Category: Watercolor

The humble “watercolor process”

Finished painting Flowarte

I’ve mentioned Marc Taro, a watercolor artist from Montreal. He is an Urban Sketcher and Fine Artist and I’m a bit obsessed with his most recent watercolor process. I’ve taken his Travel Sketching in Mixed Media class on Craftsy and it is the best explanation I’ve encountered on how to start, progress and make really beautiful drawings on location.

Only problem? I don’t practice enough. I only try to practice when I’m travelling. Why? I guess I’m still self conscious about drawing in public. If someone approaches me while I’m drawing and talks to me, I think I’ll faint. When travelling I have my not-so-patient husband so I only do little thumbnails here and there.

Lately Marc has been taking his work to another level. He’s doing things that no other watercolor artist is doing right now (in my opinion) and mind you, he has YEARS of experience, but it’s driving me crazy because I want so much to paint in a similar style. I love watercolor for it’s fluidity and it’s willful blending and he has taken this to beautiful heights. Just look here. 

He recently published his Direct Watercolor book and I got it the minute he released it. I looked at each page in awe.

A little humility Luisa, please.

So I grabbed my brush and said, here I go.

Well, not really. First of all I lost all sense of proportion and perspective. Second, painting buildings isn’t my most joyful place. I love to look at travel journals and I’d love to  illustrate my own. But since I don’t practice enough, I can’t just pull out my my sketchbook and brush and expect to paint something wonderful. My desire is so great that for a second I believe that when there’s a will there’s a way and then proceed to ruin a page.

Thumbnails!

So after my initial frustration I did a few small thumbnails and the very basics: horizon line, one point perspective, two point perspective.

These are incredibly helpful for fitting your drawing on a page, working the composition, nail the perspective (somewhat in my case) and place shadows and darks. Once you have that, you can transfer your sketch to your watercolor paper and you draw it a second time which is more practice!

I would love to forsake the pencil, a hefty ambition since that’s what Marc does and sometimes even he has to plot some points. But in this case, I just went with pencil.

 

View of Grenoble thumbnail

Then I went with the basics of any  watercolor process: light to dark

Grenoble in watercolor

Added a few shadows

Grenoble thumbnail sketch

And lastly I completed the darks.

Finished painting Flowarte

So I recognize I’m extremely wobbly and unsure when it comes to painting cities or buildings. My practica has been mostly with flowers and abstracts  and this is like FAR cry to what my ambitions are. But I’m happy that I could revisit concepts that I hadn’t practiced in almost a year since I went to Seville and that I captured the color and feel of this city. One thing though… I forgot the Alps.

 

Evolving Artistic Style

Changing watercolor style

A package arrived to my workplace last week. In fact, several packages arrived but I had been waiting for one in particular. A brush. A brush I’d heard so much about I really thought it would be a game changer. I waited for a month because I couldn’t find it here in Montreal. Ordering from Amazon and having to wait a month is not fun, it’s the severest form of “first world pain”.

Finally it arrived. I unpackaged it carefully just to be able to admire the thing in all its glory. All my faith was in this magical wand.

I still had to work four more hours before I could get home and dip it in water and in my lovely White Nights watercolor paints.   In my mind I went through all the things that had to happen before that moment: a 30 minute subway ride, eating dinner, cleaning the kitchen, walking Boris, unearthing my watercolor pad, the paints, changing the dirty water of the previous painting session and then, only then I would be able to experience the joy and the fabulousness of this brush.

The strange phenomenon of the “fine materials” is relentless. But this time I was convinced that after my incomplete #100daysofwcpostcards I had tamed it. In fact, I thought I was on to something, I loved making my postcards and I loved each and every one, even those I ended up tossing. In my head, with this brush I would be able to paint a-mai-zing-ly.

But I didn’t know what to paint.

“Should I paint another postcard?” It was dark and the artificial light changes colors. “Do I want to paint something figurative? Do color swatches?” I ended waisting a sheet of paper just doodling. I put the brush away.

Ignoring what is already there

Weeks go by so fast and I paint so much. It’s like a race to get somewhere, only I don’t really know where. I love painting with watercolor but I’ve been focusing on certain principles and rules and I didn’t totally love what I was painting. I love the immediacy of watercolor, but there are some styles that require long, painstaking processes, like layering, glazing. Precise, realistic, delicate. Other styles are very illustrative, almost like coloring. You do a sketch and then you fill it with color. The style I’m mostly drawn to and the one that has been emerging this year is the fluid, poetic, brush-strokey (sorry, this isn’t a word), but it’s the style where watercolor blends almost in a messy way.

Virginia Woolf's Garden

In this style you sketch directly with the brush. It’s a risky undertaking because you have to work so quickly. The painting above is one of the very first sketches I did. It’s inspired by Virginia Woolf’s garden. My palette was a real pile of mud afterwards but I was quite happy with this very first result.

