Cranmore Mountain

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I live on the ocean, and it’s beautiful. The ocean is full of sounds and smells and movement. It’s always changing. But the mountains — steady, silent, calm. Two very different settings, each so life-giving in its own way. Having grown up in both southern California and Colorado, the mountains and the ocean are both in my blood. But the mountains hold a very special place in my heart and soul.

So, you can imagine my delight upon learning that Sonia’s sister and brother-in-law purchased a new home in the mountains. We visited them recently and were dumbstruck by the beauty of their hideaway nestled in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Sonia and I ventured out into the nearby town of North Conway and decided to take the chair lift to the top of Cranmore Mountain, a ski resort within spitting distance of the quaint little town.

The gentle swinging of the lift as the mountain slowly slid beneath us and the periodic bumping as we passed over the squeaky cable wheels made me anticipate the coming winter and accompanying skiing! But for now, it was a beautifully sunny, slightly cool, late August day — the kind of day when you find yourself putting on and then taking off your jacket depending on whether the sun is showing itself.

After a short hike to explore the summit, we settled down on the patio of the lodge with grilled cheese and fries with mayo (European style, heheh). The view was breathtaking and begging to be captured in a sketch.

I did something a little different than my usual. I wanted to see how fast and loose I could be. I did a quick sketch with pencil, but didn’t go over it with pen. Blurring my eyes, I tried to stay in flow as I let my new watercolor brush deposit paint and push around the colors on the paper.

Here’s what emerged:

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I paid special attention to value (dark/light), making sure I kept the distant mountains light and faded. As I painted the foreground, I used more color, with darker pigments. This gave the painting more dimension, and it’s something I’ve struggled with in the past (normally tending toward less variation in tone, which creates a very flat painting).

What I noticed is that it looks best when viewed from a distance. I think this is often the case with watercolor. Or maybe I should say, it’s often the case with expressionistic/impressionistic watercolor. Detailed and realistic watercolor can be viewed up close and personal, but that’s not really how I paint. Or rather, it’s not how I want to paint. I actually find myself tending toward more detail and control, but I aspire to be more impressionistic. I want the painting to express my feelings and emotions, and not just be a painted version of what you can capture in a photograph.

I know not everyone prefers this, but it’s my preference. And this is a big difference that I see between artists–those whose paintings evoke an emotion in me vs. those whose paintings cause a sense admiration for the artist’s technical skill. Both are obviously valid forms of painting, but I like art that makes me feel something in my heart.

I immensely enjoyed the process of painting this mountain scene. As always, it grounded me in the present moment–paying close attention to colors, tone, and shapes while hearing the birds and the rustling of wind in the trees and the sounds of children playing. What a view. What a day!

I love the mountains.

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Resurgence

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It’s been a long while. And a lot has happened in that long while. But not a lot of painting. Until recently. While it’s been nearly two years since I last posted, and while my painting went through a significant hiatus, my creative bug has still been finding ways to emerge. Allow me a short personal/creative update.

I’ve been working on two books. The first book is a book on how to design and lead transformational learning experiences (e.g. workshops and retreats). I’m co-writing it with a small group of collaborators with whom I co-lead workshops on the same topic at a retreat center in western Massachusetts (Kripalu, which showed up in my blog post, The Berkshires in Stained Glass). Yes, we lead workshops on workshops. The second book is a passion project about how to productively deal with fear, which topic has been particularly relevant to me as I’ve moved into a new phase of my life.

That new phase has also been a source of creativity. For those who don’t know, I went through a divorce about three years ago. The three years since then have been rich with life lessons, both difficult and rewarding.  Sonia (my girlfriend) and I started dating about a year and a half ago, and at the beginning of this year we moved in together. We found a beautiful apartment in a colonial house overlooking the ocean in a small coastal town in southern Maine that we call our Cliffhouse. Landscaping and decorating have provided a rich (and time consuming!) creative outlet.

Now, back to painting. I’ve experienced a resurgence in my painting due in large part to a new watercolor brush. Alix, my sister, sent me a link to a video of a sketchbook artist painting scenes in Bonn, Germany (where I spent my high school years). It’s a great video, and if I could find it, I’d include it here. But alas, it seems to be lost in the land of obscure search terms.

