Friday, August 31, 2018

Cloud exercise in acrylics

acrylic cloud study

I've been watching lots of instructional videos on painting with acrylics (well, painting in general) and in one of them the artist demonstrated painting dark rain clouds over a mountain scene. The trick to making this easier with acrylic paint was to put down a layer of retarder first. I used inexpensive canvas paper and my Silver Brush Grand Prix brushes, which I'm completely loving.

The cloudy sky was so much fun to paint that I kept going and completed the scene with a simple mountain shape in the distance. I used what I've been learning about landscape painting and made it cooler in the distance and warmer in the foreground. And this canvas paper has a slightly creamy tint to it which is peaking through in some spots. It made me want to do another study with a pale yellow toned ground.

It was a great lesson in something that's easy for me to forget when learning something new: it's really fun to paint!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tree bark color study in greys

I have a Pinterest board with more things I'd like to do studies of than I could possibly finish, especially because I add more every day! But I do try to chip away at them whenever possible because they all have something to learn from.

I love neutrals, so when I saw a prompt from Dianne Mize in one of her emails on mixing up some complementary colors to make greys that one definitely went on the board. The idea is to pick a piece of bark or stone from outside, study it carefully, and mix up just two colors plus white to paint what you see.
tree bark color study in greys next to original bark
My bark study in warm and cool greys using acrylic paint and small bristle brushes.

I like how ultramarine blue and burnt sienna mix together, and that's the direction I went with my study. I don't have a tube of burnt sienna, so I mixed a version of it with alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light, and burnt umber. On my first study, which isn't shown here, the color mixing was going OK but the brushwork was completely disappointing and frustrating. It turns out I was using a brush that just wasn't giving me the feeling I wanted in the strokes.

I did a second version with a couple of small Grand Prix bristle brushes and felt so much happier with how that was going. It's much more of an impression of bark, whereas the first brush (a medium Bristlon) had hard edges. After I realized I wasn't interested in trying to be completely realistic with the textures on the bark it was very freeing to get more scrubby with the bristle brush.

So for me, this exercise was as much about loosening up and learning about how my brushes work as it was about color. Which is excellent timing because I've been trying to figure out what brushes to buy next, and this helped provide some insight into that decision. Complicating matters is the lure of oils. I'm enjoying the acrylics, but the color shift that happens after they dry is definitely a stumbling block for me at this point.

I really liked this exercise and how it got me to slow down and consider the value and temperature of the color I was seeing. If I do it another time, I'd approach it slightly differently by blocking in larger shapes at the beginning. I just jumped in with random areas and didn't give myself a clear roadmap, so it was difficult to feel confident about where I was placing color and shapes. Even though it's a small object, taking the time to do that block-in stage would be helpful.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tree study exercise

I'm obsessed with the idea of painting trees, and luckily there was an exercise specifically for that in Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice by Mitchell Albala. The exercise in the book is a monochromatic value study, but I developed mine into a color version.

Daily Art 08-25-2018 tree study exercise with final opaque layer
My tree study is a combination of a monochrome underpainting, glazing, and textural opaque acrylic paints.

I did this study on some linen blend fabric which I'd coated with three layers of isolation coat (a mix of soft gel gloss and water). It has a fairly textured surface, but with the isolation coat I was able to wipe out the light areas and halftones after sketching in the large shapes.

I considered leaving it like this because I liked it so much. But I've really wanted to do some more glazing and opaque painting after completing the acrylic landscapes class project.

Daily Art 08-23-2018 tree study exercise with raw umber acrylic paint
Initial monochromatic value study of a tree in raw umber acrylic paint

Daily Art 08-24-2018 tree study exercise with glaze layer
I added a glaze of burnt umber and yellow ochre with glazing liquid and water to the light areas. I also added a cooler shadow color with ultramarine blue and burnt umber, but those areas were already too dark for it to show up.

Daily Art 08-25-2018 tree study exercise with initial opaque layer
After the glazing, I added some opaque greens and shadow colors.

