Archive for the ‘Watercolor’ category

More Preparation Before Painting

August 14, 2010

I have worked on preliminaries for the watercolour painting mentioned in the last post.

Here’s one of the altered photos I’m using to guide me:

ShanghaiYam vigmove col

I fooled around with some thumbnail sketches to become familiar with the shapes and to consider how far I should go with my simplification.

Shape Sketches

I like the verticality of the column in the background, although I want to avoid the static quality of it being dead-centred. I like the way the curve of the planter meets the yam-seller.

I decided I didn’t want to simplify too much. I wanted to keep the urban complexity of the vehicles in the background.

Next up, some tonal sketches to get a sense of a value scheme…

Value Sketch 1

This reveals a common problem I have, not just with this project, and that’s shadows. This was an overcast day, so actually there should be fuzzy shadowy area at the bottom of the barrel on wheels, and that triangular shadow at the base of the planter which I like compositionally is too dark and definite. And then there should some kind of fuzzy area around where the guy’s sitting…

On a second try I still hadn’t come to a clear idea about what to do about that (I was more interested trying to define darks and midtones, and position the pillar a little more to the left).

Value Sketch 2

But I wasn’t going to let something like that slow me down… on to some colour sketches.

Color Sketch 1

For this first colour sketch, I really wanted to change the colour of the guy’s clothes. This dark red unfortunately doesn’t please my eye much. (I used water soluble oil pastels for these sketches. I like them since I can scribble crayon-like and then with a wet brush give a watercolour quality to it.)

I decided I wanted the background vehicles to be cooler in quality than the photo and complementary to the colours of the foreground objects — the red shirt and the rust of the barrel and yams.

Color Sketch 2

I like this shirt colour a lot more, ties to the yams. Still that shadow at the bottom of the planter is too heavy for the overcast sky and too big (what is it a shadow of?).

The black background is just black ink. When it comes time to paint, I’m going to underpaint wet-on-wet back there with dark reds, blacks, blues and greens and then glaze with maybe a indigo/sepia mix so it’s not too flat in appearance.

I like the slightly variegated light/colour on the pillar.

I still have problems to solve, but it’s about time to get to the actual painting!

First, though, I’ve got to figure out a palette. I want to use a fairly limited one, since I tend to go overboard with too many different colours.

There’s a number of limited palettes I was considering. I like figuring out colour wheels and combining different watercolours to see how they work together, and I’ve got lists of different palettes in the notebook I carry around.

I finally reined in my enthusiasm to two main contenders. One is a limited palette used by Janine Gallizia, apparently, whose work I like a lot.

Gallizia Palette

She gets a lot of subtle gray mixtures out of this, from the look of her work. From what I read, the palette is made up of transparent yellow, permanent rose, phthalo blue g.s., winsor green b.s. (which is a phthalo green), winsor violet and burnt sienna. So I splashed down these colours together to see how I like them. I usually go the colour wheel route, with sheets to see how the mixtures go, but I wanted to just get a sense of their coordination by putting them together like this.

The palette lacks a strong red, and it may be higher key and more pastel in character than I’m used to, but I rather like it.

John Lovett has published several variations of his limited palette.

Lovett Palette

Although I haven’t put the colours together in the most appealing way, I favor the choices here right now more than the Gallizia ones. There’s more dark potential, for one thing, and the strong red may give some good mixing potential for neutrals, darks and what have you.

This is the so-called expanded version of the palette. The basic paints are phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson (perm.) and quin gold or Indian yellow. The additions are indigo, burnt sienna, permanent rose and cobalt blue. I’m going to try this palette for this painting.

The process for the rest of the painting will be approximately the following:

— Draw sketch for painting on some 200 lb. Bockingford paper I have. (It’s heavier than the more standard 140 lb. which needs stretching which I try to avoid.) The outline will be more or less detailed following photo and value sketches, but I will feel free to ignore it as necessary when I paint. I just find that the sketch gives me comfort at the beginning.

— Add darkest darks and plan whites.

— Block in shapes with midtones while preserving whites. This can include a kind of underpainting stage with exaggerated colour, warm and cold, in the background.

