I purchased an online workshop offered by Rick Surowicz, whose YouTube channel has been very helpful and inspirational to me as I try to learn to paint.
Before I go through the workshop, I decided to give the painting a go, as a pre test. I want to see how my approach to this painting changes after going through the lessons.
In order to make this a true test, I tried my hardest on this to make a successful painting, though I admit I rushed through the leaves at the end.
First, I made a value study. In this I realized that there are very strong differences in values, but the vast majority of the values in the source image are mid tones.
I think the hardest part of this painting is going to be finding ways to differentiate shapes in all the mid-tones. At the top left, the rocks are brightly lit by the sun. Everywhere else, the painting is in shadow. The value contrast should be most intense in the top, and less intense throughout the bottom. There should also be dappled shadows on the tops of the rocks.
After the value study, I sketched the image and masked the whites. I have been staying away from masking fluid lately, but looking at the source image, I see essentially two colors, a warm beige in the top, and a cool grey everywhere else. In order to get these colors to match the source image, I knew I would want to lay down a two-tone wash. So I would need to mask all the highlights to keep them white.
Then, I laid down my primary wash. I tried to keep the warm tones at the top right, and cool tones in the other corner. I mixed yellow ochre and Raw umber to create the warm tones. For the cool tones, I used ultramarine blue and Raw Umber.
I tried to allow the colors to mix on the paper, without trying to make a new color with those variations.
I then added some shadows and darker values to create the values I saw.
Then, I added some final details before removing the masking fluid and painting the highlights and leaves. I’m really tired right now, so I’ll just throw the final attempt here.
I’ll cut this up into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
The Good are parts I’m proud of, either because they show devolpment of a skill or technique, because they were a happy accident, or some mix of the two (a skill that worked, but I’m not confident I can do consistently.)
Starting at the top, the color contrast here is dead on. I needed the rocks at the top to be brightly lit in order for the rest to appear as if they were in shadow. Mixing a neutral brown and applying it in a loose wash, then defining with light shadows later worked very well. These rocks look like I wanted – though I would like more color variation and definition in order to make them appear more like rocks, and less like potatoes.
On the bottom right is a really nice example of leaving a masked highlight till the end, and then integrating it into the painting with a light color and some dry brushwork. I’m proud of the way this turned out, it really captures the feel of a nearby rock with strong highlights.
On the bottom are reflections that worked very well. I captured just enough action to make them feel dynamic without overworking them to the point where they were muddied. They are more than just simple slashes of color, by layering glazed on top of each other I created a sense of depth to accompany the movement. The contrasting shapes draw the eye appropriately, they aren’t forgetful, but they aren’t bossy either.
The Bad are parts that are morally bad. These are mistakes where I should know better. They aren’t stylistic decisions, but egregious errors, lapses in judgement, moments when I didn’t listen to the watercolor angel on my shoulder and instead fought the watercolor gods to my own doom.
I overworked those rocks to death. I wanted them to be the hero’s of this painting, the round one above is strong and brightly lit with clear highlights and shadows. The square rock beneath it is similarly strong and well defined, but living in the shadows. Unfortunately, I lost sight of the source image when I first painted the rounded rock, and I used a cool color on it. I then tried to warm it up with a glaze later on, but it just made a muddy mess. I kept revisiting thinking I could fix it, but I should know better by now. The square rock was more successful, but still too neutral. I should have cooled it more to put it deeper in shadow. The small rocks are an afterthought, and it shows.
The Ugly are parts that aren’t necessarily wrong, or weren’t painted with bad technique or poor planning, but elements that for one reason or another just didn’t work in this painting. The Ugly can be done successfully in other paintings, but they weren’t done successfully here.
These leaves are awful. The color is too cool, and they feel recessed. The leaves aren’t well-defined and feel like a singular flat shape. That’s no bueno. I should have taken more time on them. I should have applied a more carefully blended initial wash, and defined the dark shadows consistently to reinforce the light source.