At any rate, I noticed that the artist in the video was using a watercolor brush with a little tank containing the water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created a sketch in the field with the intent to add paint later, and then nothing. And the longer I wait, the more reluctant I am to add the paint, fearing that I’m going to ruin what started out as a good sketch. Here’s a sampling of my unpainted sketches:

Thinking this might be the key to unlocking my painting block, I impulsively ordered a set of brushes from Amazon Prime (“one-click” purchasing: very, very dangerous). To my delight, it worked! Since getting the brushes, I’ve experienced a resurgence in my painting. I’m able to easily add paint to my sketches while on site with no need to carry around a couple of containers for my water.

It’s simple: Fill that little bad boy up with water, put it in my painting kit, whip it out, and paint. Just about every one of those sketches would probably be painted if I’d had Little Bad Boy:

Watercolor Brush

I’ve been surprised how easy it is to use. You squeeze the tank to bring water into the brush, use the wet brush to get your color wet, and then it soaks up the paint into the bristles. To clean the brush between colors, you just squeeze a little more and wipe it a few times on a napkin. The only downside is that it’s hard to get dry brush effects. But that’s a small price to pay for being able to paint so easily in the field!

Stay tuned for a resurgence in blog posts. 🙂

And if you’re interested, here are the brushes I use . They’re Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush Assorted Tips (I regularly use only one size, but it came in a set of three sizes):

Happy painting!

A Mountain Study – Part 3

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…continued from Part 2.

With three mountain paintings behind me, I was ready to try again. Yes, this might be considered an obsession at this point. This time I backed way up. On day three of the workshop, Ann taught us how to do a monochromatic value study, eliminating colors in order to really focus on just the values in the painting.

So, here’s my process for Mountain #4, the final painting in the series…

Original Photo (Cropped). I decided to crop the photo and focus in on just the mountains and trees, leaving out the reflection to simplify things a bit. To see values, I first tried blurring my eyes to notice the light and dark patterns. The lightest value (nearly white) is the sky on the right side of the picture. and the darkest value is the trees in the foreground.2015-08-14 12.13.49 - Copy-003

Red-Lens View of Photo. I also viewed the picture through both a red and a green plastic lens. When you do this, the values really pop out, because the green/red somehow neutralizes most of the colors. In this way, the brain can see value much more clearly, because it doesn’t have to simultaneously distinguish color. Here’s a rendition of the photo as seen through a red lens. If you squint your eyes, the value differences really stand out. Shapes also really stand out.2015-08-14 12.13.49 - Copy-002

Value Study Sketch. After studying the photo with squinted eyes and through the green and red lenses, I did a value sketch, just using pencil. I tried to focus on getting the relative value of each element/layer of the drawing right.2015-10-27 15.21.45

Monochromatic Value Studies. After the sketch, the next step was to do a monochromatic value study, using just one color of paint. I ended up doing two monochromatic paintings.

Monochromatic #1. My first attempt was a bit of a wash (hah, hah, pun intended). It didn’t end up being monochromatic, and because of that, I wasn’t really focusing on value. I’m not sure how it happened, except I just couldn’t bring myself to use one color only.2015-08-14 12.15.10 - Copy-001

Monochromatic #2. Having learned my lesson with monochromatic #1, I mixed a sepia color and tried again. I started from the back of the painting with the lightest layer (the sky), and I worked my way forward, adding more paint to the mix to darken the value for each new layer (ending with the trees in the foreground).2015-08-14 12.15.38

I actually really like how the value study turned out, which says a lot for the fast and easy I-don’t-care-how-this-turns-out method.

The Real-Deal Painting. Once the value study was done, it was time to face the blank paper again. Ann suggested that one should paint using ONLY the value study for reference (not the photograph). The problem with a photograph is that it contains way too much detail, and when you try to capture that in a painting, you tend to overdo it. So I exercised great restraint and only referred to the photograph for colors and nothing else.

And here it is, ladies and gentlemen — The Final Painting In My Mountain Study:
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With this painting (as compared to the other mountain paintings in prior posts), I started out with a bluer (that spelling just doesn’t look right) mountain. My initial version was too light (I was now paranoid of making the background too dark), so I added another wash of paint to darken it up. I also added some splatters and grass to the foreground for added texture and detail. For the clouds, I used the paint-around method. The blue mountain pushes the mountain to the background, where it belongs. And the detail and darker trees bring the foreground, well, forward.

