Study – Rocks & Trees: #1

I think I learned more tonight doing these little studies than I have in a long time. 

First, I wanted to test blooms. I found that I need the pigment to be much more dry than I previously thought to get the effect I’m after with blooms. I want the pigment to lift from the paper and ride the water’s surface tension to the edges where it falls into the valleys in the paper’s texture as the water is absorbed. To do this effectively, it’s important to use a non-high staining pigment, and to wait for that initial wash to be – I don’t know – tacky? The sheen definitely should be gone from the paper before dropping a clean drop of water. If the paper is too wet, the drop will speed too far, and disburse the lifted pigment too much, losing the effect. If the pigment is too dry, it won’t lift when I add the water drop. It has to be just right – there is a magic moment when I can add a drop of water and – poof! Magic. 

The water drop must be clean. If I use dirty water, the bloom is muddy, and I lose the highlights in the center of the bloom. You need both – a bright center to the bloom, and crisp dark edges.

You also can’t wait for the paper to dry completely, especially if you want the bloom to be restricted on one edge. For the tree trunk, I painted a quick sky and soil background and let that dry completely. I mean absolutely bone dry. 

Then, I painted a trunk with clean water, to wet the paper in a defined line. Then, I dropped pigment into the damp (not wet) paper and let it mix on its own. Cool blues on the shadow side, warm browns on the light side. Then, once that has dried to that magic point, I can drop in a clean water droplet to get the blooms I’m after.

You have to be restrained with these. Too many, and the effect is gone. Not enough, and they appear accidental. 

Once the blooms are bone dry, I can then use a few dry brush strokes in a fast sweeping motion to give the impression of shape. The blooms end up being almost vertical, and the dry brush strokes are horizontal, giving the impression of a textured cylinder. There’s a word for dry brush work – I forget what it is.

I tried a variety of different things with the rocks as well. I tried knifing edges, this requires the initial wash to be very heavy with pigment – definitely at least a cream thickness, maybe even melted butter. After dropping that thick pigment, I need to wait until the paper is at that same magic dampness before knifing. Too soon, and the pigment just slides back into the knifed highlights. Too late, and the pigment won’t move at all.

Because both blooms and knifing require non-staining pigment to work best, it’s better to wait too long than to try too early. In the worst-case scenario, I wait too long and the pigment won’t move. But, because it’s a non-staining pigment, I can use a smidge of water to rewet the paper, and gently lift the pigment by gently brushing – then I can get blooms and knifing to work ok, even if the pigment had dried too much before I started. However, if I try too soon, the pigment spreads too far, and just makes mud.

I don’t think I like knifing very much because the result was always very dull highlights. I think this is because the pigment has settled in too much while I waited for it to be the right dampness, and also because in order to knife when the pigment is tacky, I have to push rather hard to make the pigment move. Pushing that hard flattens the peaks in the paper’s texture, reducing their contrast from the valleys, making the highlight feel dull.

The better solution seems to be a single, quick, confident stroke. I found success by painting a thin line to define the bottom of the rock, and the shadowed side. Then, hold the edge of my brush on the line making the side, and quickly dash it lightly across the paper. Pushing hard at the beginning and not at all at the end. The stroke itself is small, and needs to be done quickly and confidently – almost a snap, more than a stroke. The result is a pure white highlight side. At first I didn’t like that the highlight side had no boundary, so I would paint an edge to the highlight. This greatly flattens the object. It’s better to use that singlular snapping stroke, then when it is dry paint the background to define the edge of the highlight.

Also, after the snap stroke, I can drop in some cool shadows and warm colors in order to give some dimensionality. Blues work well for the shadow. My purples are too warm, and feel very out of place.

I also played with water a bit (back of one of those pages.) There are a few tricks there as well:
1) Don’t rely on masking fluid for highlights. The masking fluid had too precise of an edge. It’s better to “snap” the color in, and drop darker pigments after.
2) Keep the rule of halves and doubles in mind when painting the water’s surface. Highlights near the viewer should be much larger than highlights in the distance, which should be both smaller, and more numerous.
3) Allow some yellow pigment to drop into the darker water when the water is pretty wet. This will allow the pigment to spread evenly.
4) The ripples in the water have a dark area behind, and a thick dark area just beneath the highligh – which should be nearly white.

Again, I’m sleepy. That’s enough for tonight


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