Tag Archives: #watercolorpainting

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.

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.

Copying Masters (7) – Zoltan Szabo

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.

The painting is collected in his book Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques.

The original:

Zoltan Szabo, The Last Wink, watercolor on paper, 13.75″ x 18″

My copy:

After Zoltan Szabo, watercolor on rice paper, 2019

While Szabo’s original was on cold press watercolor paper, my study was done on pre-matted rice paper. It is intended for Chinese brush painting, and is very delicate and absorbent.

Pairs (II) – Color or No Color?

Park in Beijing, Ink drawing
Park in Beijing, micron pen on sketchbook
ink drawing with watercolor glaze
Park in Beijing, mixed media on canvas

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! 🙂