Conclusions from The Great Mountain Study. I learned so much by painting four paintings of the same subject (see Mountain Study Part 1 and Part 2). One thing I would do differently next time, though, is to paint the paintings one after the other, rather than simultaneously (which is what I did for Mountains #1, #2, and #3). While painting them simultaneously was convenient (because I was able to let one painting dry while working on another), I wasn’t able to incorporate lessons-learned into each subsequent painting.

Overall, I gained a real appreciation for planning out a painting and taking the time to do the value study. Thank you, Ann Lindsay, for your expert instruction!

And I think I could paint the shadows on that darn mountain in my sleep now.

A Mountain Study – Part 2

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…continued from Part 1.

The next day of the workshop, Ann did a lesson on Value. (From my past posts, you might remember the three things I learned to keep in mind while painting: 1-Shape, 2-Color, and 3-Value.)

And the light bulbs went off. Everything looks flat because there’s very little variation in value. The background mountain is just as dark as the foreground trees.

Here’s one of the three unfinished mountains from my previous post.

Version 1:

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Yup. Background mountains and foreground trees are the same Value. And it all looks flat.

Ann taught me that two simple principles (at least) govern the perception of depth in a landscape painting:

  1. Foreground objects are darker in value than background objects.
  2. Background mountains tend to have a blue tint.

Blue? Yes, blue. Apparently in landscape painting (and in real life), the further away something is (in the distance), the more blue it is. Blue. Who knew?

I consulted with Ann, and we decided on a course of treatment for my painting. She suggested that I first mop up color from the mountain by painting on clean water and then using a course brush or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Yes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

MrCleanMagicEraser

Then she suggested that I paint a glaze of ultramarine blue over the faded-out mountain.

So, I mopped and glazed (and discovered one more “cleaning possibility” that I doubt Mr. Clean anticipated).

Version 2:

2015-10-20 14.28.26In the process, the tops of the trees (where they extend up into the base of the mountain) got wiped out. So I had to repaint them (which is why they’re darker in the second version).

I’m quite pleased by the difference this made. The effect was to push the mountain into the background, where it belongs. And the larger trees, by painting them darker, are pulled into the foreground.

I haven’t yet painted the reflection, but now I’m much more positively inclined to do so.

Inspired by what I saw, I decided to do the same thing with the third mountain. Here’s Version 1 (I had the advantage of not yet having painted the trees on this one):

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And Version 2 after mopping and glazing and painting the trees and reflection:

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I really like how the reflection turned out. To get the rippling water effect, I took a very fine, hard-bristled brush (for erasing paint), wet it, and lightly rubbed it horizontally to create the lighter horizontal “smeared” lines in the water.

And that, my friends, is what I learned about value.

MrClean

(credit to Boomer Girl, Cathy Hamilton for the fist-bumping Mr. Clean)

But wait! That’s not all… Stay tuned for a final mountain study post.

A Mountain Study – Part 1

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The culminating activity at my recent Ann Lindsay watercolor workshop at Omega was to pick out a photograph (from a magazine or one of our own) and paint it. This one struck me:

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I really like the shadows in the mountain, the distinct trees (to put my trees practice to work!), and the reflection looks almost more vivid than the non-reflection.

The most daunting moment in painting for me is this moment. The blank paper.2015-08-13 14.38.16

I started with a rough sketch of the photograph. I decided to paint several versions at the same time, to try different variations and to allow myself to paint continuously, letting paint dry while I moved on to another version. I felt quite proud of my efficiency.

Unfinished Mountain #1:2015-08-14 12.14.36

Unfinished Mountain #2:
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Unfinished Mountain #3:2015-08-014

Hmmm… What emerged were two paintings that looked quite similar to each other and a third that was shaping up to look the same (except with a portrait orientation).

A note about my efficient use of time: by alternating between paintings, I ended up painting the same thing three times. If I’d completed each painting before moving on to the next, I would have had a chance to see what I liked and didn’t like and try something new on the next painting.

So, what did I like and not like about these paintings? I liked the skies and the trees and the overall composition. But something about them didn’t sit right with me.

I started out the day eager to bring together all that I’d learned. But the day ended in frustration. As I stepped back and looked at my handiwork, I experienced the familiar disappointment when a painting doesn’t turn out as you imagined it might. While I couldn’t quite pinpoint the specific problem, in general each of these paintings looked really flat, with no depth or dimension. I hadn’t yet painted in the reflections in the water, and given my less-than-enthusiastic feelings, I doubted that I would finish the paintings.

