‘GOOD DOG!’ YEAR

It’s been a very short and very busy 2017 for me, hence my lengthy absence – I could barely find time to paint here and there, writing about it too seemed so out of my reach that I didn’t even tried.

But now – Happy New 2018! They say is going to be the Year of the Dog and, as someone who loves dogs more than most people, this can only mean it will be a very good year indeed.

And when the start is with new art supplies to try out and write about – what can I say, any doubt I might have had about the goodness of this year is absolutely gone!

So now we will talk about a new discovery – the “Vibrant Jungle” 20 watercolour brush pens (plus a clear water brush for blending) set. As an avid sketcher, I was long seduced by the convenience of the watercolour pens, so I tried EVERYTHING – pencils, markers, brushes, the lot. I have my favourites of course, but show me an artist who’s not addicted to try all the art supplies on the market …!

They came in a very nice transparent pack together with a pad of lovely A5 pad of 20 pages 180 gsm smooth paper.

But, since all my trials in the “watercolour pen” division happened on a particular type of paper – i.e. my Seawhite 20x20cm sketchbook (120gsm paper) – I thought it would be only fair to do the same with these ones.

First, I did a set of colour swatches – on the provided smooth pad –  and I was particularly pleased of their interaction with water. Many of the pens I tried tend to stain the paper too much and even after applying water, the original marks are still visible on the paper – in this case, the staining is minimal and the blending with water is beautiful and very close to the watercolour paints.

The only negative point I found is the colour choices – two almost identical oranges (lucky me, because is my favourite colour!), two very similar reds, but just one brown. The pens are also not marked with the colour’s name – which might be a problem if they decide to sell them separately too.

P.S.: I only just noticed (on the swatch I did a day before) that it actually had two browns (AND a burnt sienna, my second favourite) – is just positioned on the other side of the spectrum (next to the pink) instead of next to the other brown. (!)

I was very curious how will they behave while interacting with one another – blending with water is one thing, blending with other colour might mean a completely new experience.

And of course it was. I was very pleased to notice that once you apply a new colour over an existing one (even if dried), they start blending immediately – a bit of water and brushwork will create a brand new colour, which was exactly what I wanted!

Below you’ll notice on this detail that I applied two colours on to the base of brown (smoothed out with water). Shadows (darker area) with cobalt blue (I never use black for shadows) and highlights with the second orange. Everything was then blended nicely with the waterbrush and it looks just like any other watercolour painting detail, you have to admit.

The other thing I noticed is that the colour can be partially lifted – the brown spots on the white area above are made just by using the waterbrush after I blended the three colours described above – so I was able to transfer a bit of colour. I also tried to remove the colour – this was only partially successful, but not surprising. The type of pigment watercolour brushpens use (non-toxic water based ink actually) is different from the watercolour paints and we all know there are many watercolour paints described as ‘staining’ (meaning they cannot be lifted completely after application).

Bottom line, my experience with “Vibrant Jungle” watercolour brushpens was really enjoyable and I will probably take them with me on my next ‘on location’ sketch.

You can purchase them here https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B075R9NNRV/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Vibrant Jungle just let me know that the first 30 sets will receive a 10% discount using the code MishuB10 at the checkout (from 2am tonight onwards). How amazing is this? I am a discount code!!  Use the link above for purchase and please let me know how you get on with them! I would love to hear about it.

In the meantime, here is the final sketch – made in ink pen and these lovely watercolour brushes.

HIGH HOPES

 

I think there is a law somewhere that says if you are an artist or even one that tries to be one, you have to buy and try all the art supplies available at any time.

I know, is a stupid law, but it works just like biology – things happen without any control.

At least, that’s how I argue buying yet another set of watercolour paints. In my defence, this set of Kuretake pan paints is one that made me drool for more than a year now – so, considering the amount of self-restraint alone, I should be forgiven.

I always heard the Chinese and Japanese watercolours are exquisite – and them, being such incredible watercolourists, had all the premises to succed in this area.

Without further digressing, in a sunny weekend morning I set myself for a day of (mostly) drooling in a big art supplies shop. For a measly £14 (and some change) I bought this wonderful box with 12 pans.

As you can see, the Japanese are nothing but careful when it comes to packaging –the box has a lovely finish in an otherwise simple cardboard box. The surprise comes when opening it – the pans are HUGE! (although quite shallow) which allows using a seriously large brush.

