If you are on the west coast you know what I am talking about. The sky is literally orange the whole day, from Oregon to California! I painted this scenery a while ago, as a sunset scene. I mounted to a cradled wood panel, and varnished it (see my previous post about hanging with frame). I believe the varnish darkened the painting a bit, and the result is a perfect depiction of today:
As much as I enjoy being a prophet, I miss my neighborhood’s normal color:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
My painting journey started with watercolor, and on the way, I also picked up acrylic and gouache. In other words, all water medium. Part of the reason I never tried oil is that I have more than enough art materials at home already, and I doubt I could ever use them up. Another part is that, I thought acrylic is the modern replacement of oil, and it could do everything oil can do.
Over the years, I met more than a few artists attesting that oil and acrylic are not the same at all. I started to wonder if I should give it try. A few weeks ago I attended a free lecture at University Art by an artist representing Williamsburg Oils (now part of Golden), and received some free colors. Well, I shouldn’t waste them, should I?
I dug out my very first acrylic landscape, and did a simplified copy of it in oil. Here they are:
A few notes:
The acrylic painting was varnished, hence the sheen.
The oil painting was done on acrylic/oil paper. I don’t know if that makes a difference for the outcome.
I only have a few oil colors to work with.
I LOVE how oil colors can be pushed around freely and mixed smoothly, even the next day! I do feel I have more control of precision with acrylic, but that could simply because I have no skill with oil at this stage. For now, I would love to try more landscapes or portraits with oil, but for more modern and abstract paintings, I will stay with acrylic. Also, if you work with collage and complicated textures and patterns, acrylic is probably much easier.
Zoltan Szabo (1928-2003) was born in Hungary and later immigrated to Canada, then US. He was a modern master of transparent watercolor, and his technique books are popular among watercolorist. I learned to use big brushes and bold colors from reading his paintings.
The study of “The Last Wink” though, was for a different purpose. It is the harmony of unity of the colors that attracts me. I have a tendency to be too “colorful” with my paintings, and often don’t know how to control it. I like how the colors in this Szabo painting is so rich yet without being noisy.
I did a sketch with micron pen while traveling in Beijing many years ago. I quite like the result, but also wondered what it would look like with some color. I didn’t want to paint over the drawing, fearing that I might ruin it. So this was the solution I came up with:
I first made a photocopy of the drawing.
Then I transferred it onto a canvas (‘Glue’ the photocopy onto the canvas with acrylic medium and scrubbed off the paper when it’s dry. The image will stay.)
Next I glazed over the image with watercolor. The surface was not comparable to regular watercolor paper, so I only did a few layers of light washes.
When it’s bone dry, I varnished it with acrylic medium (gloss). I didn’t know there were spray-on varnishes back then, so I brushed on the medium, It did disturb the paint a bit, but since it’s very dry and very light layers, it’s not that bad.
Since it’s varnished, I could hang it without glass. And I still have my original sketch! 🙂
I posted this landscape in acrylic before, and I recently uncovered a watercolor version of it. So, sorry for repeating myself, but it’s interesting to look at them together:
I like the less defined forms and more spontaneous color ranges a wet-on-wet watercolor creates, but I also like the dark values the acrylic painting can bring out. The reference I used for the two is the same, and whatever difference you see from the these paintings are not by design. It seems the mediums just lead me there. How bizarre!