Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tippette #30 - Taking great reference photos & Opaque Pigments

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


1.  Taking great reference photos.
2.  Opaque Pigments.

Can you tell that it's the last day of April and I'm sad? I'm sneaking in 2 quick tippettes for you today as my parting gift!

Taking great reference photos:

I've got to give credit to Michael Cyra, my friend, painter, photographer and owner of PHOTOGRAPHICS (located at FreshFields near Kiawah) for sharing this tippette with one of my painting groups earlier this year.  Note: Although I'm about to try to explain to you what he told us, I know I don't have the photography jargon down pat (sorry, Michael!).  Try to bear with me.

You know that, if the highlights in your photos are always too white and your darks too black, you must correct for that when you paint.  The photo is lying.  But HOW do you correct it?  Check out this photo below of some Spanish moss that I took this week:
Highlights are blown out.

I knew when I shot this (and looked at the file on the camera), that it was wrong.  That is NOT what I saw in front of me in real life.  Although the trunks and water look right, the moss area looks like there's snow on it.

To correct the situation, hold down the shutter while hovering over the moss (the lightest area).  Then, while still holding down the button, reposition the camera so it's in the center of what you want to shoot, and click the shutter button.  What you'll get looks like this below:


Darks are too dark.

What do I hear you saying?  This one's not right either?  Right!  In the 2nd one, the top looks right, but the bottom is too dark.  As the artist, you need to combine the two and then you have a shot at having a realistic painting.  Bracket your shots!!!  Thanks, Michael, for this invaluable insight.  p.s.  there are more scientific ways of bracketing your shots, but my artist's mind won't allow me to go there.... :(

Opaque Pigments:

I try to stick with transparent colors for the most part, but sometimes when you drop one transparent color into another one, you'll get a very subtle result for the most part.  However, think about dropping opaque color into transparent, and you'll ALWAYS see the result.   Check out this close up of a painting of mine.  I used a combination of Naples Yellow & Cerulean Blue for this mixture that I dropped into my dark wash.  Notice how it holds its shape pretty well too!  



Have fun.  Be courageous.  Be curious.  It's only paper and paint.  
Let's keep in touch.  It's been my pleasure to share a few things with you this month.  
Ci sentiamo presto!  Talk to you soon!
(pronounced TCHEE   sehn-TYAH-moh   PREH-stoh)


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Monday, April 29, 2013

Tippette #29 - Plein Air - How to get started

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Plein Air - How to get started.

Friday, I conducted a 1-day workshop at Four Holes Swamp (Halsey Tract) near Ridgeville, SC (we stopped for lunch at DUKE's BBQ in Ridgeville...well known & loved by locals and visitors). 

Many artists are afraid to paint "en plein air" (outdoors).  I like to expose (pun intended!) more and more artists to that very important aspect of painting.  Many students get spellbound by the beauty in front of them and don't know how to get started...what section should I focus on?  How can I decide what to paint?
One of my students used a homemade viewfinder.
It's made out of foam core and the opening is cut to a proportionate ratio to our 9x12 paper (3:4)
The first thing we do is use our viewfinder (either store bought, or homemade) to scan the scene. We use it both horizontally and vertically to give us many options.  
Using store bought viewfinder..you may draw on it with a dry erase marker.
See details on how to buy one below.
Here I'm using a viewfinder that I bought online (click HERE)...mostly as a demonstration to show how you can easily draw things in perspective.  With this product (which is made of plexiglas AND has a grid on it), you may draw on top of it with a dry erase marker to get the main shapes into position.  Tip: Squint when you look through it so that you don't see a double image!
Fast and easy "dry erase" drawing on my plexi viewfinder, along with a couple of thumbnail sketches.
At this stage, I typically capture the scene with my camera from the angle I'm painting from (if you use your camera or phone to capture the scene, you may also use that as an instant viewfinder, providing you keep the proportions in mind...if your phone screen is not the same size proportionally as your paper, make adjustments accordingly).  If the weather changes and I have to leave the scene, I've got what I need to complete my painting in the studio.  Then I quickly do a few thumbnail sketches to determine what my plan of action will be that day.


My Eric Michael's EN PLEIN AIR PRO EASEL setup.
I start laying down my washes of color (on Friday, I also sketched into the painting with a pen, after the first layer had dried completely...I don't always use pen and ink, but I do always start with a pencil sketch).  Here, below, is my work-in-progress (about 60% done), along with the research photo.  I'll now do some negative painting to pop out some shapes, and I hope to successfully finish the painting (which I'll show you in a future post).  I'm off to a good start.
Work in Progress (Helen K Beacham)
Reference photo taken at the scene while painting.
     
