Experimenting with Materials (2) – Elegant Writer

Elegant Writer is a special type of water-soluble marker that bleeds in various colors. They have chiseled nibs and are probably made for calligraphy. I couldn’t remember when I bought my set, but somehow for many years, rarely used them. It’s time to give these markers a chance before they completely dry out.

Black Elegant Writer on paper:

Dorian, marker on paper, 10 x 14 in, July 2020

Add water to the above drawing:

Dorian, marker on paper, July 2020

Blue and black:

Serge, marker on paper, 7 x 8 in, July 2020

Testing other colors:

Colorful features, July 2020

A few notes:

  • I used regular Canson drawing paper, and I believe to what extend it’s soluble depends on paper. So test it.
  • The black one is the most interesting. It bleeds in blueish, greenish and reddish gray and really adds to the drawing.
  • The blue one gives out some pinkish hue in addition to blue, but the green, red and the brown ones are pretty much just their own colors.
  • The red, blue and green colors are more staining than black.
  • I have no training in calligraphy, but I can see a trained hand could produce more interesting lines with a chiseled nib.

Experimenting with Materials (1) – Rice Paper

I did a watercolor painting on pre-matted rice paper (xuan paper) before, and I tried it again recently with different paints:

After Feiniaogongzuoshi, 12 x 12 in.
Crazy Hair Day, 8 x 8 in, June 2020
Kaydee, 8 x 8 in, June 2020
Nikki, 8 x 8, Jun 2020

A few notes:

  • The paper I used is something like this, but I bought it from China and it was a lot cheaper.
  • The first two paintings were done with Chinese paints that commonly used for brush painting on rice paper. The brand is Marie, and it’s available on Amazon.
  • “Kaydee” is done in sumi ink, a cheap one from Daiso.
  • “Nikki” is in western watercolor.
  • The Chinese colors are a lot more opaque and hold better on rice paper, which is very absorbent.
  • The western watercolor dries very light and very flat. I went back multiple times trying to enhance the value. When the paper is wet, the pigment swims away to wherever with a blink of eye.
  • There’s no lifting with rice paper after it’s dry. You can pat it with a tissue paper and lift some pigment, but you can’t get rid of edges that way.
  • Sumi ink is the most staining of all.
  • I absolutely don’t know how to apply the skills involved in the first painting (the rooster one) to the later ones.

Loosen up

Feeling very tongue-tied recently, and I am constantly looking for things to loosen up. I’ve been practicing figure drawing for a while and mainly paying attention to proportion, anatomy and value. I understand there are a lot more to practice in each area, but I thought maybe I could take a break, try a different approach, loose, casual, and free?

For years I have in my possession a great book by Bill Buchman called Expressive Figure Drawing. It is full of eye-opening and inspiring artworks, and each time I went through it, I had the feeling that I want to fly (not literally or course, with my pen and brushes and colors). So once again I went through the book, dug out some colorful ink and dipping pens (free dancing colorful lines is another dream of mine), and ready, set, go –

Bridgette, 9 x 12 in, June 2020
Jeff, 9 x 12 in, June 2020

LOL at myself, what a tangled and tightened mess! The second I picked up the pen, my attention was all on accuracy and likeness. I managed to approach value with a different method, but there’s no real freedom in it. I think it’s probably because even though I have learned the basics of figure drawing, I haven’t practiced enough to internalize them yet. I guess I can only set myself free when I am able to deliver the correct proportion, anatomy and values without thinking about them. More practice, in other words.

On the other hand, these drawings do reflect my current mental status – neurotic but still managed. 😂

Pairs (IV), Ink Resist Revisited and Reuse Old Paintings

The first one is sumi ink, and the second one is ink resist with gouache. Both are on watercolor paper and they are separately composed.

Caroline, ink on paper, 9 x 12in, June 2020
Thoughts, ink and gouache on paper, 10 x 14 in, June 2020

A few notes:

  • The ink I use is from a Japanese dollar store called Daiso, and it’s really cheap.
  • You can manipulate the ink to some extent while it’s wet but when it’s dry, you can’t lift it as watercolor.
  • For ink resist with gouache, please see my previous post “Try New Things (1).”
  • The second painting is done on the back of an old painting (of a broccoli). When I soak the gouache painting in ink, I got some unintended texture. It’s probably because of the unevenness of the paper. I might have done some lifting or scrubbing for the old painting. I decided it didn’t hurt.
  • In general it’s fun to think about how many ways you can deal with a subject.