As I said, there are 12 colours – all very glossy and with a moist texture that reminds me happily of my beloved “White Nights” watercolours. Just to have an idea, the Winsor Newton pans although glossy, they look hard, like bonbons and one has to rub the brush on them quite a lot to take a significant amount of paint. The Kuretake – and the “White Nights” – look more like a glossy caramel.

Filled with anticipation, I set up to do a colour chart and this is the result.

The colours look a lot different from what I’ve expected and much, much less pigmented than I would’ve liked. But I promised myself not to be jumping to any conclusions until I do a trial painting.

I started painting a generic hill landscape, painting in the exact same manner I do with my paints – which involves a lot of water, and mixing the colours directly on the paper.

All I can say is that I was NOT a happy bunny.

In order to achieve the most saturated tones, I had to paint with a brush that was basically dry and add many consecutive layers – in a painting that is mostly a sketch. So I might take a chance and say these paints don’t love the water as much as I do.

The colours are also not very happy – the burnt sienna (my favourite) is very diluted (even when almost no water is used) and the so called indigo is basically a blue with a cooler side.

The good things I discovered? Is incredibly easy to lift it off the paper, no matter how dry it is, and none of the paints stain. They have indeed that lovely texture of moist, gooey paint and the size of the pans make you believe you can actually use them for a big size painting. I wouldn’t risk it though – being moist and with so little pigment, in a shallow pan, means they run out very quickly.

Bottom line – I would probably not invest in a bigger set (although a set of 36 colours is only £25 on Amazon), but they might suit an illustrator or someone that would work with inks too, where the depth of tone can be achieved with ink not paint.

Hope this helped some other drooling mate and help him or her to make a decision about buying (or not) the Kuretake watercolours.

Until your next set of watercolours, take care and happy painting! 🙂

Stayin’ Alive

Like many artists, regardless of their mastery of the brush, pencils or pens, I am too drawn towards portraits – and just like most of them I fail miserably almost every time. Almost, because today I had a good day, which means it was a day when I managed to paint a portrait that I am actually pleased with.

Some time ago I purchased “Drawing and Painting Portraits in Watercolour” by David Thomas – a master of his craft – and I must admit it’s one of the few books of its kind that I actually read (not only browsed it, like I usually do). The guy is superb – a linework to die for, simple and incredibly expressive washes and an overall stunning result. Couple of step-by-steps and many tips and exercises, really recommend it to a
nyone interested in portraits.david-thomas But what this book has is inspiration – so much so, that I woke this morning up determined to paint a portrait (despite that I still have to do another landscape to finish a series of 15 for a charity event) and let me tell you that I didn’t lose too much time to get started.

For this exercise, I used a reference photo on the Flickr’s Creative Commons, by Joel Bedford (for which I thank him very much) – but I refuse to start a debate about the pros and cons of using photos as reference when painting. If they are good enough for Master David Thomas, they are certainly good enough for me.

I usually have problems with the proportions – no matter of what – they always seem to be skewed somehow, distances too big or too small, even though I practice long and hard. So much so that I actually started to believe there must be something wrong with my eyes! This time though, the differences were minute so I declared the sketch good for painting.

From all my previous tries, I realised the problem with portraits in watercolour is not the skin tone colour as much, but the tone itself, the saturation with colour, the correct contrast. As you know, watercolour dries into a much lighter tone so one has to be mindful of this. Personally, sometimes go a bit overboard and get a bit too much saturation and contrast (as it is the case now) but that I can easily rectify.

To get to the amount of colour that you see here I put many, many washes (I can’t remember how many) although I usually refrain to max. of three, and the colours were basically the ones Thomas recommends for a white skinned person – raw sienna, burnt sienna and cobalt blue (he actually recommends ultramarine, but I find it too striking). To this, I played into some rose violet and indigo.

I usually start with a nicely loaded background which will give me the base of the tones required for the painting – this time, having none, it was quite difficult to know when to stop loading with colour as to not get overwhelmed by a too strong contrast.

The last touches were the eyes and the freckles, with a small, 0 size brush.

The result is much closer to the model than any of my previous portraits, although it does remind me painfully of a very young John Travolta. Not intended, I can assure you, but at least it is a lively representation of a young man.

I hope to hear from your experiences into the difficult art of portrait painting. In the meantime, keep practising!

mishu bogan study

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I started considering myself a ‘serious amateur artist’ when I was about half way through my self imposed challenge of painting/drawing one a day for an entire year.