I’m very familiar with this mood swing in painting. It goes like this (from the perspective of my internal gremlin voice):

  1. I got my latte, my paints, and a free day! I can’t wait to dig in! Today I’m going to create a masterpiece! Wheeee!!!
  2. Look at this subject matter. Isn’t it beautiful? I can just imagine how this is going to turn out. Let’s dig in!
  3. Hmmm… This isn’t quite turning out as I imagined. But I’ve got my latte and paints!
  4. Right. The day is almost over, and this is shaping up to look like a mudblob.
  5. I feel like cutting off my ear.
  6. Painting sucks. My latte is gone and in its place is this big disappointment.

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I think it has something to do with attachment… At some point I’m going to blog on this: “As in watercolor, so in life.”

But all was not lost. The next day in class I was to discover a few secrets for creating depth and dimension. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my mountain study!

 

Happy Little Trees

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Bob Ross has been prominent lately in my blog posts (as a kid I spent hours in my grandparents’ TV room glued to the TV watching him do his magic). And it’s to his happy little trees that I turn in this post.

In my recent Ann Lindsay watercolor workshop at Omega, Ann taught us several techniques for adding trees to a landscape painting. This was a high pay-off lesson — each method was easy to learn, and what emerged actually looked like trees.

Two special tools were used (other than my standard 10 round brush): A rigger brush and a stick whittled to a point. Quick note about the origin of the rigger: it’s called a rigger, because it was used to paint the rigging of ships. Cool, eh? And a quick note about the origin of the stick: Ann whittled it.

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Standard (Monochromatic) Deciduous Tree. We started with your standard deciduous tree. I mixed a dark mix for the trunk and branches (ultramarine blue and burnt umber and a little sap green). Using the rigger, I painted from the ground up, moving the rigger in small jerky movements to keep the branches looking like branches and not boomerangs or strings of spaghetti. It’s very important to start from the ground (in the case of the trunk) and from the trunk (in the case of the branches). Doing so ensures that your stroke ends thin at the end of the branch.

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The tree on the left is a winter tree. The very light wash hints at twigs stripped of their leaves. The tree on the right is a summer or spring tree with leaves. When painting foliage, I learned that you need to leave “sky holes” where the sky shows through. The temptation is to overdo it and paint one big foliage blob. No one likes a foliage blob.

Pine Trees. For these pine trees I used a 10 round brush. I first painted a straight line down (from top to bottom) for the trunk. Then, starting at the top of each tree with the tip of the brush, I loosely painted back and forth to the bottom of the tree, making sure to vary my hand placement as I painted in order to get non-uniform shapes. I tried to do each tree in one pass, having to fight the urge to go back and fiddle with each tree.

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To get the white lines of the trunk, I used credit card (given to us by Ann) that had been cut to have some sharp edges (a hotel key card could work, too). I waited until the paint was damp, and then scraped in the white lines.

Scraggly Pine Tree. For the scraggly pine tree (scragglius pinus) I used the whittled stick (stickus whittlius) and a squirt bottle of water (agua squirticus). I first soaked the stick in water, and then I loaded it with paint. I started at the top and scratched back and forth (just like a good back scratch). While the paint was still wet, I squirted water onto the paint, which had the effect of, well… I’m not exactly sure what effect it had, but here it is:

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Fall Foliage. The fall foliage trees were created in the same way as the earlier-described deciduous trees (because these are, in fact, deciduous, too). I pre-mixed some fall colors and enjoyed watching them mix together as I painted each tree.
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Forest. The forest was created in two steps. Step one was to wet the paper, and when it was still damp, I painted in some pine trees using the method described above. Because the paper was wet, these pine trees blurred, creating the hazy background effect. After that had dried, I painted in the foreground pine trees. And voila: insta-forest! 2015-09-21 09.55.51

I can see why Bob Ross called his trees happy. It really did make me happy to paint all of these little tree studies. And by getting good at this technique, I was able to add trees to larger landscape paintings with much more confidence.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

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As often happens when painting, one gets really good at painting the subject of an obsession. During a recent watercolor workshop with Ann Lindsay at Omega Institute, I learned that Ann went through an obsessive relationship with marshes. She’s better now. But in the process, she got darn good at painting marshland.

