Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Look no pencil!



At art class this week, our tutor gave us the task of painting a still life. Pretty straight forward, or so we all thought, untill we discovered that we were not allowed to use pencil to get an accurate image down on paper first, and the only medium allowed was watercolour. In addition, we were only allowed to use was a no.6 brush and in one colour only. There was also the fact that we had to paint it twice in our two hour lesson.


Well of course, this presented more of a challenge. In our tutor's words, these were to be "working drawings", where all our mistakes could not be erased and to be seen there in the finished artwork. There were a few gasps, but nevertheless, we set to using our paintbrushes in pencil fashion at first, then adding shading later.

In the first painting, I chose cobalt blue and quickly outlined the pots very roughly, correcting with shading as I went along. It seemed quite alien to paint this way, but turned out to be a highly intuative way to get the image down on paper. Apart from the initial linework, the shading was key to getting form and shape to the pots.

In the second painting, I used burnt umber and decided on a different tactic rather than do more of the same. This time I did no initial lines at all. I started with the handle of the tall vase and painted the shapes of the shadows. Then working my way round all the other pots in the same way - no outline, just shapes and depth of shadows. The highlight on the upturned bowl on the right was made visible by adding a lightly shaded background to make the white shape stand out. For me, this was a marvelous way to paint this still life, not by painting lines but merely painting shapes to form the picture.

The paper used for the first painting was heavy watercolour paper, but as I only had one sheet with me left, the brown version was done on ordinary cartridge paper, which had a lovely smooth finish, but buckled terribly, and of course the scanner recorded this as dark patches. The original is also more colourful than shown here.


I have to stress that these are quite rough sketches intended as practice for doing the 'real thing', but they are so useful for seeing what works well and to include in the final version etc. For instance the upturned bowl on the right of the second work looks really good when used with the negative shape created by the background.

In all, this has turned out to be a highly informative lesson and I am so glad that our tutor has took a firmer stand in giving us these projects, which teaches us not to get stuck in a rut with one style of painting doing our own projects in the same way each week.

15 comments:

  1. Frank...these are terrific exercises that I think would be excellent for honing my watercolor skills. This method would seem useful especially for establishing values and determining good composition. Thanks for sharing....I'm going to have to try this myself.

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  2. Gretchen, I'm so glad that this has been useful information to you, I know these excercises have for me. Good luck with your painting...

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  3. Great!! I used to love your previous posts about your art lessons so I'm really looking forward to the new classes. ;-)

    This looks like a fabulous exercise Frank - must have a go!!

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  4. I can only echo what Gretchen said - An absolutely excellent way of learning. I have never tried this, but I think I will be giving it a go! Your attempts are superb! My favorite is the one in Burnt Umber, though I'm not sure why :0)

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  5. John, maybe this is going to start a new fashion, a mini wave in our little circle of watercolourists, if we are all going to put this into practice. The money spent on the classes is definately paying off this time.

    Sandra, the burnt umber one is my favourite too, I think just drawing the shapes is so effective and addictive. It's a bit tricky though as you have to get the shape right first go. Maybe starting off with a very pale wash first will help.

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  6. Oh my gosh! That's amazing! I want to be in that class and learn how to do that! Of course, I bet yours' was the best painting there!

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  7. I used to draw this style also , when i took a sketching class. I like the Hues

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  8. Frank,
    This is a great practice exercise. Most of the time I also practice that way and I think its much more fun this way. I think you learn to paint what you see rather than what you know. And both these practice pieces look really good to me.

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  9. Being pushed out of a comfort zone can produce some wonderful benefits - your sketches are great - a very useful exercise, for sure!

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  10. The new adventure with watercolour is exciting and I'm intrigued by the exercises you've done. If I had to choose, I think the burnt umber one has a nice glow to it and also having the jug/vase with the handle facing, adds a lot of constrasting interest. :)

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  11. Katherine, You can do that, and you don't have to join the class, just read my blog! Of course mine was the best there, but I'm looking through rose tinted spectacles LOL!

    Melanie, thanks, yes using one colour does have a certain subtleness.

    Prabal, thanks for the complements. You have hit the nail on the head there when you say that this method is FUN. You don't get bogged down with the detail and worry that it isn't perfect.

    Pat, your right about 'comfort zone'. In future, I will do more parctice pieces where I say to myself "what if ..." and see what materializes.

    Alice, you raise a good point with the jug handle. Because we were all doing the same still life, tables were arranged in a circle with the subject in the centre, giving us no choice in our angle. That's why Julia rearanged the pots half way through to give us anonther viewpoint.

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  12. That is such a great idea. And I can see how that would be so helpful to train your eye. I really love both of them Frank. I think you've done a truly fantastic job with a difficult assignment!

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  13. Thanks Crystal, this way of painting does make you look at the subject in a different way, not trying to find an outline, rather looking for shapes and shadows.

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  14. Sounds like a fantastic class and both of these are absolutely terrific. I'm not sure why, but I've been having problems finding 'cartridge' paper in the US. Is it known by any other name?

    (ps...my sketchbooks rarely look like that page, because I don't like to write much. Most of my pages are just sketches and sometimes some color. Thanks!

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  15. Thanks Raena. If you are looking for cartridge paper in the US, it's usually reffered as 'tag board', so now you probably know that it is thickish, smooth paper and that watercolour behaves very differently on it compared to cold pressed knot paper.

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