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.


  1. Thanks for taking us through your creative process - and for a way to really know how to use the Magic Eraser. I had no idea there were 4 kinds - or how much you had to blot and not wipe. I like the final painting alot - and I'm not much help suggesting ways to change it.

  2. Wow, thanks for that informative post! I'm afraid I probably won't find "Mr. Clean Magic Eraser" over here though. Does it say what exactly it is (to find a substitute)?
    I really like the ghost-stage picture, although the final one is pretty cool as well.
    Also thumbs up for your son's and your cooperation! <3

  3. Dan, Thanks for the detailed demonstration! I would never have thought of using a Mr. Eraser, although I always keep them around for other things. Your final results with this technique are wonderful.

  4. I think the painting turned out wonderfully, Dan! I love the softness you achieved.

    As for the magic eraser . . . that's invaluable information. I bought one of those . . . I inadvertently even bought the right one (had no idea there were four types :-) but my success with it was fairly limited. Now that I am armed with your instructions, I'll have to try again

    And I love your collaborative art with your son! It's fresh and free!!! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Dan,

    Good, informative post. Joe Miller introduced me to the Magic Eraser at a workshop I went to some time ago, but I've never tried it on my own and I don't remember if he rubbed or not, but he got it to work wonderfully.

    Love the watercolor and crayon father/son artwork,


  6. This was very timely for me, I had given up on a painting just this week due to dark spots that ruined it. I'm going to try it and post my results!

    I have a 17-year old autistic son, he is quite a charmer.

  7. I have used a Magic Eraser but I didn't know not to scrub and I noticed that it would rub away the paper so I've had to be desperate to use it. I'll try the gentler approach next time.
    As for what your painting needs; usually when I think my painting is lacking it's the values. In other words adding some darker values to your shadows and background should spark it up a bit. One instructor tells me the dark areas should connect to three edges of your painting and it usually works.
    I like the way you figured out how to put your people in your painting. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Thanks for all this information and congratulations for your painting, but I must say I also like the "Halloween" one, as the people are just suggested!

  9. I love the painting you and your son created. Frame that special and hang it right away in a special spot!

    Thanks for the info about the Mr. Clean Erase. I can't work in a medium that doesn't allow me to correct or change my mind--indeed, constantly correcting is my method of pictorial construction--how's that for fancy wording? Sorry, but true.

  10. I wouldn't have noticed any lines or anything else if you hadn't told us about it. I like how you did the man's face, just the right amount of detail.
    The ghost version was just what it should be...ghostly!

  11. Now that is some information I am sure I will need as I move closer to making actual paintings, thank you for such a detailed explanation. Not too sure I will find the Mr Clean Magic eraser here in Australia.
    Beautiful Family Masterpiece!

  12. Dab, don't scrub. Thank you for the useful tip. Love the picture that you did with your son.

  13. What an informative post! And a nice trick n' treat theme to go with it =) Nice drawing, but I really like knowing now that watercolor CAN BE ERASED. This is awesome!
    Thank you Dan for the wish. Yes my work can be hazardous, I just need not to be absent minded when I take a step out of the office building.
    Happy Halloween!

  14. I hang around with a couple good watercolorists, and I heard them talking about this magic eraser. Your post is a good advertisement for it! I am amazed that you were able to remove such a large section and put people in ....convincingly! You should count this among your successful experiments. I love the painting you did with your son too. Great color choices!

  15. Lovely soft watercolour Dan, and thanks for the information, don't think we have Mr Clean over here Love your son's drawing, you're lucky he let you colour it Great ghosts

  16. Fantastic stuff Dan. And a great tip about erasing watercolour (now I just need to find a product that is like it in the UK). I like the ghost version almost as much as the end version. And your collaboration is wonderful too.

  17. I think I know what's missing. The woman is looking at someone using the facilities behind the tree. Now that you're experienced with the magic eraser, you can do anything. Just kidding.

    This is a really good post, Dan--I've been playing with watercolors for the past week and should probably stock up on magic erasers. I like the painting (her shirt could be plaid). Your son's drawing with your coloring is an absolute winner in many ways.

  18. Nice work, Dan. I really appreciate that you shared the entire adventure. It's nice to know that when I decide to use watercolors again there is hope for 'erasing' my mistakes.

    What did Matthew think of your collaboration? I know that I really like it and agree that it belongs in a special frame.


  19. A lot of great stuff in this post! Very interesting technique for painting over a watercolor (and thanks for sharing!). I like your resulting painting very much. As the characters are darker and more precise than the rest of the scenery, it gives a dreamy feeling to the scene, a sense of wonder. The ghost picture is just perfect : ) !!
    And I love what Matthew and you did. It's poetical, original and so very beautiful.

