Saturday, January 25, 2014

Loose, relaxed brushwork II

Alstadt - Salzburg, Austria  SOLD
A few summers ago my husband and I spent time traveling by train and car through Germany and Austria. Driving through a portion of the Alps was not as hair-raising as I'd worried it would be (I'm not fond of heights!)... and our destination, Salzburg, was one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited.

We were there during the Festival -- music was EVERYWHERE.

This painting is from a photo I took as we walked to an afternoon performance of Mozart quintets.

While it may look a bit more structured than some of my other 'loose' paintings, I did this without any preliminary drawing or pencil guidelines.

I find that it helps to have a good brush that has a nice, responsive 'spring' to it.

Loose, relaxed brushwork I

There is such a temptation to over-work a watercolor painting. The inclination to make it 'perfect,' or to work towards something approaching photo-realism, is difficult for me to resist.  I've tried everything to break these habits -- including holding my brush in the 'other' hand (for me, a lefty, that would be my right hand...) -- but I still find that I drift unwittingly in the direction of too much control.

I have always liked to draw, and yet I find that attempting to render, realistically, with watercolor, is a perhaps one reason my work can look over-done and stiff.

One solution is to stop drawing and simply paint -- no pencilled-in guidelines, just water and lot's of juicy color. In the case of this floral painting, I gave free reign to the pinks and yellows, hoping they would mingle on the paper and create interesting depth and shadows.
Boston Winter   SOLD
I sometimes carry a tiny travel box of watercolors with me when I know I might have some time to sketch. This view of the Christian Science Church in Back Bay was done quickly one Friday when I was on my way to Symphony Hall. I hope that what it lacks architecturally is made up for by its lively colors and the chilly feel of all that snow covering the reflecting pool.

Resting Swan    SOLD
This painting done from a photo taken at the Public Garden in Boston last summer, was an enjoyable challenge. Because I didn't draw the shape of the swan, but relied instead on the water surrounding her to make a 'swan' shape. The addition of shadows and a bit of reflection made it complete.

Think Spring!
After the winter we've been having, how could anyone NOT want to think about Spring?? I hoped that juxtaposing bright colors would be effective and not too weird. I think it worked, because I sold this painting a few weeks ago.

Jack, study
My brother-in-law, Jack, is an avid hunter and fisherman. Each autumn he heads north to Maine to enjoy all that the North Country has to offer. My sister sometimes joins him, and took the photo from which I did this quick little sketch of him standing in front of some blazing orange maples.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Painting watercolor portraits...

Reference photo, 8/2013
In recent months, I've been experimenting with watercolor portraits and thought I'd show several stages in the development of a study I painted of my brother, Scott. I worked from a few digital photos I had taken this summer. Although they basically outdoor snapshots, not done with special lighting, etc., they provided a good jumping-off point for this watercolor sketch. 
Step 1
One of my goals was to keep the painting style loose. So, I purposely avoided using masking fluid or penciled-in guidelines. I think that because my brother's face is relatively familiar, it was easier for me to work quickly, without a preliminary drawing.

To approximate the color of his face (which is deeply sun-tanned), I started off (Step 1) with a very pale wash of burnt sienna, using some Winsor violet to tone it down a bit in places where darker shadow would later be laid on. I used a slightly less dilute combination of Winsor violet and burnt sienna in the first steps of suggesting placement of the eyes and nose.
Step 2
For the background, I used a wet-on-wet application, mostly permanent sap green and new gamboge, with a little shadow green here and there. To suggest foliage in the background, I used a large brush (a #16 pointed round), loaded with paint, to apply the background. I wanted to suggest rather than to make a detailed statement. As I painted around the hair, I did so in a way that allowed the white of the paper to stand in for my brother's wild and curly mane!

I then began deepening the shadows, adding richer mixes of the same sienna-violet combination I'd started with. For the deeper shadows at the lips (Step 2) I add some brown madder -- a rich, ruddy red that I just love working with. 

My goal was to preserve the effect of sunshine on my brother's tan face. Rather than using a thick layer of wash to deepen the color, I used multiple layers of thinner wash to build the planes of his face, paying particular attention to the creases around the nose. 
Step 3
The shadowy areas around the hairline, beard, and eyebrows (Step 3) were painted in with a pale wash combo of French ultramarine blue and sepia. I deepened this wash a bit, intensifying the blue, when adding color to the pupil and iris in the eyes.
"My Brother Scott"
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It was important to get the shape of the 'bulb' of the nose painted in correctly, so I again tried to limit deepening the pigment, opting for several layers of light wash instead of just one. Once I felt satisfied with that, I then added more brown madder and burnt sienna to the wash (Step 3) and began to add more layers of shadow. 

Although the reference photo shows my brother wearing a black shirt, I decided to paint it deep blue (Cobalt, with sepia shadows) to provide even more contrast with the skin tone, and to bring out the blue of his eyes.  I had a lot of fun with this study -- and I believe it was more enjoyable because I didn't feel constrained by pencil guidelines. I hope this painting captures my brother's free spirit! 
Update, July 1, 2015: The painting placed in the "Special Merit Category" for the 5th annual "Figurative" art competition held by the LightSpaceTime online gallery.  Read about the award here and see all winners in this grouping:

Moving ahead...

Like so many other people during these early days of 2014, I've been fairly occupied with lots of things that have kept me away from my studio (except for short bursts of painting every now and then). Nonetheless, I've felt productive -- especially since I have started to loosen up even more with brushwork, color, form, etc. 

"Seasons: Summer-Autumn"
All this sub-zero weather we've been experiencing has fueled my desire to paint flowers in all their luscious variety of form and color.

"Hydrangea, small study"