Changing Key, Part 1

This summer I was strongly influenced by all the fine art I was able to see in person. The old masters weren’t afraid to experiment, to try new approaches, to play with ideas their colleagues were investigating. It inspired me to do further experimentation of my own, and motivated me to apply myself even more diligently to refining the skills so critical to achieving a fine artistic product.

Back in the studio this fall, I’ve been playing with different approaches to watercolor. Basing my studies on one of the photographs I had taken at Monet’s lily pond in Giverny in August, I experimented to create similar paintings in different keys. One is low key, with a good proportion of dark values; the next is much lighter, or high key.

141001w At Pond's Edge 1, Giverny

The low key version, “At Pond’s Edge 1” (#141001, above), is closest to a realistic color and value range. The look has a richness similar to that found in oils or acrylics. The lowest values are very dark, with little transparency. Even the high values are tinted with fluid washes so that very little unadulterated white of the paper peeks through.

My working palette for this painting included phthalo blue, burnt umber, burnt sienna, brown madder, permanent sap green, and quinacridone gold.

141004w-At-Ponds-Edge-2

“At Pond’s Edge 2” (#141004, above), painted in a higher key, is more typical of my usual watercolor style, with intermingled pigments and a mixture of hard and soft edges. Darks are transparent; and although I have incorporated thin washes in many of the high value passages, the paper is permitted to shine through, providing white highlights to brighten the mid-value areas. The overall appearance is one of delicacy and airiness.

My palette choices were very similar those I used in the previous painting, only substituting a warmer Indanthrene blue for the cooler phthalo blue.

Next time I’ll show a third approach to the same subject, using a very different color palette, and will discuss some of the difficulties I encountered and how I addressed them.

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