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Archive for the ‘watercolor’ Category

I knew that doing a painting of Notre Dame de Paris is well beyond my current skill level with watercolors, but I decided this evening that I had to give it a try before I leave this beautiful city tomorrow. I just got done with my little painting using DaVinci watercolors on Fabriano Artistico paper and it is 5×7 inches in size (13×18 cm).

I won’t bore you will all of the reasons why this is a tough subject, but I chose the front view, which made things a little easier and I ended up simplifying a lot of details. The paper is not really flat at the moment, which means the photo I took looks a little warped, but I think you can see well enough what I accomplished.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. I may give it another go from home, but it is recognizable, I think as Notre Dame—I especially thrilled that I completed this while I was still in Paris.

In case you are curious, I based it roughly on a photo that I took today that is included after the painting.

 

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How comfortable are you in doing something that you know you are not good at and then publicly showing the results? I have tried watercolors a few time and brought some watercolor stuff with me to Paris. My trip is over half over, so I decided last night to play a bit, using some of my recent photos for reference. I definitely need lots of practice, but it was incredibly enjoyable.

I think “primitive” would a positive spin on my watercolor “style”.  I’m finding water control and brush control to be my biggest challenges at the moment. Those two issues make it hard for me to put in details, because the lines expand really quickly if there is too much water. Of course, it helps to be able to draw, which I don’t do well, so proportions can quickly get skewed.

Here are a few geeky details for those of you who paint with watercolors. I used a twelve color DaVinci full pan watercolor set in a metal tin. DaVinci is a small company in California that makes its own paints and they are a higher quality than the student grade paints I have used before. For paper, I used several brands, but they are all 140 lbs (300 gsm) in weight and are cold press. The first painting was done on a 4×6 inch (10×15 cm) Fluid 100 block that is 100% cotton; the second one on a 5×7 inch (12×18 cm) Fabriano Artistico extra white block that is also 100% cotton; and the final one on a 4×6 inch (10×15 cm) Strathmore postcard that is made of wood pulp.

As I worked and played with the watercolors, I thought of a Sidney Sheldon quotation that I came across recently, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” There is something really special about the creative process, making something with your own hands.

Later today I am going on a three hour sketching tour in Montmartre, as long as the weather holds. That will be the real test for me, seeing how well I can overcome insecurities and fears while literally in public view.

Watercolor Painting in Paris

Watercolor Painting in Paris

Watercolor Painting in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) are voracious predators and I spotted this female pondhawk munching on another insect this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At this time of the year the vegetation has grown high in many of the locations that I visit and I am now seeing more dragonflies perching at eye level or even higher. This heightened perspective allows me to get some cool, uncluttered backgrounds, like the one in this image that reminds me of a watercolor painting.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last night I was playing again with watercolors and found inspiration in some videos about Chinese sumi-e brush painting, particularly one by Daleflix on YouTube that showed him painting a dragonfly and a frog. I really like the way that sumi-e painting, which is often done in ink on rice paper, emphasizes the importance of each brush stroke.

My painting skills still need a lot of work, but I especially like how the dragonfly turned out. There is a kind of minimalism in the dragonfly that appeals to me. It was really all-or-nothing when I painted it. Each of the wings, for example, was a single brush stroke, with a little bit of outlining done later. Similarly, the segmented body was done in a single pass.

I kind of got a little lost after I had painted the frog and the dragonfly and tried to add some contextual elements. The water ended up way too dark and some of the branches got too thick. In case you are curious, the painting is 4 x 6 inches in size (10 x 15 cm), so the brush strokes were pretty small.

Still, I like the overall feel of this little painting, which represents a new step for me as I explore watercolors. I think that I may explore this style of painting some more.

dragonfly and frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m a real beginner in watercolors and probably should stick to exercises and simple subjects, but that is not what I want to paint. I’ll look at some of my wildlife photos and think, “I’d like to try to paint that,” knowing full well that I don’t really have the skills to do so. I figure, though, that I’ll learn as I go along, seeing what works and doesn’t work. So yesterday evening I decided to have a go at painting an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that I photographed recently.

I figured the best chance I had at making something recognizable was to simplify things, especially smaller, less important elements, like the leaves in the branches surrounding the hawk. I decided that I was not going to worry about making them realistic. I also realized that it would be tough for me to capture the fine details of the feathers, so I went for a more stylized approach. I decided to simplify my color palette too and used only three colors—lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna.

So what happened? You can see and judge the results yourself. Some parts of the painting came out pretty well and other parts could use a lot of improvement.

I learned a lot in the process of doing this painting, most notably that I really enjoy mixing colors. It was rare that I used one of the three colors straight out of the pan, with one exception being the yellow eye. I paid a lot of attention to trying to vary my colors, especially in areas like the feathers.

I realize now that painting details is really tough—I’m hoping that practice will help me improve my control of the brushes. The biggest thing, perhaps, that I need to work on is controlling the amount of water that is on the brush and on the paper. I was blindsided a couple of times when the result I was expecting did not happen, most often when I had too much water in my brush. (I also need a whole lot of practice with sketching.)

I didn’t really try to copy my photo, but thought you might enjoy seeing the photograph that served as a general reference for me as I painted.

Thanks to the many readers who have encouraged me to keep painting. It is a little humbling to see how crude my initial efforts are, but it really is a lot of fun creating something from scratch—there is definitely something therapeutic about playing with paints.

watercolor hawk

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you consider yourself to be artistic? All of my life I have been in awe of people who can draw and paint and create art, but have never considered myself to be artistic. Increasingly, though, my photography has opened up a creative side that I am trying to nurture.

As some of you know, I decided that I want to try my hand at watercolor painting and did a posting not long ago on my first efforts at doing a landscape. I don’t usually shoot landscapes with my camera, so I thought that I would try a more familiar subject for my second project—I decided to try to paint a dragonfly. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen an easier subject, but I am so inexperienced in art that I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.

For inspiration, I used a recent photo that I took of a female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). I have already included it in a blog posting, but am reprising it as the final photo, so you’ll know what my artistic efforts were supposed to look like.

I tried a couple of different approaches to my subject. First I tried sketching the dragonfly. I didn’t have a pencil handy, so I used a Bic ballpoint pen. My observation skills and sense of proportion are definitely lacking, but it was surprisingly fun to try. Without an eraser to correct my errors, I felt a bit like I was walking on a tightrope without a net.

Then I tried to draw with Crayola crayons? Why? I happened to be at Walmart yesterday and picked up a pack of 24 for only 50 cents at a back-to-school sale. My drawing looks a bit like a cartoon to me.

Finally I was ready to try watercolor. I decided that I would do the painting without bothering to sketch it out. Oops. I was using some inexpensive paper and it started to buckle a bit when I tried to cover the entire area with an overly wet wash of light green. I think I then attempted to put on the next layer before the first one was fully dry. I still feel like a second-grader in my watercolor skills, but it still was enjoyable trying to see what worked and what didn’t.

I did my final attempt in a sketchbook that is not intended for watercolor. I sketched out the dragonfly with a mechanical pencil and then colored the sketch with my watercolor paints. Out of all of my attempts, this is the one that I like the most. I felt a bit more confident in using the paints and in some of my strokes.

So what did I learn? Most significantly I learned that it’s worth taking a risk of feeling embarrassed; that it’s ok to try something new and achieve only a limited amount of success;, and that the amount of enjoyment that I can derive from a creative pursuit is not directly tied to any specific outcome.

dragonfly sketch

dragonfly crayon drawing

#worldwatercolormonth

#worldwatercolormonth

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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