I enrolled in a watercolor class at the Canton Museum of Art. Last week was the first class. In that session, we covered a lot of the basics about what materials are used to paint in watercolor, why those materials are used, and a little bit about some of the techniques you can use to get the most out of those materials.

The session was really helpful for me, because I got to see a lot of the sketchbook/practice work that our instructor, Kit Palencar, has done in the past. I often feel like a failure when I’m trying to improve because so much of my practice work looks – like practice work. Seeing someone else generate work that also looks like practice, helped me see that those sorts of failed attempts aren’t failures. They are practice… I need to gruel out through that sort of tough stuff in order to create art that I’m proud of.

After the class, we were given an assignment to draw a value study of a work from a Master. Kit allowed some of us to take on additional work as well, so I got a copy of the extra exercise.

That exercise was to go out, and take reference photos and draw value studies of five different locations outside. I only had time to do value studies of one spot, because this week was nuts with work and family stuff.

I walked out in the park on Middlebranch, and found a tree with a branch hanging out over a stream. I was drawn to the crooked gnarled fingers of that tree branch, and decided to study that. I figured there was a lot of contrast in that spot because the smooth water contrasted with the gnarled branches. There was also a lot of contrast in line direction, with the water going horizontal, and the tree going diagonally.

I stood back and took a few photographs, and then proceeded to draw the tree and the branches on site. This proved to be immensely helpful because later, when I looked at the photographs, I found myself painting what I remembered from the place, instead of just trying to paint what was in the photograph.

When I draw a scene in real life, and then take a photo of it, I’m always amazed at how different the photo is from what I drew. I think the biggest reason for the difference is when I look at a scene, I see three dimensional space in a way that the camera can’t. The camera is 100% 2D. But when I’m standing there, even a slight tilt of the head will push a stick or a blade of grass into a different direction, and as a result what I’m seeing is very different from what the camera captures.

Here are the photos I took from that spot:

If I hadn’t drawn this scene on location, trying to paint in from these photos would have been a lot harder. All of the detritus, gets in the way of the subject, and because the photo is so flattened out, there are a lot of elements that I genuinely didn’t pay any attention to when I was sketching on site. It might help to see the sketches:

It’s not really obvious from the sketches I guess, but basically, drawing on site made it much easier to ignore the crap that I didn’t care about. As a result, I could try value sketches that focused on the gnarled branches, and that semi-circular gesture of the branch that was overhanging the water.

Also, a duck swam by, so I tried to practice drawing stuff in real life.

I emailed the value sketches to Kit, and he told me to try to paint one. So, I tried to paint number 3. I got about halfway done, and gave up because I had already gone too dark with my values. At that point, it was going to be impossible to really get the contrasts I was looking for, and I could tell it was all starting to turn into mud, so I just gave up on it.

Kit was really generous in his feedback, and suggested trying again with a little more restraint on the dark blacks and the crisp lines around the elements I was drawing. I agreed with him completely and last night I painted this:

Before I went to paint this one, I spent a good bit of time on the drawing, and I used a dip pen to scratch some masking fluid on spots I wanted to keep white. I like how that worked on the tree in a few places, but I don’t like how it worked in the grass. I also think masking fluid for my signature makes my signature stand out too much, and it looks ugly.

The biggest challenge for me here is getting those branches to look the way I want them to look. I want them to appear as gnarled and twisted as they did in real life, but mine all look very straight and crystalline. This is definitely something I want to work on some more.

When I woke up this morning, I saw that Kit had sent an email with a video about how to paint skies, and suggested that we practice washes by painting a sky. So, I did. When I was finished with the sky, which I painted mainly by painting a broken wash of blue, and lifting some color out with a paper towel, I thought it reminded me of a photo I took of Branden’s Mom and Dad’s barn a while ago. So, I decided to try to paint that.

This is the photo I’m talking about.

And here is my painting of it:

I am actually quite proud of this painting. I have been trying to figure out how Joseph Alleman achieves that lifted effect that I see in some of his paintings, and I think I stumbled on it. In this painting, I just lifted the pigment from the paper with a wet brush while the sheen was fading. It’s not exactly the same as Joseph Alleman’s work, but it’s somewhat sort of almost close.

This is the painting technique that Alleman does that I’m talking about:

One of these days, I am going to spend a lot of time talking about Joseph Alleman. I’m a huge fan of his work and I would love to spend more time examining how he achieves some of the effects that he achieves. If you aren’t familiar with his work, check him out.

Anyway… the email from Kit also said to bring in our value studies from the Master Study, which I hadn’t actually done. So, I opened up my book on Sargent, and sketched a quick value study of this painting.

Sketching my value study of the painting really helped me see how much is reliant on negative painting. At first, the sheets and the grass/shrubs were all the same value. It wasn’t until I started really darkening the grass and shrubs that the sheets popped out and stood on their own. There are several really important white highlights at the tops of the fabric, where it rests on the laundry lines. If these whites aren’t preserved, then the sheets just melt into the grass. So, I am happy to see how important those are before attempting to paint this. Interestingly, that same thing doesn’t happen at the bottom of the sheets. If I maintain a crisp, pristine white at the top of the sheet, the bottom can basically blend right into the vegetation, and it still reads like a sheet. I’m intrigued by this…

Anyway, I have to run to class soon and I wanted to get all this written down and posted before I left because I’m going to have more work to post and discuss after this class. I’m really glad I enrolled in this class. I look forward to learning more from Kit as we progress through the lessons, and it’s a good motivator to force me to get out there and paint.


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