I recently came home to the latest issue of The Artist’s Magazine waiting on my doorstep, which means I can finally show this sketch.
I have this background project – each year around October I’ll do a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe. This year I did it early, on request from the magazine, so it might come out in the October issue.
This is the second Mr. Poe watercolor. I’d done a few before in pencil. Perhaps next year I’ll be ready to do one in oil. I hope this will be a way of checking in with myself. To measure how my approach to painting is evolving.
Here’s 2013’s PoeTrait.
Attentive readers will know, around this time last year I was working more deliberately. Starting with a pencil drawing below the watercolor. Using the line as a guide, mapping out what was light, and what was shadow. I often found myself telling people “it’s like drawing yourself a coloring-book”. But I was never very comfortable with that analogy. It certainly works – and I still recommend it for beginners. But can you imagine trying to explain that to Mr. Sargent when you show up in artist heaven? The whole “coloring book” thing was always something I’ve been embarrassed about. Even while I was using it to make some of my personal favorite pieces.
The point is – these days I’m just going straight in. Simply drawing shapes with the brush on a blank white page without any planning beyond *looking*.
I’m really not sure if this is a great idea. It’s certainly the high risk approach. Perhaps I’m just an adrenaline junky.
You can see that in the first few minutes the portrait is already there. Bing Bang Boom, a few planes of the head, a few dark eyebrows, and it’s Mr. Poe. If the likeness had not worked out in the first few strokes, I’d have had to tear it up and start again.
I feel like I got lucky with this one. I got away with a reckless charge that might have left me muttering about wasting good paper. But these days, it’s the ones like this that get me excited.
We’re over the mid point of the watercolor night class I’m teaching at Syn Studio - so that means we’re doing the fun stuff now! We started with fruit and still-life, did some work with a gesture model, so now we’ll start some larger, more challenging subjects.
The other week we did some ‘speed drills’ painting heads from photo reference, and then last night applied what we’d practiced to a three hour pose with a costumed model. It’s a lot of fun to see the students getting more confident with the water media.
Here’s my in-class demos:
We’ve just completed the 10th (and final) week of my watercolor course at Syn Studio. (For this year anyway. We’re taking registrations now for the next session in January 2014).
I wanted to end this season with a bang. Something challenging, but also a lot of fun.
Immediately I thought about Yupo.
What could possibly be more fun than sending students on the wild and crazy ride this material offers?
Yupo is a synthetic alternative to paper, made out of polystyrene. It is glass smooth, bright white, and almost entirely non-absorbent. It’s such a bizarre experience for a watercolorist, you either toss your hands up in frustration, or embrace the strangeness and laugh.
I think I convinced people to have a laugh at their own expense, to go with the flow, quite literally. I do hope some of them will come back to this material someday. I think it has tremendous potential. I’ve only just begun experimenting with Yupo. To be honest, including two three hour classes this week I have about 7 hours total time with it.
If I might make a few observations from my experiments, however early it might be in the research:
You can see the the extent of the wet-in-wet activity in these 5 minute ‘underpaintings’.
Water and suspended pigments float on the non-porus surface. Wet-in-wet effects travel much further than on paper. Washes will float around for up to a half hour. The slightest touch between two wet shapes is going to make things bloom. Forms you thought you painted clearly can gradually dissolve into new patterns.
You can drop a puddle of liquid, and just keep pulling it out with water or new pigment. Growing a shape organically. “Charging in’ – touching with rich pigment – is highly effective here. (Seen here in the hair. The model was wearing flowers). If anyone is familiar with Charles Reid’s manner of shape welding, they’ll find this very natural I think. If exaggerated.
Let’s move onto some longer poses.
I have this trick for doing 20 min figure poses in watercolor. We do three sets of 10 minutes. Take a break, then do the same poses again, starting from the top. This gives us a 20 min pose, with time to dry inserted between sets. With the Yupo, this is only partially successful. Even when completely dry, a second pass has to be laid on carefully, or it will lift what is below. The faces in these following were blended with the mottled egg of the underpainted head. Small shapes blended into the base wash, and small lights lifted out. Good examples of working Larger-to-Smaller.
