Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sepia Wash Drawing

If you're experimenting with watercolor for the first time, a good way to get some practice is to do a study in sepia. 

Here's a sketchbook page I did while waiting for a train in Italy about 20 years ago.

Parco della Montagnola, Bologna, Italy. Sculpture by Diego Sarti
By painting monochromatically, you remove the variables of chroma and hue. That lets you concentrate on the basics of the dampness of the paper, the amount of pigment on the brush, and the wetness of the brush. That's enough to think about.

Most subjects will call out for a variety of handling, including:
1. Large flat areas, such as the background of this painting. (I did that to simplify, or I would have missed my train)
2. Wet into wet blends, such as the shadow in the lower right,
3. Drybrush, such as along the cat's shoulder and the rock platform.
(I missed my train anyway.)

Here are three tips:
1. Do a fairly careful graphite pencil drawing first. It's especially hard in watercolor to correct mistakes in the initial drawing.
2. If you need to erase, test the effect of the eraser on the paper on another page by rubbing the eraser on a patch and running a flat wash over that area. Some erasers leave behind a little oil or grease that can affect a wash. You can erase after the painting is fully dry and avoid this problem.
3. When you're ready to paint, make sure you have both a big brush and a little brush, and make sure your watercolor set has a mixing well in case you need to mix a large amount of wash. You don't want to have to stop in the middle of a big wash to mix more.
 In Arthur Guptill's classic 1935 book Color in Sketching and Rendering, he demonstrates a few examples of commonplace objects painted in a monochrome watercolor wash. He recommends choosing an object that's white or relatively colorless, like this wooden basket. Painting it in actual sunlight, he noticed the darkness and sharpness of the shadow edge from C to B, the absolute dark accent at A, and the closeness of value at the plane change at (e) inside the basket.

This white china cup is an ideal subject because its faceted sides make the stepwise transitions from light to shadow abundantly clear. All these steps can be carefully modulated with the washes, and the process is immensely faster than charcoal. Plus the tones are smoother and purer. But it takes practice to do such an accomplished study, since you have to lay down the tone and leave it: you can't scrub on it or tweak it forever.

People through history seem to be conflicted about whether to call such a study a drawing or a painting, so they're often referred to as a "wash drawing." I love the fact that it's on the boundary line between drawing and painting.

Instead of sepia, you can use lampblack, ivory black, burnt umber, or Payne's grey, each of which has a slightly different character.

Watercolor in the Wild buy
Color in Sketching and Rendering by Arthur Guptill (1935) Highly recommended, and it hasn't been reprinted.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Don't throw out your old watercolors!

Instead, seal them in big glass jars. I've got mine in four jars: "Juicy New Tubes," "Semi-Dry Tubes," "Dried Out Tubes," and "Pans Full and Empty." The airtight jars keep the tubes from drying out any further.

I use the new tubes for refilling empty pans. If the semi-dry ones are still squeezable, they can work even better for refilling, because they don't drip liquid. You can cut open the dried out tubes with a sharp knife. The pigment is often tar-like in consistency and can usually be scraped out with a palette knife. A little water pressed in with an old spoon is usually enough to reactivate them. If you're handling toxic pigments with your fingers, remember to wear gloves.

My jar of pans is a graveyard of colors I've dumped from sets because I wasn't interested in them. Sometimes I change my mind and give those refusés another try. Every six months or so, I change my palette selection to keep myself off balance.

If I'm sure I don't want an old pan color, I pry out the color so that I can fill the empty pan with a new tube color. After refilling it, I put it on the sill of a sunny window and let it dry out for a week or two. If it cracks after drying, just fill in the cracks with more liquid color and let it dry again (thanks Jobot).

To cure the pigment from drying too crumbly, add a little gum arabic to it. Gum arabic is the binder or gluey stuff that holds watercolor together. You can get it in powdered form and it's non-toxic. It's also used for gluing cigars and making royal icing more shiny. You can even use gum arabic to make your own watercolors out of your dry eye shadow or dry pigments. (thanks, DKVision and Jobot).

Check out my video:Watercolor in the Wild by James Gurney
Big post about materials

Monday, August 25, 2014

How do we move when we breathe?

(Direct link to YouTube video)

How does your body move when you breathe? Well, of course the rib cage expands and contracts, but surprisingly the movement is more up and down than it is in and out, says Michael Black, co-author of a computer graphics study presented at the recent Siggraph.

There are many more small but observable movements going on. The arms push out, the head goes back and forth, and the spine flexes. The movements are slightly different for "stomach breathing" compared to "chest breathing," something that singers are very conscious of. One possible flaw in the methodology of this study is that subjects were asked to "breathe normally," a sure way to make them breathe unnaturally.

Once you learn to recognize the subtle body changes that accompany breathing, you won't look at a posed model the same way, and you'll notice actors in movies controlling their breathing as part of their performance.

Animators will be able to input this breathing data with simple controls, including a spirometer, which records breathing volume. In the future, when actors record their voice parts for CG animated films, they'll be able to record their breath acting as well. That information will yield a more believable and lifelike performance, whether the character they're playing is a realistic human or a talking turnip.

The authors are: Tsoli, A., Mahmood, N. and Black, M.J.,
The paper is entitled: "Breathing Life into Shape: Capturing, Modeling and Animating 3D Human Breathing"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dinotopia at the Children's House

Dr. Jo Ann Leggett, director of the Children’s House preschool of Victoria, Texas recently completed a Dinotopia-themed project for the school’s summer program, and she sent some photos to share.

Dr. Jo says: "Children delighted in all the books," and they learned about geography from the Dinotopia map.

They tried "plank walking," a Dinotopia game that I introduced in "Journey to Chandara."

To succeed at plank walking, everyone has to pull the ropes and lift their feet together as a team.

"Dinotopia is our 'most-looked-forward-to' unit at the school. Thank you for your inspiration," says Dr. Jo.

Thank YOU, Dr. Jo! If you're a teacher of any age group and would like to spotlight Dinotopia at your school, please write me a letter. I’ll be happy to send you a list of suggested games, projects, and activities, and I'll include a signed card to help you get the ball rolling.

Dinosaurs Invade Millburn High School
Science, Art, and Fantasy (Elementary School)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trends in Painting Media

I was just curious, so I checked on Google Trends to compare relative search volumes for different painting media. 

People search least often for the word "gouache,"(in blue) along the bottom. "Oil paint" (in yellow) and "acrylic paint" (in green) are two or three times more popular than gouache. Acrylic passed up oil in popularity about three years ago. 

Interest in "Plein air" (in  blue purple) appears to be very seasonal, spiking in the warm months.

"Watercolor" far surpasses the others. It sagged a few years ago, but it's rising steadily. The search volume may not translate directly to the popularity of the art medium. The spike at the red letter "K" is tied to a popular article about digital printing watercolors on fabric. The letter "B" aligns with a story about a photo-to-watercolor app.

Casein painting didn't register at all—which is one of the reasons I love it.

Edit--Here's a graph of the usage of those terms as printed in books in the English language courtesy the Google Ngram Viewer. (thanks, Piers!) The graph may be a little misleading because it only tracks the frequency of the use of those particular words or phrases. Oil is just assumed most of the time people write about painting.