Surowicz Rocks: 4.23-4.28

Here are my renditions of exercises 4.23-4.28 from Rick Surowicz’s podia Rocks and Water.

There is a surprising amount to discuss regarding these exercises.


I love the way Rick laid out these lessons. At first, I played with a full painting by doing value studies. Then, there’s a “wax on, wax off” moment where he teaches how to lay graded and variegated washes. Then, you progressively build on those until you are back to painting the full composition.

At first I wanted to skip the lessons on the variegated washes because I thought they might be overly simplistic. But Rick’s pedagogy is sound. By experimenting with washes and building to texture exploration, it ensures plenty of practice laying variegated washes – which it turns out might be the biggest thing I struggle with in my painting.

By doing these exercises faithfully, I have practiced the right way to lay variegated washes 28 different times, each time increasingly focused on building on what I learned last time. Of course, 28 exercises aren’t enough to master a skill like this, but drilling the technique like this really drives home how important it is do this the correct way. (I’ll do a more in-depth discussion of variegated washes and what I learned in this Podia when I’m finished.)

The only issue I have with this section is that the lesson on how to paint the initial water wash is out of sequence in the podia, so I didn’t see it until after I had painted it.

Fortunately, I spent a good deal of time with Ron Hazell’s Painting Water with Water Color, so I employed those techniques to put down that initial wash, and it appears those techniques were similar to what Rick recommends.

Painting Water

Ron Hazell recommends painting water with a darker value near the viewer if it goes off the bottom of the page. When I’m out in nature, I have noticed that this is accurate, so I employed that here. If I’m standing somewhere, and there is water with depth at my feet, that water is darker in value. The glare that might be present is largely not visible right at my field of view, and I can instead see into the water – for that reason I painted the water darker at the bottom of the composition.

In these exercises, the water is not necessarily darker at the bottom of the composition, I think because the photograph we are working on is cropped, and at the bottom of that cropped image, the water has a glare on it. While that’s an accurate representation of the image, I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what I would see in real life, so I’m following my instincts with a darker value at the bottom. I think this will be a moot point for the final composition, because there the water is darker in value at the bottom of the image.

As for ripples: Ron’s method for rippled water creates results that I really like. I tried Rick’s approach on the left, and Ron’s approach on the right. I prefer Ron’s approach.

Rick paints the water in three stages:

  1. Paint a graded wash of blue to white. Let that dry completely.
  2. Paint reflections & ripples, let that dry completely.
  3. Glaze with additional water tones to add more depth.

Ron paints the water in three stages:

  1. Paint a graded wash of blue to white. Let that dry completely.
  2. Wet the wash with clear water, let that dry to damp.
  3. Paint water-toned ripples in the damp water. If they start to feather because the water is too damp, pull a dry brush across the ripples. Let that dry completely.
  4. Paint the reflections, and paint broken reflections on the ripples painted in step 3.

I’ll probably write more about this later, and why I like the results I get with Ron’s approach.

Color Theory

Ok, another bit where I’ll butcher color theory. In this exercise, I wanted to paint the rocks on the left as if they were in full sun, and the rocks on the right as if they were in shadow, because that’s what I noticed when I did the color studies a while back.

According to my (probably incorrect) idea about color theory, this means that the rocks in the sun should be “warm” and the rocks in the shadow should be “cool.” This doesn’t mean the rocks in the sun should be “redder” and “yellower” but they should appear to have an actual temperature difference. And that difference should come from how much light it’s getting.

Here, my idea is not that red/yellow/orange colors are warm, and blue/green/purple colors are cool. My idea is that if the object is red in full sun, the shadowed side should be on the darker end of the visible spectrum, shifted upward toward magenta, then black. If the object is blue in the full sun, then the shadowed side should shift down through violet to black.

Take a look at one rock in all four images, which version is more believable?
I won’t tell you what I think. Instead, just look at them and decide for yourself which rock is the most realistic. (There is no right answer. It’s a matter of perception.)

Now, this theory on “warm” and “cool” colors.

If the color in full sun is warm, the cooler version of that color isn’t necessarily just “more blue” but it’s the version of that color that’s closer to the invisible end of the spectrum. So if we start with yellow, the cooler versions of yellow are red, then magenta, then black. If we start with Cyan, the cooler colors are blue, then violet, then black. If we start with green, I guess it can go either way, or it can just gradually darken to black.

With this model in mind, if the highlight on my rock is yellow, then the shadowed part should be a deep dark red. If the highlight is a deep dark blue instead, it will feel like a different thing – it will feel like a blue thing that’s in shadow.

Now, take that example above into Photoshop, and use the color picker to evaluate the color of the rock in full sun, and compare that to the color of the rock in shadow. Here’s what we get.

Notice that on all rocks, the full-sun color is orange or yellow. The shadows of the rocks on the left have a magenta shift. The shadow on the top right has a red shift, and the shadow on the bottom right has a blue shift. If my theory is correct, then the rock on the bottom right would have felt the “least accurate.” I’m not sure if this is true, or correct, or the standard way warm and cool colors are understood in art school. It’s just showing my thought process when it comes to color theory. I am trying to think of “warm” as “a hotter version of the color” and “cool” as “a colder version of the color” instead of “redder” and “bluer.”

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