Archive for June, 2013

Catnap in Positano, part 2 – Beginning the Painting

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

In this blog, part 2 of a 4-part series, I’ll try to show how I approached actually painting the subject I had identified and explored in the preliminary stages discussed last time.

Once I had sketched the cat and planter onto 140# cold-pressed watercolor paper, I began to block in the planter—a large, comparatively flat, central area directly behind my focal point—with a light wash of burnt sienna, the color of the highlight along the top lip. I was content to leave the initial wash quite light, since I knew I would later add multiple glazes at various times and over various areas of it, using burnt umber, brown madder, and indigo, to vary and enrich the color and tone and to suggest surface texture.

Then came the first tints on the cat’s head and darker portions of the body, as I applied a thin mixture of brown madder and sap green. I used the same mixture, adding a touch of indigo, for the initial wash on the wall, later reglazing this variously with brown madder, indigo, and burnt umber.

Catnap Initial Work

In building up the cat, I layered increasingly lower values of the same colors I had used elsewhere, eventually adding dark stripes of an indigo and burnt-umber mix. Final top glazes of indigo and a brown-madder/permanent-alizarin blend (which by then I had used in the geraniums—more about that next time) helped me complete the shading and color adjustment. The pink blend was also incorporated in the ears, nose, and toe pads.

Like the planter and the cat, the wall was built up in numerous layers to achieve the appearance of multi-colored stonework and shadow. Brown madder tends to bleed out and separate from other colors it’s blended with, as it did in the planter’s shadow; but I didn’t fight it, allowing it to “reflect” the planter’s color into the shadow.

Join me again next time as I continue the painting, building up the foliage and the flowers.

Catnap in Positano, part 1 – Preliminary Planning

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

A watercolor painting is a series of exercises in mental pre-planning, patience, and adaptability. Over the next four blogs, I will be providing a glimpse into the process I followed in developing one particular painting. In part 1, I’ll show what kind of pre-planning I did before even picking up a brush.

A painting begins not on the paper but in the mind of an artist. For me, one painting began on a hot, sunny day in Positano, Italy, as I meandered along a road overlooking the rugged Amalfi coastline. A cat lay on a concrete-topped stone wall, sprawled lazily against the cool ceramic of a planter, undisturbed by the red geraniums nodding disinterestedly overhead.

Except for occasional quick sketches, most of my paintings are done in the studio, so I rely on photography for reference, selecting both subjects and angles that interest me, lighting that catches my eye or reveals something special about the subject, and usually suggesting a relationship of some kind—whether between two beings, a subject and the viewer, or even the light’s interaction with the subject. I also try to be aware of the general composition of the scene, background, contrasts, and perspective, as I attempt to capture in the camera the elements and relationships the attracted me in person.

So I photographed the cat, recording also its relation to the ceramic planter. Yes, I could have focused on the cat alone and minimized the potential distraction of the planting. But my concept included the planter and the colorful blossoms overhead. They were integral to the relationship I wanted to depict, of the quiet cat, subdued in color, content to play it cool while the colorful blossoms rejoiced in the light and heat—creating a metaphor, of a sort, of some of the human personalities around me.

130314 Catnap Preliminary Studies

Back in the studio, I reevaluated the photo. Using photo-editing software, I played with shadows and highlights to discover hidden detail; I adjusted color saturation and investigated alternative levels of contrast, and experimented with both vertical and horizontal orientations, as well as a variety of aspect ratios for the overall image.

Then I began to play with ideas about how to develop a creative image suggested by the original scene. Using felt markers of several shades, I played with value patterns and considered a variety of alternatives for the notan structure. I also took time to work up a pencil sketch to investigate the subject further.

At last it was time to tackle the painting in earnest. I sketched the primary outlines onto a quarter sheet (about 12”x16”) of cold-pressed watercolor paper and began thinking specifically about where to begin, how to approach the project, and which paints to include on my palette.

Join me next time as I pick up my brushes and begin the painting adventure in earnest.