Now a few more words about old paintings. Good watercolor papers are expensive, so I never throw away old paintings, no matter how ugly they are. There are always ways to reuse them:

  • The obvious one is to paint on the back. If the paper is not flat, you can soak it in water, then lay it flat and add some weight on it (or re-stretch it). Sometimes the texture of the paper on the back is different. It’s still workable.
  • Another way is to examine the old painting and see if there are some elements can be used. The flames in the second painting was modeled after the leaves of the broccoli on the other side. Look at it upside down, side ways, hold it up against strong light, you may discover something different.
  • You can also directly use it. Tear it apart and make it into a new collage.
  • Take a picture of it and manipulate it into a new digital art with Photoshop, Procreate, etc.
  • These methods are not exclusive, and that one piece of paper can generate many artworks!

Dancers

Found a beautiful book, The Art of Movement by Ken Brewer and Deborah Ory. It’s a collection of dance photography. It’s a great book to study figures and motions. I did some sketches and drawings from it:

Dancers, watercolor on paper, May 2020
Couple Dancers, watercolor on paper, May 2020
Infinity, charcoal on paper, 18 x 24 in, May 2020

The last one is a strange pose. It has an enclosed and squarish quality and a lot of symmetry. The lighting is mainly top-down, making it more grounded and static. It’s not a composition that I would normally choose to work on. On the other hand, there’s a nice contrast between the infinity loop formed by the arm, and zig-zag pattern formed by heads, torso and the legs in the middle. There’s tension and connection between the two dancers at the same time and that’s what I was aiming for when starting the piece. However, as I worked on, and as always, I was distracted by the details, and lost my focus. I think the zigzagging is there, but the details of the hands cut in the flow of the loop. I also think the value contrast is not enough and shapeless. I think this is mainly because I am still copying what I see instead of using it as a reference to create. I hope when I have a better grasp of human figure, I could look beyond the photo and draw my interpretation.

Copying Masters (11) – Yoshitoshi

Japanese woodblock printing (ukiyo-e) has a profound influence in western art since 19th century. “Japonism” has a visible presence in the art of many big names, such as Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin etc.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 (1839 -1892; also named as Taiso Yoshitoshi 大蘇芳年) was generally regarded as the last great master of the this art tradition. He was a very bold, imaginative and prolific artist. Some of the images he created are regarded as gruesome and disturbing. His most famous series are One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892), and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892).

In “Kiyomori sees hundreds of skulls at Fukuhara,” from the series New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, Yoshitoshi portrayed the famous Japanese general (or soldier-dictator) Taira Kiyomori (平清盛, 1118 – 1181), who created the the first samurai-dominated government. The main attraction for me is the decisive and effective line work, and the presence of the character:

The original:

My copy:

After Yoshitoshi, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2020

A few notes:

  • This is not an exact copy, partially because the paper I used was a failed texture experiment. I have to work with un-intended marks here and there.
  • Copying line work is a tricky business: you want to be careful because the ink is permanent; but if you are too careful you’ll lose the force and the gesture of the line.
  • Sometimes having random textures or marks on paper is not necessarily a bad thing. You are forced to be creative since you have to work around or work against it.
  • My general has funny little hands.

Here’s my attempt of the ukiyo-e style:

Where to, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2019

This earlier post is in that line too:

Full moon, watercolor on paper, 11 x 14, 2019

By the way, the art of ukiyo-e fell out of fashion in Japan in the late 19th century but saw a come back since the 70s in Asia. Some young artists incorporated the line works and the fanciful contents into Chinese fine brush painting or watercolor painting.

Copying Masters (10) – Bernini

I am quite into drawing and painting humans recently, both portrait and figure. I find it a great way to practice hand eye coordination, and overall drawing and painting skills. While human faces and bodies are complicated, they are more organized than landscape. Learn the anatomy and you’ll have a sure way to approach them. They are also less forgiving than many other subjects – when you do it wrong, it’s quite obvious.