Daily Art 08-25-2018 tree study exercise with final opaque layer
Final version

This was a fun little exercise to do and I liked getting some practice painting sky holes and negative painting the sky in around the tree. I definitely need to do some focused practice on color mixing and choosing colors for a painting. After next week's final exercise on values, I plan on moving on to color.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Focused practice: 4-value exercises using landscape and animal references

For this week's focused practice exercise I painted small studies in 4 values using reference photos. I'm working my way toward plein air painting so wanted to focus on outdoor imagery. I recently read somewhere how engaging it can be for a composition to add animals or people, and wanted to give that a try.

Daily Art 08-20-2018 - 08-24-2018 4-value landscape and animal studies

I started each of these exercises by selecting a photo from Pixabay and creating a thumbnail in my sketchbook. Using the same 4-value approach from a couple of weeks ago, I looked for big shapes and assigned one of the values to each shape. I also kept an eye on the composition of each image and once the initial thumbnail was done I adjusted the crop and value assignments as needed.

For composition, I was looking at:
  • the ratio of lights to darks
  • where the horizon line was positioned
  • contrast and position of the focal point
  • direction of angles and how the eye flows along the picture 
  • making interesting shapes. 

I just finished reading The Simple Secret to Better Painting: How to Immediately Improve Your Work with the One Rule of Composition by Greg Albert and worked to follow the principle "never make any two intervals the same". I didn't always achieve that goal, but I do think this week's experience of recropping and making compositional adjustments was enormously helpful.

One small example of looking more critically at the composition was on the third day when I added a break in the tree line in the background so it wasn't just a boring flat-topped shape. It's amazing how much that tiny change improved the composition!

The study in the lower left is a white cow under a cloudy sky. That one was particularly challenging to me because parts of the sky looked as dark as the land. I re-read the section in the Landscape Painting about the plane and value divisions in landscapes and Albala says it's likely that the sky will be lighter overall than the ground, even if there are value shifts within it. Later that day I was out running errands and took a look at the clouds in the sky compared to the land — sure enough, even the dark undersides of the clouds were lighter than the ground. This was a case where the photo reference, while a striking and attractive photo, probably didn't tell the actual story of the light and shadows in the subject. It was a great feeling to connect what I've been hearing about painting from life vs. from photos to my own experience.

These exercises were also good for getting more familiar with my (growing) collection of brushes. I enjoyed the feeling of the Silver Brush Grand Prix bristle brushes on this slightly textured surface, especially the tactile scratchy feedback from blocking in the paint and the way the paint skipped over some of the texture in the surface. The other brushes I used were synthetics and felt much more smooth on the surface. It was surprising to me how much of a difference the feeling of the brush made on my enjoyment of the experience.

And the biggest unexpected delight this week might have been from changing the way I drew the subject on the paper in order to start painting: I just started painting! I skipped drawing marks with a pencil or pen and jumped right into roughly blocking the shapes in with paint. It felt fantastic, and it got me going much faster than drawing in lines.

It reminds me a lot of the value exercises I did awhile back where I toned the paper with graphite, erasing the lights and deepening the darks. It was something I learned when reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and it's a technique that feels quite natural to me. Which is surprising because I'm typically so analytical that I would have thought a more linear, structured approach would be a fit for me. Same thing with the gesture drawings I've been doing every morning. It's like my right brain really wants to quiet down the left brain :)

On that note, next week I'm going to do some painted value studies using the wipe out technique. I want to experiment with some surfaces, mediums, and additives so that the acrylic paint lifts out OK. Based on some previous tests, I found that prepping the canvas with an isolation coat (soft gel gloss + water), adding retarder to the paint, and brushing on a layer of glazing liquid onto the canvas was pretty effective. Another technique that worked was to mix the paint with glazing liquid in a 2:1 glazing:paint ratio, also on a canvas prepped with the isolation coat.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Focused practice: 3-value block paintings

For this week's focused practice, I did value studies from life using the colored wood blocks again. But this time instead of 4 basic values, I used 3 values on two different versions. One version was 2 light tones and 1 shadow tone, and the other version was 1 light tone and 2 shadow tones.

