Daily painting 06-11-2017 (#13)

Sometimes when I am low on inspiration and emotional energy it is hard for me to paint anything original. In times like these sometimes it helps to not challenge myself too much and just do something simple and manageable. I flip through my art books, pick a simple sketch or painting and make a quick copy. Here is one such from Edward Norton Ward's book First Impressions.


Daily painting 06-10-2017 (#12)

Things have been a little rough in my personal life this past week due to illness of a beloved family member, and it was kind of hard to get into the headspace of painting.

I am not going to beat myself up about missing a week of painting and just get rigjt back on the horse. Today I did a few exercises from Catherine Gill's book Powerful Watercolor Landscapes. Here is one which is a copy of one of her 'demo' paintings from the book.


Michael Reardon Workshop at SCVWS

Last week I was privileged to attend the highly popular watercolor workshop by Michael Reardon. The workshop had filled up in a day, but I got on the waiting list and was lucky enough to finally find a spot at the workshop. This was my very first watercolor class/workshop, so I was quite nervous about it, but just a couple of hours with Michael Reardon put everyone at ease and we were all painting happily along for the next few days.

A bit about the instructor

Michael is a architecture illustrator turned fine artist, who works exclusively in watercolor and has a very distinct style. Check out his website and his book to see his paintings. He paints mostly landscapes, cityscapes and statues in urbanscape, and his style is spontaneous, working wet-in-wet from top to bottom. HIs choice of pigments is unusual, and so is his use of color. He is a self-proclaimed tonalist, and his use of color is as a support to a painting whose composition depends on a backbone of value. And about him as an instructor, if I had only one word to describe him I would say 'kind'. And as a beginner artist, that was important to me.

The unusual palette

DS Ultramarine blue
Holbein Cobalt Blue
DS Cerulean Chromium
DS Cobalt Turquoise
DS Viridian
DS Phthalo Green (Yellow Shade)
DS Quinacridone Burnt Orange
DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet
DS Organic Vermillion
DS Carmine
DS Permanent Orange

DS : Daniel Smith

As you can see he doesn't have a yellow in his palette. The closest to yellow in his palette is Permanent Orange. (Actually, I lie. He does have Quin Gold in his palette, but I have not seen him use it in any of the paintings during the workshop). His saying is that yellow almost never exists in its pure form in nature, so he doesn't need it.

One of the paintings that Micheal demo'ed in the workshop


There was a ton of good information through out the workshop, and I learned as much from watching Michael help others, as I did from his help on my own paintings. The day always started with a demo, which took anywhere between 1-2 hours depending on the complexity of the painting. Michael had a thumbnail sketch and line drawing ready to go before the day began. 

To him, the most important thing was getting the idea down in a thumbnail sketch. After he has the sketch, he doesn't look at the reference anymore. He works directly from the sketch, working top to bottom (with the watercolor paper at a slight angle, allowing the water to flow down and form a bead), manipulating the bead, taking advantage of it to keep certain areas wet, while he worked on others. He arrives at the values mapped out in the sketch in first pass, and does not go back into painted areas once the area is complete. Someone at the workshop joked that he is like a 'printer'. It is an unusual way to paint, but it keeps the painting spontaneous and fresh, and the simple statement is emphasized. 

He encouraged us to make a thumbnail sketch of our reference, and worked with us to find the most interesting composition. His emphasis throughout the workshop was on composition, and not so much on watercolor technique (transparent vs. opaque, wet-in-wet vs wet on dry etc.), which I appreciated a lot. 

