Canton Museum of Art Watercolor Class, Week 4

In week four of the watercolor class, we focused on color theory, and edges. I know about half of a percent of everything I should know when it comes to color theory, so this was really beneficial.

In the assignments for this week, we were supposed to paint a piece of fruit, over and over. In the example below, I painted a lemon.

Number 1 was me trying to use “local color, and all hard edges.” This is how I tend to paint, carefully, methodically, with a tight focus on tiny and insignificant details. It is easily my least favorite.

This tells me that I am too insecure. I paint very tight and rigid because I want to make sure the audience “gets it.” I want them to see my painting and say “That’s a lemon. This guy can paint!” But that just makes a flat, boring painting.

And I just realized this… that painting then is actually more about me… my self-esteem is horribly low so I’m trying to get recognized as “good.” I think “good” means the audience can tell what I’m trying to paint, so the whole time I’m painting I’m thinking “Get it right! Get it right dammit!” I narrow down, I focus, and I beat the damn thing to death.

I end up worrying more about how the audience views me, and less about how the audience views the fucking thing I’m trying to get them to look at in the first place. I get tight like that, and it becomes all about me. If I can let go, and stop being so worried about myself, then I can let the audience see whatever they want when they look at it.

I don’t want to be an artist who holds the audience’s face to the page squeezing their temples screaming “See? See my fucking lemon! See! I’m good enough aren’t I?!” I want to be an artist who says “Hey check it out, what do you see?”

That will be a more generous painting, it will let the audience participate. If I stop trying so hard to prove that I’m good enough, I’ll open the door for the audience to participate in the art by letting them fill in some of the gaps on their own. I’ll let them see whatever they want to see.

As far as the color part of the exercise goes, I wanted to use “local color ” here. That means use yellow to render a yellow lemon. And, since yellow’s compliment is purple (or I guess I should say violet), I mixed purple and yellow to make shadows. The result is a convincing uh… color structure? because the side of the lemon that should be in shadow, indeed appears to be in shadow. But it’s also uninteresting. It’s just a yellow, and grey/brown lemon, and frankly it looks a bit rotten. But hey… LOOK AT MY FUCKING LEMON!

Number 2 was me trying to use local color, and all soft edges. I am not a fan of this one at all, but it was my daughter’s favorite of these four. I tried to let myself go and loosen up, but again, I was so concerned with making sure that it looked like a lemon that it ended up still feeling tight and over-wrought even though I was supposed to use all soft edges. Even when trying to let go, I’m still clutching your face and prying your eyelids open screaming “It’s a lemon! I tried really hard! I’m good enough! Tell me I’m good enough!”

Number 3 was supposed to use a mixture of hard and soft edges, and using a split complimentary color scheme. I thought that meant use the local color for the lemon, and then mix the colors to the right and left of yellow’s compliment to render the shadows. Since purple is the compliment of yellow, I thought that meant I should mix blue and red to make the shadow. After painting a purple shadow I realized that it was just what I did in the first two. I thought maybe split compliments need to be spread a bit further apart from the compliment… maybe I need a blue that’s closer to green, and a red that’s closer to orange. So I grabbed cobalt teal and dropped that into the still wet purple shadow. I fell in love with how that color worked in the shadow – so I didn’t add any reddish-orange to it.

I absolutely love the way the shadow looks. It’s not at all realistic, but it has a bossy vibrance that forces you to consider it and I love that. Shadows are mundane, and easily ignored. But at the same time, they are responsible for a great deal of the story telling in an image. They help define the light, they provide contour lines that define the shape of whatever they are cast on, and they can describe objects outside the frame, making the painting live in a world that is bigger than the surface it’s painted on. For all these reasons, I really want to explore shadows more in my paintings.

Look how Joseph Zbukvic uses a shadow here to tell us about a building that isn’t in the picture. Instead of rendering that side of the street, which would push the whole composition backwards, making the cars smaller, and turning an L-shaped composition into a U-shaped composition, he just paints the shadow of the building on top of the building that is in the frame. As a result, he still tells us that the street is confined over on the left, but he doesn’t have to zoom out to show us. Because he doesn’t need to zoom out, he keeps the viewer close to the action, which contributes to a feeling of a bustling, busy, narrow street. The ornate shape of that shadow, tells us that the building isn’t a CVS, or a diaper factory, it’s ornate, and grand – so we know it’s important. That building also isn’t a brutalist cement bunker – now we know it’s fragile. We know all of this about a building that isn’t even in the painting, simply because of its shadow. And, because we know there is an ornate, fragile, important building just to the left, we are confronted with the sense of jeopardy caused by the cars and the jostling busy life in the street, Those hulking metal cars are driving on this busy street right next to that fancy building, and here we are, standing in the middle of the road – we are right in the mix. A whole lot of that story is told by a shadow.

Anyway… I like the cobalt teal shadow in number 3.

Number 4 was supposed to use a triadic color scheme. I thought that meant draw an equilateral triangle on a color wheel and use the three colors that the corners point to. If I do that, when one corner points at yellow, the other two corners would be on red and blue. But then triadic color scheme would do exactly what the “split-complimentary” scheme did… I have no idea. Then, I thought, maybe I’m not supposed to mix these other colors in the palette, maybe I’m supposed to do it on the paper… so I tried that, and again I really liked the result. Number 4 is my favorite though I seem to be in the minority there.

Anyway – I clearly need to learn more about color theory. But even not having a clue how it works, I really got a lot out of exploring this way. Sure I need to learn what these terms mean, but more importantly, I need to let more colors speak to each other on my paper. I don’t need to always stick with local color – I can use teal for a shadow and still really like the result, even if it isn’t at all true to life.

After finishing these, I painted many more lemons. But I’ve been typing this for three hours now… I’ll just post pictures of the others.

I also painted another version of James and Verna’s barn.

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