I was invited into an art class today to show how I paint. Apart from the obvious question of ‘Why would anyone want to know?’, I asked what was expected and was told I could just paint and people could look over my shoulder if they fancied. So, being faced with 20 eager faces in a circle hanging on my words of wisdom, was a shock!
However, luckily I had actually thought it through a bit ahead of time (sometimes having an over active brain which always thinks of the worst-case scenario, is a blessing). And I chatted away – people even took notes.
Last night I was painting a picture and thought it would be good preparation if I articulated how I work, so I took some progressive photos, in the hope it illustrates the workings of a watery-mind:
Step 1 – think!
Take a look at your source photo and think about what appeals and what doesn’t. Look at light and dark, consider composition and have a feel for colours. A bit of time up front, really makes a huge difference. You could do a tonal sketch. These are great for watercolours as once you have lost your lights it is hard to get them back. But to be honest, I never do as I just want to get stuck in and my time is always limited. Usually there is a child to be picked up or a meal to be cooked – but ‘do as I say, not do as I do’! The most important thing is to really consider where your white will be.
Step 2 – draw or not?
If something needs to look fairly representative (as in this case), then I usually do a basic sketch. Using a B or 2B pencil (so it doesn’t smudge when you paint over it). But painting without a sketch is so good for getting you out of your comfort zone and being a bit more spontaneous. If you do sketch first, keep it light and loose, so you can respond to any happy accidents. Once the first layer of paint is dry you can rub out your lines, as long as you are using a tolerant paper, and no one will ever know…..
I am using a 300lb not Bockingford paper – half sheet. I know some people are sniffy about Bockingford. It is a tough, forgiving paper and very economical and I like it. Using a paper which you are not scared of, seems a really good idea to me. In the end it is only paper, but if it costs a fortune you paint all up tight. If you have a stack of affordable paper, then you can go for it. I get a big batch from Jacksons Art and I know I can make a mistake.
Composition wise, I didn’t like the photo that much, so I tilted the head and thought I would worry about the body later.
Step 3 – paint
I choose a limited number of colours. Here I needed darks so it’s ultramarine, quin gold, quin sienna, indigo and some perylene maroon. If possible use artist quality paints – they are more intense and flow better. Cheap paints disappoint every time. However, I do use student quality paints from W&N or Daler Rowney – they are great. I mix a good squeeze into a nice creamy puddle and add a drop of gum arabic (helps transparency, brightness and lifting quality). I like this type of palette, as you are restricted on the number of colours you can use. It is a temptation to use too many – this way you keep a colour harmony in a painting.
On an animal start with the eyes – if you muck them up then the whole painting won’t work, so at least you won’t have wasted too much time. Noses are important too!! Try to leave plenty of white paper. It adds sparkle, life; everything which makes a watercolour lovely. If you blend away into the background as you go, you can mix in hard and soft edges and not be faced with the ‘what do I do with the background now?’ question.
Step 4 – keep going
Keep developing it. Do let things dry though between layers, as muddy puddles aren’t nice.
Step 5 – Stop!
Don’t over do it. If you can see what it is, then stop. You do not need to cover every bit of paper or paint every hair. Leave something to the viewer’s imagination – make them work a bit and they will look twice at the painting.
Step 6 – consider
Leave it overnight if poss and look again with fresh eyes. Or prop it up where you can see it out of the corner of your eye while you do something else. Look at it in a mirror, turn it upside down. You will soon see the problem areas. It is important to trick your eye into seeing what is on the paper and not what is in your head. Two very different things!! You might want to warm an area up with a glaze or lift an overly dark bit, but a little rest will help. People always say you can’t rectify mistakes in watercolour – not true. I will do a bit about that in futures, but there are a few rescue remedies you can try.
Of course, just occasionally you come back and have the lovely feeling that it is better than you remembered (not often!).
Now how to crop the picture, as I paint bigger than the intended final size to allow some wiggle-room? It is your image, so you can take a knife to it. If a bit isn’t working, cut it off. Use a mount to select the best composition. Unless your paper has an obvious grain, you can tilt in too – I have mounted paintings tilted by 25% and they work really well. Pop a picture into a mount and frame and suddenly it will look so different – it really is worth it. Frames are expensive (or can be), but if you work to a similar size, or couple of sizes, you can swap paintings round regularly and have them hung up using the same frame.
Step 7 – cross fingers
Now I have emailed a photo to the owner and am waiting with fingers crossed, that she doesn’t tell me it’s horrible. I am always really nervous showing people paintings, as you want them to be pleased and enthusiastic, but also honest.
This morning I painted owls in my demonstration. I am at the consideration stage and hopefully will finish it this evening. Everyone was lovely, so maybe I will do another one soon.