If there were only five things I took away from the workshop, these five would be it :

  1. Framing is important. Just because the quarter sheet is 11x15 doesn't mean you have to use all of it. The 4 walls of the painting are the most important compositional lines in the painting, and use them effectively. A long and tall painting creates drama, vs a square painting is calm. Think about this when you plan the painting.
  2. SImplify the scene into 5-6 shapes. When you do the thumbnail sketch, you should be able to break the scene into 5-6 simple shapes. Make these shapes as interesting as possible, and pay attention to the negative shapes and corners created at the intersection of the shapes with each other or against the edges. If you are not convinced that these shapes work, then move on to another design.
  3. Think about your focal point. Find the most interesting part of your painting, the part where you want the viewer's eye to rest first, and make sure that area is only area where is pure white next to pure black. There can be value changes in other parts of painting, but the focal point is where there should be the most difference in value.
  4. Break the scene into foreground, middle ground and background. A landscape or cityscape has the most clarity when there is a sense of foreground, middle ground and background. Try to find this clarity when you do the thumbnail sketch. 
  5. Make the corners interesting. The corners are as important as the edges. If possible, make all four corners different. 

It was great to have all this drummed into us for 4 days, it meant a ton of practice and clearly some of it got through :-) Here are some of my paintings from the workshop. 

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

Last year was a very good year for me. It was the year when, for the first time, I started identifying as an artist. While I realize that the road is a long one, and it will probably be a really long time before I see results, for the first time I started thinking of things in the long term. 

I usually have goals at the beginning of each year for what I want to accomplish that year and where I want to be end of the year. For the first time in a long time I have no such goals. I am feeling pretty good about how things are going and if I keep working hard at it, I believe that sooner or later everything will come together.

And to get the year started right, here are a couple of paintings I did today. 

California hills in the summertime

California hills in the summertime

Another another one in which I tried a couple of new colors - DS Bordeaux and DS Lunar black.

sunset silhouette

sunset silhouette

With a lot of hope for all the good things yet to come, I wish you all a very happy new year!  

When in doubt paint a sunset

I didn't have any great ideas for what to paint today, so I decided to try a sunset painting. At the very least I figured I will get a chance to practice painting wet in wet, glazing in layers and using some unusual colors. It was all of that and more. I am not unhappy with this painting, especially for a work day :-)

sunset in watercolor

sunset in watercolor

The Sierras

This was the perfect weekend. We didn't have any chores or anything else to worry about, so we spent all weekend at home doing the things we love and watching Star Trek. I enjoyed another day of painting, and today I did a few original pieces. I am trying to get enough paintings done to create a portfolio for my Silicon Valley Open Studios submission. 

The following painting is from a picture I took in the Sierras during our stay there this past Thanksgiving.  I considered the reference in big shapes, made some color swatches before starting work on the final piece and then it was go time.

sierras in watercolor

sierras in watercolor

Let me know how you like it :-)

New media!

I haven't been as regular with my art practice for a couple of weeks because of busy work-weeks but I have managed to keep up with the learning thanks to my online subscription to art websites. The one I have been following lately is Nathan Fowles' Landscape Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache course on schoolism.com. It is a fantastic resource if you want to get to the next level in what makes a good painting. The class covers principles and not so much techniques, and I really appreciate that. I have been doing some composition exercises in black and white for the class and that turned me onto observing and learning from paintings I admire and painting opaquely.

The paintings I did this afternoon are all copies of paintings I admired online. I tried watercolor and Gouache in the pepper painting and I am very happy with the results. I cannot control the medium very well yet but I am happy with how things turned out so far.  

peppers in watercolor and gouache, a copy

peppers in watercolor and gouache, a copy

The next thing I am going to try is painting opaquely in casein. Don't know what that is? Hang on till my next post :-)

Big shapes

I am trying to make it a daily art habit to make at least three watercolor sketches. I realize that the only way to get better at something is to practice, and the only way to practice effectively is to be consistent with the effort. 

I really enjoy painting light, so I tried to enhance that feeling of light in the pictures I painted. I also tried to see the big shapes, and paint in layers to enhance the feeling of light and shade.

The thing that I do not like about the one below is that it looks very much like an illustration than the real thing. Still, I am reasonably happy with how it turned out I guess. I took Tom Hoffman's advice, did a self-critique and made notes right on the study.