Many asked how did I keep motivated, how did I find the time – considering that I also have a full time job. I was motivated by ‘publicly shaming’ myself – started posting on Facebook daily, no matter how horrible the sketch was – and also making a public promise that I would not allow to break. I was gobsmacked by the enormous support I received and the trail of followers increased amazingly. How did I find the time? Hope you don’t imagine I have some secret pockets filled with additional time because you would be disappointed. No, I just prioritized – very, very little came before my daily sketch. No matter what time I would get home, or how tired I was, I would do my sketch before anything else. In time, this meant a little over half an hour which, when you think about it, is nothing.

It was an amazing time for me and opened not only my eyes to new opportunities, but defined my style and my confidence was through the roof. So when the opportunity came to take another challenge, I didn’t think twice.

On the 1st of August I started a month of #doodlewash, with a list of ‘items’ to be painted for the entire month.

I actually thought a ‘script’ will do me good – no more time spend on what in the world I will do today, no more dilemmas – just do the sketch and brush your skills.

Wrong!

Half of the days were circling around food – now, I am certainly not the one to refuse food, especially favourite dishes, but I just realised that not only I have simple taste when eating, but I am not truly appreciative of any dish unless it reaches my mouth. Painting and drawing food had proved to be one of the most mind numbingly boring things I have ever did.

In my year spent sketching, I found out I can’t paint bats and reptiles because of the physical bad feel I would have during the time. I would literally get the creeps so badly I would feel sick (for the same reason, when I paint dogs I grin like an idiot). Food was a very unexpected ‘enemy’. Even hungry, painting food will excite me as much as a rusty nail. No, wrong again – a rusty nail has a lovely colour and a very interesting texture, made for watercolours. Well, you get the idea.

Bottom line is – why do we feel so strongly about some subjects? Why we are so indifferent about other? What makes a subject interesting? Is there a way to paint bats and reptiles with the same gusto as when I paint dogs?

As you probably guessed, I really don’t have the answers. Somebody smarter than me (Betty Edwards) , wrote a book about “Drawing with the right side of the brain” in which we are taught to not judge our subjects based on what we know, but based on only what we see. I guess I am just not there yet.

But if you know the answer even to a single question, please do share!

nando's

sketchbook challenge 2014-2015
sketchbook challenge 2014-2015

Creature Comfort

One of the scariest experiences for any budding artist is sketching and painting outside. This is it – usually closeted creatures, so shy that not even our families can see us working – we are now required to go outside. Not only that, but we have to paint in plain view of complete strangers, to be completely and utterly exposed, vulnerable to possible sneers of contempt and nasty comments of passers by.

From the very beginning, I want to tell you you’re wrong. People are kind and if they don’t think your drawing or painting is good, they will just pass you by. Also, don’t think that if you don’t receive a compliment from every single one, your artwork is rubbish. People are also very aware that you need your space, your concentration and more often than not, they will chose not to break it, even if they would like to tell you how much they love what you do.

I used to believe I will be utterly trashed by strangers while painting outside – that my drawings would be proved wrong, out of perspective, too sketchy or God knows what. After few very terrifying sessions, I got used to it and now I  really couldn’t care less of what one thinks about my artwork. When I am outside, I only focus on my subject.

But this is something most of you know (if would still have questions like ‘how did you actually crushed the self-consciousness?’ let me know). My problem with painting plein-air (or out with the elements) is the lack of basic comfort. I might be just lazy, but for me comfort is an almost guarantee that my painting will turn out good.

Is very frustrating because I dream about going out and about with a box of paints and just painting to my heart’s content – there’s nothing like it and this is one the first reasons why I started painting. When photography wasn’t enough anymore.

I had to devise a set-up that would ensure my plein-air painting success. I can’t paint standing (at least not for long), so I would need a chair. My easel -originally created on a photo tripod, now I have a Winsor&Newton one (still prefer the hobby-crafted one, the ‘professional’ one just doesn’t work for me). That’s two bags. Now for the paints – I work with three different sets of St Petersburg ‘White Nights’ watercolour pans (my own selection of colours) so I would need at least two of them (each of 24 colours). I also use some various tube paints – so I would need my paint box and a separate palette. Then I would need some space to have them all besides me – bought a plastic folding chair. It’s tiny but does the job, providing me with about 15% of my ideal space requirements. Water – have a plastic beaker with me from the beginning, and a bottle with about 1 litre of clean water. These together with the paints, brushes (about 4 of them), paper towels, masking tape, my coffee (as indispensable as the paints) go in my backpack. My board and paper, table and chair in a separate canvas shoulder bag and another bag for my carry-on easel. Easy enough you might say. Yes, I don’t bend over carrying it, but I look like a donkey with an oversized charge and after an hour or so, I found that my legs tend to bend at unusual angles.

