The Finish Line!
Now that all of the major areas of the painting are completed, minor alterations can be made, adjusting contrast, intensity, color and detail.
First I will verify that the large areas of light, middle and dark values are correct. Then make any adjustments within each area. If an area in general is a middle value, then all of the adjustments should be middle values. If I add a dark value to that area in may destroy its identity as a middle value. Pattern is key to making a painting work.
From there I made literally dozens of minor adjustments to finish this painting. I added details where I want to bring the viewer into the painting, suggesting more movement. To bring the viewer to the center of interest, I added some reflections in the water and did some scratching for highlights. Then I continued from the center of interest to the right, and back to the foreground to complete the painting.
The Finished Painting
I'm often asked "how do you know when the painting is finished?" My best answer is that when you are at the final stage of a painting and you see something that is wrong, then correct it if possible. if you see something that you think is wrong, leave it alone. You are done!
This painting is completed. If this breakdown of my process was helpful to you, let me know and I will do another painting using this format. Thank you for following along!
Using the Right Brain
As mentioned earlier, the success or failure of a painting happens before you pick up the brush. However, too much planning can hinder creativity.
Science indicates that the two hemispheres of the brain function differently. The left side is dominant in logic, which is important in the planning of a painting. The right side is dominant in creativity. Artists need to utilize both sides to make a painting work.
First, I had to do something with the white space on the right. I left that white because it creates movement that brings the viewer back to the foreground area. With the completion of the "oops" section, I now know what shapes to create to achieve that.
The original plan was to use the "path" starting from the lower left leading to the center of interest, as shown in the top photo. That path was going to be a flat area of grass. More of the same color would give me color harmony but not much variety.
So, instead of a grassy area, I decided to make it water.
There is some blue in the background, so it would still keep with the color harmony I had planned, but would add something a bit more interesting.
Methodical planning is the key to success, but for me, unintended departures along the way is the fun part of painting.
The next step will be the final step.
An "Oops" and How to Fix It
As I move into the foreground, I need more contrast of value, more intensity and a warmer temperature to give depth to the painting. I decided to use some salt, a common technique used in watercolor painting to create more texture.
Adding salt while the paint is wet will absorb the water and pigment, leaving a "blossom". You can use regular table salt for small "blossoms" or as I did in this painting, Kosher salt which makes larger "blossoms".
The top image shows the section while it is still wet. Below is the section when dry.
My goal was to get more texture and more contrast and more intensity. However, too much salt soaked up all of the color! Now I have a problem to solve.
To achieve my goal within this section, all I had to do was add a little more form to the shapes created. But because I lost most of the intensity, I will have to repaint this area. The problem is the salt, which not only absorbs the water but also absorbs the sizing in the paper. As a consequence, putting another layer over that area results in a loss of transparency. The paint will soak into the paper and the underlying paint layer. So, in this case, I had to switch to staining pigments, phthalo green and olive green.
Another word of caution about the use of salt. Do not try to remove the salt before it is absolutely dry. The still-wet salt will smear and ruin the texture. Salt is very corrosive and in time will destroy the paper. You will want to remove all traces of the salt. You also want to clean your brushes thoroughly for the same reason.
On to the next step!
This segment focuses on the middle ground of the painting, where the colors are more intense, warmer and the contrast of values is greater.
Unlike the photo reference, I want this area to be both flat and hilly with some small trees and shrubs. My brush strokes follow the form to show that.
It is important to consider the elements of form and movement. Visual movement in a painting can be created with line, edges, change of value and perspective. First, I want to move the viewer to the center of interest and then to the rest of the composition while preventing the viewer from leaving the painting. The path I am creating starts from the bottom and leads the viewer to the buildings. The darker tree values in the background attract the viewer to that area and then, as mentioned in a previous step, to the right side of the painting by use of value change.
I left some unpainted (white spaces) on the right which I will build on to create movement to come back to where I started.
After the middle ground was painted, I was able to paint the structures with more form and detail. The roofs that are in shadow were painted with a cooler color. The roofs in the light were painted with a warmer color. Light sides of the structures were painted with the warmest red on my palette, which is Cadmium Red Scarlet, and the shadow sides were painted with a cooler and grayer color, and the cast shadows were painted with a cooler and grayer color of the ground.
The Next Step
The most important area in the painting is of course, the center of interest, which in this case, is the entire cluster of buildings. The structures are small, and I'm working in transparent color, so controlling the edges is very important.
Many artists will use opaque pigments which allows them to make corrections in a transparent watercolor painting. Two of my favorite artists, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent used opaque paint with amazing results.
So if I do make a mistake in this section of the painting I could easily use opaque paint to correct it. However, for me the challenge is the beauty of transparent layers, the most important aspect of painting in transparent watercolor.
In an example from an older painting, you can see the concept of painting "through" objects instead of "around" objects. The first wash was painted freely without regards to edges..
The edges are created in the next wash. Painting one edge is better than painting two edges. Fifty percent less work!
