Tag Archives: atmospheric watercolor painting

Watercolor vs. Oil

This is a scene I have painted many times. It is near where I live and to me, represents our area to the dot. Rolling hills, pastures and a barn setting. Since I started more oil painting again I thought I’d give it a shot in that medium. The watercolor was painted two years ago.

The oil is from a slightly different vantage point and it is also a different time of the year. The watercolor was painted in mid winter, when it is ‘greenest’ around here. That’s right, in California, it gets green in the winter because most of our rainfall happens then!

The oil was just recently painted in the spring. The green on the hills has already changed, turning a red-ish brown. That happens pretty much as soon as the rains stop. This is, however, my favorite time to paint them. In the winter, it is sort of a carpet of intense green (think New Zealand) and is quite difficult to do in a painting. The painting can become overloaded with sameness. To me the watercolor was harder to do for that reason.

Both mediums convey their own mood and feel. This will be one of those places that I’ll paint
over and over. Different times of the day and in different seasons.

Painting plein air, I believe the goal should be to capture something of the scene and not ‘make up’ something different. It is true that sometimes we have to change things around a bit, because mother nature just put too much information there. However, to me there is no point in painting plein air if I don’t really paint what’s there. In this case, it was the study of the hills and sky that make the painting. The interaction of it all. How it’s all one! If I change everything, why go out at all? I can take a picture and do all that in the studio.

To get the color and value right it is essential to observe right. The hills have colors of the sky in it and if the clouds are low enough, they will have some of the hill color in it! Notice how the greens change. The shadows, the sunlit parts, the foreground field. All different! I am so blown away by little things like that! It really excites me, such a miracle…well, not really but I find it endlessly fascinating! I can almost feel the scene…

To say it in the simplest most straight forward way: to paint well, all you have to do is observe right, mix the right color with the right value and put it in the right place. Done!

Advertisements

Breaking the rules!

We’ve all learned painting rules during our Academic training or in workshops when we started out.
I always remember Kevin McPherson’s famous line: ‘Black in sunlight is lighter than white in shadows’. The other famous one which I can’t remember right now who said it: ‘the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form.’

How come there are so many paintings out there where those rules are seemingly disregarded?

That’s what Andrew Wyeth called ‘going beyond the facts’. Looking at the images below it’s easy to see that the value range in these pictures must’ve been at least partly invented. The tall foreground grass is too dark even though it’s obviously in the sun and the back hill is way dark for a more dramatic effect.

wyeth

wyeth2

 

It’s even more obvious in the second image: why are the blanket and the flower patch on the lower right so dark even though they are obviously in the sunlight?

The best answer is simply that art should be about expression and that fact is often completely forgotten or missed by many painters. I think it has to do with the fact that the general public judges art by how realistic it is painted. You often hear the phrase: oh wow, that looks just like a photograph. Like that’s the best thing ever! To some that is more of an insult than a compliment (harshly spoken of course) because what is the ARTISTIC point of copying something verbatim, even if you achieve photo realism? What message is the painting carrying? Where’s your personality in it?

Having said that, most artists start out that way. We are obsessed with copying it the way it is and that’s ok. It is a process and we develop and grow as artists. Further along in our art endeavor we might ask ourselves ‘what am I trying to say’, ‘why do I paint this scene’ and ‘what would my message be’?

I continue to go through phases like that. Sometimes a painting I paint looks overly realistic to me and then I don’t really like it. Sometimes it has a painterly quality or feel to it and still looks real (but only if you step back) and I like that best!

Check out this image I found of Wyeth painting on top of his jeep. Super cool! I love how the watercolors drip down the hood and of course the puppy patiently waiting in the car! My dog would try to climb onto my lap making painting impossible!

andrew-wyeth-plein-air2

References/ subject matter

Sometimes students show me their photographs and ask which one would be best for a painting. I am always surprised when I look at them. Often it’s a picture that’s completely useless as painting material. Beautiful sunsets with people silhouetted on the beach or the picture of about a hundred boats sitting in a harbor in bright sunlight with no background.

I think the choice of subject can predetermine the outcome of a painting. Bad choices yield bad paintings, good choices and chances are your painting will be better. How do you pick subject matter? Arguably one of the hardest things, especially when painting outside. Even if you found your painting subject, you still have to find a spot with good or at least decent views. The world is full of information, too much information!! Sometimes, I walk around and can’t find anything that works.. it happens. Time of day is certainly an important factor. There’s a
reason artists talk about the ‘Golden hour’ and how it’s everyone’s favorite time to paint.

I always consider foreground middle ground and background. I look for patterns, how the light plays against the darks and vise versa. If there are buildings with bright roofs, I place myself in ways that the darker background is behind them. If the roofs are dark and silhouetted, I’ll have the lighter sky behind etc etc.
Patterns are spotted first, they make the painting. Light and patterns go hand in hand. Where there’s light there must be darks next to it. Where there’s darks, there must be light also. One can’t be without the other!

Watercolor – Watermedia

I am a painter’s painter. I don’t really care about watercolor. In fact, years ago I used to not like the medium.
When I did my painting apprenticeship in the early 90’s we painted in gouache and acrylics. Later, I would use gouache and egg tempera before trying to stay more transparent. More and more people who call themselves watercolor painters these days are actually using lots of white paint, mostly gouache, Chinese white or similar.
I find that comical because for me, it was the other way around but many of us seem to end up in the same place!

So the word should actually be watermedia painter, unless you’re painting in a transparent manner. If I see pencil lines, it’s transparent no matter how much white paint you’re using. That’s how I see it. Confusing? Yeah, I agree..

If you layer and layer your lighter values towards the lightest light (the white) with thick paint, well, that’s not watercolor. No matter what you call it. In traditional watercolor painting you work from light to dark. The idea being that the lightest light is the white of the paper.
If you’re from a foreign country, it might be lost in translation. Overall it’s not a deal breaker but worth a blogpost, I think. Especially in light of the fact that there are still a few watercolor societies left where they reject the use of white paint, even Chinese white, part of many watercolor sets you can buy. Do they have still have merit?
The thing is, their shows definitely have more true watercolors than most other shows, because aside from the fact that they don’t allow white paint, there’s also no collages and other works like that permitted.

To me painting is painting, the medium should be secondary. There is no ‘bad’ medium, just bad painters.
Should a watermedia painting be called ‘watercolor’? Some artists put ‘ watercolor and white’ as medium. I think that’s good. Another solution would be to call it ‘transparent watercolor’ if no white paint was used. But what if white paint was used and it’s still transparent? What is it?
You can see how there are no real firm borders. There’s no protected term ‘watercolor’, you could call an acrylic painting a watercolor if it was used with lots of water. It might be hard to spot if it’s not watercolor pigments!
I think overall, there shouldn’t be rules in art. There are already rules everywhere else in life. I think we can do without people with clipboards going around to determine what’s allowed and what isn’t. That’s just me..
Comment welcome!