Archive for May, 2010

What does a new subject matter?

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Cayman Cockerel

I’ve been having fun painting various animals this spring, including this colorful rooster.  His lines and blend of colors intrigued me, so I was inspired to reproduce his likeness in watercolor.  Typical of birds throughout Grand Cayman, I found this one strutting his stuff in Hell.  (Yes, that really is the name of a village there.)

When I paint the same subject repeatedly, I tend to get into a rut, using the same techniques and similar colors.  When I try a new subject like this one, however, it’s easier to break out of that rut to try new techniques, experiment with color or lighting, and give myself a chance to really grow as an artist.

In this painting I used more wet-in-wet painting technique than I have had a tendency to do in the past.  I didn’t entirely abandon my wet-on-dry technique, incorporating it for the sake of feather texture.  I also used masking fluid in some areas and found it beneficial to lift some of the color, particularly in the tail and wing feathers and to soften the edges of the masked areas.  But I also took the opportunity to play with the foreground a bit, splattering it with various colors of paint, echoing those used in the bird, to simulate gravel.  The background wash has also been lightly sprinkled with clear water to add texture and interest to the understated haze.

Like many pictures I’ve taken of animals, the photos did not come out exactly as I would have preferred, but I was able to make necessary adjustments for the sake of the painting.  The bird’s body was incorporated from one photograph; the face and wattle (resized to fit) were from another.

Beginner’s luck

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Watercolor paint of any quality tends to lighten somewhat as it dries.  But the high proportion of water to paint in many of my early paintings caused the color to pale out markedly as the water evaporated.  I didn’t realize that I wasn’t using enough pigment to sufficiently coat the paper.

Seamstresses

In rare instances, it proved serendipitous, actually working to my advantage.  In “Seamstresses” (#070601), I wanted to show the silhouetted figures sitting in a dark castle room and backlit by the bright window.  The high water content of the paint left a wonderful effect of light reverberating around a dark and dusty room, catching on dust motes as they hung in the air.  Notice how the upper part of the wall over the central figure is grayed out, along with the women’s skirts and the hassock beneath the game board.

The colors in the lit portions of the figures are considerably stronger.   Because they were painted with greater detail, the pigments in the focal area are more concentrated.  The wide dispersion of pigment occurred in areas where I used a broader stroke and less detail.

Despite its technical flaws, “Seamstresses” still remains one of my favorite paintings.

My favorite travel companion

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Any time I travel, my camera goes along.  I keep an eye open for interesting flowers—particularly those that we don’t find near home—and people or animals that trigger my imagination.  I also look for scenes that speak to me about the specific locale in which I’m spending time.

Cayman Fish Vendor

On a recent visit on Grand Cayman, I found a tree burgeoning with clusters of velvety violet and white flowers.  Colorful chickens roamed freely along the roadsides, in parks, and even in open-air restaurants.  And along the shore, fish vendors had set up temporary stalls to shade themselves as they sorted and cleaned the morning’s catch.

The image of the vendors remained with me long after we left the island, so I combed through my photographs to help me tell that aspect of the story of our visit.

It would be foolish to have tried to combine the tree, a rooster, and the vendor’s stall into one painting; that would be overkill.  I find that it’s more effective to focus on a single subject in a painting; and the simpler it is, the better.  I chose to omit from Cayman Fish Vendor (#100401) a fisherman who had been in the background of my primary reference photograph, replacing him with the boat (borrowed from another photo), which provided simpler lines to offset the jumbled appearance of the fish and the rocks behind.  The composition could have been simplified further by omitting both the corner of the canvas tent and the fishing boat, though both help to “tell the story,” and the color of the boat’s trim echoes the color of the fish being cleaned.

A word of caution if you try combining photos, as I did:  It’s important that the light comes from the same direction and angle.  Scale is also a critical variable, so relative sizes may need to be adjusted.  This is a situation when digital photography and editing capabilities prove a great boon to the artist.

A photo jaunt of just a few hours on Grand Cayman have provided me with reference material for several different subjects to paint as the mood strikes.  Everywhere I go, I try to add at least a few more photos to my reference file.