Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tricks and Treats

10" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico extra white hot press paper
TREAT:  What a treat!  I found a spot with beautiful trees, a pathway, picnic benches, and an attractive building.  I thought it would be another great opportunity to paint loosely, to capture an impression of the feel of the place without excessive detail; in sum, to try to capture the scene in the way that Frank Eber recommends.  I attack my pictures.  I do not hesitate to scrape, rub, blot, drip, etc.  I decided to eliminate the building for simplicity and eventually, by rubbing, created a fog effect that I liked. 

At this stage, it looked like the picture below.  All in all I was quite pleased.  (The board the piece is taped on, by the way, is very special.  When I bought my house years ago, a very few items of an artist had been left behind.  One, this board, is pocked with holes because of his use of tacks.  It is still covered with cardboard from those days, tacked by ancient tacks.  I understand that he used to carry this lightweight board to the Everglades to paint the Indians from life.  I feel that I am carrying on, when I use this board.)

TRICK:  I know this was just another practice piece, and that I had only spent a few hours painting it.  I didn't expect to put it anywhere but in the drawer.  But at the same time I have a secret desire for everything I do to be a masterpiece - don't you?

I have a thick skin when it comes to my art.  At this point in my life nobody could say anything that could keep me from making art.  But at the same time, I have an artist's desire to have what I do liked by someone, for heaven's sake.  So, proud of my effort, I showed this to a couple of people.  They both said it was well done.  They also agreed that it was boring - that it lacked something.  They both pointed to that foreground as needing something there.  But this is a watercolor!  Don't they understand you cannot erase or paint over watercolor?!

Or can you?

TREAT:  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try inserting something into the foreground.  Not for the picture. For the challenge of it!  I didn't really care about the picture too much.  If I ruined it, so what?  And that pesky truth about watercolors - that they cannot be erased?  I knew it was a lie.  That I had not been too successful at ever making it happen only made me want to try again.

How did I know it was a lie?  This is because M.E. Bailey, the master watercolorist, had told me so.  I visited his blog, here, one day in early May 2010, and found he had made a large, particularly dark, section of his watercolor disappear.   I e-mailed him to ask how this miracle had happened, and he was nice enough to e-mail me back.  I figured that my problem in the past was that I did not follow his directions carefully enough.  So I pulled out his old e-mail and followed his directions meticulously, and it worked!!  Actually I was so happy that it worked that I wanted to stop at this stage and call it done!

Paraphrased, here are M.E. Bailey's directions on how to remove darks from a watercolor:
1.  Purchase "Mr. Clean Magic Eraser" housecleaning supply - make sure it is the "ORIGINAL" (there are 4 types).
2.  Cut it into thirds.
3.  Use tape to mask off areas where you don't wish the sponge to intrude.  Very important.
3.  Wet the sponge.
4.  Wring it out until it is damp - not wet.


Now I'm inserting a warning:  Here is the part where things can go really wrong - If you wipe or scrub with this sponge, you can (and probably will) rip up your paper.

5.  Mr. Bailey wrote "wipe, blot, wipe, blot etc."  But I'm telling you, don't wipe with this sponge.  Only blot with the sponge.  Then blot with a paper towel.  (He says you can wipe, presumably with the paper towel - and I'm sure if he said it, this is true, but blotting worked on this occasion for me.)  So I wonder if the directions should say "blot with the damp sponge, blot with a dry paper towel, blot with the damp sponge, blot with a dry paper towel, etc."  Be sure to keep the sponge clean with frequent rinsing.

Mr. Baily describes what is occurring:  "The sponge is actually a very fine abrasive, and slowly removes a thin layer off the paper."  He explains that small pieces of the sponge and the paper roll off as you work.  He assures that this is nothing to worry about.  Finally:

6.  Let it dry well, then paint right over it."

TRICK:  This mostly worked.  There were some very  light stains left that didn't lift, but nothing I couldn't work with.  I had scraped with the back of my brush, though, to create lines for the park bench.  The lines remained and would not leave.  So I decided to dress my characters in dark clothing.  This didn't fully conceal the lines - but you really have to look for the lines, I think, to know they are there.

