Posts Tagged ‘#100305’

Giving it a lift

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Despite my best efforts, watercolor paint, by its very nature, frequently goes where I don’t intend it to.  Sometimes that’s okay and results in a serendipitous event that adds texture and interest to the painting.

But sometimes it spoils the effect I’ve tried to achieve.  In that case, I may try to repair the damage by lifting some of the color back off the paper.  While the paint is still quite wet, I can sometimes remove it by sucking it up with a “thirsty” brush, one that is damp but thoroughly blotted so that it attracts more water to itself than it releases whenever it touches the painting.  After each touch used to lift the wet paint, the brush needs to be thoroughly blotted so it will be ready to pick up more moisture with the next touch.

If the paint is still damp, I can either blot it immediately or add clean water to the misplaced paint and then blot it to remove most of the color.

If the paint has already dried, however, I can use a clean brush, moistened only with clear water, and gently stroke the color away, lifting the paint into the brush.  The brush needs to be rinsed and thoroughly blotted after each lifting stroke to avoid spreading the remaining color further afield.  For me, this method works best with a pointed “round” brush in very small or confined areas, such as when I want to lighten the vein of a leaf.  It can also be done with a mask to create or maintain a hard edge along the side of the lifted area.

This method of lifting is not only used for rectifying mistakes.  It was part of the original creative process when I used a small “liner” brush to lift out pigment to create whiskers on Boots & Bandit (#100305)

Boots & Bandit detail

For larger areas, I sometimes use a specialized “scrubber” brush, shorter and stiffer than a typical round brush, to gently scrub the color off the paper’s surface.  “Scrubbing” must be done very carefully to avoid roughing up or otherwise damaging the surface of the paper.  Referring once again to Boots & Bandit, I used a scrubber to soften many of the hard lines within their fur.  And I applied it again when the cats’ owner asked me to extend the area of white fur on Boot’s chest, more in keeping with his usual appearance (since the groomer had recently trimmed it uncharacteristically short), and to soften and add characteristic tufts to his paws.  (I also added black tips to his ears, which I’d overlooked in the shadows in the reference photos, and darkened the eye linings.)

Boots & Bandit detail, before

Boots & Bandit detail, after

Although all of these methods of lifting paint work well with non-staining colors, none of them works so well with staining pigments.  For this reason I generally prefer to use non-staining paint whenever I can.  The adjustments I made to Boots & Bandit would not have been possible if I had used staining pigments.

Composition contrivance

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.”  A cat also has definite opinions about who he knows and doesn’t want to get to know, how much sun he’ll tolerate in his eyes, and whether he’ll just plain “wanna” or not.  Multiply that cat by two, and it’s a considerable challenge to shoot a paintable composition in a single photograph.

Boots & Bandit

For this commission, the two cats, Boots and Bandit, could not be persuaded to sit together in the sunlit chair that had been placed for the purpose.  Bandit, who had never met me before, didn’t trust strangers, so sat, haughty and uncooperative, glaring at me … when he deigned to sit at all.  Boots took off on his own to lie down between two other chairs, in the shade.  Not that I could blame him.

When being held/posed/manhandled in the blinding sunlight, both cats kept their eyes closed.  Yet their owner requested that I show the characteristic eye color of each of them.  I knew it would be hopeless if we continued the photo shoot in the sun, so we changed tactics and allowed the cats to run around in the open shade of the enclosed lanai.  I tried to position myself in one location from which I could capture their antics, wherever they moved.  And I took shot after shot after shot.  (What a cost savings digital photography is over film in such circumstances!)

Eventually I managed to get a good photograph of each of the cats individually.  Selecting the best photos of each cat, I repositioned them in relation to each other, through digital magic, to create my primary reference.

Aside from ensuring that their relative sizes were appropriate, my main concern in matching up the animals’ photos was that they should be lit from the same direction.  Fortunately, I had two good photos that were lit from the right, though Boots was largely in semi-shade and Bandit was sidelit by brilliant sunlight.  Degree of light can be altered in the painting process, but the contouring that directional light and resulting shadow creates on a subject is considerably harder to adjust.

I chose a few back-up photos of each cat to use as supplemental reference material, not only for color, lighting adjustments, and variations on pose, but also for that important and telling detail, their eyes.

This is when I really appreciate Adobe for having created that powerful photo-manipulation program called Photoshop.  It took me a while to learn; I still use cheat-sheets and refer to how-to books, but the program allows me to set up and adjust compositions on my computer screen that were unobtainable in life.