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tippette #28 - Painting Lifestyle

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Painting Lifestyle

I'm inclined to share with you today not a painting tip per se, but a painting lifestyle tip.  If you don't already know about this group, you owe it to yourself to check into them.  They are Urban Sketchers, and most of them incorporate watercolors into their creative sketches.  (Note:  I wanted to post images from their site for you to see, but I didn't have time to ask permission from the individual artists, so I'm hoping you'll take the time to visit their website mentioned below).

Their WEBSITE says:  "Urban Sketchers started online as a flickr group in 2007 and later became a nonprofit organization. Our mission as a nonprofit is to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel. We aim to show the world, one drawing at a time.

This is the manifesto we follow:

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles."...read more HERE.

They also have a Facebook page which you may see HERE.

Although their members live literally around the globe, I'm not aware (yet) of anyone in the Charleston, SC area that participates with the Urban Sketchers...do you know someone?  If not, maybe we need to get it going! Anyone?


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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tippette #27 - Monochromatic Paintings

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Monochromatic Paintings

I've touched on the fact that a strong painting is based on strong values.  (You may read that post HERE.)  In recent years, I questioned whether I relied on color too much.  Could I really see values at all?  Once I get a thought into my head, it won't leave me alone till I do something about it.  I decided to do a MONOCHROMATIC painting (which means using various shades of the same color).  That one led to others that I've since successfully painted.  I'll admit that it does make you think more when you're painting.  


Self-Portrait with my Izzy
This was painted on hot pressed paper which allowed me to lift out color very easily.

I'm only so-so happy with this one.  But it was my first attempt.
Each of these paintings measures 60" x 20".
They were actually done with acrylic ink, which I watered down.
They're painted on canvas and are varnished.
Because they're acrylic and not watercolor, I couldn't lift out my highlights and the planning stage was crucial.
The same paintings could have been done with watercolors on paper.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Tippette #26 - Switching Color

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!

Don't go long without switching colors

When people tell me that they like my art, it makes me analyze what aspects of my art really draw people in.  I'm convinced that part of it is due to the fact that I don't go very far with one color without introducing another color into it.  That doesn't mean that I don't have quiet, safer passages.  I do.  But I do find myself introducing another color about every inch or so...can't help myself.  Remember that, if we paint long & often enough, your painting style emerges...this happens to be my style.  I'm not saying everyone needs to do this.

With the use of close up examples, I hope you can see what I'm talking about.  Each of these squares below is a 1" x 1" section of different paintings.  They look a bit pixelated because I've enlarged them a lot for this post, but hopefully it lets you look into my process a bit.




All are 1" x 1" sections of my actual paintings.
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tippette #25 - HomeMade Travel Easels

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!
HomeMade Travel Easels

Since I'll be taking a group of students to Venice for a plein air workshop in October, we're starting to think about the best (and lightest) products to take with us on the plane.  An important consideration is our easel.  While there are several (ok, not really that many) good watercolor travel easels out there, they can be expensive. Many artists have gotten creative and have made their own.  Here are a couple of ideas that really make sense.


Camera tripod & plastic drip tray
Anne P. says this about her easel:  "I bought a drip tray at the hardware store, drilled a 3/16th's hole in it so the mount would fit through it to attach to the easel.  It was a little wobbly, so I added some foam carpet padding I found in the garage!  The drip tray was big enough to hold an Arches block and a small cup of water."   This setup really makes sense, and for an overseas flight, we might need to come up with an alternative to the plastic drip tray...anyone have thoughts on what could be used?  How about an aluminum baking tray?  Anything else?



Another artist, Jane C., came up with this idea:


Camera tripod & cigar box (or pochade box) - cups clipped on, left & right.
She says: "There are two ways (at least) of attaching the box to a tripod. For my box, which was a little heavy, I ordered a "universal tripod mount kit" from Judson Art Outfitters, the folks who make the Guerrilla pochade boxes. It costs $17.99. Gives the setup a little more stability. However, on a smaller, lighter honest-to-goodness cigar box, I have also used a little piece of hardware called a "t nut", found at hardware stores for about 99 cents. The little bolt on your tripod mount fits into the threads of these pieces of hardware. You drill a hole in the bottom of the box,  pop (from the inside) the t nut into it, and you now have something into which to screw the mounting plate of your tripod. You should just bring that top mounting plate of your tripod with you to the hardware store, to make sure you get the correct diameter of t-nut. They come in different sizes."