As always, copying masters is an effective way of learning. This time I chose an early drawing by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680), the father of Baroque sculpture. The drawing, Seated Male Nude, was collected by Princeton Art Museum. I am attracted to this drawing by its succinct use of marks, especially the highlights, so economic and so effective. I tried to draw on tinted paper before, and often ended up drawing a figure on top of the paper, instead of letting the color of the paper show through.

I figured if I wanted to let the paper work, I’d better keep it clean. So instead of jumping on it, I did some practice before hand. For example:

After Bernini, ink on newsprint
After Bernini, pencil on paper

Finally, the copy:

After Bernini, pastel pencil on paper, May 2020

A few notes:

  • I am glad I did those hatchings last week. My lines are still not neat and organized as the master’s (of course), but the hatching practice do help.
  • The preliminary studies paid off (I did more than those shown above). I did a very light-handed drawing first and managed not to disturb the paper too much (less erasing). The final lines are sharper and cleaner this way.
  • I only recently started to pay attention to this issue. In both drawing and watercolor painting, if the paper is too disturbed, it affects the final result. I know some watercolor artist draw on a different piece of paper and then transfer the image to the watercolor paper (carbon paper, light box, projector etc.)
  • I had a lot of fun drawing the effect of an old paper. LOL.

Hatching, Cross Hatching

I love artworks with beautiful lines or expressive brush strokes. Mark making is an art in itself. One good way to practice line quality is to use a non erasable tool. I used a variety of pens before, dipping pen, micron pen, even ballpoint pen. This week I dug out a cheap fountain pen (the type that Chinese kids used in school to learn writing) and some Faber-Castell Pitt pen, and decided to practice hatching and cross hatching.

There are at least two ways to do hatching (cross or not), one is to follow the form to the object (with the direction of the lines), the other is to use one direction only, and let the value changes indicate the form. My plan was to use the latter approach and focus on value studies, but what I found out is that it’s very counterintuitive not to chase the form.

Portrait of Diana, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, April 2020
Serge, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020
Self-portrait, fountain pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020

Faber-Castell is permanent, while fountain pen ink is somewhat water-soluble. I used a little bit water to wash over part of the drawing and reapplied lines here and there.

I find the sound of a pen scratching over paper very therapeutic, and hatching a great way to exercise control and study value.

Color Studies (4) – Triadic Colors

I changed the title of the previous post for better record keeping. I am still staying home, still doing art.

This week I tried triads – 3 colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. A word on color wheel: I use a commercial one from The Color Wheel Company. Many artist make their own, especially if you work in watercolor, because different brands of colors do differ slightly. It makes sense to lay out your frequently used colors in a circle, add shade and tint, or even make a value chart for each of it. You can also make a list of the complementary, analogous and triadic color schemes. I think this kind of work may help you to understand your color better, and I always feel like I should do it, but … What can I say? I am lazy and unorganized.

Back to triads. They are somewhere between analogous and complementaries. Much more vibrant than the former, and less contrasting than the latter. More importantly, the color spectrum yielded is much richer – if you mix them properly, they can give you almost everything.

That caused a problem for me. As you can see from my first try, I used red, blue and yellow, and I mixed them, got everything, and confused myself. What’s the difference between using a triad and using everything then?

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April 2020

So I tried to separate the colors in later attempts:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020
Portrait of a Young Man, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020

Of course later after a few minutes of googling, I found out that when using a triad in a design, you usually choose a dominant color and that’s how to differentiate it from using everything.

So far I’ve tried some of the most commonly used color schemes. These are things I learned from doing these studies:

  • Limiting palette helps me to explore the potential of each color more extensively.
  • It also forces me to pay more attention to value.
  • Colors are very distracting, so it’s good to have a strategic approach. Do I want a harmonious piece or a contrasting one? Do I want the solemnness or the richness? Etc.
  • Restrictions spur creativity.

There are more color combos one could explore: tetrad – four colors consisted of two sets of complementary; split complementary – choose one color, and add the two on each side of the complementary (a narrower triad) etc. Maybe I’ll come back to these in future. Maybe.