Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Flower Sketches...

"Anemone and Bluebells Sketch", 4"x10", Watercolor on Winsor & Newton Cotman 140# Watercolor Sketchbook

Very busy recently... Only had enough time to do some small sketches using a couple of minutes here and there. The first page showing here is done on Winsor & Newton Cotman 140# paper. It is a lovely white paper and is recommend by Siriol Sherlock, a botanical artist and flower painter I admire greatly. Wet-in-wet is easy on this paper, and granulate color shows a lot of interesting effects. Glaze is also easy, without needing to worry too much about lifting the underlying colors. I like how flower colors appear more vibrant on this very white paper, and it isn't too expensive, perfect for using as a sketch book. I did the line sketches and a little bit shading in front of the flowers, and only added colors later from memory. Good exercise for observation skills indeed, and I am suprised that I could remember them so well back home. Learnign to paint is also the process of learning to observe and truely "see". I start to get this idea more and more now... I might go back to the site I did the sketch and add a few details to the bluebells, we'll see.

The pansies were merely practicing brush strokes without drawing first and is not done from a real flower, only a copy from examples out of a book. It did allow me to try out another sketchbook I have bought for a while and did not have chance to use yet --- the "Liberte" sketchbook from Arches. I do not know whether this sketchbook is availble in the state or not now --- I got it from someone on eBay selling legacies from his parents. I loved this paper --- the texture is slightly rougher than cold-press Arches paper, and color is off-white, but it holds washes so beautifully! The paper is only 80#, very thin, yet because is is made of 50% cotton and 50% man-made fiber, it stays perfectly flat with small-sized wet washes like this, do not buckle even a little! What's more, the way it takes wet strokes and keep staying wet for an extending amount of time makes it so much superior compare to the Strathmore Aquarius II paper, also made out of sythetic fiber...

"Pansy Sketch", 4"x4", Watercolor on Arches Liberte 80# Watercolor Sketchbook

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sketches from the Holidays

"Eagel Creek Park Lake Sketch", 10"x6", Watercolor on Daler-Rowney Langton 200# Watercolor Sketchbook

It is a bad thing not to update at all for a whole week! Being busy is not an excuse... I did start a coupld of paintings and sketches but none of them are anywhere close to be finished or posted. This is typical me --- shifting attention every minute. I will try to finish some of these projects this week, I promise!

I had a very pleasant July 4th weekend, got some very good bristol board and pastel paper at 90% off price on a sale of Purdue bookstore. To celebrate this deal, I went with a dear friend on small sketch trips around town. We went to Eagel Creek State Park on Saturday afternoon and spend a lovely afternoon sketching near the woods and by the lake.

The lake sketch I did was whipped out in a hurry -- less than an hour from start to finish, and I did not have time to even do a line sketch on the watercolor paper! The sun is setting, the sky was a lovely light red-violet hue on the west side, and turned gradually toward blue to the east. I used a very diluted cerulean blue to start the piece, using a 3/4 inch brush to cover the whole sky area as soon as possible, and dropped in some cadmium red before the paper started to dry. I pulled the blue and red down for the lake surface in uneven strokes to add some interest, and used a mix of the same two colors to paint the cloud shadows wet in wet. Then I waited the paper to dry -- it did, actually, very fast, as a typical result of painting on this Langton paper, -- and painted the middle ground foliages using a #0 Isabey squirrel quill brush. I try to change color every two or three strokes, something I learned in a workshop with Mr. Jerry Smith that adds great intrest to relative flat areas. Then I used much stronger and warmer brown-green color to paint the forground trees and bushes, try to vary some edges but not very successful. Finally, I wetted the foreground water to drop in the reflection colors, and used a little dry-brush work to imply the reflected light on the lake surface.

One problem with sketching with very limited time is that all the brush strokes begin to be rushed and start to look the same -- no varieties in the brushwork describing the foreground trees. Also, the subtle color and value shifts in these foreground tree shapes are lost in my rush. Realizing this, I took several photos of the scene -- I would really like to do a studio painting planned out with thumbnails, value studies, color studies and the whole nine yard according to the photos and my on-site sketch, and see how it turns out. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed doing the sketch and realized even a quick study like this would actually allow a much impression and deeper understanding of the scene on the painter side, which can not be done with photo-reference only. Now I can still close my eyes and see the slight hinge of red on the east sky, which is not at all recognizable in my photo-refrences...

I also tried to make some nature journal style of studies of the woods in the park -- without pencil drawings, again, just playful and fun, getting more acquainted with my newly-acquired Isabey red-sable brushes (#6 and #8 here). I used a new color, oxide of Chromium, to mix with various siennas and umbers to mimic the mossy branch, and loved the resulted color mixtures very much. This color is slightly heavy and very opaque, yet great in discribing the rough texture of tree barks. Trying out something new is fun! What's more, drawing branches really trains the eye-hand coordiation and observation of negative shapes (in between branches). It is also a great way to get familiar with all the potentials of your brush fast. I'd like to do it more often...

