Category Archives: Watercolor

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.

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.

Color Studies (3) – Analogous Colors

In order to push myself to work more, I participated a “100 Day Art Challenge” by New Masters Academy, of which I became a member last year upon a Black Friday sale. I committed myself to figure or portrait drawings or paintings for 100 days. We’ll see how it turns out.

Since it’s not a small commitment (for me at least), I think it would be a good idea to shoot a couple of more birds in the meantime, such as incorporating some color studies into the challenge.

This week I did a couple of small paintings using analogous colors. Analogous colors are a group of 3 to 5 colors next to each other on a color wheel. From a design point of view, complimentary colors are for contrast, and analogous ones are for harmony.

I tried to limit my choices to 3. With tint and shade of each color and various intensity, there should be enough to work with. In theory.

For the first painting, I planned to use red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange. In practice, the darkest I could get is a deep shade of red-orange. As it seemed not dark enough, I kept adding black to it, and in some places, I just used black directly. The black also contributed to the greenish color in the background. Meanwhile, since I mixed my yellow-orange with yellow and orange, some of that yellow also got in. Looking back, I blamed my disastrous control of color on a lack of design. The reference I chose has strong contrast, and darker colored clothing. If I want to use colors in a limited way, I need to go beyond a literal reading of the reference, and have a better strategy for value:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12in, April 2020

For the second painting, I chose yellow-green, green, and blue-green. I think I still got the value wrong in some places, but at least I stayed within my color choices:

Female Figure, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

The last one I used blue, blue-violet, and violet. I started this painting with Tombow water-soluble markers. Tombow has a hard and a brush tip, allowing more diverse lines. However, they are not as water-soluble as Crayola. There are lines I couldn’t disappear with water, and a big part of the painting process was to resolve the problems caused by those lines.

Portrait of a Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

In the end, I am very glad I did this experiment. Even with the painting I cheated, I can still see how analogous colors help bringing things together. It’s not that each painting has to follow a color formula, but these are tools to help us to achieve harmony. Because of that unifying power, using analogous colors is also a great way to create a mood in paintings.

Color Studies (2) – Monochromatic

Of the three components of color, hue, value and saturation, I personally find value the most difficult. Colors are attractive and distracting, and it could be difficult to discern values accurately from all the colors in front of us. Monochromatic painting is a great way to train your eyes this way.

In traditional Chinese brush paintings, many of which are monochromatic, it’s the value changes through the control of water that create the art. I took a few lessons of Chinese brush painting one summer, and lessons were mainly copying old masters. This is one of the paintings I copied:

After Qi Baishi, ink on Xuan paper, summer 2018

Monochromatic is a good strategy when time is limited. In life painting, it saves the trouble of finding the right skin color and allows me to focus on value and shape.

Woman, ink on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 in, 2018

In landscape scene with overwhelming branches and leaves, monochromatic approach simplifies the view. This plein air was done in burnt sienna. I included some of the visitors I had during the painting – out of proportion, I know, but a lot of fun.

Fox and Caterpillar at West Valley, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2018

More than often, monochromatic painting is used as underpainting. It serves as a value map, but also allow some color strategies. (I found this post by Mitchel Albala very helpful.)

Another approach is to do a monochromatic underpainting, and glaze over it with transparent colors, often times many layers. For acrylic, that means adding quite some medium to the color. My selfie is done this way – dozens of layers. I have to admit, I doubt I will ever use this method again. Too tedious.

Selfie, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in , 2018

I think in theory it could be done with watercolor too, for watercolor is transparent in nature. Even the opaque ones, with enough water, become transparent to some extent. From what I heard, to glaze in watercolor, the key is to wait for the underpainting or the previous layer really really dry, bone dry. Maybe someday I will try it.

Copying Masters (9) and Morandi (1)

Some artists created wonders with limited subject matters. Like Cezanne, who famously claimed “with an apple I will astonish Paris.” He did, and the world. I don’t know if Italian artist Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) ever made any statement about the bottles and jars, but he did say, “To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” He did look at those bottles and jars of his very hard, for almost a life time.

Most of Morandi’s still life featuring nondescript household objects on tabletop against an unremarkable background. They look like a humble crowd pushed onto a stage, but nothing in the composition is random. Morandi spent days, even weeks arranging these objects. The assuming is carefully achieved. Just like his use of color. The paintings often have a monochromatic look, even though he employed a rich range of earthy colors.

There’s a sense of calm and tranquil in Morandi’s paintings that I find very attractive. Maybe because my own paintings are the opposite. Even when I limited my palette, the result is often loud or even noisy. My first copying attempts were done in watercolor. In retrospect, gouache could be a better choice. Here they are:

The originals:

Morandi, Natura morta, 1954
Morandi, Vase and Still Life, 36 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 1951
Morandi, Natura morta, 40 x 46 cm, oil on canvas, 1954

My copies:

After Morandi, watercolor on paper, 9×12 in, 2018
After Morandi, watercolor on paper, 10 x 12, 2018

Try New Things (3) – Framing

Full Moon, watercolor on tinted paper, 11 x 14 in, November 2019

There’s nothing new about the painting itself. I was fascinated by the Japanese ukiyo-e art, and tried to create something in that style. The new things for me are the preparing of the paper and the final display.

To prepare the paper, I boiled 10 bags of Liption black tea in a pot, pour the water in a tray, and after it cooled, soaked the watercolor paper in it for a couple of hours. The result is a nicely tinted paper.

For display, I always find matting and framing of watercolor a chore, and that’s part of force driving me to acrylic painting in the beginning. I recently came across two videos on how to display watercolor painting without glass, or even frame. I am sure there are many other videos on the topic, but these are the ones I referenced:

  1. Brennie M Brown: Framing Watercolors without Glass
  2. Robert Burridge – BobBlast: A Contemporary Way to Frame and Exhibit your Modern Works on Paper

Simply put it, if you want to frame the artwork without glass:

  • Glue the artwork onto gator board with acrylic gel medium, and let it dry overnight
  • Varnish it with 2 coats of gloss and 2 coats of matte varnishes, in that order
  • Frame it

If you want to display the artwork directly:

  • Painted the edges of a cradled wood panel to desired color (this step is optional)
  • Glue the artwork to the panel with acrylic gel medium, and let it dry overnight
  • Varnish it (same as in previous method)

Mr. Burridge didn’t mention varnishing in his video, but I did it anyways. The result is a waterproof surface. There are artists online saying varnishing changes the color of their paintings. If you only use gloss varnish, the color will look more vibrant. If only matte varnish, it probably with dull or blur. I used both, and the result is fine. However, it always wise to test it on some old paintings first.

The result hanging on the wall.