One thing I've personally done before is cut a piece of a "rubber gripper pad" (like you put under a rug) to the size of my tray.  It keeps things from rolling around too much in there.

I personally either use:
1) My Eric Michael’s En Plein Air Pro Easel (Cheap Joe’s has it for about $160 although it was $120 when I bought it: www.cheapjoes.com – Part # PROEASEL2).  It comes complete with a palette shelf, water pail, portable watercolor palette, and bags to carry everything in.  Video of the easel setup is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr1rw81ys04.

2) Or, if I'm painting closer to home AND I can throw whatever I want into my car trunk AND I don't have to haul stuff a long way, I like to sit in my folding chair and use a TV tray for my regular sized palette.  You'll see in this picture that I use that blue rolling box in the foreground of the picture to put all things into, and I put down an old blanket or shower curtain or vinyl tablecloth under me if I'm out there barefooted.  It keeps the ants at bay for a little while (or, at least you can see them coming!).




Thanks to my two artist friends for their 2 excellent ideas today!  Do you have others to share with us?  What's worked for you and what things have you learned to avoid?  It's all helpful to us!


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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tippette #24 - How to paint Lace

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!

Painting Lace

Another subject that often puzzles students of our medium (and aren't we all students?), is how to paint lace. Let's think about it.  Usually the lace is not the main focus of your painting...it's a supporting character.  You don't need to get bogged down in the details.  Here's a very old painting of mine (I don't find myself painting lace very much these past few years so I really had to dig for an old photo to scan in).  
This was painted after a trip to the market.
And here below is a close up of the lace itself.




What you paint is the holes in the lace and usually it's the table that shows through.  Consider your light source. In this case, it's coming from the top of the picture, where the banana casts a shadow onto the tablecloth.  There's another cast shadow, caused by the cutouts in the tablecloth.  The top edges of the holes have a dark outline that's visible.  Don't make them uniform...give each some personality.  Now look at the top left of the 2nd image.  Those cutouts are further back than the ones in the foreground, so, as the artist, I force that sense of perspective by painting them bluer and paler than the foreground ones.  It all adds to the illusion of 3-dimensionality. 


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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tippette #23 - Painting Spanish Moss

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Painting Spanish Moss

One of you asked me how I tackle the subject of Spanish Moss.  That's a difficult question to "answer".  I thought that I'd show you some closeups of some of my paintings and maybe we could draw some conclusions from them.  So, here goes.  (Note:  The first 2 are on traditional paper.  The next 3 are on Yupo.)





























































































So, what conclusions can we draw?
1.  I DON'T use gray (made from blacks) to paint moss.  I use color.  Refer to Saturday's post HERE where I talk about mixing pretty grays.
2.  Sometimes I leave the backlit portions of the moss as white.
3.  You have to be careful about how you paint the "top" of the moss.  I like to make it look like it's coming "out of" its environment.
4.  Show SOME branches in and amongst the moss.  It's more natural that way.
5.  Treat parts of the moss as a mass.  They're not all just long stringy things.  They have form and mass.

I hope that helps you to look at moss in a different way.  Do you have other tips for painting moss to share with us?


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Monday, April 22, 2013

Tippette #22 - Different Surfaces - Different Results

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Different Surfaces - Different Results

Do you feel stagnant?  Forgive my impertinence, but maybe you need to freshen up!  

If you're always painting on the same watercolor surface, why not challenge yourself to explore what's out there for us watercolor painters to use!?

Here are some of the materials I've painted on, along with examples of my work.

1)  Arches 300# rough paper (cold pressed).  This is my go-to paper.  


"Oak Majesty IV" (watercolor) by Helen K. Beacham - Sold.

2)  Ampersand Aquabord:  I enlarged a section below so you can see the texture you can achieve.  Aquabord is lovely because it's a hard board (you can buy it in various ways including cradled), with the surface treated for watercolor, and you can lift out color very easily with a damp brush.  If I use this surface, I spray it with varnish and frame it without glass.  It IS more expensive than traditional paper.

           
3) Watercolor Canvas - You can easily lift out color from this surface as well.  I spray varnish this canvas and frame it w/o glass.  The drawback is that it comes in standard sizes as for oil painters, which to me is restrictive.  I sometimes like to crop my paintings for extra strength in my composition.
Close Up of unfinished painting (on watercolor canvas) by Helen K Beacham
Can you see the canvas texture in this enlarged version?