And when I finally, finally find my spot? I spend at least another 15min to set everything up, to realise that either I forgot something essential or that I need to learn some serious joggling because I cannot possibly deal with three different palettes on a tiny table that barely supports one (risking the precious water in my beaker). Somehow I reach a stasis when I just paint. For about 10min because I have to stand. The small folding chairs are atrocious and give me a back pain. Then I paint some more – if I am lucky, I get almost to the end and I am thinking ‘Just a bit more patience, don’t hurry because you know how bad you’re messing up when you hurry needlessly’. Then I have to pee. And that’s the end of the show from me. Because, as many of you know, is gorgeous to paint out in the wild nature, but there are not many toilets around there. (I am honestly welcome ideas on this subject from experienced plein air painters)

Yesterday I painted in the gorgeous Hampstead Heath park (more like a nature reserve) in London. Had to rush my leaving for the above mentioned reason although thankfully, with a finished painting. Got everything on me and mentally checked for toilet spots and happily trotted towards one.

For those of you who don’t know, Hampstead Heath is an park of 790 acres of  ancient forest, ponds and rambling, hilly nature and the bottom line is that I got lost. I walked/climbed with my 10-15 kilos charge for about one and a half hour and almost shamed myself. When I reached the toilets I almost cried. I won’t bother you with details of how I negotiated my bags in the tiny cubbicle, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

When I finally exited the park I could hardly walk and today is no exaggeration to say that I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. And my painting? I could do so much better at home, in my favourite chair! See for yourself:

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So, where are we then? It’s clear I need a better setup, because I just love to paint outside. But is it worth it, if the end result is not satisfying? As artists, do we really need to do this even if we deliver poor quality artwork or is better to stay in our studios and do what we know best? It’s a difficult choice, but I would really want to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!

Overdosed

I am yet to meet an artist (or wanabees, they are the worst) that doesn’t revel in art supplies and whose idea of a heaven isn’t a large warehouse with 84,154 different colours of their preferred medium. I’ve been a sucker for all stationery and art supply for most of my life and I always had more pencils and pens than anything else in my house.

It’s then probably not a surprise for anyone that when I bought some new watercolour paints, I literally had to take a walk around the house in my mid-review because I was just too excited. Overdosed on paints.

Never done a proper review (whatever that means) for a watercolour brand, so if I missed some info or detail you might’ve been interested in, please let me know.

 

TURNER ARTIST’S WATERCOLOUR

When these where introduced by Jackson’s Art Supply I have been very sceptical – mostly because I am just so happy with my ‘White Nights’ and I am yet to find a better choice for my money – but couldn’t pass the opportunity to try the mini-box of 6 paint tubes for a measly £6.

When one says Turner, immediately we think at the glorious landscapes, amazing watercolours as only a master can do. So, I was a bit taken aback when I realised that these particular 5ml tubes of paint (with the catchy name ‘Turner’) were actually made in Japan. As I am in complete awe of all that is Asian in watercolour painting, I was twice as excited to try them.

So here is it

Turner

Really unusual choice of colours (I always thought that a very small selection will give me just the basic colours) but I was utterly hooked. The turquoise is superb and the burnt sienna (my favourite) just as it should be. A bit watery when I squeezed the minuscule tube, but really pleasing feel when painting. To explain, not the paint was watery, but an odd transparent liquid that came out with it. Don’t know anything about the chemistry of paint-making, so apologies for my ineptitudes.

Played a bit with it and I quite liked the green and the purple colours I was able to concoct. Nice vibrant colours that remained unchanged in the two weeks or so.

As I never clean my palette, I was able to use them again a couple of weeks later and they behaved absolutely beautiful – and didn’t even fall off the palette like some other paints do when dry. I liked that.

I went on the website for a bit of window shopping and I drooled all over seeing how many other gorgeous colours there are (didn’t count them, but looked over 100, with options to buy in set or sepparately in tubes of 15ml). You can see them here.