TREAT:  For the figures, I used a photograph I had taken at an art festival.  They were walking the wrong way, so I reversed the image on the computer.  Both were looking the same direction - at an exhibit, at the show - and at first I drew them that way.  But then I thought it would be better to have the guy intent to get where they were going, and the gal to be distracted.  So I returned to the original photo where his face was actually facing that direction, and it worked!    I ended up throwing Eber's philosophy out the window and spending so much more time on the figures than I had on the initial sketch of the environment.  My thought was that the two figures up close would be more detailed (but not too detailed) as would be the close-up tree, which I enhanced, and everything else would be mostly lost in the fog. 

TRICK:  The dog was another story.  I had the hand in another position first .  She was holding a purse.  I had put in a dog.  The hand wasn't in the right position to hold the dog.  I almost turned the dog into a purse.  Poor dog.  In the end, I moved the hand, and the dog stayed.

I have this nagging feeling that there is still something wrong with the picture - and I can't pinpoint what.  I know some areas that I could have done better technically - but that isn't it.  If you have any ideas, I'd be interested to hear.  Or maybe I've just beaten myself over the head with this picture for too long.

Despite my love of watercolors, I also found the medium very frustrating this time around.  It seemed that every time I would lay down color, it would dry and sort of fade into whatever was below.  I colored with my son with crayons in a coloring book a day or so later, and liked that result better.  And by the end of this, I didn't want to touch anything so "traditional" for at least a short while. 

TREAT:  (The cure).  I went to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art recently and much of their vast collection of CoBrA art was on display. (If you don't know about the CoBrA artists, you can read about them here.)  The work of the CoBrA artists is bright, childlike, and often inexplicable.  My favorite in the collection is "Personality" by Karel Appel.  You can see it here.  (This photo does not do the painting justice).

My son Matthew, who is autistic, had drawn a picture in my sketchbook.  It has been calling for me to color it for a long time.  After wrestling with the park picture, now was the time.  I had great fun with it!  I got to play with the watercolors in all different ways, challenge myself to balance the picture's colors, and free myself from convention - in the spirit of the CoBrA artists:
Pencil drawing by Matthew Kent, Watercolor by me, in the large moleskine

TRICK:  For Halloween, just for you, then, is my special gift of two ghosts walking in the park...Boo!

They are history.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Watercolor Soda Pop

[Pssst...Message from the Editor of Another Blog:   Yeah, yeah, danscanvas is going to ramble about something or other and if you understand even a bit of it you are probably as demented as he is, but what he isn't telling you is that his favorite drawing of the week is at another blog - his joint blog with Raena, 2'nFro, so shoot over there to see what he did.  The link is here.  But then please come back as though you never left or he will figure out that this message is here and I will be in trouble and I will never get to direct you to good places again.  And leave a comment for good measure, why don't you, because if you don't he'll be suspicious and besides if he doesn't get comments he shrivels up and .. well it's just too awful to describe.]

The above experiment in watercolor is from my small moleskine.  At first my intention was for the page to be soft and monochromatic, but it turned out nothing like I expected. One reason I love to paint - surprises are wonderful.  I like the perspective, the drawing and painting of just the upper part of a room, intriguing enough that I will probably do this again someday.

Here is my latest revelation:  a good watercolor is like a soda, although a soda is easy to come by and a quality watercolor is rare.  But they share the same ingredients.

Examining, then the label of a soda:

Carbonated Water - Well, we have water, of course, and bubbles - magical things bubbles aren't they?
Potassium citrate - I have no idea what that is.
Potassium benzoate - No clue.
Acesulfame potassium - We are going from bad to worse. 
Artificial color - Now that I understand!

So there is water and there is color and all these indefinable somethings that make it great. Then magic floats to the surface!


On another page of my moleskine, there are three ladies drawn in public on three separate occasions.  Now they are together forever in an unending conversation.  For me, though, the word well is a bit dry today.  So I think I'll just have a soda.
[Pssst...Message from the Editor of Another Blog:  Shhh..Go, go to 2'nFro is you haven't been there already.  Our little secret, right?]