This was another sketch, of which I did two versions, one with gouache and the front one in watercolor.

This one I did on a different type of paper:

The thing is, I did these paintings with my old brushes, not with the magical “new one”. So why order a brush that “I heard” was exceptional? Because somewhere along the line there is still a lot of doubt. I still believe that all those artists using this particular brush are so much better than I could ever be (and they ARE great!) but I have to force myself to recognize that all the practice, all the seeking, all the art book carrying from the library studying different artists has amounted to something.

Today I stepped out into my backyard to try to capture some of the (delayed) autumn colors. There is no fiery red anywhere yet. More dark browns, greens and occasional burgundy reds. I took the magical brush and tried it at last.

Autum Watercolors Flow Arte

Now, do you see a difference?

Autumn Watercolors Flow Arte
Our vine and my bike surrounded by more vines.

I don’t really. I could easily keep evolving without any more brushes. I’m happy about the looseness and this comes from the paint, the water and a medium-quality watercolor brush.

If you are considering those fantastic materials that an artist on Instagram is being sponsored for because you believe your art will improve BECAUSE of it, I urge you to step back and look at the work you’ve produced until now. Ask your work: do you need it?

Look at some of the pieces you’ve made, what did you use? What did you like? Compare to earlier work, do you prefer it now? Chances are that all the work you’ve done until now has been the result of just that: YOUR WORK and your evolving artistic style.

Now, if you suffer from brush addiction, I can’t really help you. I’m currently in withdrawal ;)

Getting Better at Watercolor Painting

Tea

Watercolor painting has been a huge challenge for me. And the bigger the challenge the more stubborn I become. I tend to lose interest in things that are easy. Just today I ran into an article titled “Are we making things too hard?” I do. Always.

But it’s not that I want things to be difficult, I just want things to be well made, with the best possible practices, with the right tools… ugh, I’m anal that way. Being like this trips me up all the time. Last week I had a web project. It seemed simple, nothing fancy. However I was so adamant in implementing the “good” WordPress practices that I complicated matters for myself too much. I wound up with three days of insomnia. When I did sleep I saw code in my dreams. It’s the same with watercolors. I took too many online classes, I ruined so much paper and nothing worked. And the things that did work seemed like a “fluke”.

So, how to improve?

At one point I browsed my Pinterest boards and asked myself what style of watercolors do I like best? And what style do I want to practice? Most of all: why?

I wrote about documenting one’s process from time to time. Art selfies if you will. Every time I look at that Vivienne Westwood painting, my first ever, I feel a bit of pride for my persistence.

So to answer the above questions about what, which and why…

I truly like the flowy watercolors, those that seem effortlessly random and I love portraits. I also love food illustration.

Flowy watercolors require high quality paper and brushes, and these do require a special something, the ability to foresee what is not there. Most of the people who paint like that, do so from imagination or if they are looking at a reference, they just take the very minimal. I can’t buy bulks of high-quality paper and I don’t have that je ne sais quoi. So after a lot of failed attempts at this style I managed to let it go.

In the very beginning of my watercolor adventure I ran into a video where the instructor said: if you have the values right and the drawing right, the color doesn’t matter. Then he proceeded to draw a psychedelic portrait. This video remained in my subconscious and it gave me the key to understanding not only watercolors but duh! all of the visual arts: VALUE.

The problem is, to see value is hard. I squint my eyes as much as I can and yet, I still wind up with a high contrast image because I do not see midtones. But this, as everything else, is practice. And I have practiced a lot.

I discovered that my hand prefers the wet-on-dry technique. This watercolor painting technique allows me to control water and pigment a lot better and my work has improved.

I’ve followed many different techniques and read quite a bit. I’ve done many exercises and watched hours of time-lapses (god how I hate them!) just to pick up bits and pieces.  I’ve also fantasized about getting into an illustration program, but it’s a wacky idea. I don’t have the time or the resources.

Yet, perseverance pays off. If you’ve followed me on Instagram, I’ve posted some of these images. I hope one day to be able to veer off from the representational and more into palettes of my own.

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When to Paint?

I have been listening to a few podcasts about focusing or getting rid of distractions. Usually this topic comes up again and again at the same time each year, same with articles and podcast episodes about social media sabbaticals and reducing time online. It’s an inevitable cycle.

The strangest feeling is when you actually disconnect for a few days and then you come back to realize how nothing stopped, everyone continued to do the promotional dance, everybody continued to post everywhere and yet you missed nothing.

We went camping for a week. I’m not the biggest fan of camping but it’s in my husband’s blood, so every summer, I have to suck it up and sleep in a condensation-vessel which is our tent.

