Watercolor madness!
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:41AM
[Your Name Here]

Every now and then, in a fit of madness, I decide to be a plein-air painter and I pick up a box of watercolors and a bottle of water and zoom off to expand my skill set. What I like to do is render the same subject many different ways, to experiment and to see how the feel of the subject changes with medium and with each rendering. Most recently I was in Stone Mountain, Georgia (USA), for the annual Scottish Highland Games, and there is a GORGEOUS lake in the park that I just cannot help but want to paint every time I am near it. 


This weekend was perfect for weather, and the fall colors were beginning to show. The lake is over granitic sandy soil, and as such is an amazingly reflective body of water. Here are my efforts in both ink and watercolor.

I like to do an ink sketch with the brush to loosen myself up. Using a Number 5 ink brush here, I like to use the largest one I can in order to be expressive while still laying down a bit of fine detail.


Here's the first watercolor. First I dabbed in the upper leaves of the treeline, then the water line. Then after drying, I laid in the base colors with lots of water. After drying (mostly) I dropped in the more vivid colors of the fall trees, then laid in that foreground tree and vegetation, because I like that tree. Canoe Guy was last in.


On the second watercolor of the lake, I wanted to try to get more brightness, as well as get in some of the starkly light tree trunks on the opposite bank. I managed one and a half here, I think. :) I realized then that the sense of scale and depth of field was lost without some foreground elements, so I just touched in a few.


For the third effort, I really wanted the colors to pop without quite as much white space as in the second painting, so I mixed them quite concentratedly, adding bold blues and purples as well as those fiery reds. Instead of putting in dark foreground elements to indicate depth of field, I used a fine-bristled brush on the middle trees to make them recede, while the trees at the edges are done with a fat brush to bring them forward, that curve toward the viewer emphasized on the closest side by the deepened reflection.


Now, when I got back to the hotel, I didn't feel quite *done,* so I attempted to put all the details of the scene together from memory. It really amazed me how much a scene sticks in your head after spending a lot of time with it. I was able to incorporate many details that never made it into the on-site paintings. I used the number 5 brush again, which comes to a lovely fine point for line work, or you can scrunch it out for a feathery look, and of course the line work almost automatically becomes more expressive compared to using a pen.


For example, here's a speed-sketching exercise I did using a Micron .005 ink pen, where you can see the expressiveness comes from the speed causing that differential pressure of pen to paper. This is from a photo of Durham Cathedral, and I put a time limit on myself so as to make it gestural rather than purely descriptive. It's a great way to come to grips with architecture, getting the feel of it rather than the precision of it. That can come later. 


I used to be terrified of re-drawing and re-painting. But in recent years, I find that freeing myself to draw and paint the same thing many times has been essential to my growth as an artist, both technically and expressively.

Article originally appeared on Artwork for the Gaming and Speculative Fiction Community (http://www.melissagay.com/).
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