do with only 3 colors. This time it was DS Hansa Yellow Medium, WN Permanent Alizarin and WN Cobalt Blue.
I used to think it was really weird that artists limited their palettes. I thought one needed every possible color in order to capture color exactly. But now I prefer the harmony a limited palette provides and don’t really care about capturing exactly the colors in real life. I’m not trying to be a photocopier.
I had so much fun with the painting above and was really happy how it turned out. I’m (slowly) working my way through the Sktchy “30 Faces in 30 Days” gouache and watercolor class, though at the rate I’m going it’s probably going to take me 300 days, not 30 to finish it.
For the painting above, I followed along with Cecile Yadro’s demo. Her style felt very congruent to the way I like to work. You can see the reference photo for this painting on Sktchy here and download Cecile’s free gouache ebook here.
Although it wasn’t mentioned in her lesson, I was especially happy about how I was able to maintain the (high key) value structure while varying the colors and color temperatures within her face, something that clicked for me for the first time.
On the other hand, the next lesson was by Russian artist Nicolai Gánichev and his approach, techniques and final painting didn’t appeal to me at all (see his painting below).
There seems to be a trend in contemporary art of destructing portraits, smearing paint across the subjects face or wiping off their eyes or mouth. Are the artists just bored with their facility in making portraits and have to show their contempt for skill or for the subject? I don’t get it. Also, the reference photo seemed dark and gloomy to me. I tried it anyway.
I sketched her on Xerox paper and then transferred the drawing to watercolor paper. I tried following along with Nicolai but disliked his process so went off on my own. I ended up hating my first painting (above) so I transferred the drawing again, lightened the photo and discovered she actually might have red hair. I wasn’t having fun so I gave up after the second attempt below and moved on.
This month’s Virtual Paint-Out location is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since I seldom travel I find it so much fun to do so virtually via Google Street View. I love being able to wander, exploring roads to see where they go without fear of getting lost (let alone dealing with airports or spending the money).
Here’s the way the scene looked on Google and then the way I cropped and the way I adjusted it in Photoshop.
As I do these each month I’ve noticed patterns in the way nicer houses and neighborhoods are near beaches or on top of hills and the poorer neighborhoods are indeed on the wrong side of the tracks.
I’ve also noticed a sense of freedom when painting these since I don’t have so much investment in the outcome. And maybe that’s what led to my liking most of my Virtual Paintout paintings more than the ones I’ve labored over.
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.
The tulip trees (Saucer Magnolias) and tulips were blooming when we painted at Blake Gardens on a sunny Friday a week ago. Of the multiple sketches and paintings I did of the scene, I think I’m happiest with the one above, done in my journal when I got home, from a combination of memory and photo. I clipped the text from their brochure and pasted it on the journal page.
Here is the final painting and below that are the steps in between:
After I picked my spot to paint and set up my easel, I did several thumbnail sketches (left below) to plan my composition. While each thumbnail improved on the one before it, none were great compositions and as a result neither was the plein air painting I did on site.
I was working with Golden Open Acrylics, my first time trying them outdoors. A Golden expert suggested I put a drop of Golden Open Acrylic Thinner atop each blob of paint to keep them moist when painting outdoors. Instead, thinking I was so clever, I mixed about 25% thinner with 75% water in a spray bottle and misted the paints occasionally.
But I should have taken her advice as my method didn’t work. She’d warned me that adding water to the Open paints will make them dry faster, which it did, and they started getting icky-sticky about the time I needed to quit and head for the critique anyway. Indoors they stay wet all day and in a closed palette, for a week or two.
The plein air painting was so UGLY that I’m glad I only expect my plein air paintings to be learning studies. My plein air painting goal is to fully experience and participate in a scene and embed my memories of color, light, texture, sounds and scents.
And there were sounds and scents: not only were the many magnolias overly fragrant, but shortly after I set up, two gardeners fired up a gas-powered industrial-strength chain saw, cut down a huge tree and sawed it to pieces about 20 feet away from me. The sound was horrible and the smell was worse.
Below is a photo taken when I first arrived, cropped into a more pleasing composition. I like the diagonals and the way shapes of shadows and colors lead the eye into and around the painting.
From my watercolor sketch and the photo above, I started working on a studio version of the painting. Below is the underpainting with the main shapes and colors blocked in.
Acrylic under painting
I liked just as it was and was hesitant to paint over it so I left it for a few days before working on it again until it decided it was finished.
In the week and half since I gave up sugar and Splenda, pears have become my new treat. Not only are they crispy, sweet and delicious but they come in such pretty colors too. This sketch is a celebration of their gifts.
But meanwhile, giving up coffee didn’t go as well….
After five days of feeling wiped out, depressed, listless and witless I couldn’t take it anymore and finally had half a cup of coffee. That’s all it took: within a few minutes I was back to my old inspired self again and the blues were gone. Yay!
Maybe I’ll try to quit caffeine when I’m retired in a few years, but for now, each day is too precious to spend feeling like a zombie.
The editor requested that I name the finished painting (above). Corny painting names are a pet peeve of mine and so I rarely name them. But as I was uploading the image the name “Sunny Serenade” came to me. I know that’s about as sappy a name as you could try to invent, but since it seemed to name itself, so it shall be.
To finish sharing the steps in the painting, here they are in order, continuing from the previous post.
The next step was to work on all of those leaves, stems, buds and little yellow green flowers. Using a variety of mixed greens, some neutralized with Burnt Sienna, I painted the first layers of the leaves. I also glazed details over the yellow green flowers I’d painted previously.
I mixed up several puddles of these dark mixtures: Winsor Green, Alizarin Crimson, and Burnt Sienna; Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna; Sap Green and Sepia with a dab of Winsor Red; Winsor Green and Winsor Violet. Then I loaded my brush with one and started painting a section, switching to another one of the puddles as the background colors changed. I was careful to stay within the dark shapes and to negatively paint around lighter shapes. Because watercolor dries lighter, I tried to mix colors that would be dark enough in one layer.
I thought I was finished and signed the painting. The next day I studied the painting with fresh eyes and realized I needed to make some adjustments. I glazed in some more darks on the right of the pitcher and on its handle on the left. I added a middle-dark green mixture to the long leaf that hangs down along the right side of the pitcher and on some other leaves as well. (Compare the pitcher in the top two pictures in this post to see the changes).
While some people have commented that this painting seemed very challenging, in fact an image broken into many small complicated shapes is much easier to paint and more forgiving of “mistakes” than one composed of large simple shapes.
My editor liked the painting and immediately requested the next one, due the end of November. It will be a completely different project: a close up view of some pink orchids with a light background. I will be working much more loosely, mostly wet into wet.