  20. thanks for all the tricks and treats you added to your post! great stuff. it's always good to flip around and do something fun after you work on a painting for so long. and you learned some important tricks along the way!

  21. love the watercolour, and all its different versions. I love the subtle shadow play on the grass in the top painting. always nice to hear people pushing themselves and challenging their mind and skills, its inspiring.

  22. Good stuff Dan... your couple in the park look wonderful... and your whimsical painting of your son's drawing is great.

  23. Wow. What a lot of information here! I really like your watercolor and am amazed with the entire process. I also really like your son's drawing. I hope you continue to do collaborative pieces with him!

  24. I had heard of the Mr. Clean process, so I bought one, just to try. Never did and now I don't know where it is. Typical behavior of me.
    I love your son's drawing. So innocent and pure. You did a good job too. But his lines and expressions are great!
    Your watercolor is wonderful! So serene and calming. And your couple and dogs...they're right at home. Another posting full of insights, painting and surprises. You are so full of wonderful things!

  25. waiting patiently for the new Dan Kent imagery and story! Tap tap tap ....(fingers drumming on table)

  26. I think you're probably changing lives with this Magic Eraser info :)

  27. Well Dan, I came back to ask you a question, but I was able to scroll down to the bottom of the comments WAY too fast. It wouldn't be possible with the lengthy comment I left when I first saw this. Really, I was kind of embarrassed because it seemed almost as long as your post! I wouldn't want you to think I've been ignoring you! Geesh, I can't even remember all of the things I said, I was so excited by everything in your post, I just sort of 'went off'. I love what you've done. I love how much courage you have, putting a good painting at risk in order to make it great. I love the ghost figures, that was certainly great timing! Well, I'll try to keep it shorter this time, in case you decided not to let it stay up because of how long it was...

    My question, or request: Maybe, when you have time, you could make a video of this 'rubbing' that creates the fog-like atmosphere? Or point me to a place where it shows this? I tried this, since that fog is something I've wanted to know how to create, and the paper just sort of disintegrated. Could be the paper, could be that I rubbed (with my finger?) too hard? Luckily it was just a scrap of paper! You need to start making videos! :D

    PS re: our molie exchange: After numerous tries on some tracing paper of my most recent idea, I've abandoned for something a little less complicated. It shouldn't take me as long, so look for that to be done soon!

  28. Oh more thing. I forgot to mention how much I like your collaborative piece. You and your son work well together!

  29. Hey! I'm just letting you know that I've passed on a blog award to you as a thank you for providing me and all your other readers with top notch blogging. Peace!

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  31. Thanks so much for your wonderful comments and for your patience - I kind of fell of the virtual planet this month. Thank you Celeste for drumming your fingers!

    I want to share with you all the essence of a wonderful comment I received by e-mail by Mary Walker. She suggested that my "off" feeling might be coming from the area directly behind the couple. "The tree trunk is straight down the middle of them as well as blue green with flowers to the right of them and yellow green plants to the left, it's giving a hard impression of a divide between the people."

    Great observation. In a way I was promoting the divide consciously since I had him intent upon walking forward, and had her looking away as though she wanted to linger a while. The weather also was not cooperating. I had even considered putting some trash in the front left, like a tossed paper cup. And after that comment, maybe a snake in the tree.

    And, folks, I like my collaboration with my son better too!

    I'm glad you all found my tip helpful. To address some of your points:

    E*phi, the box says it was made in Germany! Maybe it goes by a different name there. I have no idea what it is made of.

    Melissa, wow. We share a lot then.

    Joyful - Thanks for the tip! I do tend towards the middle values, and need to keep this in mind.

    Martine and Stew and kazumewannabe - In truth, I really like the effect when the people were erased. I think I will try to use it intentionally for a piece one day.

    Cathy - Thanks for noticing the man's face. I was proud of that.

    Don - Unfortunately, when I showed Matt the watercolor version, it didn't impress him much. Critics.

    Meegen - Thanks for noticing the shadows on the ground - I worked a bit on that.

    Raena - Thank you so much for your detailed comment(s)! I love long comments - means it means enough to you for you to take some time. Thank you. As for the rubbing. I didn't like the way it was coming out. I had the trees, the bushes, the path, (no grass) but the trees seemed too strong. White was in between. So (if I remember right) I just wet a napkin or tissue (I think it was a tissue) and started rubbing the whole thing, figuring that then I would toss it into the garbage. But interestingly, in addition to dulling the trees (that I later re-built) this created the fog effect. I hadn't intended for there to be a fog, but once it was done, I liked it. Would you like to see the banging of the head on the wall on the video too? (Just kidding). :)

    Thanks all.

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