I liked my painting on the 1/16th sheet enough that I decided to try the same thing on a half sheet. I’ve never painted a half sheet before, so this was a little new.
The one thing I knew at the outset was that no matter what, I couldn’t let myself overwork it. I knew that would be a challenge because I so easily get sucked into fiddling with the itsy bitsy details, so I committed to trying to pay close attention to that nagging feeling that tends to crop up when I’m painting which says “Pssst… stop.”
Usually when I feel that, I tend to say, “ok… just let me put one more…. ah dang it.”
This time, I wanted to listen.
I started by wetting the sky, and the distant hill with clean water. Then, I painted Ultramarine Blue into the sky, darker in the upper left, because I want the light to come from the upper right.
For the distant hills, I mixed some Raw Umber into the UM Blue, and painted while the sky was still wet. I wasn’t trying to get any clouds in the painting, so I didn’t worry about that, and I was able to get a much cleaner wash as a result.
I should also mention that I was using my largest brush for these washes. It holds a metric ton of water, which made it easier to cover large swaths in a few strokes. This, I think, is critical for getting a nice clean wash.
I neglected to take any progress photos as I went, and I don’t know how helpful it is to describe every decision anyway, so I’ll just talk about some things I see regarding the composition, since that’s my big problem area right now. Compositionally, I think this is successful, so I want to spend some time thinking about why it is.
I only used four pigments in this painting: UM Blue, Quin Gold, Anthraq Red, and Raw Umber. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision as it was my attempt to reduce variables of uncertainty by choosing pigments I know best. By using a reduced color palette, it was easier for me to know what to add every time I needed to mix a new color. Each color needs to be relative to the colors in the rest of the painting. By using only a few colors, I can ensure that “adding red” will result in a warmer tone. If I use multiple reds, one red might be cooler than another red. In that case, if I want to warm a tone, I have to know which red is warmer, and add that one. I also have to remember which red was used in different parts of the painting to get warmer tones, and make sure that “adding red” index results in something that is warmer relative to the other tones in the image.
I wanted to create a sense of depth, and grandeur. To make the barn feel more grand, I exaggerated the height above the viewer by lowering the point of view from what I see in the photograph. This makes it feel like we are looking up at the barn, which also makes it feel more imposing.
I also tried to achieve a sense of grandeur by keeping a lot of negative space. The wide open portions of the image with relatively little going on make the focal points more commanding, like they are ruling over those areas with less detail.
I wanted the sky to be the lightest value, the midground to be slightly darker, and the foreground to be the darkest in value. I think even if you strip away all the other elements of composition, just that value structure can create the illusion of depth.
I also wanted the grass to be very yellow. Yellow is typically one of the lighter values. So, in order for the yellow grass to be the darkest value, my sky needs to be almost white, the hills need to be a very pale grey, and the yellow grass needs to be heavily saturated.
Darkest Lights are Lighter than the Lightest Darks
This is something I learned on Proko. It’s a really good adage to keep in mind. Basically it means you should have two sets of values, light values, and dark values. Each set has a spectrum. So, there are lighter darks, and darker darks. There are also lighter lights, and darker lights. But, even the lightest of the dark values should be darker than the darkest of the light values. The lightest values should be in areas that are most directly hit by the light source, and the darkest values should be hidden from the light source.
This means that the sky, the near hill, and edge of the roof all need to be “light” The rest of the values should be darker than these.
Point of View
Using the rule of thirds, I tried to place the focal point at a “Golden Corner.” The rule of thirds doesn’t create the illusion of depth so much as it defines the point of view. Because I want my image to convey a sense of grandeur, I want to place the focal point above the viewer. In order to do this, I placed the focal point near the upper left Golden Corner, and increased the height of the foreground. This lowered the point of view, and elevated the focal point.
Rule of Halves and Doubles
The rule of halves and doubles helps to define the relative size of these blocks of value. To put it simply, the rule of halves and doubles means things that are twice as far are half as big, and there are twice as many.