So, for this particular set of paints, I would give them an 9 out of 10 – the 5ml are so diminutive that my chunky fingers spent a lot of time trying to put back the caps. Price is a bit (just a bit) spicy for the more financially challenged when buying a proper set, but a definite ‘BUY’ for the near future.

“COMBINATUL FONDULUI PLASTIC” ARTIST’S WATERCOLOUR

I can’t even translate the name of these paints, as much as I pride myself of handling well the English language – they don’t have a ‘proper’ name and ‘combinatul fondului plastic’ basically means ‘the painters factory’ (well, more or less). How did I get to buy these paints? Because I grew up with them – back then, these were the only paints we could buy, be it watercolours, gouaches, acrylics or oils. They do them all. I haven’t used them in ages, in all honesty, I didn’t even know if this factory still existed – but Romanian artists told me it does and they still produce a very good quality paints.

Happy childhood memories? Check. Friends from back home recommending it? Check. I should be biased. I am biased. But I still think I can be objective. Just bare with me.

Firstly, took a good look at the packaging – HUUGE 4cm in diameter round pans (the size is a plus, has to be). Minus point for the fact that there is no way to travel with these – being round, you can’t just put them in a box and go. Not to mention that I spent the better part of a half an hour trying to open the buggers. The blue (can’t remember which one, told you I have an issue with remembering the proper name of paints) even spilled over – which was a surprise, but a good one in a way. That meant these paints were moist! And everybody knows that a moist paint pan is a good pan.

Secondly, it was the label – showing an expiry date. Haven’t even thought about watercolours expiring, although it does make sense. Only two years though? Considering that most of them were produced last year (and some of them even two years ago) that means my window of ‘opportunity’ is really small. We shall see – since I almost got hurt opening them, I don’t see myself using them too often.

The entire colour choice available is probably around 40 colours (I might be wrong though) – I refrained myself to 13 (double for the orange) but the only negative thing I could say about them, I already said it. They are absolutely beautiful and work like a charm. Well, the burnt sienna is a bit on the cold side, but the rest are spot on. The China green is exactly like the ready made green I use in my ‘White Nights’ palette and the Ceruleum Blue is a dream. The colours remain bright and intense and honestly, I cannot praise them enough.

CFPlastic

Too bad the packaging is a nightmare, their website is a joke – really, I bought them all blindly, no one bothered to add a pic with the colour next to the name – and I would probably need another room just to have them all spread and ready for me.

It’s sad really.

But overall, I have to say even if I would be accused of taking sides, the paints are a joy and truly a wonderful surprise for me. If I tell you that each of them (8ml pans) costs less than 50p you might be able to go past the bad points too. An overal 8 out 10 from me. You can buy them here. (no English translation though)

They also have the miniature version of these paints, in a tiny 5x7cm box which I used heavily in my university years.

20160521_153341

So, after my (too) detailed review of these new paints, how do I look? Do I change my ‘White Nights’ to the new comers? Don’t think so, definitely not yet – have a generous supply of ‘White Nights’ and the comfort of not having to do anything, just open the box and paint… is hard to beat. As a comparisson, these are the colours of the three watercolour paints we discussed. In all honesty, not even I can truly differentiate them all – so it’s a work in progress. What I can say is that all of them have brilliant, bright and vibrant colours that look just as well few weeks down the line.

Comparisson

Hope you enjoyed my adventures with new paints. Don’t forget to tell me your discoveries or questions, I will be more than happy to discuss anything ‘artsy’ with you!

Nitty Gritty

This is not only the title I chose for this week’s painting, but also an incentive to discuss a bit something that’s been troubling me since I first started painting in watercolours. The ‘nitty gritty’ of my watercolours if I may say so.

As you know, my particular preference for this medium is due to its nature – which is … well, natural – it flows like a river, it interacts with its environment and it shapes it as it pleases. Therefore, watercolours are the perfect medium for any representation that is natural – human figure, animals, plants, landscapes. Not so well when it comes to ‘artificial’ or better said, man made structures (from the smallest to the largest). Don’t get me wrong – this is just my personal opinion. I saw absolutely amazing watercolour artists that redefined a street scene with their brush better than any other artist. No, this is entirely about MY misgivings. I HAVE the hardest time painting anything that is not organic, natural – a straight line puts me in panic mode and a ‘hard edge’ between two objects hyper-ventilates me.