Daily Art 08-13-2018 3-value 2 light-1 shadow and 1 light-2 shadow still life painting exercise
Day one: On the right are my 5 values. I used the two values on either side of middle grey for this exercise, to give a greater emphasis that the tone was in the light or shadow family.

Daily Art 08-14-2018 3-value 2 light-1 shadow and 1 light-2 shadow still life painting exercise
Day two

Daily Art 08-15-2018 3-value 2 light-1 shadow and 1 light-2 shadow still life painting exercise
Day three

Daily Art 08-16-2018 3-value 2 light-1 shadow and 1 light-2 shadow still life painting exercise
Day four

Daily Art 08-17-2018 3-value 2 light-1 shadow and 1 light-2 shadow still life painting exercise
Day five

I first learned about an exercise like this from a blog post I read awhile back. The exercise that the post talks about is actually about taking 3 grey values and translating them into color. Which I want to do eventually, but wanted to get some specific practice in on just determining the placement of those three values.

It was so fascinating to see how the mood of the study shifted based on the number of lights or shadows. This has also been great practice for painting from life. I drew right on the surface (poster board) with a small filbert and mid grey paint. My underdrawings were very messy! It was so tempting to clean them up, but I kept pushing through and since the paint is opaque that mess underneath isn't even visible. I'm working on embracing the ugly stage and not letting it stall me out. This sort of exercise has definitely been helping me with that.

When I drew the second study each day, I went back to the still life and drew it from scratch rather than copy the first one. This gave me more practice seeing and drawing from life.

I really liked doing this set of value exercises. The biggest challenge for me with these was making the call on what's in shadow compared to what's just a dark colored block. I haven't fully resolved that in my head yet, so it'll take some further contemplation and study. I'm thinking it has something to do with the notion of relative value vs. absolute value...


Friday, August 10, 2018

Focused practice: 4-value block paintings

For this week's focused practice exercises, I stepped up the number of values I'm using from 3 last week, and 2 the week before. Each day, I set up a simple still life using the wood blocks that my husband cut for me, which I had painted different colors. Once the still life was set up, I did a thumbnail sketch to get familiar with the subject and map out which of the 4 values I wanted to put where.

Daily Art 08-06-2018 - 08-10-2018 4-value still life painting exercise
Four values (full light, half-light, half-dark, and full dark) in acrylic, painted from a still life of colored blocks lit by a side light.

This exercise was largely inspired by the Value & Color lesson from Peggi Kroll Roberts as well as the color block kits she used to sell. I also took direction from the book Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice by Mitchell Albala. In it, he talks about the four major plane divisions in landscapes that translate to four major value divisions.

colored wood blocks for painting color studies
My DIY colored blocks for studies.

Unlike last week, when I created 3 different versions for each value plan, I stuck as much as I could to what I was seeing in front of me. It was more difficult than the previous two weeks because I had to do more comparisons between the values in different areas of the still life and make sure they were all maintaining the correct relationship.

4-value thumbnail studies for color block paintings
I started each painted exercise with a thumbnail study to help me take the time to look critically at the values and go on to the painting step with a clear plan.

Reading about assigning values to colors and maintaining relationships between the values is one thing, and putting it into practice is entirely another! This was a fascinating and eye-opening exercise and I like how it builds off of the previous two I did. It got me more familiar with making judgments about values, which I appreciate.

I didn't focus much on composition with this one, or worry about moving the objects around to create strong design with patterns of light and shadow. I definitely will at some point, but wanted to keep things focused on just deciphering values from color. I'd love to do more of these studies, expanding to landscapes and animals and loosening up the shapes to be more suggestive rather than tight and specific.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Focused practice: 3-value plans

This week I continued my focused practice on values with 3-value plans as compositional studies. I began each study by making thumbnails from reference photos with different amounts of light, mid, and dark values. I used the approach Carol Marine talks about in her book Daily Painting by thinking about them in terms of dominant, secondary, and smidge amounts. And instead of just making one value plan for each subject, I took what I learned in Patti Mollica's values techniques class and did 3 plans each.

value plans with three values in acrylic paint
From each of the thumbnail sets below (except for the last one), I chose the value plan that interested me the most and painted it with white, grey, and black acrylic paint. This step was really helpful for helping me see what would be an interesting image to take to an actual painting.