But first, in keeping with my shout-out to 70s TV: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia (also see Bob Ross in Happy Little Clouds)

Now that that’s out of the way, Marshes was the subject for one day of our 5-day workshop. Painting a marsh gets you practicing several things:

  1. Shape (the stream as it winds its way through a marsh)
  2. Color (sky, water, marshland)
  3. Value (darker in the foreground, lighter in the background)

It also helps you think intentionally about the horizon line, which one always needs to keep in mind when painting a landscape.

After demonstrating what a marsh looks like, Ann had us do up some marsh sketches.

Marsh Sketches

What’s important to note about painting the stream within a marsh is that it varies in its width at each turn. The flatter the perspective, the more pronounced will be this variation. The other extreme would be if you were looking down on the stream from the air — there would be very little variation in width. As I sketched (and subsequently painted) marshes, I had to keep this truth in mind to prevent myself from drawing a 3rd grade stream, which looks like this:

Child River

Ann showed us how to create a distant treeline on the horizon that looks hazy and, well, distant. First I painted a wash of the sky (bringing the wash all the way to the bottom of the paper means that your stream will end up looking like it reflects the sky).

I let that wash dry, and then I added water from the horizon line up (it’s very important to make sure the wash is bone dry or all hell will break loose with your sky wash). Then I dropped in tree color right at the horizon line, letting the water carry it up (no need to tilt the paper).

This picture shows the sky wash (bone dry) with clear water painted over it from the horizon up. The green tree line has just been added, and you can see the water doing its work of growing the trees up into the sky.

Marshes - Wet in Wet

Below is the finished painting. Lesson learned: if you want a smaller (more distant) tree line, use less paint. I was so memorized by the process that I couldn’t stop adding paint. This tree line ended up being bigger than I intended, which had the effect of moving the horizon forward.

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I continued to play with marshes, experimenting with different horizon lines, skies, marsh colors, and stream configurations.

Happy, sunny marsh. For the clouds, I used the paint around method, adding violet and a mix of Ultramarine and Burn Umber for the shadows. I didn’t carry the blue sky down to the bottom of the paper in the initial wash, so the streams don’t reflect the sky (that is, they’re white, not blue).

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Foreboding marsh. I tried a different sky here, dropping in the Ultramarine and Burnt Umber mix wet-on-wet to the blue wash. To complement the darker sky, I used some of the same colors in the marshland. The treeline on the horizon was done wet-on-dry, so it leaves a hard rather than a soft edge. Note the shape of the stream in this painting. At points (in the distance), the stream virtually disappears behind the land.

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Double-stream marsh. Ah yes, the ol’ double-stream marsh. In this painting, I carried the pink of the horizon sky down to the bottom of the paper, creating a pink sky reflection in the stream. The treeline is a mix of wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques, which leaves you with both soft and hard edges.

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I found these marsh studies to be very meditative. Once I learned the techniques, with each new study I let my right brain decide what it wanted to do. Keeping the studies small (each painting is about 5×7 or smaller) kept me moving forward and not getting hung up on one particular painting.

Which marsh appeals to you most?

Happy Little Clouds

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In my previous post, I wrote about a recent watercolor workshop I attended by Ann Lindsay at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Ann pointed out that in order to stay in the right brain (which is the creative brain), we need to stick to drawing/painting three things:

  1. Color
  2. Shape
  3. Value (light/dark)

If left brain gets involved, we end up painting what we think we see rather than what we actually see. And often, what we think we see looks more like something from 3rd grade art class. For example, the 3rd grade brain (where many adults are stuck when it comes to art) sees clouds like this:

Children Clouds

And every so often, clouds actually do cooperate with our 3rd grade brain.

(thank you, www.pinterest.com/vepattyn/wolken/ for collecting some awesome cloud pictures!)

But most of the time they don’t. Most of the time, clouds are an amazing array of random shapes and colors and values. Here are some stunning cloud pictures taken in NYC:

(thank you Laura Butler for keeping me supplied for my clouds study!)

These pictures illustrate how wonderfully diverse clouds are (even the absence of clouds), and how tantalizingly they call out to be painted!

But before I jump into what I learned about clouds, this post begs for a shout-out to the late Bob Ross and his happy little clouds.

Bob Ross Chuck Norris

(thank you icanhascheezburger.com)

And if you want an even more inspiring walk down memory lane, check out this cool Bob Ross YouTube remix!