— Work on shadows with transparent wash of ultramarine and burnt sienna. Maybe I will have got a grip on the placement and weight of the shadows by then…

— Selective glazing over some of white area (planned ahead).

— Add detail.

This process partly comes from some reading and instructive lessons, and partly from my limited experience. We shall see how it goes!


Preparing to Paint: Messin’ with Digital

July 4, 2010

In the post awhile back called “Help Me Choose the Next Painting Project”, I displayed a variety of photos digitally altered with hopes of gaining opinions on what I should choose for my next painting. Although I’ve done some pastel work and even a little acrylic, I’ve wanted to try out some ideas and a new palette, so this effort will be in watercolor.

Of the comments received, several urged me to consider the Shanghai Yam Seller at the bottom of the post. I took that to heart and began my long drawn-out process of playing around and preparing to paint it.

This post will remain in the digital realm as I play with various programs and concepts to try to get a handle on what the painting could be. The next post will actually show pencil and paint to paper as I work up some thumbnail shape sketches and then value sketches as I carry out a specific painting process.

(Just a cautionary note: although I have posted about watercolour painting before and described my own attempts, I’m certainly not much of an expert although you may find me emphatic in some of my comments. I’m just exploring and trying to improve….)

Here’s the original photo cleaned up a bit in Photoshop:


I like the posture of the yam guy connected by the handle to his stove on wheels, and its shapes. I want to preserve the sense of a cigarette in the hand at his mouth.

What to do about that busy background, though? My idea for the painting is the stillness of the yam seller and his equipment in the midst of the city’s bustle, but there’s a lot of distraction back there, especially the visual disruption of that motorcycle.

My next step digitally was to try to blur away distractions in Photoshop, with the aid of some plugins. I got to this:

ShanghaiYamSeller DOFvig

Not entirely successful, since that motorcycle is still rearing its ugly head, but suggestive of a direction to go.

I want a sense of movement in the background, though, otherwise that sense of stillness in the whirling of the world all around is lost.

ShanghaiYam vigmove col

That seems to show more movement all around and I’ve also brightened and exaggerated the colors.

Next I wanted to try black and white versions to get a sense of a workable value structure.

ShanghaiYam FinalBW

After trying a few versions, this one is giving me ideas. I want to accentuate the lighter tones of the subject’s face, hands, arms and foot. There’s a compositional question here though. Does this tension between the figure as one focal area and his stove trailer as another focus work? The stove, if anything, is grabbing more attention, and I would rather it be subordinate to the figure… Does the eye go naturally back and forth exploring the frame or does it get stuck in some purgatory of clashing foci here?

I was reading up a bit on notan, and I thought playing around with that might be helpful for me. (Notan being rendering of just black and white, in an effort to get a pleasing distribution.)

ShanghaiYam Notan2

This is one attempt, still done digitally, this time in ArtRage which is a great program by the way. I rather like the patterns of the upper part, but it’s pretty weak in the lower left, both here and in the photo itself. I was also reading about “flagging” the head, that is bringing the greatest contrast of light and dark around the head as a focal point, and I haven’t really done that here.

ShanghaiYam NotanAR

This is another attempt with its own failings, including not flagging the head, but it seems to me to be a bit more cohesive overall and better balanced in the lower left.

I followed a strategy of starting off with a bare dark and light notan. In the next, one adds dark darks to get a three value sketch:

ShanghaiYam 3 Val AR

I’ve brought more attention to the head now, but there’s still something cumbersome and not quite right to me in the whole middle area just above the handle. Oh well, that’s what the real shape and value sketches will attempt to address. I think that middle background pillar is just too contrasty…

Using some of the ideas from this process, I’ve accentuated aspects of this final photo before I go to the real messin’ around stage on paper:

ShanghaiYam AMP2 move

Notes to myself: keep a sense of blurred movement in the background, and choose some different colors for the guy’s clothes, especially the pants. That purple grates on me, but I’m not sure what would be a good substitute. Maybe a dark red with relationship to the colours on the yam trailer, which would help integrate and also bring more attention to the figure…