Tag Archives: American Watercolor Society

Color Temperature

Warms and cools

Color mixing should only be categorized with the words ‘warm’ and ‘cool’. Never get hung up on a formula. As painters, we all have our go-to colors and hear about what other painters use, but let’s look at this more closely:

Every painter is using primary color mixes in some form, a few secondary colors or convenience color like orange, purple or turquoise and/ or earth tones. There’s always a red of some sort, a yellow and a blue involved, especially when it comes to grey mixes. In the end, all our palettes are remarkably similar, yet the outcome is very different from painter to painter!
What really matters is ‘how’ you use your pigments, of course. There is an enormous subtlety in color mixing that is hard to understand and put into action.

Color temperature, as seen in my painting above, achieves the illusion that the rock formations in the background are actually further away from us than the ones in the foreground left and right. So, not only value but, equally important, temperature. By just adding a bit more purple and blue, it starts receding more. We sometimes hear that we have to always soften the edges in the background. Notice how all edges on the far formations are actually hard, except where the low cloud hangs on the right!
Never be afraid to put a harder edge if that’s what the landscape dictates. If you get the right value and temperature, it will look perfect.

When setting up a painting palette, it makes sense to use the color wheel as a guide, that way the pigments are arranged in a chronological way. Start with the yellows into orange, red, purple, blues, turquoise and green. Earth colors separated and that’s it. You’re good to go.

Most backgrounds in watercolor paintings look pretty similar in all of us. What really sets us apart is the personal calligraphy and interpretation of subject matter. That is remarkably different from painter to painter!

It helps to paint as much as possible. Only through experimentation and endless trial and errors are we able to develop our own voice. Mimicking another artist’s painting style and color choice is only helpful if it helps us find our own and that takes time. It also helps to have a place where you can go and paint without having to start setting things up first, like on the kitchen table. It is a big advantage to step into a room to do just that one activity, no distractions. A peaceful place where creativity can happen. You still have to make it happen but creating the right circumstance is half the battle!

The ‘fearful’ brush stroke!

This may sound like esoteric babble, but I am convinced that it is absolutely essential to paint like we mean it! In my workshops, I have met many students who are potentially great painters but are held back by a crippling lack of confidence in their painting abilities.
They are controlled by fears and believe me, a fearfully applied brush stroke shows! Therefore, I will now put up a sign like the ones you might see in the Zoo:


When painting, act like you know what you’re doing. Paint like a master painter and ignore all the other clutter in your head. I know negative thoughts have a way to keep creeping back, but just do like they recommend while meditating: ignore the thoughts that pop up and focus on the task at hand which is applying pigment on paper. Nothing else.
We are not interested in what the painting looks like later on or when it’s done. Stay in the moment.

Maybe some of you have heard this great saying that might apply just perfectly for this kind of situation: Fake it until you make it!

I have just completed teaching my last workshop of the year and I am pretty exhausted. For the remainder of the year, I will be focusing on my own work. I will be part of an exhibition at Studios on the park in December and January and there’s still work to be done for that.
One of the students in my workshop was visiting from Norway and she bought two of my paintings! Thank you, Astrid!
Maybe I should also mention that she mainly came to visit her son who lives here in California? But that would take away from it, wouldn’t it! Anyway…

Copying a masterpiece – why do it?

Studying a master’s work by copying it can have beneficial effects on our own work. It can help us through a tough time, like when we’re not sure where our art is going. It can inspire us to get to that next level! It can help understand about the painting process he or she used, the palette and color mixes. Learning by copying was done throughout the history of art.

Students would go inside museums to paint. Painters would copy each others work.
Last century, just like today, many painters painted similar subject matter. Whatever was ‘en vogue’ to paint at the time. Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn and a few others all painted models with parasols, girls bathing or naked children playing on the beach. Sadly, some would most likely be called perverts in today’s world, but that’s an issue for another post.

Today, many artists paint street scenes, en plein air. It has become ‘cool’ again, to be out on the street or in nature and paint from life. We add all things of modern life, cars, figures glass buildings, back buildings and alleys. This is our time, our place, no reason to act like they are not there…
I wanted to copy these two paintings for a long time. I greatly admire Zorn’s work. I spent hours inside the National Academy in New York this spring, looking at the 30 or so watermedia paintings, trying to understand! I was blown away, still am..
You’d be hard pressed to find anything of his caliber work anywhere out there today. Yes. There. I said it! Of course, it’s my opinion and I am not going to elaborate.

From looking at Zorn’s work and copying the woman with the bedsheets (I forgot the title of the piece) I learned how to suggest facial features by use of multiple, transparent washes.
From Sorolla (his was actually an oil painting but I did it in watercolor), the woman bathing the child, I learned how he mixed his purplish blues and his use of warm and cool colors in such subtle and delicate ways. Very inspiring!

From onsite sketch to studio painting

P1050202 Brooklyn impressionsII, web

On my recent trip to New York I took the time to paint as much as possible, but focusing only on quick sketches that capture the mood.
Once I had the essence of the scene in front of me, I would stop and move on. If I am there for painting alone with nothing else planned, I will attempt a ‘real’ painting, not just sketches. If I am pressed for time and can’t spend an hour or more on location, sketches are the way to go.

This decision is best made before the trip. For instance, if traveling with non painters or for other reasons than painting alone, I would pack differently than for a painting trip. For the trip to NY I would squeeze paints and just bring the palette, no paints! That would yield approx 3 to 4 small paintings/ sketches, no more. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do more anyways, so no need to bring all this extra weight!

As I said before, weight is a huge issue when painting plein air. It sounds really good when a manufacturers tells you their easel weighs less than 4 pounds. Those four pounds feel like lead after walking around a city center for two kilometers.
Just like in watercolor painting itself, when it comes to weight, less is more!

Sketches on location

Prague, web

This is a sketch I did in 2012 in Prague. It took very little time (maybe 20 minutes) but I was able to capture the mood of the place at the time. Something that is always my goal when painting on location. This is a pretty small format (about 7 “by 10”, or 17by26cm)

Deciding on size and format should be done in the moment. As I painted this, there was pretty foul weather so I decided to go small, in case it started to rain. I also have all kinds of different paper sizes ready and mostly already taped to the painting surface, so I don’t waste lots of time getting things ready.

Drawing is first, but should not take longer than 10 minutes, at least with a pretty straight forward subject like this. I spray my palette before starting the drawing, that way my paints are wet and ready to go. Anything to save time!

Sketches like this can serve as a base for a bigger studio painting, but are also worthy on their own. Something of the place will usually go into a quick online sketch and cannot be replicated in the studio. Therefore, plein air painting is crucial!