"Nature Journal Page with Branch Study", 5"x8", Watercolor on Moleskin Watercolor Sketchbook

My painting buddy was also testing out new materials -- Canson 100# vellum bristol board and Isabey squirrel quill brushes. She fell in love with the brush immediately -- they leave a great variety of marks easily and holds a point really well, while in the mean time can hold a really large amount of water and paint. The softness of the brush did not bother her at all, and she did this cute little sketch of a car underneath the tree. I am amazed by her ability of capture the shape of a mechanical object so quickly yet accurately -- I can never get a car to seem right on paper! I also liked how the paints puddle and leave interesting shapes and marks on this smoother paper. It is not for large washes, but really wonderful for brushwork!

Plein air is surely fun... I wonder why I did not do it more often?...

"Accord Sketch", 4"x5", Watercolor on Canson 100# Vellum Bristol Board

Monday, June 30, 2008

More Flower Sketches

"Primrose Sketch", 5"x8", Watercolor on Moleskin Watercolor Sketchbook

I did these little sketches outdoors in the Lithy Botanical Garden in Peoria, Illinois. The flowers there were really lovely! But unfortunately, there is no shade around these beautiful little primroses... I really fell in love with the pink-violet color and the cup-shape formed by their delicate little pedals, and decided I had to sketch them despite the blinding sunlight reflected off the white paper. They sun also dried the washes much faster than usual and I just frantically kept on painting back into the half-dried washes -- surprisingly, the results did not turn out to be too bad and the puddles of paints formed lovely textures describing the subtle shades of pedals. They are not botanically accurate descriptions of the flowers, but I kind of liked how the paint and paper interacted with each other on the moleskin paper, and decided to try more of this way of working in the future.

I also tested a new box of Creatacolor Aqua Monolith watercolor pencils I just got from eBay, and was quite happy with the results. On moleskin paper, watercolor pencils can capture a certain degree of detail but still not as much as on bristol board or hot-pressed watercolor paper, due to the slight tooth of the moleskin book. But when I wet the drawings with a brush, the color also did not lift as much as on smoother paper, and redistributes more controllably with each brush-stroke. After it's dried, I decided that the colors were not as saturated as I'd like, so I painted back into the pedals with some more watercolor. Can you guess which two flowers are painted this way, and which two are entirely painted with watercolor? ^__^

After finished with the little primrose sketch, I tried to tackle this really gorgeous lily -- its inner pedals have really beautiful transition from the golden-yellow in the center to the deep purple-bronze color in the periphery. I found it a bit hard to control edge quality on the moleskin paper when trying to paint this lily the more traditional way (layering, wet into wet, blending, etc.). In the end I started to get a hang of how to do more controlled wet-in-wet strokes on this paper, but still feel it is not the best surface to paint this way. For more loose, sketchy effect, this is a good surface, but not if you want total control over it -- I still like it for what it is though. The colors got a little muddy on this lily sketch due to repeated rewetting, but I cherished the drawing -- I chose a really hard angle to draw it and felt really happy to be able to capture the wield curve of the pedals viewed from that angle -- and decided to post it anyway.

These are my first efforts to draw and paint flowers "en plein air" and I did learn a great deal from the efforts, as well as had loads of fun. Definitely should do it more often...

"Lily Sketch", 5"x8" (Page Size), Watercolor & Watercolor Pencils on Moleskin Watercolor Sketchbook

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Flower Sketches

"Honeysuckles Sketch", 5"x8", Watercolor on Moleskin Watercolor Sketchbook

After yesterday's rain, all flowers seem to thrive in sunlight today. I went out and took loads of reference photos of Lilies --- white, off-which, light flesh color, bright cool and warm yellow, burning orange and dark brown madder alizarin ones. It is officially the Lily season here now, and I am surprised I have never notices there are so many different colored Lilies! Drawing and painting really open your eyes to tiny treasures of life, make you appreciate and enjoy to the maximum extent.

The air is full of the pleasent scent from Honeysuckles near my house. They are everywhere -- near the fency, around the old trees and even extending to my balcony! I love the sweet but subtle aroma. It is the definition of a full summer for me since childhood. We use to pick the sliver and gold flowers and season them in a can of honey, which is later used to make cold tea. It is supposed to cool down the heat accumulated in the body due to the fierce summer, and I loved it! One of the many myths of acient Chinese herb medicine... I went to the backyard and sketched some honeysuckles today, and was totally suprised by the elegant curvatures of the pedal of these tiny flowers. They are joyfully dancing in the light breeze beneath the leaf shadows.

The sketch is done on a 5"x8" moleskin watercolor sketchbook. I like how the paper reacted after the first wash. It is a little difficult to control wet-in-wet effect on this sketchbook paper, since it has slightly less tooth compared to most cold-pressed watercolor paper. But the random texture created by dropping water into a still-damp wash is really amazing on this paper. It is easy to take on site and dries relatively fast, which makes it a really good choice for sketching with watercolor outdoors. Off to sketch more, and maybe will post them tonight...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wetland Sketch

"Wetland Sketch", 5"x7", Watercolor on Daler-Rowney Langton 200# Cold Press Paper

I did the quick sketch yesterday but did not have time to photograph and upload it until now. It is a sketch of a wetland nature preservative where I live. There are plenty of wild geese, ducks and other water birds migrating here and stay in the wetland every summer, and lots of enthusiastic bird-watchers equipped with fancy gadgets including professional cameras and camcorders coming to the view. I also did a wild geese sketch at this wetland today, but haven’t finished it yet. Would probably post it tomorrow when it is finished.