Early in the workshop Ann had us turn our attention to clouds. We first took out our sketchbooks and let our right brain go free, quickly sketching all kinds of clouds.

Cloud Sketches

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Various positions, numbers, shapes, etc. It sounds counterintuitive, but it actually takes a lot of practice to paint something that looks random. Without practice, our left brain takes over and we tend to paint in patterns, which often ends up looking unnatural and blah.

The next step was to learn some techniques for actually painting clouds. I’m sure there are many, many more, but here are three easy and effective techniques I learned:

Lifting paint with a tissue. First you put down a wash of your sky color (Cerulian Blue makes a good sky). While the paint is still wet, you loosely crumple a tissue and role it across the wash. The tissue soaks up paint where it touches the paper, leaving white shapes (that look like clouds). I found this worked best when I first took a deep breath to get out of my head and into my hands.

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There are two mistakes you can easily make with this method. It’s very tempting to use a blotting motion rather than a rolling motion. But blotting tends to leave predictable, cotton ball shapes rather than random cloud shapes. The second mistake is to go back and overwork your clouds after the initial pass.

A variation of this method is to roll the tissue tightly into a long, skinny band, and then to press the band into the wet wash. This produces a thin, wispy cirrus cloud.

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Lifting paint with a brush. This method is similar to the first, but instead of using tissue paper, you use a very slightly damp brush (I used a #10 round). While the sky wash is still wet, you roll the brush across the paper, lifting the paint as you go. As with the first method, it’s important to stay away from blotting and overworking.

Painting around the cloud shape. To do this, you need an idea of where your clouds are going to go. You can do this by lightly drawing your cloud shapes with pencil. Then, as you lay down the sky wash, paint around your clouds. When I watched Ann do this, she held her brush every which way as she painted around the cloud shapes, sometimes using the side of the brush, sometimes rolling it, and sometimes using the tip. This creates a nice, random mix of hard and soft edges, and helps make sure your clouds aren’t too left-brain. It’s important to use lots of water with this method.

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Both methods have their merit. I found it easier to get natural-looking soft edges (clouds have both soft and hard edges) with the tissue method. But the painting method seems to make for a more dynamic sky, as the blue goes down at the same time that the cloud is being “painted,” so cloud and sky seem to be more organically connected.

Shadows. Clouds have shadows. Who knew? If you look closely at clouds (which I have taken to doing a lot of lately), you’ll see there are indeed all kinds of shades. Those are shadows. Ann suggested using a light purple for the shadows, which are located almost always along the flat bottom of a cumulus cloud, but are also found spread throughout the body of the cloud, depending on where the sun is at the moment.

Here’s your basic cumulus cloud with shadows:

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And some close-ups, because hey, who doesn’t like a good cloud close-up?

For the shadow color I used primarily Dioxazine Violet (which is a pre-mixed violet I have in my pallet). But I also dropped in a darker mix of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber to give more dimension to the shadows.

And then I went hog wild with my clouds…

This was my attempt at a storm on a prairie. I tried to create the illusion of rain by first painting clear water onto the dried blue sky and then dropping in the dark (Ultramarine and Burnt Umber mix) at the cloud line, holding the painting vertical to let the dark paint stream down like rain lines.

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Because I had such a fun time trying to create rain in the previous painting, I decided to go for broke and do full-storm. Unfortunately, I think this ended up looking more like a rain cloud on fire, with smoke erupting from the base of the cloud.

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Maybe I should call this Crying Cloud. Or Crying Fire. Or 3-Alarm Cloudburst.

I really like how the clouds turned out below. I used the paint-around-the-clouds method here, going in after the initial wash (while it was still wet) and softening some of the cloud’s edges. I also practiced getting depth in the mountains by varying the value (lighter mountains in the back and darker in the front). I would later learn that the background mountains should be more blue and the foreground more mountain-color (e.g. brown/green) if I want to enhance the illusion of depth.

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Some say that you can’t go back and fix or touch-up watercolor. Ann showed us all kinds of ways to touch up a painting. This picture shows her doing a little cloud touch-up to the painting above. I thought my clouds looked unnatural, so she showed me how to soften some of the edges by rubbing off paint with a wet tissue. It’s a fine line between touching up and overworking!

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As I learned in Ann’s workshop, one can devote hours, days, years to mastering The Cloud. It takes practice, practice, practice for clouds to end up looking like you created them effortlessly. Ann makes it look so easy. Just like Bob Ross did.