But I am one of those crazy people in any horror films who always open the basement door even though an entire cinema yells ‘don’t go there!!’ – because I have to do it even if it kills me (well, metaphorically speaking).

So, almost every month I do a street scene or something similar. I am never pleased with it, but every time I learn a bit about my technique what I did and shouldn’t have done or the other way around.

It’s pointless I think to tell you again of how important is perspective drawing in painting a street scene – everything in the street is massively relying on our skills of depicting it correctly.

This time I worked on a 20x40cm Daler-Rowney 300gsm paper (lovely format)

  1. DRAWING

I started as per usual, with a very sketchy, contours only line drawing. Don’t press to hard on the pencil – many times, after I finished a painting, I see those lines and they drive me up the walls. But if I haven’t pressed too hard, I am able to erase them – only when the painting is absolutely dry of course!

I can also recommend you to try using a watercolour pencil instead of a graphite one – no more lines to see through your lovely painting! They dissolve to the lightest contact with water. But you have to be very careful if you want to paint wet on wet, your base sketch might disappear.

I kept with the classics and I used a regular graphite and this is the sketch:

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  1. FIRST WASH

First wash is the base of everything – it settles the mood of the painting – and is of course, the lightest colour you can see. Because, of course, we always work from light to dark – from the almost invisible colour to the darkest dark.

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That is not to say we don’t use dark colours at all – in fact, I usually put the lightest colour of an area, no matter how dark or light that area might be.

Again, I haven’t mixed any colours on my palette, everything happened on the paper, wet on dry (first touch), then wet on wet when other colours are added.

I think I will make a new post just for this only – it seems a lot of people are interested in this.

As I tend to get carried away – as one does – I work a bit more in an area that captured my interest. A dark pool of water on the side of the pavement as it receives both natural and artificial light. Again, loaded the brush with the new pigment (think of milk in terms of consistency) and touched a corner of another colour I just added (all wet of course). Here is a detail of the puddle after the first touches

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Because nothing is as good as a ‘first time wet’ paper, I tend to preserve it – and this is one of the reasons I let myself getting carried away. Below, I added more first washes and also started to build up some definition to the ones already in place.

You’ll notice that I really didn’t care about ‘going over the lines’ of my sketch – I usually don’t, but that depends a lot of the style you chose for your painting and also if you want to preserve that as white or not. As I said, planning is everything – it would be good for me to put my brush where my mouth, but more times than I care to remember I toss all the planning and just paint instictively.

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  1. DETAILS AND OTHER BITS

Building up the contrast and details is essential, especially when you don’t intend to paint all the details of an image – just like me with those many cars. I think I would go mad if I would have to paint every single car (well I would probably go mad if I would have to paint even a single car!!) As I was told I am more of an ‘impressionist’ inclination, I only want to convince you there are cars, not to actually paint them. Let you do the rest of the work. And it’s all a ‘light and shadows’ show – which means, preserving the whites and applying contrasts in the places that matter.

Mostly done on dry (first wash) then wet on wet (second wash over the second and so forth) – and this is the place to discuss another issue that was brought to my attention yesterday and is way too important to pass it over.

The focus of our picture – I would be very curious to tell me where do you think the focus is in the below finished painting.

From what I learned, it’s important to keep the focus just off-centre and to make it very clear that is the focus and nothing else. Also, not to create a composition that would drag the viewers eyes outside the painting. Well, my experience dragged me sideways (it tends to do this) and sometimes my focus is either all over the place or completely impossible to determine. Bad point for me, yet another thing to work on.

But – and this is a bit ‘but’ – as I previously told you, I believe the composition of a painting is something extremely personal and I don’t think following the rules to the letter is good for an artist (as budding as one can be). Focal point in your painting is where you want it to be. If the composition works for you, keep it going.

As for my focal point here – well, is everywhere. I didn’t want you to concentrate your attention in a specific place, I didn’t even want to be a slave of the actual place (hence the lack of details). It’s a feeling I wanted to convey (part of the key is in the title) and if I managed or not… I honestly don’t know.

I do hope you will let me know your thoughts about this and any questions you might have.

Have a happy week and for the lucky ones – happy painting!