In the current painting, I have green grasses and red structures. These are complementary colors. Painting the green through the red structures, and then the red over that results in a loss of intensity. So, if I want intense reds, painting through is not an option.
As you recall, I left a hard edge in the previous step. There is not a great difference in this section from that section as far as depth is concerned, so the edge should be soft. In the last step I chose to "overpaint" the edge to soften it. In this section I softened the edge very lightly with water.
The next decision to make is how I will want to handle painting the edges of the structures. I want distinct but not hard edges on the sides of the buildings, and soft edges at the bottom, so that they look like they are "in" the ground instead of "on" the ground.
To do that I had to keep the bottom of each building wet and wait for the "sides" to dry enough so that the edge would be distinct. I will deal with the rooftops later.
In the next steps I will be dealing with the larger areas of the painting which present different challenges!
I broke down this next step into two steps because of the structures. Generally I want to paint through objects as much as possible. This enables me to paint more freely. Trying to paint a wash and stopping at an edge of an object, then continuing the wash on the other side of it restricts my ability to do that.
In this painting, I will be painting around objects, leaving the white of the paper intact. Many artists will use masking fluid, a rubber cement-like substance to protect the white of the paper. I don't like to use masking fluid because I find it difficult to remove without smearing it with color, or destroying the paper.
The goals here are: to create soft edges, to incorporate warmer colors and more intense colors because I will now be working toward the foreground, and to create hard edges in the structures.
There are several ways to soften an edge in watercolor painting:
1. Scrub with a stiff brush. This is dependent on the hardness of the paper you are using. Heavy scrubbing can destroy the paper.
2. Match the value of the edge when painting the next section. This takes a slow and careful wash that will affect the blending of the colors.
3, Over painting–painting past an edge. Because the change of value and color is not extreme, painting one section into another will leave a well-defined but a softened edge.
I want a definite yet soft edge, and softer away from the center of the composition. I painted past the edge of the first wash and carefully painted around the roof of one of the structures and then, while still wet, painted some darker tree shapes near the structure.
While the wash was still wet, I lifted areas behind the trees by using a dry brush to remove some of the color. Near the darker tree mass in the background, using a wet brush, I lifted a path leading to the right background and to soften some of the edges in that area.
The next section will deal with the same issues, painting around several small buildings, scrubbing areas to soften an edge.
Now I Can Paint!
My main concern in this painting is creating the effect of aerial or atmospheric perspective. Our atmosphere
is comprised of water vapor that forms on tiny dust particles in the air. The more atmosphere we look through, the more it affects how we perceive colors. Because water molecules are blue, the colors appear to be more blue as they recede further into the background.
This atmosphere is like a veil of light blue color. Looking at a dark valued color through this "veil" will lighten the value of that color. The opposite is also true. Looking at a light valued color through that "veil" will make that color darker in value. As a result, the values of all objects will have less contrast, resulting in softer edges.
An edge is formed when two different colors or values meet. If the contrast between them is extreme, it will create a hard edge. If there is less contrast between colors or values, the edge will be soft.
As I mentioned in the first blog, I will be painting in segments as opposed to painting in my usual manner. The plan is to work from background to foreground, or top to bottom. While this approach does not allow me to be able to keep the edges soft from section to section, it does make it easier to keep the edges soft within each section.
I want to make the colors in the background cooler (or bluer) and the edges softer. Also, because I want the background to have more movement, I will change the values from lighter to darker from left to right.
Wetting the sections enables me to keep the edges soft in that section, and gives me enough time to control the color and values.
The problem with this approach is that it creates a hard edge at the bottom of the section.
This is a large format 22 x 30 inches painting area. The entire section must remain wet from start to finish. Watercolor paint will change in value from dark to light as it dries. Depending on how quickly the paint is drying, I sometimes have to spray the area to keep the wetness consistent. Knowing how much it changes is critical. That can only be learned by experience. Paraphrasing artist Herb Olson, if it looks correct when it's wet, it isn't.
This is just the background section, but it has to have depth within it. I have to think about a background plane, which is bluer, and a foreground plane that is not as blue, all within the same section.
The next step will be more difficult because of the structures. I will have to deal with the hard edge created in the first step and then keep the edges soft in the next step while creating harder edges for the buildings.
Most of the paintings that I do are "full color" which means that I use all of the colors on my palette.
My palette consists of 2 reds, 4 blues, 3 yellows and some earth colors such as Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber. Occasionally I will add an extra color depending on the subject matter. Using my entire palette of colors enables me to make subtle changes of value, temperature and intensity while painting.
It is important to know and understand the different types of pigment available in transparent watercolor paints. There are three different types:
1. earth colors
Earth colors are pigments made from clay. For example, Burnt Sienna is a reddish brown color made from clay that has been taken from mines in Sienna, Italy for hundreds of years.
Burnt Sienna contains a large proportion of anhydrous iron oxide. It is made by heating raw sienna, which dehydrates the iron oxide, changing it partially to haematite, giving it that rich reddish-brown colour.