3-value thumbnails of different subjects for focused practice
Each day I chose a photo reference and made 3 thumbnail studies for it. The notes I jotted down helped me keep the amounts of each value different and forced me to look at the subject in different ways.

This process felt quite a bit different to me from last week's 2-value notan studies. With those, the darks were based on what I saw in shadow, and the lights were those areas that weren't in shadow. For this week's studies I was looking more for how to group the dark areas, mid areas, and light areas into larger shapes that related to each other.

These exercises were incredibly helpful for getting me to explore and see past my initial reaction to an image. They also helped me feel a clearer direction in what subjects are interesting to me and that I'd like to concentrate on. The still life images didn't really make me feel as enthusiastic about the idea of painting them as the landscapes. It was particularly surprised that the close-up of the flowers didn't engage me. I love macro photography of plants, but in this exercise it seemed so boring.

I came to the conclusion that (right now, anyway) I'm more interested in painting something with depth — whether that's the literal depth of space as in a landscape, or the figurative depth that I feel with animals.

Next week the subject will be 4-value black, white, and grey paintings from life using some wood blocks of varying shapes and colors. I'm very curious to see what I learn from the experience! One thing I'll need to watch is not getting caught up in obsessing over the drawings and to stay focused on values.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sketching animal faces: fox

There are elements from today's animal sketch of a fox face that I like, but there are definitely some areas that I'm unhappy with. The shapes of the nose and mouth area are off, and the eyes are too heavy. I can see that those are the areas I fussed with the most and they didn't improve much the more I fussed!

Daily Art 08-03-2018 sketch of a fox
Reference image from Pixabay

The water soluble graphite would be best put back in the drawer for the time being while I focus on one thing at a time, lol.

My favorite animal sketch from this week's project was the cat. I want to go back to that one and see why I like it so much and apply those principles or techniques to the next set.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sketching animal faces: cow

Daily Art 08-02-2018 sketch of a cow
Reference image from Pixabay

What is it about cows that are so delightful to draw or paint? I think it's the chunky features, and those ears. Something about the way the ears come off the side of the head like that…I also really like the way shadows fall on them, being outdoors in the sun and all. I included a bit of simple shading on this sketch to suggest the form.

I pulled out my little handbook travelogue sketchbook for this one. It's one I had put away awhile back, and during the move totally forgot I even had it. I always liked the way pencils felt on the tooth of this ivory paper. And flipping through it reminded me of my water soluble drawing pencils, too. I should get some of those out to play around with for these animal sketches! There are just far too many options in my supplies cart, lol.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sketching animal faces: bunny

For today's animal face sketch I chose a bunny because I wanted to practice their large ears and eye shape that's very different from a cat or dog. Plus they're just adorable.

Daily Art 08-01-2018 sketch of a bunny on grey toned paper
Reference image from Pixabay

I approached suggesting fur and shadow in the same way as yesterday's cat, but it wasn't quite working as well. The loopy squiggles weren't consistent with the fur on the bunny, so I erased many of them and went for shorter and straighter lines instead. I also erased out most of the initial sketch lines of the contour — they were really fighting with the looser fur marks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sketching animal faces: cat

I had a lot more success with today's sketch — both in the time it took and how it looks. I like the looseness of it and as I sketched I imagined what it might be like to paint in the fur.

Daily Art 07-31-2018 sketch of cat on grey toned paper
Reference image from Pixabay

This grey toned sketchbook paper is nice for these studies because it helps take away the intimidation of a white page. It's the same idea as toning a canvas before painting.