To lift a clean white, you have to touch the dry skin of paint twice. Once to dampen, and once to lift. You can see a nice clean lift on the back of this hand. That light shape was extracted out of the hand whereas the light below the breast was reserved. Can’t really tell the difference eh? Only that the natural reserved edge has a thin linear border, whereas the lift is softer edged. Washes stated in one pass have dark ‘tidal lines’ outlining the edge of a wet shape. There are linear deposits of pigment in parallel bands, much like flotsam deposited on a beach by wave action. It can also look a bit like solarized photography.
Often lifting out will happen unintentionally. It can be a bit frustrating at first. But after a few tries, you may come to enjoy how hair trigger it is. The lights on the chest and thigh in the left hand figure were lifted out with a clean, damp brush. The profile on the right was cut out of an oval blob.
Some students made the most of their Yupo supply by washing a sheet under the tap, completely removing a sketch, then starting fresh on the same page.
It is possible to come in with a wet wash and both erase and paint at the same time. I made this figure on top of a previous standing pose involving a swatch of blue silk. The second figure completely absorbs the first. Some areas obliterating, some areas blending, depending on the relative dampness. The first figure is gone, but the blue silk is part of the final effect.
After 10 minutes the thinnest washes might be dry, while the watery areas are still completely fluid. As the pigments begin to skin over you can really see the benefit of lifting out. You can redraw outside contours with a damp brush, cutting in with white.
More dramatically, the entire left side contour of this figure was erased out of a previous reclining pose using a damp paper towel. I just turned the previous recline 90 degrees, and used it as an underpainting. You can see some parallel ‘rake’ marks to the left of her flank caused by the texture of the paper towel. Its a similar feeling to wiping out oil with turps or vine charcoal with a kneaded eraser.
Ok, that’s probably enough said about all this fun and games. Lots to think about here. The TLDR is: Yupo is a lot of fun. If you ever want to loosen up your work, it’s a sure fire cure.
I’ll report some more on this later. If people are interested in further Yupo demonstrations, let me know.
The other day I was substitute teaching for Max Douglas’ Dynamic Drawing class. They’ve been focusing on sketching the figure in motion, which is always a favorite sport of mine. But as I’m currently teaching a watercolor course (Taking sign up’s here!) I thought I’d stay on theme and have them sketching the model with water-soluble ink line and clear water washes.
The washable properties of fountain pen ink are a useful half-step between drawing and painting. A nice transition for a person who is more of a linear sketcher, but wants a taste of painting.
It happens I’d just received a shipment of fountain pen ink samples from Private Reserve Ink. I was inquiring if they had any charts of which colors washed best, and they very generously offered me a chance to test a range of colors. Good timing for the students as I was able to give out some small testers to try in class. My quick experiments the night before showed they have excellent ‘release’ even after the ink is dry to the touch, making them ideal for line and wash.
Private Reserve offers an interesting selection of colors. I’m particularly partial to Vampire Red and their somewhat electric Daphne Blue. I’m quite sure these colors are not light fast over the long term, but if you are sketching for pleasure, or for reproduction/illustration rather than the gallery wall, that’s not a problem. Even so, any color fading that might occur will only serve to create an ‘old-masters’ drawing :)
Over our one night workshop I had people sketch fast poses with some disposable Staples.ca ballpoints that happen to be water-soluble – just to get them thinking about sketching shadow masses as ‘internal contours’ which they will melt with water.
Following this warmup we moved to the pen and spotting darks with the fountain ink – which we turned into paintings simply by melting with clear water. I can’t get enough of this magic trick.
Then adding in a third value with black Pentel Pocket Brushes. I’d have recommended the Kuretake #13 (first tests here) which has washable ink cartridges, but I couldn’t expect people to be ordering those pens on short notice.
I encourage anyone who wants to transition from figure drawing into painting from life to try out this exercise.