Then I started doing some landscape studies in preparation to the art retreat I will be attending in a few days in the high Sierras! I didn't like the first landscape painting I did, and I was a little disappointed. I didn't much feel like it but I pushed myself to  knock off another quick painting to make my target of three. The funny thing is, the painting I did freely and loosely turned out so much better than the one I planned and overworked :-) I absolutely love the feeling of light and color in this painting of fall colors.

Another cloud study

I wanted to swish some paint around and paint some clouds today. I think these clouds are not as bad as the ones from a few days ago :-)

Here is a sunset sketch painted from a picture I took from the train. Most of the picture was gray except for a little sliver of red around the horizon. 

sunset in watercolor

Here is another sketch quite a bit early in the sunset, where there is that warm glow at the edges of the clouds, but the colors are still muted and cool for the most part.

And with this one, I chose a reference picture of some stormy clouds and enjoyed painting the gray sky in payne's gray. 

stormy sky in watercolor

I really like looking all three of these together. They are all paintings of sky, but they all look so very different! Still a long way to go in my sky practice, but this is a good start I would say :-)

Marsh sketches

California weather is almost always beautiful, and it was especially lovely today. It was about perfect for an outing to the marsh to sketch the landscape and observe the birds at the bird refuge. It had also been a few weeks since Iva and I got a chance to sketch together, it was so nice to be able to enjoy the landscape with some lovely conversation with a good friend. What's better!

I am not very comfortable with painting landscapes. I don't get a chance to do it enough, and it is not the subject that I am usually interested in. The recent train ride across the country got me excited about trying out landscapes and here I am :-)

I couldn't help wanting to do a quick sketch of Iva. I am much more comfortable and enjoy myself so much more when I am sketching people. The sketch is not at all good likeness to my beautiful friend, but it captures the essence of the sketcher I think :-)

Cloud study

We had been traveling the past week, and traveling is always such a wonderful opportunity to capture exciting new sights and scenes. Don't you think that when you are traveling, even the mundane looks exciting? For example, clouds!

Here in the bay area we don't usually get big large clouds. In fact I realized only recently, living in an urban area, we don't usually look up at the sky much. Traveling across the country in the train, I got to see clouds with new eyes, how different they look in different parts of the country, how they look different at different times of the day, how they can be used in exciting ways to compose a landscape painting.

I would love to learn more about painting clouds, beyond the usual ultramarine blue and dad out a few wisps of clouds with a kitchen towel. 

Here are a couple of studies done from the view out of our Amtrak window, somewhere in Utah.

clouds in watercolor

There are parts of the above sketch that I liked, but there was a lot that I didn't. I used it as a learning opportunity to make notes of what needs to be worked on. I used a different approach in the next sketch, and focussed on achieving painterly effects as opposed to accuracy. 

clouds in watercolor

I learned a lot from the cloud study actually.

  • Clouds can be used to add much drama to a composition of a landscape. 
  • There is a lot of interesting perspective involved in drawing and painting clouds accurately. 
  • Clouds look different depending on how they are lit. Paying attention to the shapes and shadows in clouds can add to the drama. 

I will have a lot of opportunity to practice this subject because I have taken a number of photographs from the train window. I am very excited about this new discovery.

At the beach

I got asked to join my dear friends to go to the beach and I am so glad I went. I hadn't spent time at the beach in a long long time, and definitely not since I started sketching. 

The weather was in the low 60s, so we brought enough layers and were mostly comfortable until late afternoon. The wind, however, was a whole another matter. It was so windy that if I didn't keep an eye on my palette, napkins, brushes etc they'd be blown away and I would never find them again. I am so glad that I packed the clips to hold the paper in place, otherwise there would have been no sketching. It was a bit difficult to get organized in the beginning in all that wind, but once I got going it didn't bother me much at all. In fact I was so engrossed in my sketching that I didn't realize the weather turning cold and my fingers freezing :-)

I did a few sketches of the landscape and the people at the beach. Here are a couple. 

Below is a sketch of my friend enjoying watching the pelicans and the sea lions.

And here is one I attempted of the landscape where I tried to capture the interesting cloud shapes. This was one of the first sketches I did yesterday. It is not very successful but I blame it on the wind :-)