Above are the mixing exercises from Rick Surowicz’s Podia Rocks and Water.
These exercises are admittedly basic. So much so that I almost skipped them. But, I’m a student. I want to get better. And if I want to improve quickly, I should be a good student. That means I need to trust the pedagogy of my instructors.
Who am I to say I’ve already mastered a skill that Rick Surowicz thinks is important? He has it mastered, but there he is doing it anyway. Shouldn’t I?
So, I took the time to do these and tried to do them to the best of my ability. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I learned a lot in this simple exercise.
1. Introduce Pigments to Each Other
I need to keep practicing mixing graduated washes. I tend to over-rely on mixing on the paper, and exercises like this are good for drilling into my mind the best method for getting dynamic color shifts.
When I paint Raw Umber straight from the tube, and then drop Indie Blue next to it because I want grey in between, they are going to fight. Instead of getting that silvery grey I’m after, Raw Umber and Indie Blue will compete against each other as they merge, each one trying to shout over the other one. Instead of a silvery grey, I’ll get an argument.
Instead, I should introduce them to each other on the palette. Let them get to know each other, and I can control who will be more important in that particular scene. Do I need a cool grey? Ok, Indie Blue gets to talk a little louder. Do I want a warm Grey? Ok, let Raw Umber shine. Or, maybe even introduce some Quin Red or Yellow Ochre. Take the time to introduce the pigments on the palette, then put them on the paper. Instead of arguing, they’ll dance.
If I continue setting pigments up for an argument, I’ll never get away from the mud that plagues my paintings. If I start better introducing them on the palette, I’ll start to get that luminous dance I’m trying so hard to achieve.
2. Be a Director, not a Dictator
Instead of trying to force pigments to do what I want, I should let them dance, and leave them alone. It’s my job to get the pigments ready. Give them their motivation on the palette. Get the paper ready, then drop them in and… action!
If I jump into the scene while they doing their thing, I’ll ruin the scene. If I was a bad director, and I didn’t plan that scene out well enough, it’s going to be a bad scene. But I can’t run on stage waving my hands saying “No no no! You over here. You over there!” That’s going to be worse than a broken scene – it destroys the fourth wall, kills the suspension of disbelief, and ruins the whole play. Just plan it out, get things ready, and then let the actors do their thing, and take the results – whatever they are.
When it’s over, then I can look it over again, and take notes on what should be done differently on the next one.
This doesn’t mean getting all of the pigments ready for the entire painting. The painting should consist of individual “scenes.” Each time I go to paint a sky, that’s a scene. A field is another scene. Distant trees are another. Before I paint any of these scenes, first be a good director. Then let the scene play out. Then, start planning for the next scene.
3. Slow Down so You Can Speed Up
I need to slow down and hurry up at the same time. Ok, this is weird, let me explain.
By slow down, I mean I need to plan my steps. I need to know what I’m hoping to achieve when I put the brush on the paper, and then get my palette set up to enable me to do that. This goes back to being a director. I need to treat the palette like a dress rehearsal and the paper like the show.
I can do whatever I want on the palette to get the pigments ready for the show. What is it I’m trying to do? Where are the colors going? Where should the colors be saturated? Where should neutrals rule the day? Where should the cool neutrals go? What about the warm ones? Where am I going to want the darkest values?
I need to know these things before I start painting even clean water on the paper. Then, I can set up the appropriate amount of neutrals on my palette. Once I have taken the time to plan that out, and set things up correctly, I can paint.
This is so important because the watercolors dry so quickly that if I need to mix a new cool neutral, it’s going to be too late. I’m going to get blossoms – which I’ll try to soften, which will make mud.
This happened in the Burnt Sienna and Cerulean Blue mixture. I had my palette set up from the first wash (Raw Sienna and Cerulean Blue) and I painted the Cerulean Blue in the next spot. Then, I realized I hadn’t set up my palette, so I quickly cleaned it off, set it up, and started painting. By then, that initial Cerulean Blue was in the danger zone, so when I added the neutral it blossomed into ugly cauliflowers. I dabbed it and added more Cerulean to waken the initial color, but this just dragged the neutral deeper into the Cerulean, and I didn’t get the effect I was after. So, I attacked it, and it turned to mud.
Slow down. THEN, speed up.
4. DS Cerulean is Highly Granulating
Cerulean is über granulating. Wow. I’m using Daniel Smith, and it looks like I forgot to label that well when I added the pigment – but holy cow – it granulates like sand.
5. Faded Washes
I must use clean water quickly when fading a wash. It doesn’t matter if I’m going back with heavy pigment, or clean water, I can NOT touch a wash when it’s in the danger zone unless I’m actually trying to create blossoms.
6. Don’t get Tunnel Vision
These are all things I know. But as I paint I get tunnel vision as I focus on one spot, and I forget these fundamental truths of watercolor. I absolutely need to better plan my actions when I sit down to paint. And, I need to step away more often to look at the whole painting.