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What makes a painting beautiful, Part IV

You ever look at a dark tree against a light sky? The sky wraps itself around the tree, or the tree reaches into the sky mass. Both is happening, naturally. As logic dictates there is no visible connection between the branches and the sky, right? Well, not exactly.

There is a modification of the light going on near the dark and vise versa. Very gently, but it is there. It is the phenomena of diffraction:

As dark masses approach a light mass they grow slightly lighter. As a light mass approaches a dark mass it grows slightly darker, next to the dark mass. The edge can still be hard, as a branch in a sky would be, but the sky goes a bit darker around them. At the same time, the branch gets a bit lighter in value before it meets the sky.

This is how Sargent did it:

The second thing is the color. There is almost an exchange of color happening as well. The hill color behind the barn can be in the barn also. Same goes for the hill: put some color of the barn into the hill and it will look more harmonious.
The most obvious way to see this is to look at a telegraph pole against a sunset. It’s pretty crazy that the pole would take on the red or yellow of the sun on the bottom and the blue of the sky on the top. Isn’t it just a brown pole? The effect of halation!

Nobody says you have to paint like that all the time. But remember the old adage: you have to know ‘the rules’ before you can brake them.

Eventually, I will write a book with all these weird painting tips. It is nice to help fellow artists improve their painting skills, but first and foremost I will have to work on my own progress in this strange art world. The teaching is but a small part of it and it must not take over. It is not my calling to be a watercolor instructor. My calling is to be an artist. Thanks for reading my blog.

Plein air in cold weather!

cropped nature takes over

I thought I speak about that a little bit, since it is that time of the year! Painting outside when it’s cold has it’s challenges, just like painting in real hot weather does. The biggest problem with watercolor painting is drying time. That means, if we do big washes (which I usually do) they won’t dry for a long time resulting in periods of unwanted waiting around, twittling my thumbs!

What’s the solution? There’s no real good one I am afraid. But there are things you can do that definitely help: If you’re near your car, you can use the car’s heater and fan. It works perfectly and only takes seconds if you crank it up on high!

If the sun’s out, it goes without saying to put it down and it dries very quickly.

If the sun is not out and you’re not near your car, try using less water and a bit of chinese white in your big background washes. It makes the paint flow slower and dry more quickly. A word of caution: it takes practice to gauge how much to use, if you use too much you’ll get opaque ugly soup, if you use too little it won’t do anything at all!

Lastly, you can break up your washes more. If you know your middle ground is darker than your sky (it almost always is), just don’t paint there at all in the first wash. Stop the sky halfway and leave the white of the paper. That way, you can immediately start painting without waiting since you never touched that part!

If it is colder than 0 degrees celsius, or 30 degrees F, I don’t recommend watercolor painting outside. I have had my washes freeze before and it’s just plain awful! Better wait for warmer weather!