We went to the beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine. The spectacular landscapes were just what we needed. We walked and hiked and slept like logs and sat for hours in front of the fire with nothing else to do because we don’t like to read with a flashlight, so we drank wine and we talked.

paisajes-de-acadia-maine-usa_20197219498_o

I took my Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook and my Winson and Newton Cotman watercolor set but I packed no expectations. I thought I would doodle, experiment with color and just allow myself to ruin some pages.

At one point two ladies emerged, these two were drawn entirley from imagination (and are the result of a lot of practice and assignments) but they are the first two that I feel truly mine. I drew one in the sketchbook and the second one in a cheap Strathmore Watercolor pad.

Freedom. No expectations, no online distractions, no way of comparing myself, no reference images, nothing. Just nature, paper, watercolors and a brushpen.

Today I scanned the two portraits and I put them up as prints on Society6. I made a print myself in my home printer and they both look lovely. These, I decided, will be part of an ongoing series titled A Strange Charm…

ladyinpurple

Find her here

 

determined

 

Find her here

 

Desire is sparked by what we see

About three years ago, I was trying to set up a web design business. I had a full time job but it wasn’t very fulfilling. I was working on my website and I thought I had the look all worked out, I wanted an illustration-based design for my site.

I didn’t want to use my picture, I wanted a drawing of me at the computer. So I asked my sister who is a mixed-media artist if she could draw me. At that time the only drawing I’d made of myself was a comic book version. I had just discovered fashion illustration and I was infatuated with Garance Doré’s work so I asked my sister if she could draw me in that style.

She did but I didn’t end up using the illustration because I got caught up in the never-ending process of coding from scratch. By the time I was ready to launch I didn’t like my brand name, I didn’t like the color scheme and the drawing was cut and pasted many times because my sister is completely analogue in her work. She doesn’t do any digital editing so I had to build the illustration with my very limited Photoshop skills which made it look weird.

The thing with this story is that I found the act of drawing incredibly mysterious and out of my reach. In my head, my sister was the artist, I couldn’t draw. I was the writer in the family.

How is it that today I can draw? And that I am getting better at it? I didn’t go to art school, I’ve learned most of what I’m drawing right now through books, tutorials and a few paid classes.

Is it talent?

One of the questions that has haunted me from the beginning of time is what part does talent play in any artistic discipline? If you want to play the violin but you are not dexterous will you ever play well enough? And then what is well enough? Do you want to give concerts or play in a band? or just sit for  a few hours every week and enjoy the flow of your music?

Is it talent that pushes you from good to great? Or is it discipline and constant work and experimentation?

28 artists and two saints

Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Acocella

I’m reading this book and it is phenomenal. I’d always believed that artists knew from a very young age what they were destined to do. That they got a very specific signal from somewhere that told them: this is your talent, now go and use it. 

It’s not the case. It varies widely. Some people are born with it and know immediately, others follow a traditional path of family and work and suddenly discover a passion, others work their whole life before feeling they have “arrived”.

Not to minimize anyone’s effort but the people in this book have lived things that many self-proclaimed artists in the 21st century will never imagine. And these thoughts are conflicting for me. Can I call myself an artist? When? Do I have the right? Why am I conflicted?

I have no problem considering anyone who creates an artist. For years I have been in awe with certain watercolor artists, and when I cracked the technique to paint flowy flowers I thought…hmm then maybe they aren’t so good. Yup… that’s the gremlin in my head.

Beyond Clip Art

In between my graphics I am trying to develop in traditional media. So far I’ve tried colored pencils, watercolor, markers, acrylic, pencil and ink. But the main task is to improve my drawing. I’ve tried sketching buildings,  sketching animals, imaginary animals, food and people, my favorite subject continues to be people and, most of all, faces.

I have a lot of inspiration sources, many are from fashion magazines and many come from vintage photos, but lately, I’ve started to draw from imagination and that… THAT has been my breakthrough.

All this started because I liked the simple, yet beautiful illustrations by Garance Doré; what I was doing in her blog is a mystery to me because I couldn’t care less about what NY city women are concerned about these days, but for some reason I saw this illustration and the desire to draw sparked in me. (The illustration used to be on her blog but now I can’t find it except on this product).

So inspiration aside, I’ve started a furious sketchbook of “imaginative faces” here are some of those:

A year from now where will these drawings be? What part do you think talent takes in art making? 50% 60%?

Let me know in the comments.

From sketch to watercolor to digital

I bought a Canson watercolor pad for 7 dollars. In my paper stash there is a Fabriano pad that cost me about 30. I’ve used one sheet of paper from that one. I was attempting to do Katie Rodger’s class on painting a story.I took this class around September 2014.

I pulled out the painting last week and as I see it… the drawing isn’t bad, The idea behind it isn’t bad either. I titled it “In the powder room”. Girls getting ready to step out into a ball. Read More