Here I have split the composition in half. The foreground is darkest, the sky is lightest. And, the rule of halves and doubles says that the foreground should be twice the size of the midground.
If we break that rule, it looks like the midground is uphill. Our eye knows it should be half the size of the foreground, so our brain comes up with an explanation for why it isn’t. The simplest explanation is, the midground is simply higher than the foreground.
If we add an object, that object should be half the size, and there should be twice as many as we move to the horizon. Not only should the object itself change in this way, but so should the negative space around the object.
Of course in nature, this isn’t always as neatly the case, because things are organic, and naturally come in different shapes and sizes. So this rule doesn’t tell us what size every tree needs to be, rather it tells us how the viewer will interpret the sizes. For example, in this painting, the barn is much larger than the structure on the lower hill. So – it feels much closer.
I wanted soft edges pretty much everywhere except the focal points. The barn on the hill is the main focal point, but I wanted more than just one area of interest. I wanted something interesting in the foreground, midground, and background in order to give the viewer something to “journey into.” So, I tried to use soft edges everywhere, and reserved crisp edges for only those three focal points. By relying on soft edges everywhere else, I think the focal point stands out, but not in a glaring, bossy way.
I think an S-curve is the easiest way to lead the viewer’s eye through a design. I don’t have a road or fence in this image to get an easy, ready-made S-curve. Instead of inventing one, I decided to place focal points in such a way to imply an S-curve.
There are other lines in this image leading the eye to the focal point. I’d love to say I’m brilliant and planned them, but honestly, I only noticed them when it was done. I think these are a big part of what makes this image successful for me. They are more subtle, but way more impactful.
To light the image I thought about quite a few things: planes, tones, values, and saturation. Every time you make a mark, you impact tone, value and saturation with that one mark, so you have to think it through a bit before you place the mark.
The largest plane in this image is the near hill. When I painted it, I knew I wanted it to be yellow in order to drive home the early morning light. So I had to make sure all of the tones were warm. The lightest part of the hill needed to be the part most directly exposed to the light, so that had to be the highest in value. That meant it needed to have the least amount of pigment applied. So, I painted a large swath of yellow, and left parts of the page white to lighten it further in the middle. On the top and bottom of the hill, the light is less direct, so these needed to have slightly darker values. To achieve this, I applied more pigment there. On the top of the hill, there is less light than at the bottom of the hill, so when I added pigment there, I used more blue to give it a cooler tone. The bottom of the hill is closer to the viewer so more light from that part should be making its way to the viewers eye. That meant the bottom of the hill needed to be darker in value like the top of the hill, but it needed to be warmer than the top of the hill. So, I used more red. This whole plane is in direct light, so it needed to be very saturated. When I applied pigment, I tried to make sure I had more pigment, and less water.
The next largest plane is the distant hill. This plane is contrajour (against the day) so it’s entirely in shadow. That meant it needed to be cool in tone, and desaturated. So I mixed a cool neutral of UM Blue and Raw Umber. This also needed to be dark in value. But, as I mentioned above, the value in the midground has to be darker than the sky, but brighter than the foreground. So, even though the light is more directly hitting the hill, it still needed to be lighter in value than the hill. To achieve that, I painted the entire plane in a wash of watery, cool, purplish, grey.
The lower hill is also contrajour so it needed to be desaturated. That meant using more neutral tones. It is closer to us than the distant hill, so it needs to be more saturated than the hill. But it is farther than the near hill, so it needs to be less saturated than the near hill. And because it is largely in shadow, it needs to be cooler than the near hill. So I painted this section in relatively neutral tones that are warmer than the distant hill, but cooler than the near hill. I also used more pigment than I did the distant hill, but less pigment than the near hill.
There are planes within that plane, which I needed to represent as well. All of these needed to be relatively neutral in color, so I used all three primaries when I painted these, in order to keep them neutralized. The tree behind the house is a good example. Because the lower part of the tree is in shadow, I used cooler greyer neutrals, of darker value to paint them. The other side of the tree is getting more direct light, so these needed warmer, more saturated neutrals, with relatively less pigment.
