The following passage by E.H. Gombrich was a revelation to me, maybe an epiphany. I had been looking for a way to break out of my old habits when I found this. It became the central idea of a “Self-forgiveness Theory.” It says to keep trying, modifying, and correcting -- that the eraser is the tool of more expressive realism. In almost mystical terms: trying to create perfection is impossible, but forgiving yourself and your drawings for being imperfect and constantly refining your vision is possible.

“Seen in this light, that dry psychological formula of schema and correction can tell us a good deal, not only about the essential unity between medieval and post-medieval art, but also of their vital difference. To the Middle Ages, the schema is the image, to the post-medieval artist, it is the starting point for corrections, adjustments, adaptations, the means to probe reality and to wrestle with the particular. The hallmark of the medieval artist is the firm line that testifies to the mastery of his craft. That of the post-medieval artist is not facility, which he avoids, but constant alertness. Its symptom is the sketch, or rather the many sketches which precede the finished work and, for all the skill of hand and eye of the master, a constant readiness to learn, to make and match and remake till the portrayal ceases to be a second hand formula and reflects the unique and unrepeatable experience the artist wishes to seize and hold.”

Art & Illusion: A study in Psychology of Pictorial Representation, Page 173

-- E. H. Gombrich

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Watercolor Demonstration: Using Arbitrary Color and Layers

This demonstration was done for the Peninsula Watermedia Society (Charles Taylor Arts Center, Hampton, VA). I think this is a great instructional demonstration about the strength of value (light, medium and dark) compositions and the possibilities of using layers to create values -- including the halftones for the major values.

I had a photo of this young calf, the drawing of the calf is fairly accurate -- the background is made up, because I didn't like what was in the photo.

Step 1: I put a wash across the whole page. If I had wanted to leave any white space, this would have be the time to do that. I made the wash with three colors; aureolin, rose madder, and cobalt blue -- all three weak, non-staining transparent colors. Notice that the paint is applied without regard to the drawing.

Step 2: Using the same colors (and the same concentration of color) I start defining the shadows in the light section of the cow.

Step 3: I apply another coat (layer) of the same paint-solution to the shadows. Notice that by layering another layer, the section gets darker. Transparent watercolor paints will darken as you layer them, until they reach the saturated body-color.

Step 4: I mix a richer, darker version of the same paints and randomly apply it to the background. Notice how the cow shape is now light by comparison.

Step 5: Making even richer colors, I try to break the horizontal and vertical elements apart. Notice the the path is lighter that the weeds.

Step 6: Although I am not satisfied with background, I paint in the some of the darks of the animal. This is done because of the time restraints of the demonstration. I use my staining colors: thalo green, thalo blue and alizarin crimson. They are strong, dark, transparent colors.

Step 7: A session at home and with a different focus. For some reason (to darken the background) I put a wash across the entire background. This makes it a little muddy. I darken some of the shapes on the cow, also.

Step 8: I finish of the spots on the cow. Break out the gouache and make some corrections. Notably the ridge on the cow's back and texture marks on the ground and weeds. The opaque marks make the muddy colors look more transparent. Not my favorite painting, but I do think we have located a shape in space, made the illusion of form and . . .