Nitty Gritty

 

Getting acquainted

INTRODUCTION
As this is my first blog entry – on my first blog and my first website (lots of firsts, you must agree) – I thought it will be wise to begin by asking for your patience as I am trying to figure out what is the best way to share with you my thoughts and discoveries.
As a first post, it will be a long one, as I want to introduce you to ‘what makes me tick’.
There will be obviously loads of mishaps and probably even more trials and errors, but I am determined to spread my love of watercolours.
I read and seen a lot about watercolours techniques, not so much about its history (I should really brush up my art history!) and the first thing that occurred to me was that most of the art world consider the watercolours if not a ‘sub-class’ of painting mediums, certainly just a stepping stone towards the ‘real’ painting which is ‘of course’, done in oils.
The majority fails to acknowledge how much more difficult it is as a technique than acrylics or oils, how immediate our reaction as artists has to be in front of the blank page. Watercolours are quick and unforgiving with our dilemmas, we need to make up our mind quick and firm otherwise the paints will do it for us. We don’t have the luxury of coating our mistakes with paint and start fresh. Watercolours are alive, dynamic and have their own say in whatever we are trying to show on paper. And that’s why I love them so much.
This love and understanding of this exquisite medium is something that I just have to share with you and hopefully, will turn a head or two from oils and acrylics.
Don’t get me wrong – I love other mediums too! Just recently I started painting with acrylics and – after a few near misses – I got to a point where I was quite pleased with my results. But I was also shocked of how EASY it felt in comparison with watercolours. Messed up a corner? No worries, cover it and paint over it. These trials of mine with the acrylic paints also led to an epiphany – I needed to mix my colours!!
Which brings us nicely to my – let’s call it – idiosyncrasy. As a watercolourist, I don’t mix my paints! Of course, I didn’t realise it until I saw loads of other artists spending hours getting just the right colour, preparing them nicely on the palette. And not until I had to do the same with my acrylic paints because – guess what! – acrylics don’t ‘move’ like watercolours do! It might seem like a no brainer, but for me it was a revelatiion.
I’m not conscientious about NOT mixing them, I am just painting. I chose the colours by sight and I still haven’t got the slightest idea what is the difference between yellow gamboge and cadmium yellow! For me is a warm yellow. I thought this is one reason which will render me useless as a teacher/tutor to anyone who would like to pick up watercolour painting. But then I realised that you really don’t need to know the fancy names of the colours! One needs to learn how to really see what’s in front of you, to see colours where someone else sees black or white and experiment with your paints.
Because – I have to say it again – this is the beauty of watercolours. Water, as a symbol of life, makes them alive. You don’t NEED to mix your colours on the palette, the paints will do it for you, directly on the paper! Why paint in watercolour if you don’t use their most incredible and characteristic feature – movement!?
A wet/damp piece of paper or a neighbouring drop of water is all they need to make the magic happen!
Oh dear, I did digress a lot. Need to learn to hold on my passion riddled tongue, otherwise none will have the patience to actually read my blog!
So, to finally arrive at the main subject of this entry – being spring (albeit a freezing one), the time for new beginnings when all that is springs (sic) to life – I thought you might want to know how I painted the daffodils. So here it is…

DAFFODILS – STEP BY STEP

Firstly – and I can’t stress this enough – you must practice your drawing skills. No painting, in any medium, happens without a solid drawing skill. Learn to really see your subject, proportions, gesture (yes, flowers can have gestures), perspective (and yes, I’m afraid perspective knowledge is required for any drawing, from portraits to still life and buildings). But, assuming you already honed your drawing to an acceptable level, let’s get started.

1. MATERIALS
I tried a lot of watercolour paints – well, the brands that were suitable for my ever shrinking pocket – and I got settled to a largely underused brand. I use with great gusto the St. Petersburg ‘White Nights’ full pans – the pans are large enough for a big brush, they’re moist and very pigmented, with a brilliant array of colours. I also use Daler Rowney’s Aquafine tubes – especially the Burnt Sienna (yes, this name I know, because it’s my favourite paint), indigo and some pinks. Both of them are quite cheap by comparison with other artist grade paints.
For this painting, I only used two brushes – again, some underdogs. I have a set of brushes made of pony hair designed for Chinese calligraphy and I used the smallest one, mostly because the hairs are not that long and it offers a great control. This set costs £11. I also have a set of Royal & Langnickel Golden Taklon Detail Round Synthetic Paint Brushes – which set me back a whopping £2.79 – and I used no.3 for details.

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Of course, you will also need a 300gsm/ 140 lb watercolour paper (NOT cold pressed is the most versatile) – to avoid stretching it beforehand (something I never do), a board of some sorts, masking tape and a pencil.

