Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Tuesday Tip #37: Plein Air Painting Tips Take Five

This little watercolour sketch was inspired by a video I watched where the artist demonstrated her painting techniques. I was intrigued by the landscapes she painted and luckily she mentioned that she swiped the scenes from movies. Some movies she hasn't even seen yet, but heard they were good. I thought I'd take a stab at it and chose a movie called, A Genius, Two Friends and an Idiot. Can you believe it's a western? (insert sarcasm here). Although it feels a little bit like cheating I think it's not a horrible idea. When am I ever going to get the chance to paint horses and stagecoach stampeding down a dirt road in the middle of the desert? While none of that has to do with plein air painting you could still use it as a tip, maybe to practice painting landscapes before you actually go outside to paint.
This video however is chock full of plein air painting tips. This is the video I had originally watched then fell down the rabbit hole to the previously mentioned video. In this short video the artist, Bryan Coombes, explains some things about plein air painting that took me a long time to figure out on my own. For example, the details. Those are going to change with the light so don't sweat them. It's only about 5 and half minutes long and half way through I thought to myself, if only I had watched this before I first tried to plein air paint.

Give it a watch, he gives good tips on painting in general so if you're not interested in plein air painting you can still get something from it. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tuesday Tip #36: Know Your Subject

Dr. Eugene Watkins in WWI uniform watercolour sketch on Saunders Waterford. 
You don't have to obtain a PhD in the subject matter but it's helpful to know at least some general information about your subject. Let's say that you've been commissioned to paint someone's dog. You know the general shape of a dog but wouldn't it be in your best interest to do a little research on the specific breed? If you're asked to paint a Labrador and paint a Weimaraner instead, that owner is going to know and your dreams of being a pet portrait painter may have just gone up in flames.
The watercolour sketch above is of someone dressed in a WWI army uniform. If I had labeled it Dessert Storm I'd be laughed out of the room. Even if I had labeled it WWII people wouldn't take me seriously. Again, you don't have to know every minute detail about your subject but you should at least know if you're painting a butterfly or a bee. Besides, learning about your subject can be as much fun as it is to paint it. You may learn something interesting about it and then you can include it in your painting which would make it a little more personal.

Just for fun I'm adding the different stages of sketches.  Starting from the left is the photo I took of the subject.  Not a great photo but they were demonstrating fire arms and shooting off canons, so I stood in a secure location. Next is the ink sketch done on Bristol vellum. Then it's a three value watercolour study done with sepia and ultramarine blue and last the watercolour sketch.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tuesday Tip #35: Ship Shape

Parson's Barn 9x12 pastel on primed paper
In tip number 31 I wrote about proportion and how getting that right can help create three dimensional depth on a two dimensional substrate. When painting on location this can get tricky because we tend to look at one object then move to the next and so on. When we do that, the proportions get messed up because we're not looking at the scene as a whole. What you can do is draw in a big, obvious shape. For example, in the painting above, I put in the road first.  The road is a big "easy" shape. Once that's put in the rest of the objects can be compared to it. You can think of it as a measuring tool. Compare the size of the other objects to the size of the road. If I had made the barn in the back just as large as the widest part of the road the painting wouldn't make sense.  It would also lose depth if I made the barn as large as the row of trees. You can also use that initial shape to help with the design of the painting.  Check and see where the objects "hit" on the road. Is the row of trees further down the road or are they right up by the widest part of it? Choosing the big obvious shape is going to be your preference. Some people like to draw in their centre of interest first then build around it. Just always be mindful of the largest shape in your composition. If something else begins to appear larger than that shape adjust accordingly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tuesday Tip #34: Obscene Gestures

