Friday, May 4, 2012

First half-sheet

I've been studying John Singer Sargent's watercolors closely looking for insights on the play of light and shadow.

He loved the spontaneity of the medium and how it offered a release and escape from what was (sometimes) the drudgery of commissioned portraits. He often worked with a somewhat limited palette and almost always employed very loose and free brushwork. Here is what I came up with in about twenty minutes - it's an alley in Kairouan, Tunisia:

A few problems to be sure, but that's what sketches are for!

The next day, I went to the New England Watercolor Society's Biennial National Show. The work, some 70 paintings, was quite spectacular and inspiring. Daunting even, since it was easy to see how far I have to go to achieve anything like that level of proficiency. The other thing that jumped out at me was that only two or three of the paintings were anywhere near as small as I've been working.

The next day I rigged up a thick sheet of waterproof gatorfoam to a piece of scrap wood with velcro and attached it to my camera tripod with a T-nut countersunk into the wood:

Then I carefully tore a full sheet of Arches paper in half, wet it down, and stapled it to the gatorfoam to dry and stretch. The next day I went to work:

Right off the bat I ruined the sky with a hasty wash of ultramarine. I also learned that I had scratched through the paper's sizing either with my staple gun or my wedding ring - the scratches make the paper more absorbent, which leads to darker lines:

By the end of the day I was very frustrated by all the new challenges in motion at once. Working with four times the area meant that my favorite brushes didn't fill the space like they had on smaller paper. Working vertically caused all sorts of problems - I wasn't used to so much gravity working on the paint and water. My bifocals were bothering me. I never seemed to mix enough paint for the area I was tyring to cover. I couldn't find the balance between care and freedom in the brushwork... anyway, I stopped here at the end of the day:

The next day I wiped out the sky as best I could. Knowing I had a failed painting on my hands at that stage was oddly liberating. I continued to experiment with textures and details for a while and have stopped here for now:

I did straighten out that gully/ditch edge on the bottom after this photo, and on the following day I did what I could to darken the darks, add detail and contrast. I think I've gone about as far as I can go with this one.

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