Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Processed Piece (Part 1)

This week saw the first few sunny, but really cold days of the year, and it has been lovely to see some of the spring bulbs finally coming into bloom, although alas the snowdrops I had hoped to paint were dismal, with only one making it through our very wet winter. Feeling very sorry for it, it seemed harsh to cut it off in its prime, so I left it. It's often at this time of year that I head out into the garden to see what has made it through to grow another year, with the casualties sadly removed and turned into compost that I put back onto the garden. Well, it's all a cycle I guess.

"Life and death are one thread, 

the same line viewed from different sides".

Lao Tzu

As is the process of starting a new painting, but let's not get too heavy about it. Now that I am moving into a phase of my work where sharing the process with others is getting quite important, I have begun to reflect on how I approach each piece, and there is a method to it all I'm happy to say. There I was thinking it all came together under some kind of random chaos, while applauding others for being so organised and aware of what they are doing. It's that composting that got me thinking along these cycling lines. Gardening can be so dangerous.

"Every corny thing that's said about living with nature - 
being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons 
- happens to be true".

Susan Orlean

I've heard and read that many really good artists having a very clear 'method' or process that they always follow, and it came as a complete surprise to me that I do seem to follow my own variation on the theme. Even more random, (or I guess I just had time on my hands because of a sore shoulder) I would appear to have six stages in my painting process. Should I call this my 'Six Steps to Sensational', or does that sound too much like a shampoo ad? I'm getting carried away with that one.

Well anyway these six stages really do seem to get put together in an order and a painting comes out at the end. So here are my first 3.

Step 1: Observation.

seems obvious I guess, but I like to have a bit of a moment with my subject before I even think about putting pencil to paper. Looking closely at everything from flower centres, leaf nodes, vein patterns and everything in between, usually with a magnifying glass gives a real sense of what is going on with the growth habit and characteristics of the plant.

On closer inspection, there are some very fine hairs in there

That leaf / stem junction looks interesting

Like a crumpled hanky, this tulip had some great textures 

Step 2 Drawing

Well again, it's a pretty obvious progression but this bit includes loads of sketches and accurate, annotated drawings taken from the observations. Not that I do that much sketchbook prep much these days. I know there are people who could do pages and pages of stuff for just one painting, but I get far too impatient and want to get on. It is important to get the important bits down and it's here that I will also do some pretty comprehensive colour charts and notes, to make sure this bit is accurate too. I won't labour this point too much as this post is about the painting bit, not the preparatory stuff, that's quite another story.

Using a really sharp H grade pencil and some good quality drafting film, I carefully draw out the composition. By using the film or trace it doesn't matter if I make mistakes as the robust surface can take the rubbing out without damage. Once I am happy with it, I will either trace it or use a lightbox to transfer the image to the watercolour paper.

Colour charts for colour matching

The master drawing gets inked in for use on the lightbox

The very fine details such as serrations and imperfections get drawn on afterwards  

Colour matching for the peony seed head painting

What goes in it and where it goes.

Also, once the painting gets going
I will even make a little chart to show in which order these mixes were used.
Is that going too far? 

Sketchbook page for a lily bud...

...and the flowers and leaves
 Step 3 The First Wash

Now begins the  fun part, or the scariest depending on your viewpoint. How you start painting is a very personal approach and there are an infinite number of methods. I'm in the wet wash camp and always start with the very lightest hue that I can see, (apart from the whitest highlights as these will be left as the white of the paper). Mixing a pretty diluted shade, I drop the colour into a clean water glaze on the painting and manipulate this about until I am happy with it. I've also heard this wash called a 'Tea Wash' as it's a bit like painting with tea. At this stage the paint is still active enough to be lifted, and I can also drop in further amounts of colour to make it more intense. Then the whole lot is left to dry. Rather than working on little bits of a painting to completion before moving on, I do tend to work in rotation, getting everything to the same stage.

First wash on a bramble leaf study

Several colours are dropped into the glaze as it dries to get a soft, blended surface.

Letting the colours bleed and mingle creates the beautiful characteristics of watercolour.

First washes on the peony seedhead

Lots of highlight left at this stage

And on Little Red Chili

See the next posting for what comes next

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