I say relatively, because I had to remember that all the tones on this plane needed to be cooler than the near hill, and warmer than the distant hill. All of the colors needed to be less saturated than the near hill, and more saturated than the distant hill. And the values had to be darker than the darkest parts of the near hill, and darker than the distant hill.
Keeping this relativity in mind when painting is the biggest challenge. I tend to paint the things in a plane, and forget about how they need to relate to the rest of the imageas a whole—this is what I mean by tunnel vision.
If I get tunnel vision, I might work on exaggerating something in this plane so it feels right in the context of this plane, forgetting that doing so pulls it out of context from the rest of the image. So when painting little details like this, I really need to remember their place in the greater whole of the composition.
Because there no do-overs in water color, this is where things get to be a real challenge. It’s better to err on the side of not making a mark when fiddling in these areas. Then, let it dry, and see it again in the context of the whole image. It’s always easier to add pigment later if I need to.
Everything in this plane is more directly hitting the light, so it should be warmer than the distant hill. It’s also more directly lit than the plane I just described, so it needs to have more saturation. And many of the planes here are less directly hit than the near hill, so it needs to be darker in value than the near hill.
The shrubs behind the barn are in shadow, so they need to be cooler than the barn. But, they are more directly lit than the distant hill, so they need to be warmer than the distant hill, and cooler than the nearest hill.
This is where purple becomes so useful. The purple tones on the distant hill are cooler because they are made by mixing UM Blue and Raw Umber. This mixture gives a very neutral grey. Because Raw Umber is a fairly reddish tone, and red +blue makes purple, that grey on the distant hill is a cool, purplish neutral. I need the shrubs to be purple to indicate that they are in the shadow of the barn, so they are more neutral than the tones on the barn. But I need them to also be warmer than the distant hill. Fortunately, purples can be warm if you use more red, or cool if you use more blue. So, I simply added a touch of Anthraq Red to the color I used to paint the distant hill. The result is a neutral purple that is darker in value than what was used on the distant hill, more saturated, and warmer.
This plane was also the focal point, so I needed strong contrast here. That’s why I left the gutter on the roof white. I also wanted more detail here, because it’s the focal point, which is why the windows were added.
There is another plane here as well, made by that tree behind the barn. This tree is not shadowed by the barn, so it needs to be warmer than the shrubs. It is further away than the shrubs, so it needs to be lighter in value. And it’s further away, so it shouldn’t be as saturated. To achieve this, I just added a smidge more Raw Umber, and watered it down a bit. That gave me a tone that was similar to the tone used on the shrubs, but warmer, lighter, and less saturated. Because it’s farther away, it was painted by wetting the paper with clean water from above the shrubs and barn, all the way to the top of the page. I then dropped in some of that new color, and let it wander upward via osmosis. This wet in wet technique ensured soft edges.
There’s one more plane. That’s the one right in the front. This is needed in order to tell the viewer where they are in the composition. Because it’s near, it needs to be warm. Because most of the grass is in shadow from the grasses on the right, it needs to be fairly neutral. And because it’s largely in shadow, it needs to be relatively dark.
This is where I get to place the darkest darks in the whole image. I also add the largest concentration of crisp lines, because it is nearest to us. And I tried to ensure warm tones on the right side of the grasses, and cool tones on the left side of the grasses, just like the trees in the lower hill.
I played a lot with perspective in this one. When people talk about perspective, I think there is a misconception that there should only be one or two or three vanishing points, and every line in the image should go to them. But I think this is wrong. I think every object needs it own vanishing points because each object is at a different location in relation to the viewer’s eyes. The point isn’t to make every line in the image point to the same vanishing points, but to make every line in THAT PLANE honor the same vanishing points. So every time there is a new plane, there is a new vantage point in relation to the viewer’s eyes, which means new vanishing points. I need to study this more before I can say with confidence that I’m correct on that, but it makes sense to me.
So, with all that… here’s the final painting.