You know that famous saying, “The thirteenth time’s a charm.”

Maybe it’s lucky number 14?

Before I get into the painting, I wanted to show the sketch, and a little thing I did to my easel this weekend.

Easel Hack

I have this drafting compass from Rachel’s Pappy that I use all the time. I use it to measure something in a composition, and that becomes my “unit” of measure for getting the proportions correct in a drawing.

I also try to keep the rule of thirds in mind whenever I paint. I think this is the most fundamental “rule” of good composition. But it’s a hassle to measure and accurately divide the paper into thirds and halves every time I sit down to paint.

So this weekend, I decided to make what I’ll call a “relative measuring tape” on my easel that I could use to quickly divide my paper.

I almost always paint on quarter sheets, so I measured an edge, then cut that in half, and marked these on my tape.

Then, I hammered an awl into the wood at the “base” line, and did the same at the halfway point. This gave me two little indentations in the wood on the easel.

Now, all I have to do is spread the prongs of the drafting compass so one is in the base, and the other is in the 1/3 indentation. I can then easily transfer this dimension to my paper.

I went a little nuts, and also measured out 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, etc…

I don’t actually draw these lines across the image, rather, I make marks on the masking tape at the edge. These are just there to remind me as I’m planning and painting to remember the rule of thirds as I paint.

On to the Painting…

This time, I decided to bring the foreground higher in the image, hoping this would give me a better sense of the perspective in the composition. I was also a little more careful to sketch the image in detail. Then, I went in with masking fluid, and masked off some branches, lily pads, and flowers.

While that dried, I wrote the above, and now I’ll get back to painting. But before I do, I’m going to take a minute to read through my “recipe” again, so I can be disciplined this time, and (hopefully) avoid overworking things.

Stage 1: Primary Wash

I really, really, really, really am fighting the urge to fix that curving white part of the water. I wish it were straight, but I am trying very hard to be disciplined against overworking the painting.

For the primary wash, I wetted the sky with clean water, and painted a single stripe of blue into the horizon. I then pulled it into the sky with two diagonal strokes, and let it do its own thing. I then used clean water to pull that blue down below the horizon to start the surface of the water.

In the middle of the painting, I added a stripe of turquoise, and brought that down the page before adding blue and green at the bottom. I then used the green to render the trees on the left, and used the same green to paint the reflections of the trees and the early wash for the lily pads beneath the peninsula.

Then I played teacher until noon, and worked until evening, so it had plenty of time to dry.

Stage 2: Secondary Wash

After work, I fixed a flat tire, and then came to paint the secondary wash. In this wash, my goal was to define some of the lily pads, render the trees on the horizon, and pull some reflections into the water.

Again, I started by painting the entire sky with clean water. As that dried I dappled in a few spots of vegetation on the peninsula. Then, I painted a couple of lily pads before the sheen was gone from the clean water on the sky. At that point, I dappled some grey, purple, blue and green into the horizon and let it wick up the page. About thirty seconds later, I used a small pointed round to drag that color onto the water surface. I desperately tried to usher those reflections down the page without overworking it, and well… we’ll see.

As that dried, I used some thin pigments to paint watery strokes to represent lily pads.

Again, my goal isn’t to represent every lily pad, my goal is to give the viewer a scaffold of sorts. I’m trying to suggest to them “there’s some here… and a few over here… and, well you decide where they are.” Then, I’ll paint a few of the lily pads carefully, and leave the rest fairly abstract. Hopefully the viewer will see the carefully rendered lily pads, and use that to inform their perception of the rest.

I also added some darker shadows at the base of the trees on the peninsula, and now I’m letting that dry before I go back in for a detailed wash.

At this stage, I fear the painting is hopelessly ruined. Nothing makes sense, everything is on the edge of muddy, and in not sure it’ll come together.

But, that is how I always feel at this stage… soon I’ll see if I can pull it off.

Stage 3: Detail Wash

Detail wash? Is that an oxymoron? I don’t know. Deal with it.

Before I do anything, I first wanted to remove the masking fluid that was placed first, and apply another layer. I like to do this because it adds a whole new level of interest to the items that had been masked off. If I mask things off, and then just don’t touch them again, when I’m done, everything that was masked off is the exact same note. Same color, same value. Same edge… flat and boring.

Instead, I like to remove the masking fluid, and then reapply. I mask some of the areas that were masked previously (like the flowers) and I also mask off some of the wash from the first round. This way I end up with a bunch of bits, all with similar edges, but the tone and value are all over the place. I find this really helps to situate the masked off areas within the composition, rather than making them feel completely alien from everything else.

Or I’m just making things up.

See how everything that was masked off is the exact same note? That’s a problem.
Even before I paint anything, the masked off sections already feel more integrated, simply because they aren’t the only thing with that kind of edge.

Ok, now I have to let that dry.

This is what I meant by the detail wash. It’s not actually intricate little details, it’s more some individual brush strokes meant to convey lily pads.

Stage 4: Jewelry

Finally, I added some detailed marks with a small brush, and added purple shadows to the flowers. This is what Joseph Zbukvic calls the jewelry stage. It can make or break the painting. You need to add enough detail to finish off that scaffold so the viewer knows how you want them to interpret the abstract shapes throughout, but too much, and you clutter the image turning it into a junk drawer of bits and bobs, and rob the viewer of the experience of discovering elements in the painting on their own.

I think I did an ok job here, but I rendered too many lily pads. I need to trust those abstract shapes, and the viewer, more than I did here.

Next Steps

All said and done, I’m not sure I’ve cracked it.

I think I figured out how I want to render the sky, the flowers, and the individual lily pads.

I haven’t cracked the mass of lily pads in the midground, the trees on the peninsula, the reflection of the peninsula, or the glare of the water.

So, for lucky number 14, I’m going to reduce the noise on the peninsula by relying more on soft washes with sprinkles of detailed foliage and branches. I think I can achieve this by removing the masking fluid after the first wash, and masking, then apply two layers of detail, one with a new application of masking fluid, and one final layer with no masking fluid at all where I simply refine some of the edges left from the masking fluid.

For the glare, I’ll paint the sky and trees on the horizon just like I did here, but I’ll wait for that to dry completely before painting the water. I’ll then try one quick brush of silvery grey, and not worry about a reflection of those distant trees, the grey might commmunicate that effectively. I’ll then soften the bottom of that stroke with clean water, bringing that down to the blue on the bottom through a stroke of turqoise. I’ll let that dry.

Then, I’ll paint the reflection of the peninsula, a good bit darker than I did here, and rely on the masking fluid to brighten a few lily pads. While that dark reflection dries, I’ll add soft splatters of green to render the mass of lily pads.

If I do those things, I think I’ll be closer to achieving the painting I’m after.

For number 14, I’ll avoid taking progress photos, and I won’t be doing as detailed of a write up, because I worry I’m getting in my own head by summarizing each stage like I’ve done here. I’ll try to paint, and let the painting do its own thing. I might give it a go tonight, because I need to paint the farm road painting on Friday. That way, if 14 still sucks, I will have tomorrow to try 15. If 14 works out tonight, I’ll be able to use tomorrow to make a final draft. I can then take Friday off from these lily pads, and try this painting on a full sheet over the weekend.