4)  
Yupo - This is a synthetic material so your paint cannot soak INTO the surface.  The water evaporates, leaving paint on top of the material.  You end up with lots of visible marks and harder edges.  I personally love it, but many artists shy away from it.
"At the End of the Day" (watercolor on Yupo) by Helen K Beacham - Sold.
 5) Rice Paper:  Depending on the type of rice paper, you can get various results.  I love that it always looks so drastically different from traditional papers.  
" Beach Grasses II" by Helen K. Beacham - Available.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tippette #21 - Mixing Rich Blacks and Pretty Grays

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!

Mixing Rich Blacks and Pretty Grays

Although I do have more than one black that I keep in my arsenal (ivory black and lamp black), rare is the time that I use them "straight". If I want a section of my painting to look dark, I mix other colors to create the look of black.  This certainly creates more interesting patterns in my dark areas.
"At the End of the Day II" (watercolor with pen and ink) by Helen K Beacham - Sold.
No black used in this painting, other than the drawing lines.
Experiment with some of these mixtures below.  Depending on the ratio of your pigments, you can come up with "warmer" blacks or "cooler" blacks, both of which are useful for their individual purposes.  

Burnt Sienna + French Ultramarine Blue
Cadmium Red Light + French Ultramarine Blue
Cadmium Red Light + French Ultramarine Blue + Aureolin Yellow
Alizarin Crimson + Thalo Green
Alizarin Crimson + Hooker's Green
Alizarin Crimson + Hooker's Green + French Ultramarine Blue
There are infinitely more mixtures available to you...this is just a start.  

If you add more water to the mixes shown above, you transform the blacks into beautiful, soft grays.  Extra tip: Really, any mixture of 3 primaries will result in pretty grays.  Even in the 2-color mixtures above, if you think about it, it's 3 primaries that you're using.  For instance, in the Alizarin Crimson/Hookers Green combo, the green is made up of yellow and blue.  Added to the red (Alizarin Crimson), you get a gray.  There are an infinite number of combinations you can make as a result of whatever colors you already have on your palette.


"Cypress Knees" by Helen K Beacham - Available.
The water in the foreground comes off looking gray (*), but it's made up of blue, green and alizarin.

(*) Watercolor artists are all about the "illusions" we can provide our viewers.
As for my ivory black and lamp black, I'll sometimes add just a Touch to a mixture when I want it to bleed more or cause some granulation in my wash.  It's not even usually to make something darker.  Try it yourself and see!


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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tippette #20 - Using Acrylics for Backgrounds

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


Using Acrylics for Backgrounds

Sometimes you just want to paint a more-or-less monochromatic background (for instance, behind a floral).  But if you need to strengthen the color by adding more layers (sometimes I put down as many as 4-5 washes), you'll easily lift a previous wash..so what's an artist to do?  Use acrylic instead!


Close Up to show monochromatic background
In a painting like this, why not use acrylic for the background?  Each layer will dry "unliftable".  You can add as many layers as you like.  Just make sure that you thin down the acrylic paint to the same consistency as watercolor!


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Friday, April 19, 2013

Tippette #19 - The Mystery of Perspective...Debunked

Tippette = Snippet of a Tip (in watercolor).  One per day...during April...right here!  Tell a friend!


The Mystery of Perspective...Debunked

Let's face it.  If I start talking about 1, 2 and 3-point perspective (and about vanishing points), your eyes are going to glaze over and I'll lose you!   So I'm not going to do it!

Instead, I'm going to tell you how I SIMPLY approach drawing buildings.  Here we go.  Hopefully with a combination of my "words" and the pictures I'm about to show you, it'll make sense.



This first one (above) is an easy one.  If you're facing a building straight on (and you're standing in the center of the building), all your lines are horizontal and parallel to the bottom of the page, aren't they?  This angle might be the easiest to draw, but it's also probably the most boring painting.

Here you're standing to one side of the middle, so all of the lines are moving to one constant vanishing point.  Do you see how that vanishing point is WAY off the photo itself?  Here's what I do to make sense of it.  I tape my photo down to a bigger piece of paper.  I use a ruler to draw the bottom of the building where it meets the street (and I extend it way to the right).  Then I find a line to place my ruler on, near the top of the photo, and I draw it.  Where the two lines meet is the vanishing point for this scene.  EVERY OTHER line automatically falls somewhere inside of those two.  Pull out your own photos and give it a try!


I added this photo (of the red shutters) to illustrate the fact that, so long as you determine the position of the vanishing point, you can ADD to the photo and it'll feel right (pivot your ruler off of the vanishing point to create those lines)!


In this photo, you can see TWO sides of the building, so you have two vanishing points. 

So, did I confuse you more than I helped? Let me know about your own trials and tribulations with this phenomenon!


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