I tried to practice brush strokes when painting this sketch, following the advices in the newest edition of Watercolor Artist Magazine’s Creative Workshop, limiting the time of painting from start to finish within 30 minutes. I did not have time to wait for the washes to dry and that forced me to work around the whole image, skipping back and forth to avoid disturbing the half-dried brush strokes. Some of the strokes actually merged together and turned out pretty nicely. I used raw sienna, sap green and hooker’s green for the grasses, varying the proportions to add interest, and warming up the color temperature when moving from background to foreground. The darker weeds and bushes are painted with hooker’s green mixed with different portions of French ultramarine as well as Payne’s grey. The sky is painted with a mixture of French ultramarine and burnt sienna, as well as cerulean blue mixed with Payne’s grey. Since the watercolor is mainly reflection of the sky, I just used a lighter mixture of the same color, using fast brush strokes to leave some white of the paper to shine.

I have tested a new kind of paper – Daler-Rowney’s Langton sketchbook with 200# cold-pressed surface. The paper is with medium surface texture, a little bit mechanical similar to Canson Montval or Strathmore Gemini Paper. It takes washes well but a little bit quite to dry, and color lifts really easily without much scrubbing, making corrections easy but a little difficult to glaze over. I also tested the new Niji water-brush in painting the sky – they are really fun to use! You just squeeze the brush handle to wet the hairs and lift the colors from palette. The only pity is the hairs are a little too soft, and the water stored in the brush handle are not enough quantity to clean the brush when you want to change colors, hence it is a little difficult to get clean, unsullied colors after 2,3 different color mixtures. Maybe there is a way to fix that, anyone knows?

"The Dusky Path of a Dream, WIP 3", 9"x12", Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper

I am also posting the progress shots of the “Dusky Path” painting. I have glazed over the closer mountain on the left, trying my best not to destroy the lovely rose-violet tones and all the subtle color changes achieved with the first wash. The color I used was mostly permanent rose and cobalt blue, with just a touch of aureolin yellow to grey it down a little bit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Dusky Path of a Dream

"The Dusky Path of a Dream, WIP 1", 9"x12", Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper

Another small watercolor I am currently working on. The name comes from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). I especially love the evening purple and muted orange color scheme. Robert Wade is so good in using this particular color scheme and he recommends using cobalt blue, rose madder genuine and raw sienna for achieving the luminous purple-grey and muted oranges. A good part of these three colors is that they are all very transparent, and can be lifted easily for correction. I used a slightly modified color combination for this painting: cobalt blue, permanent rose (slightly darker in value than rose madder genuine, and more permanent) and aureolin yellow (more transparent than raw sienna, and higher in intensity). The sky is done wet-in-wet but not just one pass. I actually had to wet the paper three times with spray bottle to get the darker clouds right in value and shape. Really need to practice wet-into-wet painting more to speed up! Hopefully no mud generated by these three totally transparent colors...

"The Dusky Path of a Dream, WIP 2", 9"x12", Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Beginnings!

"Highland Sunset", 6"x9", Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper

I have been trying to paint and draw more regularly for the past year, and it seemed a rational choice to try to record these daily efforts so that I could push myself going. A lot of painters I admire started to do daily painting exercises and post them on the blog. These blog posts are my regular source of inspiration and now it is time to follow. Anyway, you can't get better just by reading other people's daily painting posts. I will try to paint everyday, at least for one to two hours. Being a graduate student is time-consuming, sure, but maybe not more than a lot of artists who also have day jobs! No more excuses, off to paint! And I will try to post everyday's effort on this blog before going to bed...

The small watercolor painting I am posting today is based on a photo of Scottland. It was greatly influenced by the powerful mountain paintings of David Bellamy ( I really admire the dextrous brushwork and clean, crisp varigated washes in his mountain paintings, and was trying my best to utilize both in the small study above. The varigated wash has been used to create the sunset skies and the main blue mountain. I was trying to capture some reflected cloud color on the right side ridge and hopefully it did not turn to mud (:-P). I tried to use some brushwork on the forground lakeshore as well as to discribe some texture of the main mountain. So far the brushwork still looks too contrived and uniform. Needs more practice of different caligraphic lines!

The background mountains, middle ground hills (so barren, treeless in the photo) and foreground shorelines have totally different color schemes. I was trying to use a sunset color wash (pale cadmium scarlet and permanent rose) to unify the whole scene but was not sure whether it was successful. The whole painting is relatively low-key and do not have true-white of the paper color, and I think this gives it a more sober sense of the evening. I feel that I should not work on it any more, otherwise it would bound to turn into mud. Maybe I'll let it sit around the studio a bit and see if I can improved it with a fresh eye after some time!

Buy this artwork from Imagekind: