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In this watercolor painting for the challenge “Two Subjects,” I have horses and snow.
As a general rule, having two (unrelated) subjects in a painting is like having two stars in a play; they tend to compete with each other for top billing. When deciding what to paint, I usually decide who (or what) is going to be the star and make the other images co-stars, or less emphatic. Then all the elements tend to “play well together.”
It was difficult to think of a watercolor example for this challenge. One of the things that my teachers have emphasized is to be careful when painting something unusual. If one paints a picture that doesn’t look right, the viewer is more likely to put the blame on the painter than on the subject matter. With that in mind, the following painting is unusual for me, a departure from the usual subject matter and approach. It is also the first work that I painted with watercolor on canvas.
The Music of the Spheres, Watercolor on Canvas, 24″ x 20″
This was painted for a show whose theme was “Music through an Artist’s Eyes.” The title comes from a hymn that was one of my favorites when I was a child. I remember asking what the phrase, “the music of the spheres,” meant and being told that at one time people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it. As other bodies orbited in concentric spheres, they produced tones, which when combined made music in the heavens.
Yesterday in watercolor class, Gwen Bragg introduced us to another planning strategy. The first step is to take a sheet of tracing paper and make an outline drawing. Then, taking another piece of tracing paper, lay it over the first sheet and make a black and white value study, using a black marker and the white of the paper. The third step is to lay another piece of tracing paper over the first two and make a negative of the second drawing, filling in black where the white spaces are.
Those of you who have been following my blog may have noticed that the project I “launched” in January has fallen by the wayside. It got to a level where I liked what was happening but was struggling with what to do next. I also found that I was reluctant to continue for fear that I would mess it up. How much emotional investment do I have in this piece of paper and layer of paint? Too much, I guess! I have gone back to “Sitting on a Curb” and am applying this planning approach with it. Today I copied the line drawing and made the first value study.
I found several interesting things. First, I need to pay more attention to the edges of my shapes, making sure that they convey the information that is needed. Second, I have massed more of the shapes together, being forced to decide if an area should be dark or light and not falling back on a middle value. Third, I need to address the background shape above the children’s heads.
As I struggled with this today I became aware of how much WORK was really involved – and how much I wanted to avoid it! I would rationalize that I needed a break to clear my head and instead of going back right away, the vacuuming is done, the refrigerator is clean, and the piles of paper in the kitchen have disappeared. The ultimate in avoidance tactics will be when the checkbook gets balanced!
Tomorrow, I will decide on the background shape and then try the negative of this study.
Usually when I begin a painting, I start with a value study, shapes in black and white and shades of gray. In one lesson that Gwen taught we took this a step further using a homemade paint recipe for the color “Payne’s Gray” (ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and raw sienna). The areas in which the light was warm (sunlight, reflected light) received a warmer version of this color combination and the cooler areas received a bluer version. I used a photo of a house and the study turned out like this:
The next step was to then paint from the value study, without looking at the original photo. We were encouraged to pick three colors, a red, a blue, and a yellow, and limit ourselves to those three pigments. We could use a realistic rendering or use “broken color,” where pigments are dropped in and mixed together in the shapes. I tried the broken color scheme for this house. As I was painting, I didn’t like how the painting was turning out because of all the fairy castle colors – until I got the values dark enough. Then all of a sudden it clicked and looked right, even though the colors were imaginary.
It all served to teach me the truth of one of Gwen’s teaching maxims:
Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.