Bob Ross_Color Orange

Clouds are fun to paint, and often the more that goes “wrong,” the more right the painting looks in the end. And that, my friends, is another key lesson I learned from Ann’s class: there’s no such thing as a mistake in watercolor. I learned that from Bob Ross, too.

Happy Accidents_1

(Thank you redbubble for the Bob Ross graphic)

Going Into the Mud… and Out Again

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I recently attended a 5-day watercolor workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This was my second watercolor workshop at Omega led by artist Ann Lindsay, an incredible artist and teacher.

Class Shot

My fellow artists, some of whom had never painted before (and you should have seen the incredible progress they made!)

The class was specifically on painting landscapes. Ann calls herself a “representational landscape artist,” which means that what she paints is intended to represent the scene, not exactly replicate it like a photograph or loosely suggest it like an impressionistic painting.

I love Ann’s teaching style. She very much emphasizes the process rather than the product. And as an artist who struggles with getting caught up in my attachment to the end-product, I can never get enough training staying in the present. As Ann says (and she may have been referencing another artist when she said this), painting is both a noun and a verb. When we see “painting” as a noun, our left brain takes over and tries to create “A Painting.” But when we see “painting” as a verb, our right brain is freed to take over the creative journey and paint what is. This distinction really resonates with me.

Ann pointed out that there are three things artists must concern themselves with if they’re to stay in the right brain:

  1. Color
  2. Value (how dark or light the colors are)
  3. Shape

That’s it. If you set out and say to yourself, “I’m going to paint a house,” left brain takes over and paints a house (which will likely end up looking like something out of my kindergarten class with Mrs. Ritterrath):

Mr. House 2

(credit goes to my left hand for the drawing of Mr. House)

But a house ends up being simply a combination of colors, values, and shapes. And if you’re in your right brain, that’s how you see it and that’s how you’ll paint it. Left brain labels and then takes over (and you end up with Mr. House). Right brain observes and sees what is (i.e. colors, values, shapes).

We began the workshop by playing with the first of these three elements: color. As most people know, there are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Every other color in the spectrum is made up by mixing these three colors. Mix blue and yellow and you get green. Yellow and red and you get orange. Red and blue and you get purple.

Blue-Yellow Yellow-Red Red-Blue

Mix all three primary colors and you get… MUD. Yes, mud. I am very familiar with this phenomenon. And this is how I feel when my colors mix into mud.

Mud Face

(thank you www.dcsfreedom.com for the photo)

To become comfortable with mixing colors, Ann had us do an exercise she called “going into the mud and back out again.” To do this, we started with two primary colors. In the case of the picture below, it was yellow and red (I tried out two different reds – Permanent Rose and Cadmium red). I first mixed them together to get orange. Then I added very small amounts of blue to the orange (Windsor Blue in this case). As you can see, orange quickly goes to mud when blue is added. And then as I added more blue, I slowly came out of the mud. I branched off a couple of times to the left and the right to see what it looked like to come out of the mud into the other colors.

Seems simple enough. But Wow, what an enlightening exercise to see how you can very easily make mud (which can sometimes be useful) and then go from mud back to a color.

But that’s not all, folks. Unfortunately (for those of us who want life to be simple), it gets more complicated. As it turns out, each primary color has two different shades. Yellow can have a blue shade or a red shade. Red can have a yellow shade or a blue shade. And blue can have a yellow shade or a red shade. These two shade types are sometimes called cool and warm. A warm blue has a yellow shade (Thalo Blue, for example). And a cool blue has a red shade (Ultramarine Blue, for example). The table below illustrates warm and cool shades of the three primary colors.

Color Shades 2Who cares, right? Well, if you’re trying to get a very specific kind of green (a spring green, for example), you very much have to care, because if you mix a cool blue with a warm yellow, you’ll get a muddy green (because there’s a red shade in both the cool blue and the warm yellow). Mixing a warm blue with a cool yellow will give a purer green (because there’s no red shade in either).

To become facile with color mixing, apparently you have to mix, mix, mix, mix, and mix some more. And then when you’re tired of mixing, try it a bit more. To see what would happen when I mixed all cool and all warm colors, I created two more into-and-out-of-the-mud color studies. For the cool study, I used Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Lemon Yellow:

Cool Mud

For the warm study, I used Cadmium red, Winsor Blue (similar to Thalo Blue), and Golden Yellow:

Warm Mud

It’s very interesting to look at the various combinations and notice which feel “muddier.” The central column of colors in each study shows the mud that’s created by each primary color combination. I think I’m more drawn to the warm mud, myself.