My point is – you don’t need expensive materials (although incessant buying can make a painful dent in your wallet) to produce beautiful artwork. And as my wallet is constantly complaining, I believe I managed to achieve a perfect balance between quality materials and costs.

  1. DRAWING

I usually work with photo references and I try as much as possible to use my own. As I just bought a bunch of lovelies, I set up my composition and took a picture. The drawing, as you see, is mostly a contour line that will give me enough indication as to the main features of the flower and its relationship with the rest.

I will not discuss now about composition or other things, as I personally believe a composition is a deeply personal and subjective thing. In other words, whatever works for you!

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  1. FIRST WASH

I don’t remember where I read that a watercolour painting should have a maximum of three washes/ layers/ glazes. Personally, I took this with a pinch of salt (like most of the rules in art) – so I can end up with as much as 6 or 7 washes, if I believe my painting needs more contrast.

In watercolour we always paint from light to dark – which means start with the lightest colours and build up to the darkest. And that is a rule I never break.

Think of the first wash as the one that looks like ‘colour of the light’, so that would be the lightest colour you can see, next to the absolute white which is the highlight. I am never a ‘planner’ as I should be and many times I get carried away and my ‘light’, ‘mid-tone’ and ‘dark’ washes get mixed-up, as I chose to develop one side instead of working on the entire painting at once.

To get highlights in watercolour, you either use masking fluid (if you’re not bothered by a hard edge) or simply avoid painting it. The white of watercolour is always the white of the paper. I start to think I am a purist, as I feel deeply guilty when I use white paint (in pure watercolour painting, white and black are not allowed, as they are not really ‘colours’). In this case, I simply painted around the highlights (the so-called ‘negative painting’)

You’ll see that again, I got carried away – the first wash should always be the lightest colour.

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  1. DEVELOPING CONTRASTS AND DETAILS

– OR 2ND and 3rd LAYER

There is no rule that would divide clearly where the 2nd wash ends and the 3rd one starts. Or, at least, there isn’t one that I know – or follow.

Rule of thumb though – always, always paint from the back to the front. The background (or objects in the background) are less detailed (less contrast and less pigment) where the front/forward will be much more developed – more detail, more contrast and more pigment. I cannot stress enough how important the contrast/depth it is in any painting. Many people tend to think that watercolours are ‘wishy-washy’, a description made by an artist (yes, I know!!) that I found deeply offensive. Yes, they can be – but they aren’t. To avoid this, contrast is imperative.

Contrast is given by a continuous build-up of layers on specific areas.

Bellow you have the three stages on this painting – as I work left to right, this happens to me quite a lot. The bud on the left for instance, is already as detailed as I want it to be. You can clearly see the petals squished together, the folds of the paper thin, brown thingy (by the way, can anyone tell me what that is and what’s the name for it?) and the clear bulbous shape. Mostly wet on wet, with the minute details done after drying time.

The middle flower is in it’s 2nd stage – where more definition is given by applying another layer of more pigmented paint, but none of the details are in place.

And the third daffy on the right is of course, only after the first wash – although the stem just underneath the flower, where is the darkest spot, is already done (that’s me, carried away)

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  1. FINISHING UP

For me the watercolours are like making my favourite soup – I know all the ingredients, I know the routine by heart and try to follow it by the letter, but I never, ever manage to do it. So the results are always surprising.

The last stage in any watercolour paint should be the details by building up sufficient contrast to allow for these details to be seen. You can easily see the difference from the previous image to the one below.

Watercolours can be instinctive and quick, but you have to slow down to do a quick painting. Seems like a nonsense, but it’s not. It’s something that my life-drawing teacher told me once and hit me like a brick “To do the 5 minutes poses, you have to slow down. Don’t rush. Breathe, calm down and draw”.

Because watercolours are so quick – and one ‘must preserve the water drop’ (can’t remember who said this, one of the two greatest watercolourists in the world, Alvaro Castagnet or Joseph Zbukvick) – is tempting to rush in (which I often do), but actually require a lot of careful planning of each and every one of the steps. One can always come back with a waterspray if the drop died.

So have a lie-in, relax and think about your next masterpiece.

And don’t forget to subscribe and let me know your thoughts!

Happy Saturday!

 

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P.S.: Before I figure out how this blogging really works, just remember that if you don’t see a comments box below, there is a comments link is at the top of the page. Promise to iron out all these kind of inconveniences!