Rachel and I went to Gervasi Still House for coffee today before work. I was pleasantly surprised. They had great coffee, with a free refill, and it wasn’t expensive. We might have to do that more often.
After coffee, Rachel left for work, but I still had some time to kill, so I walked around the vineyard and took some photos – they were setting up for a wedding I think.
As I wandered around finishing my coffee, I found a Swan and her… uh… swanling(?) hanging out by the pond, putting out the vibe. So, I sat on a tree stump, and practiced drawing for a bit.
I liked that last sketch, so I decided to paint it.
The first draft I did I explored some ideas for the background. I didn’t want any hard edges or descript features so I used some wet in wet washes, sprinkled some salt on it, flicked some water with a tooth brush, and let it dry upside down. I really liked how the textures worked, but I’ll need to explore the colors and values a bit more. I also wasn’t careful enough with water content, and I dropped onto the swan, which was impossible to fix later.
I also didn’t paint the background top down like I should because I rushed. Instead I started top down, then painted a long vertical line like a dummy. So, it was impossible to follow a bead, I was guaranteed to get a hard edge unless I moved very quickly, so I did – and that made me careless with the water content, which caused the drip. Good mistake – I know better for the next one.
In my rush, I also painted into the swan’s neck, ruining that line – ugh. I really need to be more careful next time.
When that was done, I started with light shadows around the swan’s head using a mixture of Raw Umber, Indie Blue, and Quin Purple. I should take my time on the next one and really build some gentle layers on the face. Then, I should use large shapes on the body, and a mixture on the neck – that will hopefully help to bring focus to the face, without jeopardizing the values.
I also didn’t get enough lost edges on the swan, so it felt disconnected from the background. I want it disconnected a bit, but I don’t want it to feel like I cut a swan from a different painting and glued it onto my background. I’ll explore some lost edges on the next one.
When I was done with the shadows and the bill and the face, I used Chinese white to add some feathering texture, and tried to fix the drip. It took a lot of white, and I lost a lot of the luminance I need. I’ll have to try avoiding white on the next one.
For the second draft, I decided to take photos of the progress – hoping to both document, and force myself to slow down a bit.
First, I sketched it out. I don’t normally sketch so dark, but I know the swan will be mostly white, and I kind of want the pencil to show in the final a bit. Also, I tried to exaggerate the twist in its neck by pretending it was a ribbon. I hope this will help with the shadows. I also took a lot more time with the face. It’s really easy for a swan to look like you just stole his breakfast cereal because that black mask looks like furrowed eyebrows. I found that terminating the mask at the eye, instead of going over the top of the eye, makes it look kinder. So I did that.
The most important thing for me compositionally is to make sure the eye is at one of the thirds.
Then, I played with the markup tools on my phone to test a few ideas for how to treat the background. There was a bit of trial and error, but this was insanely helpful. Instead of trial and error on the painting, I got to do it on my phone-which saved me from painting it wrong a half-dozen times.
This process took about twenty minutes, but I learned a lot. I want warms and cools – I know that. I want warms on the right, because the swan is looking in that direction, so that’s where I want the light to come from. But, if I go ape shit with saturating the warms and cools, all hell breaks loose. Better to neutralize them. Let them talk to each other through their grey friend.
I know I want a dark value on the bottom right, and mirroring that in the upper left helps establish a diagonal line, which reinforces where the swan is looking.
So, use neutral warms, and neutral cools, and darker values in the two corners. Right. On to painting…
Painting the Second Draft
The first step was to mask off highlights. I really want to avoid using white this time, so I tried to mask off the top of the swan and the right side because that’s where the light is hitting it. I also added some fine lines to create texture, and hopefully get the impression of feathers.
Then, I started painting the wash using the warm neutral at a F4b. I took my time and painted from top to bottom like I’m supposed to. This let me ensure that I had a bead of water along the edge as I painted. This allowed me to slow down because the bead keeps the edges soft.
Once I had painted that warm neutral across the whole background, I added the cool neutral At F3w to the corners, and a few diagonal slashes.
Then, I flipped it upside down, and sprinkled salt along the bottom edge (which was now higher in the air.) By doing it this way, the salt rolled down the painting naturally, ensuring a higher concentration of salt at the bottom, and gradually less toward the top.
I have been wary of using salt in the past, because I don’t want to add anything non-archival to the paper. But, I talked to a friend who is a chemical engineer about it, and he said that salt is a base, so if anything it will neutralize the tap water that I use, which is more than likely mildly acidic anyway. So, now I’m not afraid to use salt.
That said, I think I need to experiment more because the texture I get with salt is inconsistent. I get more reliable texture with just sprinkling water on with an old toothbrush.
So I sprinkled some water on with an old toothbrush.
Then I realized that I didn’t have any of the lost edges I want, so I painted clean water inside the swan and touched the wet background in a few places. This caused the background to run into the body, and give some of the lost edges I was looking for.
I let that dry, and then mixed some cool greys with Cerulean Blue and Raw Umber. I used this at a T4b to paint light shadows – and then faded some of them by painting clean water into a few edges.
Once that was done, I painted the beak with Perinone Orange and Hansa Yellow Light. I made sure to touch the beak to the neck to get a lost edge there.
Then, I mixed a buttery black by mixing Raw Umber, Indie Blue, and Quin Purple. I added a touch of Ultramarine Turqoise to give the black a bit of dimension, but it didn’t really do much. I wanted to get this to blend in a few spots, but I was nervous because the black was so strong, and Indie Blue stains really easily. So, I tried to avoid touching any wet paint except at the neck again.
I decided I wanted more lost edges between the swan and the background, so I added a bit of the black to some Ultramarine Turquoise and painted it at M3b on the bottom corner, and painted into the body of the swan a bit right there for the lost edge.
Once that all dried, I removed the masking fluid.
At this point, I felt the pencil lines were distracting, so I erased them.
Then, I added a few more shadows, and dashed some diagonals back into the background with the Ultramarine Truqoise, and lifted some as well. I tried to go over that bottom left lost edge on the swan some more. I felt like it could use more lost edges, but I was worried about overdoing it, so I signed it – and called it done.