I really got into mixing colors, and as a final study, I decided to see the full spectrum that comes from mixing the warm primaries in my pallet: Cadmium Red, Winsor Blue, and Golden Yellow.Color Wheel

In making each box between the circles, I started with the lightest color (e.g. yellow), creating a good-sized puddle of it in my mixing tray. Then I added the darker color bit by bit. The circle in the center shows the particular mud that emerges when these three primary colors are mixed.

for the large mixes in the center of the wheel, I tried three different methods:

  • For the yellow-blue, I first painted a graduated yellow wash, and then while it was still wet, I dropped in blue on the right and turned the paper to let gravity do the mixing.
  • For the yellow-red, I first painted a graduated yellow wash, let it dry, then I painted a graduated wash of red over it.
  • For the red-blue, I first painted a graduated red wash, then I painted a graduated blue wash over it, wet in wet. I dropped in a pure blue circle on the red side and a pure red circle on the blue side while the wash was still wet.

I noticed that all of these color mixing studies gave both my right and my left brain something to do. My right brain was able to observe what emerged when different colors interacted. And my left brain was able to dig into the precision and structure of each study. I found it very relaxing, especially the process of morphing from one color to another by starting with a pure shade of the first color and adding very small amounts of the second color with each new stroke of the brush.

There are few things better than sitting in a painting workshop with fellow artists, a latte, paints, brushes, and paper. And to do that 5 days in a row in a retreat setting is simply delicious. Ahhh….

Colors Context

The Berkshires in Stained Glass

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Last fall I spent a week at Kripalu Center in the Massachusetts Berkshires, attending a retreat on facilitating transformational workshops, which is an interest of mine (check out my website, www.learningexperiential.com if you want to learn more). It was a great workshop — one of the best I’ve attended (which, if not the case, would have been both ironic and worrisome).

ANYWAY, the last time I was there (a couple of years ago), I painted the view from the coffeeshop and blogged about it (The Tale of Two Paintings). This time I sat at the same coffee shop table, looking out the window at the same beautiful fall colors.

Landscape 1 Landscape 2

As I took in the colors, I decided to try something I’ve never done before: a stained glass stylized painting.

I got the idea from a watercolor I recently saw of this stained glass window at the church I attend.

2015-02-22 10.11.14

It was a beautiful painting, and I thought it would be fun to try my hand at it. I’ve been trying to do more abstract stuff, and this seemed like a good mix between abstract and realism. My other inspiration was the stained glass window above the altar at the same church. I look at it every Sunday and wonder at the design. I’m always struck by the artist’s use of color in conjunction with the lines. For example s/he doesn’t necessarily stick to the same color for a particular object (e.g. the purple line of glass running through the dove in the lower right corner). That takes guts!

Holy Trinity

So there I sat, with coffee in hand, painting kit nearby, the quiet of the early morning to accompany me, and the vista spread before me for inspiration. I did the drawing over the course of two days (about 20 minutes each day).

Drawing

The second day I started to add some of the paint. When I returned home, I looked up pictures of stained glass windows to get some more ideas and inspiration. I needed inspiration, because I was nervous to add more paint, fearing I’d ruin it. This happens to me a lot. Am I the only one? I have numerous sketches that I’ve never painted out of fear. And of course, that’s the best way to shut down the creative spirit. Reckless abandon is what the paper and brush want.

Overall, I’m pleased with how it turned out:

Kripalu Glass

I painted the hills primarily with hues of orange, yellow, and red, with some green and browns mixed in. I tried to make the distant hills slightly faded. For the water, I tried to show a little complexity by bringing in some green, echoing the green in the hills. The white clouds in the sky materialized as I was painting the blue. It just seemed “right” to leave those spaces white.

I’m wondering if there are too many different shades of color. It looks vibrant, but it also looks busy. I’m wondering what a more monochromatic approach would have looked like. And that’s the great thing about painting — you don’t have to wonder, you can just go do it! Of course, that’s easier said than done… that specter of fear rears its ugly head. This is where painting becomes a spiritual practice. We artists look that fear in the eye, give it a wink, and plunge forward. On a good day. 🙂