When working out scenes with dramatic light, it is important to remember where the lightest light is and not paint over it. Watercolor painting depends on the whiteness of the paper for the ultimate highlight! Once we mistakenly paint over it, we cannot bring it back.
You could argue: well, I can always lift! True, but it’s still not the same as the untouched paper.
Speaking of lifting: In my opinion, lifting always feels a bit like ‘fixing things’ – unless you lift while it’s wet – why not paint it right in the first place without having to come back later and lift paint here and there?? But I digress..
In the above painting, the huge foreground puddle as well as the background body of water is nothing but the untouched paper. It feels very light, because everything else is darker. The interaction of values does it. It is an illusion, that’s all. That’s our job as artists: create an illusion. In the reference picture the water was not bright at all, more like the color of the sky. A pretty dull scene. By exaggerating the values of the scene, we create more interest and the result is a luminous, lively watercolor. (15″h by 29″w)
The California light. It is special. It is strange and elusive. As a painter, I am obsessed with light situations and to capture them in my work. Recently, I find myself painting coastal scenes again, but incorporating the marine layer in it.
What is a marine layer? It is nothing but fog, created by two colliding air masses. One is the hot air coming from inland, the other the cool coastal air blowing onshore from the pacific ocean. When they meet, it creates a sort of microclimate with huge fog banks, so dense that you’d actually have to put on a jacket even in mid-summer! It is very possible to experience a twenty degree temperature difference (in Fahrenheit) between coastal communities and cities
further away from the ocean.
When the marine layer starts to lift and the sun is trying hard to break through, you get the most beautiful light. It is sort of sunny and foggy at the same time, a very unique condition that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. (at least not where I’ve traveled to) The same happens toward the end of the day, when the marine layer starts coming back. The air is very thick, filled with moisture and creates wonderful, atmospheric scenes.
When painting scenes like this, timing is of the utmost importance! I’ll have picked the scene hours earlier. I’ll have finished my preliminary drawing long ago. I am just hanging out, waiting for it to start…
Once it rolls in (or out) I’ll have maybe 45 minutes to do the painting. It is possible. Not easy, but possible…sometimes it’s not working out, but that only makes me try harder. Other times, the fog just doesn’t come or it never lifts (in the morning)at all and the scene will turn out completely different! The key is to keep an open mind and try painting outside, no matter what.
Ken Auster, a famous Laguna Beach oil painter, once said that painting outside is invaluable because it is observation driven, not technique driven! It is so true, there is no time to get caught up in technique! You’ll have other things to worry about, like finishing your painting!!
Two very different compositions that convey very different moods. Where to place objects and shapes in our work is certainly one of the questions that need to be worked out even before picking up a pencil to draw, let alone a paint brush!
Over the years, I have ruined many paintings by disregarding this simple but important fact. It can be very disheartening, especially so if the painting is finished! There’s nothing more frustrating than to put it up and think, ‘mmmh, I don’t like it – what happenend??’ Well, what happened was that I placed the focal point wrong and no matter how nicely it was painted, it’s just not working. Sometimes it’s even hard to figure out why exactly it isn’t working. You just know in your heart, something is wrong. That’s a good time to check your composition. It is usually the culprit. That or the values, either one of those…
When deciding on a composition, it is important to ask what you’d like to accomplish. Do you want the viewer’s eyes to go around the painting finding different points of interest? Is it all about one focal point? Is there a lead-in? What role does the background play, if any? Most artists get too caught up with light situations and forget all about design! Sure, the light is the most important thing, but if you just get that right and nothing else then the painting is not exactly a success! Just food for thought.
I am happy to say that my demo last Sunday went very well. People were appreciative and mellow, I painted well and on top of that, I sold paintings! Even the demo painting sold!
It is always a bit tricky to paint in front of so many people (my demo sold out) and you never know how your painting will turn out. I had a great support group though and I would like to give special thanks to Debbie Abshear and Jan Godachy for their selfless help. I could not have done it without them!
I decided to paint a half sheet (approx. 14″x21″) The subject matter is a scene from Moss Landing in northern California taken on my most recent trip.
There is a big slough with all kinds of boats moored and an electricity plant in the background which reflects into the water. Excellent view to paint! The composition is kind of a cheap shot, with the left boats all pointing toward the little rower and his friend! Needless to say, it wasn’t like this on the photographs I took. The foreground is a patch of land covered with ice plant that grows in abandon there.
Overall, I was very happy with the turn-out and we have a big list of painters interested in taking on of my workshops.
Also big thanks to Penny Hill, the director of this year’s Annual Exhibition of NWS who made this demo possible!
Last week I was out and about painting locally. Here are some of the best ones..
It’s always an adventure to paint outside. Things never go the way you expect them to. Case in point: I am driving down to San Pedro, unloading my paint stuff and looking around for a good view. The first thing I notice is that my water container spilled water all over my bag…mmmh, ok. No big deal, just put it in the sun while walking around looking for a painting spot.
I usually bring my point and shoot and take lots of pics to help me find a good composition. So I turn on my camera and it says ‘change battery pack’. Needless to say I forgot to bring extra batteries…Classic! I actually had to wait two minutes every time I wanted to take a picture, so the batteries would just last long enough to let me take one.
Walking around, confused, trying to decide what to paint and from where, I finally get settled and started painting just to notice there’s only about half an hours daylight left! OMG, better get going… You can see, none of this happens in your studio and you’re forced to really deal with all kinds of fun outside. But I highly recommend it. It made me a better painter! It is sooo important and a great confidence builder! Just do it! I know it’s intimidating, go with a buddy or take a plein air course first but I swear to you, it will improve your work significantly!