However, the mines are running out of this "dirt", forcing paint manufacturers to develop this color with different materials. These materials can contain impurities which will affect the pigment in the painting process.
For that reason, I prefer to only use pigments that are made from natural iron oxide. This information is found on the back of the paint tube.
Dyes are made from chemicals that are heated to different temperatures to obtain a variety of colors.
Metals like Cadmium and Cobalt, are mixed with additives and heated to different temperatures, then ground into pigments.
In watercolor painting, these three different types of pigments do not "like" each other. In other words, trying to mix them to obtain a smooth, even color will not produce the effect you are trying to achieve. If you want a smooth even blending of colors, I recommend that you use pigments in the same group. If you want the colors to separate to create an interesting texture, then use pigments from the different groups.
For my painting, I want the colors to separate to create textures that suggest the subject matter. In this example below I used phthalocyanine green–a dye, and cadmium yellow light–a metal, and some burnt sienna –an earth color.
Use caution when choosing pigments. Read and understand the information on the back of each tube so you know what is in the paint. This will help you achieve the results you are striving for in your artwork.
The Preliminary Drawing
The most important part of a painting is the drawing. If the drawing is not correct, no amount of value or color or details will make the painting successful. Because the drawing for this subject consists mostly of various structures, getting the perspective and placement of these elements is vital.
How do I choose a pencil? Pencils are made from graphite (a form of carbon) combined with clay. The more clay, the harder the pencil. Hard pencils are defined by the letter “H”. The higher the number, the harder the pencil. Soft pencils are defined by the letter "B". The softer the pencil the higher the number. 2B is soft, 3B is softer, etc.
Higher clay content in a pencil makes it more difficult to erase. You can use a light touch when drawing with a hard pencil, but the lines will disappear when you apply a wash over them. If you press down too hard so that the drawing is still visible, the pencil lines will create a groove in the paper that will fill with pigment when you paint over it, making the lines impossible to erase.
A softer pencil will work better. Keep in mind, if you use a pencil that is too soft, the lines can smear when you paint over them.
My personal choice is a 5B pencil. It is dark enough to be seen as I paint, yet soft enough to be erased.
Erasing itself is another issue in watercolor painting, and another reason to plan your preliminary drawing carefully. If you use an eraser that is abrasive, you will alter the surface of the paper, changing the texture of the paper and how the wash itself is absorbed.
The kneaded eraser is the least abrasive, and therefore my first choice. If that does not work, and a more abrasive eraser is necessary, I will use one only when the painting is finished, keeping in mind that the paint can be erased also.
Why erase pencil lines at all? There is a difference of opinion regarding drawings in watercolor and in all other medium. For some reason the "experts" have decided that the drawing in a watercolor painting can remain visible and become part of the finished painting. For all other medium this is not considered acceptable. Personally, I do not want any part of the drawing to interfere with my finished painting.
Remember Rule #42-The success of a painting occurs before you pick up your brush.
Next step-what colors should I use?
Choosing the Right Paper
Now that I've chosen my subject matter, I want to choose a paper that works best for this particular painting. There are many variables to consider when choosing watercolor paper.
Initially, all watercolor papers are made the same way, with the exception of rice paper. Sizing or glue is added to the pulp to hold the paper together. The amount of sizing varies from brand to brand making each paper unique. With some papers, an additional sizing is added after the paper dries. This is surface sizing.
Another factor in choosing papers is the texture. Papers are categorized as hot pressed, which is smooth, cold pressed which is textured, and rough, which is very textured.
Generally if you want to do a very detailed painting, hot pressed is preferrable. When painting on hot pressed paper, the "wash" when applied does not spread and tends to stay on the surface. This enables you to put down a wash in a precise manner. The disadvantage of this kind of surface is that additional layering tends to make the colors less transparent and "muddy".
The cold pressed and rough papers will absorb pigments into the paper more than the hot pressed. When you apply a wash the colors will spread more. These papers allow for more variations of value and color. Because the wash sinks into the paper, you can apply more layers. These papers also emphasize the textures of the subject you are painting.
The surfaced sized papers are more versatile. Because the sizing is water soluble, it can be removed with water. You can create a painting with more detail if you leave the sizing on, or remove it to allow you to paint more freely.
Paper comes in several standard weights: 90 lb, 140 lb, 240 lb and 300 lb. The weight of the paper is determined by the weight of 500 sheets of standard size paper which is 22" x 30". I always use 300 lb paper because it is thicker and will not buckle as much when wet. Also because of its thickness more layers can be applied.
During the painting process I will also want to do some lifting or removing of pigment. Lifting can be done when the paper is still wet, or can be removed after the wash has dried. For this process a paper that has a good amount of internal sizing is best. If the paper does not have enough sizing it can easily tear.
So, considering all the properties of watercolor papers available to me, the paper I chose for this subject is Moulin Du Roy, a cold pressed paper with no surface sizing and medium internal sizing.
I will discuss the drawing shown here, in the next blog.