Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Process: A Watercolor Using Masking Fluid

Let me begin by reminding readers that I'm just an ordinary person that enjoys the creative experience and sharing it with others via blogging - I'm not an instructor nor am I an accomplished artist by any stretch of the imagination! However, because I enjoy learning and reading about other artists' art process, I feel the need to do the same. But this and blogging for me, is also self-fulfilling, as it helps me to critique my work and rethink how to approach a painting or project.

Dogwood leaves in the Hollow
watercolor, arches 140lb. cold press
11 1/8" x 7 5/8"
This painting is from a photo I've had for a while and have always thought it had good potential for a large watercolor, so I thought I would first do a small painting (7" x 11")and give masking fluid another try. I don't like using masking fluid for several reasons, mainly because it tends to leave hard edges and I don't like having to go back and try repeatedly to fix these areas. I then become overly fussy and end up getting disgusted with the whole process, not very conducive to happy painting if you get my drift. With that said, I tried it anyway because I wanted to shoot for a more abstract and 'free' expression of the image without getting caught up in detail. Also if I end up painting a large, say full sheet painting, the masking will come in handy when painting the sky.
First I masked in everything excluding the sky (I also used masking fluid for my signature-later regretted this b/cause I was unable to remove all of it for some odd reason), which would be painted first. I normally work from back to front when painting, but not always. With large objects such as this as the focal point, and since the painting is split almost evenly between sky and tree, I could have masked around the branches and leaves and painted the sky last. It's a matter of personal preference and habit, especially when painting landscapes for me to paint the sky first. Doing so creates a benchmark for my values. In other words, how dark or light I make the sky will predetermine my value scale for the rest of the painting, not to mention get rid of most of that annoying and dreaded 'white paper'! I can always go back however and change the sky to a different value or color if needed (which I did).

After making sure every thing was masked, I painted the sky, beginning at the top using cobalt blue. Working down the paper, I added a little yellow, alizarin crimson, and a touch of cadmium orange.

Next, I removed the masking fluid
using a 'rubber cement' eraser. Left-over masking fluid also works well for lifting, but I don't have enough yet to use, maybe after this project...
Notice I don't have my painting taped down. I wanted to be able to turn the painting around freely while painting. I've gotten used to working with the paper buckling and depending on the weight, brand, size and thickness of the paper, and how much water is used at a time, I can control the buckling enough for it to be manageable.

I painted everything, including the tree limb and branches with a light wash of yellow acrylic, Lemon Yellow Hue. All the other colors used in this painting were watercolors. I could have used a yellow watercolor, but wanted to try acrylic as the first wash to see how well it holds up to subsequent layers and my abuse without lifting from the paper. I took a workshop once where the artist uses cadmium yellow watercolor as the first layer everywhere that yellow will be in the painting because its opaqueness provides a partial barrier for layering. I personally don't use cadmium colors very often, call me paranoid, but I just prefer to use 'safer' paints in my studio, and I often use just a light yellow, like lemon yellow as my first color. That being said, although I have taken a course in color study, I do NOT claim to know color very well, so it's a personal choice.

After the yellow had completely dried (very important when painting with water-based media), I re-applied masking fluid to the leaves and their stems and along the outside edges of the tree limb and branches. Before adding a layer, to test for dryness, I touch the paper with the back of my fingers. If the paper feels the least bit cold to the tough, then it is too wet to add a layer.

Then I painted the tree and its limbs with alizarin crimson and touches of quinacridone gold:
More alizarin was added to the under-sides of the limb and branches to show reflected light, even if in shadow. I darken the limb behind the leaf stems in the foreground, because they will be painted much lighter, causing them to come forward and the tree limb to recede, creating depth. This effect is already created by the stems' yellow under-painting:
I also added a touch of ultramarine blue here and there along the mid-section of the branches and main limb. Thinking many steps ahead (I guess some artists plan out each step for the entire painting, but I don't, although I do always keep a vision of my final painting in mind) is especially important in watercolor painting because there is a point of no return for retaining the light reflected by the white of the paper which gives watercolor its freshness.

Now comes painting the bark. Honestly, this is where I should practice what I preach, because I used a little of everything (without much pre-planning) trying to get a color I was satisfied with. I think I used both paynes gray and sepia to get the brownish color of the bark, with thalo blue and ultramarine blue added for the darker shades, mixing while paper was barely damp.
When I start to get flustered with the direction the painting's going I get away from it and let it dry, or work on another area of the painting while that spot is drying. When painting an area i.e. the bark, I do a combination of layering and wet-in-wet by first very lightly, applying clean water with a dampened brush; watching for the glisten of the water to turn barely damp, then painting the shadow areas of the bark pieces using a very light touch of the brush-tip to the paper. Because I like to do this combo of techniques on top of previous layers when trying to achieve texture i.e. bark, is why I opted for acrylic as my first layer. I've seen artists who, to achieve soft edges by truly 'layering', paint over a previously painted dry area, then immediately come back with a clean, barely dampened brush and run it along the edges of the painted area to soften them. Sometimes this works for me but most of the time it doesn't, so I say, do what works. I usually do a combination of several techniques. I think the key is to get in and get out quickly (working on one area at a time), with thorough drying before going back in an area.

Now I can remove the masking fluid from the leaves and their stems. I used quin. gold on the tips of the larger leaves and along the stems using a 'touching' motion with the brush tip.
Again, I played with the colors, so I can't say specifically what colors were used, but I do know I used cobalt turquoise and cobalt blue, sometimes pre-mixing with a little yellow if the blue was too strong. I put on a lot of layers, letting it dry between each application.

Painting the leaves was my biggest struggle in this painting. My whole objective was to say loose, and not get caught up in detail, yet I repeatedly found myself trying to paint individual veins and would have to stop and rethink how to portray just the essence of the sunlit leaves. I did end up indicating veins here and there but really tried hard not to obsess over them.
Detail of leaves, bark and leaf stems For those new to watercolor - notice how I left white here and there along the edges of stems and leaves - important to always save some white of the paper - it adds sparkle to a watercolor (skies, water surface, and dark areas are also good places for specks of white paper to add sparkle):
This is where I may have gone wrong with this painting (so glad I tested it on a small sheet). I decided to add a layer of aliz. crimson to the sky to try and make the leaves pop more, but I now think it was better without the extra red. My reasoning was, red and green being complimentary colors, would compete with each other, causing the green to glow more, but instead, I think the added alizarin dulled the overall painting. Maybe because alizarin leans toward violet? Maybe some 'colorists' out there would know the answer. Anyway, here's a comparison:
Painting with mostly blue sky:

Painting with more alizarin crimson added:
Strange, now that I see them side-by-side, I think the aliz. crimson may have helped after all. Well, you can compare for yourself. But I did learn a lot by doing this little study. I just may add another layer of blue to see what happens. Decisions decisions, 'til next time, happy creating...


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