Last week I was out painting with a fellow pastel painter and I had commented on how I'd like to paint the maintenance guys in their neon yellow hard hats. A tornado had gone through the area the day before so there were several men out fixing utility poles. She said she can't paint people and kinda made mention that since she wasn't comfortable painting people she simply was going to avoid doing it. That's fine if you can get away with it. She paints a lot of landscapes, old cars and buildings. She's an award winning artist so even though she shies away from painting people she's doing something right. Since we all can't be like her it might be in your best interest to practice gesture drawing.
Gesture drawing is imperative if you work in animation or illustration like comic books and that sort of thing. It can deeply benefit a plein air painter as well. While plein air painting, a person or animal will move around a lot. Probably will move into your field of vision and down the road in a matter of seconds. So practicing gesture drawing will help you immensely.
The great thing about gesture drawing is you already know how to do it. Remember drawing stick figures when you were a child?  That's the basics of gesture drawing. A simple line that dictates the action/pose of the person. Then when you advance you add bulk to those lines to create the person or animal that line represents.
Here's a video that helps to explain, plus I like his CSI tip. He says the human form can be simplified down to those three letter shapes. A lot of animals can be as well. Turn the letter C on its side and you have a rabbit, cat, a Corgi, etc.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday Tip #33: Keep it Clean

Lately I've been taking pastels and watercolours out when I go plein air painting. Often times I'll do two paintings and use both mediums. Some people do watercolour underpaintings with their pastels so packing them both isn't that crazy. It all still fits in my backpack so I'm not worried about looking like a pack rat.
One thing I noticed yesterday when I painted this, I also did a version in watercolour, was that I need to do a better job of keeping my tools clean. With the watercolours I had not cleaned off my palette from the time before nor did I wash the brushes. The fluffy white clouds suffered from my laziness to clean my tools. When I first started painting in watercolour I was so nervous about washing my brushes. I didn't want to ruin them and I always heard so much about what you should and shouldn't do with the brushes. After a few years I've learned that the easiest, and so far the cheapest, solution is a good old bar of Ivory soap. It averages to be 40¢ a bar. Where I live we have really hard water and in the past I thought I had issues with brands of paint, it turned out the issue was with the soap I was using to wash my brushes. The soap would never fully rinse out.  The Ivory soap gets the brushes really clean and rinses out. Plus with the bar being white it's easy to see if you've gotten all of the paint out.  Now I just need to remember to use it each time. Duh.
There's no good soap for pastels but I always keep a travel pack of tissues with me to wipe them off. Even if you pack your pastels nice and neat they can still get residual pigment from another stick, either by picking it up after you've used another colour or after using it on the painting and it grabs some off of there. If you've ever been with me painting you'll probably know that I have a bad habit of wiping my hands off on my clothes. It works if you have nothing better to use but taking along a towel works well too. I know some people prefer to use gloves when they use pastel because they're afraid of the toxic pigments but you still need to wipe the gloves. Unless someone has invented self-cleaning gloves, if so please share that top secret information with the rest of us.
There's an old saying, take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday Tip #32: There's No Such Thing As a Smart Brush

In Ian Roberts' book, Mastering Composition, he talks about how in workshops he goes up to a student and the brush is moving back and forth but nobody's home. "You obviously can't expect the brush to do the work for you. Brushes just aren't that smart. If your brush is moving but your attention has wandered, stop and regroup".  I find myself doing that when mixing paint. I'll be mixing and mixing and then, hmmm, what was I mixing this for? That's when I step back and take a breath and refocus. These little black and white ink drawings make it easy on me, I don't have to mix paint, I just have to keep my mind on one thing. Everyone I know has, at least once in their life, walked into a room and asked, why did I come in here? The normal reaction is to regroup, collect your thoughts and try to remember what it was you were doing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tuesday Tip #31: Proportions

Proportion can be tricky when you're first starting out.  When most people start out they're mostly worried about drawing things correctly, making it look as realistic as possible. That's great if you're drawing individual objects, but when you start putting the objects in place to create a painting the proportions must be correct in order to convey depth. In the sketch above the railroad lights are the same exact objects, and if they were taken down, in real life, and laid side by side they'd be the same exact size, but when looking down the street at them, the ones closest to me appear larger and get smaller as they go back. When you're out plein air painting or just sketching this can be tough because often times we focus on each individual object and make it the size we see it.  If you step back from your drawing/painting and it seems to be flat check and see if your proportions might be off.