Saturday, April 24, 2010

Urban Sketching Redux

This is a sketch of another famous eatery: Philippe's - Home of the French Dipped Sandwich. It has been there for many years and hasn't changed one bit. The food is fantastic and the parking is free.

I have sketched and painted this scene many times and in many different ways: pen and ink; watercolor with pencil; pen with watercolor; I have mounted a version to a hard board panel, done it in mixed media and painted it as a demonstration for the workshops I teach. I really enjoy the image because it has a lot of texture, it is gritty and full of stuff, it has good darks and lights and it has a lot of colorful signage.

This version was completed last week and is my new favorite. This is slightly ironic because I had done it as a demo last year for the Learning and Product Expo here in Pasadena and was unable to complete it during the class time, so I filed it away. It was an acceptable painting at the time and had done a good job of illustrating my teaching lesson but finding it again and looking at it with fresh eyes, I found it lacking. I decided to try to fix it. What did I have to lose right?

I had done it as a pen and ink sketch on Arches hot press watercolor paper. I liked the original line work and the initial wash of color was not so strong as to prevent me from adding more, so I tackled it with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. (I find that easier to do with a painting that has seasoned for a while; I am not so worried that I am going to ruin it so I am very relaxed and feel free to take more chances.)

I started by redrawing it with my Sanford Uniball Micro pen. (Please note that the pen acts very differently drawing over painted areas.) Looking back at my original reference photo I noticed that I had mis-drawn the awning, so I just drew it again, correctly this time, ignoring the painted awning underneath. I also drew in a third vehicle and left it unpainted as well, giving the painting a very casual sketchy feeling. I added some narrative copy along the bottom edge and made a few color notes right on the painting.

As the original was lacking in color and contrast, I enhanced the darks, but I did it with color: the shadows are a mixture of blue, red and burnt umber. I exaggerated the color shifts: look at the phone pole - it is dark at the top and very light at the bottom. I also boosted the colors and white paint in the signage. Finally, I painted a stormy sky and put some loose reflections in the foreground to suggest a rainy afternoon.

What started as an average painting is now something I like very much. I encourage you to dig through some of your earlier mediocre pieces and see if you can improve them.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Little Abstract Landscapes

Here is an interesting exercise you can try: paint a series of non-objective abstract studies on a single sheet of paper, all at the same time. I discovered this by accident. I was commissioned to do a watercolor landscape of no place in particular and I didn't know quite where to start. So I took a full sheet of 140# Fabriano cold press paper and divided it up into squares. I used 1/2 white tape to make clean a clean edge between images.

Then, without planning anything or having a pre-conceived idea of what I wanted, I started laying down color. I painted large areas of solid color, small shapes, wet paint on dry paper, colors mixing on wet paper, gradated washes, everything. I painted all of the squares, one after the other, all at once, without stopping to evaluate or ponder. I was bold with color, and bold with mixing unusual and illogical colors. I was free to paint like a child who doesn't know all the rules he isn't supposed to break.

As the washes started to dry, I started to sculpt each little image, adding an accent color, scraping out some whites, throwing in a complimentary color, and splattering, still with no idea what I was making, just having fun and playing around.

Gradually, each painting started to look like something: a dramatic storm on a distant plain, a sunset, a beautiful valley in late afternoon, a brilliant sun peaking out from behind a cloud. It was then that I started to add shapes and colors to help describe and clarify the vision: furrowed rows of a farm field, a grove of trees on a hillside, a distant lake. I finished by adding some strokes and spots of white paint on a few of the scenes for some added interest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

White Paint

There are two kinds of water-color artists: those who use white paint and those who are going to use white paint. Just kidding. Actually, there are quite a few watercolor artists who absolutely refuse to use it, and I support them. I even, on occasion, refrain from the good old Titainium. There is an unusual beauty to the clean, pure expression of a transparent watercolor. It's what attracts most people to the medium, both painters and patrons.

On rare occasions however, the judicious use of white paint can be the perfect accent to a watercolor painting. It can clarify branches in the midst of a thick dark mass of trees, create window mullions on a deep blue pane of glass, suggest subtle complexity in the background of a city scene and provide the interesting graphic accent of signage on a street corner.

The key is restraint. Be delicate with your brush. I use a rigger or a swordliner (a long, skinny brush with a good tip). I wait until I have completed the painting and done all I can without white paint, and then I add the little spots and accents. I like to continue a dark painted stroke (let's say, in a tree) with white paint, so the line goes from dark suddenly to white. It is unexpected, illogical and very exciting.

This is a scene of people waiting in line to eat at the Pantry in Los Angeles. It is a classic diner that is always open, and has been since 1924. You don't leave hungry. For this painting, I used Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper. I did a loose in sketch in pen and ink before applying bright colors of thick, juicy paint. I wanted this to have lots of color in the buildings, people and the cafe awnings so I really laid it on. I painted reflections in the foreground to create interest but in reality, it wasn't raining. I also left plenty of white space though out the piece: the door frames, window mullions, random little areas along the street, and the architectural detailing in the skyscrapers.

After all that, I came back in with white paint for a few little touches: the pantry sign, the street sign, a few window details and a little splattering here and there. Not much, but enough to give everything some sparkle and energy.